No one tells you about this.
So I will. Because I wish I knew this going into it.
I mean, sure, other parents did warn me. Subtly. Asking questions like, “So, did you start applying to preschools yet…?” when I was still pregnant.
I remember telling one friend that I hadn’t even considered it since I had several miscarriages and the last thing I was thinking about was preschool. I had a baby to carry to term! And I couldn’t drink Diet Coke anymore! I had a lot on my mind!
The question came up again just months after I had given birth. Preschools. Which ones I was thinking about. When was I going to start applying. My son had only been alive for eight weeks, and I was more concerned about getting him to sleep through the night and cursing the breast pump than which preschools offered the right setting for my son.
In hindsight, I should have heeded these subtle nudges.
Preschool is a thing. A huge, big thing. I didn’t realize it until it was almost too late.
I wound up applying to a nearby preschool when Landon was just 3 months old. To me, it was early and I felt ridiculous, but not a single person at the school was surprised. One administrator joked that I should have applied when I found out I was pregnant, since it’s first-come, first-serve.
Except it wasn’t really a joke.
I called another preschool around the same time and was immediately placed on a waiting list. The woman on the other end of the line confirmed what people had been saying to me, what I ignored or laughed off, and she was dead serious about it: “You know, you really should have called when you were pregnant.”
Crazy? Yes. But this whole preschool thing is. I got caught up in the frenzy, applying to more than a dozen preschools, some 10 inconvenient miles away. I created an Excel spreadsheet that I constantly updated, noting which preschools served lunch, offered early drop-offs or provided extracurricular activities. I compared tuitions and poured over online reviews. I harassed everyone I knew about preschools. I was wholly consumed by the entire thing.
Today, applying for preschool is like applying to college. (It seems, anyway.) The good ones—and “good” can mean a lot of different things, from being feeders to private schools to being convenient locations for parents who work in Downtown—are super competitive. And many of them require an assessment, where teachers observe the toddlers playing and interacting and, somehow, decide who fits and who doesn’t. At his assessments, Landon behaved like a typical 2-year-old, drawing, wandering around, deciding to lie down in the middle of the floor while everyone else was singing—and sometimes we got accepted and sometimes we didn’t and I have no idea why.
The rejections were tough. It felt like the school was rejecting my son, personally, that there was something wrong with him. As a mom, that was really hard to take. I know it’s not personal, I know my son is a great kid. Still, when a preschool sends the polite decline, it’s heartbreaking.
And then there are the acceptance letters, what you’re desperately hoping for. All of your fears that you’d have to quit your job and spend the next three years preparing your kid on your own for kindergarten with an iPad and visits to MyGym are gone!
Except you have another problem: Which preschool do I send him to?
Some send out early acceptance letters, giving you just a week to decide and send in your deposit. Should I wait for the school that I want? What if I get rejected and I’ve already turned down these other schools? Can I afford to eat the deposit? Just when you thought the stress was over, right?
And then there’s the issue of potty training. (See my earlier post on that.)
There are a handful of preschools that admit younger kids—under 3—and teach them how to use the potty. It costs more, but after what I went through with trying to potty-train my own kid, I’d pay double. If you can get into these programs, I would highly recommend it. But they’re super competitive and yes, you should have applied when you were pregnant. (Now you know.)
We got accepted to a bunch of great preschools, all of which would have provided loving, nurturing environments for Landon to learn, play and socialize—which is what I was looking for. I wasn’t so much concerned about which preschools produced Ivy League graduates or Nobel Prize winners. I just wanted to send him to a school where he would learn, have fun and be safe. And, thanks to a dear friend’s recommendation (a friend who likely did spreadsheets, too), we found one that fits.
We didn’t have any problems with the transition from at-home daycare to a preschool setting. In fact, Landon was more than ready to go to what he called “big-boy school.” He was so excited to play on the playground, to ride tricycles, to make new friends. When I dropped him off on the first day last week, he barely said goodbye. In fact, as I was trying to explain to him that I would be leaving and would come back later—which is what you’re supposed to say—he replied, “Mommy, you can go to work now.” Sheesh.
I can’t say it was a perfect transition. I could tell the first week was a bit hard for him at first. New teachers, new routine, new rules. He wound up throwing sand at another kid on the playground—playfully but still—and didn’t make it to the potty on time and wet his pants. He was more frustrated and tired than usual those first couple of days. But by Friday he was fine, napping instead of talking incessantly and keeping everyone else up, eating food for lunch he had never had before (like pastele stew) and riding around on a tricycle by himself.
So what did I learn? Parents are definitely more stressed than kids are about preschool—and rightfully so. We’re all trying to make the best decisions we can for our kids, and that may mean staying up late Googling, rearranging appointments and taking vacation days to visit schools and budgeting your money better so you can afford it. And preschool isn’t for every family. I know parents who have decided to skip preschool and prepare their kids themselves for kindergarten. (More power to them.)
So it comes down to this: Finding the right preschool will take time. It won’t be cheap. And the process may be stressful. (Or not. I know parents who applied the week before school started, got in and it all worked out.) Just know it’s a short time in their lives—and in yours. I almost lost my mind the three days we tried to potty-train Landon; I literally thought he was never going to figure this out and I was a total failure of a human. But he’s fine, potties like a champ.
When you’re in the middle of it, it’s all you see. It’s overwhelming. I’m here to say—you get through it. I did—and I didn’t even apply when I was pregnant.
Times has sure changed. When my kids went to preschool we didn’t have to find a preschool that far in advance. Maybe just a month or 2 in advance.