For those of you embarking on the hunt for a preschool, here’s a guest post from SF K Files reader Jenifer Wana. Her new book, How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School, just came out in August to rave reviews.
Before having to tour kindergartens and figure out the SFUSD school assignment system, most parents in SF will have to go through a equally (if not more so) complicated preschool admissions process. Here are a few tips for finding the right preschool for your child:
• Consider what factors are important to you in a preschool. While there are many factors you can evaluate, some of the basics are: tuition, location, schedule (length of day and number of days per week), educational philosophy, and the admissions process.
• Make a list of preschools that interest you. Ask everyone you know with kids for recommendations, including your friends, neighbors, co-workers, moms group, and parents you meet at the playground. Check out www.savvysource.com to find preschools close to your home and learn about their costs, schedule, philosophy, etc. Create your short list of schools and visit their websites or call them directly to learn about the admissions process and deadlines. Also, mark your calendar for Preschool Preview Night on Thursday, October 14th from 5:30-8:00pm at Golden Gate Park.
• Decide what age you want your child to start preschool. Most children begin preschool at 3 and go for 2 years until they start kindergarten. Some preschools enroll kids as early as 2 or 2 ½, however, so check before applying. If you want to start at 2 but your dream preschool only takes 3-year-olds, you can always switch after the first year.
Also keep in mind that the private school kindergarten cutoff age is 5 by Sept. 1 (if not earlier) and public school is 5 by Dec. 1, that means that if your child starts preschool at 2 and her birthday falls between Sept.-Nov., she will go to preschool for an extra year if attending a private school.
• Get on wait lists early – and then follow up. As ridiculous as it sounds, many schools accept applications the day a child is born—if not earlier. The sooner you submit the application, the better your chances are of getting a spot. Around 9-12 months prior to when you plan to enroll your child, it’s a good idea to call to follow up (and ask when a spot may open up, if the school runs year round). Continue to follow up every 4-6 weeks to show you’re serious about enrolling.
• Try to visit preschools while class is in session. Talk to the director, teachers, and current parents. Ask about safety and security policies. Is the classroom warm and inviting? Is the outdoor play area well-maintained and fenced in? Do the children seem happy and engaged? How do teachers interact with the students—are they talking and working closely with them? Can you picture your child enjoying the environment?
• Stay on top of admission deadlines. This is critical, as each school has its own timelines and requirements. For non-wait list preschools, you may need to sign up for school tours by September or October and then submit applications by the December or January prior to the September start of the school year.
• Let your favorite schools know what you love about the school and why it’s a good fit for your family. Preschools want families who share their values and are enthustiastic about the program, so communicate this in your thank you letter, application, and when chatting with the staff.
Best of luck on your search for the right preschool!
For a comprehensive list of San Francisco preschool resources and to learn more about How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School, visit Jenifer’s website at www.preschoolprimer.com.