Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Guest blogger: Jenifer Wana, author of a new book about getting your kid into preschool

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.

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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.

18 comments:

  1. I have to say that the preschool process is not equally difficult. It feels hard until you encounter the crazy SFUSD assignment system, the half-dozen public school tours, and the multi-layered screening process for the privates. The preschool search is a mere glimpse of the hell to come.

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  2. Preschool seemed like such a big deal for our oldest when she was 2 and we were looking. Now it just seems like it so didn't matter. There are tons of great preschools. And it's only 2 years. Who cares which one you go to. It's the K process that matters so much. It's 6 years and with the feeders to middle, now 9 years!

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  3. Can't agree more, 7:59. Books like these just stress parents out more, trying to build it up as such an important thing.

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  4. Well we got shut out of every preschool we applied to, except the one where we knew a teacher and she wanted us to be at the school so she went to bat for us. It's not a fun process for many people and it is an important decision.

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  5. One thing I would strongly suggest to reduce "getting your kid into preschool" angst is that parents not limit themselves to schools called "preschools" but also to consider schools that style themselves as child care centers. My son attended such a preschool -- full day, same program as many of the part-day preschools, just more of it. Some kids who had stay-at-home parents or parents with part-time jobs were picked up earlier in the afternoon, and others stayed till 5:30 or 6. There was no preschool admissions angst, because it was the same place he'd been in "day care" as a toddler (and doesn't have super-long waiting lists for preschool rooms in any event), and the kids there did great in private K admissions despite not having a director that was tapped in to the admissions process.

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  6. My kids went to family day care centers. They called themselves "preschools" but none of them had any formal application process and all offered full day care. Some had waitlists, but not from birth. The graduates attended a mix of public and private schools. We had a great experience with the family day care arrangement. There are a lot of good ones out there.

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  7. THis is such BS. NONE of the best preschools we toured -- the ones with super qualified teachers, often with Master's degrees, and truly diverse classrooms -- would even take an application in advance of the year before attending. NONE. I'm talking Little School, Pacific Primary, Phoebe Hearts, JCC, Centro Las Olas.

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  8. Sometimes when I read stuff like this, I hate the whole Bay Area Mom industry. I just like being a normal mom who sends her kid to preschool and k-12 without all this hype nonsense. Enough already.

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  9. I like that: "the mom industry." I'll use it again.

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  10. 9:32 PM, exactly. The only preschool for which a "from birth" application would have been useful was The Preschool, which calls you only when they have an opening, in our case 3 years after we applied and 2 years after we were settled in at another school. All the others we looked at restricted applications to the year before.

    So if you are pregnant or have an infant, relax. And attend one of those Golden Gate Mother's Group, Parent's Place, or Recess Urban Recreation talks on preschool the fall your kid is 2, if you want to go to preschool at 3 (there are only a very few 2s programs at preschools in the city, though day care places will take 2s). I'm not knocking this book, because maybe reading a book is easier than going to a talk, but I think it's wrong to pressure parents to take this on while caring for an infant, being pregnant, or even "trying to conceive."

    Bay Area Mom industry. Heh, heh. SO true.

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  11. Agree with many of the comments above -- this feels like exacerbating (largely unfounded) fears of parents to make a buck. We started applying 9 months in advance of preschool and, yes, we felt a bit late in the game. But it wasn't a crisis, and if we had started a month or two earlier we would have been in very good shape. As it was, we got into a popular preschool that we love. This notion that your kid needs to get into the "right" preschool in order to ensure future life success is deeply wrong-headed, and perpetuating it in a book like this is deeply cynical. Also, not sure about more recent "rave reviews" -- but when I looked at this on Amazon right after it was released, there a small number of 5-star ratings all posted before the official release (ie to people who were intentionally given advance copies).. and at least a couple of them were posted by business school classmates of the author. "Mom industry" indeed. I just feel bad that a bunch of stressed out people are going to buy this book.

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  12. I am 12:04 from yesterday and just wanted to say to Ms. Wana -- that comment was not intended as a criticism of your publishing your book, just as reassurance to any freaked-out parents. Along with my kindergartener, I have a 2-year-old, and while I've been thrilled with the infants-through-preschool day care where she is now, I still will consider relocating her for preschool in a year because her daycare is so far from her big brother's (and her future) elementary. I'm all in favor of more resources for figuring out what is out there.

    Speaking of which, why do so many of the Glen Park/Sunnyside/Miraloma area preschools have hours that are unworkable for families without a SAHP or nanny?

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  13. Speaking of which, why do so many of the Glen Park/Sunnyside/Miraloma area preschools have hours that are unworkable for families without a SAHP or nanny?

    Off the top of my head, there's Treehouse, the Jacyln Taylor School, A Child's Garden and Little Bear. There are lots more.

    The coops over here can be workable for working parents if you have schedule flexibility - there are lots of two-income families at the coops that make it work. However they work well for SAHPs because they are a lot cheaper than the fulltime programs.

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  14. Sorry to say that A Child's Garden just closed as the director decided it was time to retire.

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  15. There's also Wind in the Willows, but I don't know if they even have a full-time program. We live near City College and my kids went to the JCC on Brotherhood Way. It was an easy 10-minute trip for us. It's an excellent (although pricy) program.

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  16. 3:40 - I agree with you, it is hard to find a preschool in that area that works for working parents. I find them hard to get in touch with too. I've left messages at Maria Montessori and Treehouse and no one has gotten back to me after a week. Plus a lot of the websites aren't very clear on their admissions policies and the deadlines or what it takes to get in. Treehouse is close to my house and has great hours so it's our top choice even though we haven't visited yet, but I heard it's really hard to get into. It seems kind of arbritrary who gets in and who doesn't, so I'm all for having more resources out there to help parents figure it all out too.

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  17. I'm curious which preschools will put you on a waiting list before your due date. It seems like an urban myth--everyone's heard of these schools, but no one ever says which ones they are. Do they really exist?

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  18. Katherine Michiels, Bright Horizons, and Marin Day will let you sign up when you're pregnant. I assume it's because these preschools are also daycares but I have friends that have put themselves on the wait list while they were pregnant explicity for the purpose of getting into the preschool when their child turns 2 or 3 since it can take a few years to get in.

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