Nursery Schools 101

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1. Why Nursery School, Anyway?
Because if you don’t get into a good nursery school it’s quite likely that your child will never get into Harvard. Ok, here’s really why: because the majority of nursery school directors create comforting, fun worlds where little people learn to socialize while following their creative and intellectual urges. It’s also a chance for parents to get some informed feedback about their child while joining a community of families in which both children and parents will have a stable circle of friends.

2. Suddenly This Summer
Alas, applying is not as easy as walking into a local school and asking for an application. Anything but. You need to do your research to both understand the system and to figure out what schools you want to apply to, and that needs to be done over the summer because—now get out your calendar—the Tuesday after Labor Day is the day when most of the nursery schools accept requests for applications. Some schools only accept application requests on that day; some by phone, others by Internet. When the day comes, it is wise to have some kind of command post—and a plan of priorities for the day. Some schools run out of applications as early as noon! Over the summer, join the Parents League (parentsleague.org), read its literature (they also offer consulting sessions for no additional cost), read school websites, buy Victoria Goldman’s The Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools and, of course, ask around among friends and acquaintances, while keeping in mind that no one has the last word.

3. Create a Safety Net
In the fall, you’ll start taking group tours of the schools to decide where to apply. Here are two important guidelines to follow:

1. Don’t limit your list to only highly sought-after schools; include a few schools you like that don’t have an elite, prestigious profile.

2. Schools belonging to churches or synagogues give priority to their members, so unless you have a preference for religious affiliation, it’s best to apply to at least eight unaffiliated schools.

4. How Will You Know?

Some issues that parents typically consider are:

Location: A nursery school near your home is A LOT easier to get to. *The School Director: The school reflects her values, her expertise, her personality. Do you like her? Is she wise? Dedicated? Compassionate?

The School’s Educational Approach: There are various nursery paradigms ranging from play-based approaches to ones that emphasize academics. Find your preference.

School Facilities: Do you like them? How’s their outdoor space?

The Private School Factor: If you’re considering applying to independent schools you’ll want a nursery school directory experienced in helping guide families through the private school admissions process. But don’t believe the hype that your child must attend a certain nursery school to get into a certain private school.

5. But He’s Only Two
It can be strange and upsetting to separate from your child at two-years-old, but parents on the front lines feel it usually works out fine—and the fact is that there are many more available slots in twos programs than there are in threes programs. Still, many child development specialists argue that two is a time for bonding between a child and his parent or caregiver, and chances are you are still likely to find a spot at three if you apply widely. Meanwhile, at two you could look around for a preschool alternative class.

6. Final Notes
It’s okay for a child to act like a child during admissions playgroups; it’s not okay for a parent to act like one. Don’t be apologetic if your child does something childlike. Just be a doting and patient parent. Stick to what they ask for in the application! Treat individual parent interviews like job interviews: try to be your best self, do some research, ask relevant questions. It’s wise to take the process seriously, but not do-or-die seriously. It is just nursery school, and anyway, the best thing you can offer your child at any age is quality time with you.


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