I had the privilege recently of getting my feet wet in the infamous New York City preschool selection process. That’s not including watching the documentary Nursery University, which I highly recommend.
I attended a 92nd Street Y’s workshop, lead by its parenting center director, Sally Tannen, on “Planning Your Child’s Early School Years: Learn the appropriate age your child can begin preschool, which programs are available, and how to observe a preschool.” Overall, it was a very positive and non-threatening experience. There was a lot to digest about the preschool selection process here in NYC, but I will try to highlight some of the key points:
- The terms “preschool” and “nursery school” are synonymous but they are not the same as daycare, which usually for younger children.
- Every preschool program has a different age cutoff date so make sure you check the date of the schools you are interested in (for example, some programs start at age 2.6 = your child MUST be 2 1/2 years old)
- Most nursery schools don’t expect your child to be in a “twos” program or to have learned the separation process beforehand – in fact, separation is one objective of nursery school
- NYC, Washington, Boston and San Francisco are among some of the major cities with an extremely competitive preschool selection process.
What is the purpose of nursery school? So many things, but Tannen pointed out that it is to:
- learn to be a part of a group,
- learn to be able to tolerate frustration,
- have a place to play,
- experience a feel-safe environment that is not home,
- to have a place to take risks, and
- learn from mistakes while building self-esteem
What are the important factors (in no particular order of importance) when considering a particular a facility during the preschool selection process?
- Exact age of your child and does it match the cut-off of the school.
- Location — the closer, the more convenient.
- Length of “school” day
- Number of days per week
- Separation phase-in process when your child begins
Preschool selection process broken down
- Make a comprehensive list of preschools that interest you (using resources such as The Toddler Book by Parents League of NY or The Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools by Victoria Goldman and Marcy Braun)
- Go through the important factors list (displayed above) including birthday cut-off dates for each of them to whittle down your lengthy list
- Call each nursery school or visit their website to determine their application process (for most, it starts the day after Labor Day)
- Get prepared for a lengthy process that includes calling for an application, completing the application, going for a tour, a personal school visit (the interview), and the waiting game. This last part usually lasts from September (the day after Labor Day) until early March (when acceptance letters are mailed & received)
1. The Day after Labor Day – you call each school you are very interested in to request an application or schedule your tour (don’t be upset, but the number of applications distributed to prospective parents are limited so you may get shut out from a few schools).
2. How many schools should you apply to? “This is a tough question,” Tannen said. “Realize it is a big disruption to your child to go on so many school interviews.” Inferring from the discussion, it sounds like applying to only two schools is too little and ten schools may be too much. Demand is high in NYC because of the limited amount of bigger nursery schools, significant number of applicants, and because siblings get priority.
3. Going on the school tour — realize that these nursery schools want to minimize distractions for their current students so tours may be scheduled in the late afternoon or even on a Saturday. If it occurs during the normal school day, then it probably won’t happen until late October or November once the school session has settled in.
4. Arranging for a personal school visit (most schools do not use the term interview) – Some schools use the term “play date” because it is a small group of four to six kids playing together on one side of the classroom while the parents are in a discussion with the director on the other side of the room.
5. What is the school looking for during this personal visit? Does your child follow directions, does your child clean-up after an activity, and how does the parent interact with their child (if the opportunity presents itself). these play dates are short, only 20 – 30 minutes, so it is difficult to learn a lot from them.
6. “Getting in” – Around March 1, the schools send out their acceptance letters. Chances are you will get wait listed to many of the schools that you apply. If you get accepted to a school, you have about 10 days to make your final decision so the schools can start working on their wait list. Think about this: Let’s say a family sends in applications to 8 schools and their child gets into 3 of them. Well, they can only select one school, so two of the schools are going to have to use their waitlist. Basically, these wait lists are “for real!”
A few last notes as food for thought…
- if the nursery school application provides four lines and it says “tell us about your child” – use only those four lines to describe your child (“do what they ask on the application, not what they don’t ask.”)
- Dress your child like they are getting ready to play, when going to the personal school visit, not like they are going to a wedding
- there is no specific protocol about sending than you letters after the school visit – they are NOT expected