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Picking a Preschool Is Like The Hunger Games, For Parents

Image source: Thinkstock
Image source: Thinkstock

When I chose my daughter’s daycare, it was mostly under duress. You see, I didn’t want her going to daycare. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and to have all those hours with her to myself. But as a single mom by choice, that wasn’t really an option. Mama had to work.

So I sought out daycares that offered part-time enrollment because if she was going to go, it wasn’t going to be all day long. That left me with a handful of choices, and only one appealed to me after doing walk-throughs. So, that was the place I chose — and my daughter has happily attended for the past 2+ years.

Over time, my aversion to daycare shifted. I saw that she was thriving there, and that she really did love having that time with other kids (and other toys). But recently, it was brought to my attention that her daycare was not an accredited preschool, when another mother asked what our plans for preschool were.

Confused, I said, “What do you mean? I was just planning on keeping her here?”

She looked at me, aghast, and stumbled over her next words, “Oh, well … I just … they’re not really a preschool. And don’t you want her prepared for kindergarten?”

How is one actually supposed to answer that question? “Nope. I was thinking of just throwing her to the wolves. Sink or swim, I always say.”

Ugh. Of course I want my daughter prepared for kindergarten. I just hadn’t realized where I was sending her wasn’t enough. But when I asked her daycare teachers about the preschool curriculum, they confirmed my newfound fears. Not only were they not an accredited preschool, but apparently they weren’t even supposed to teach the kids at all. Just playtime and music.

Great.

On the one hand, I thought to myself, does it really matter? How much of an education does a child really need before 5 anyway? And it’s not like I don’t work with her at home. Of course I do! We’ve been practicing colors and shapes and letters forever now!

But still, I felt like I should probably at least explore our options. I mean, other mommies were, and I wanted to be like the other mommies … didn’t I?

“Apparently I should have started thinking about this whole preschool thing back on the day my child was born.”
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So I started asking my friends about their preschool choices. One had her boys enrolled in a preschool known to be one of the coveted spots in town. The enrollment period (which is on a first-come, first-serve basis) happens in February or March, and people line up out in the snow at like 4 in the morning, hoping to get spots for the following year.

I had heard great things about this preschool, and briefly entertained the idea of getting in line this spring (even though I never get up early for anything). But then I realized they were geared more towards stay-at-home parents. Kids only go 2 or 3 days a week and only for a few hours a day. So I would have had to send her there and daycare — paying more than I care to think about for the combined options.

Not going to happen.

Another friend recently enrolled her daughter in a preschool with a gymnastics focus. The kids get a few hours of education every day, and an hour of dedicated gymnastics. I loved that idea, knowing my girl would thrive in a such an active setting. Plus, I could save the money I spend now on her weekly gymnastics classes.

But of course, they have a several months long waiting list, and I found myself wondering … do I want my girl to be that heavily involved in gymnastics? I love it as a hobby for her right now, but I have so many friends who were competitive gymnasts growing up and have horror stories for days about their experiences, their injuries, and the constant focus on weight loss. Would sending her to this preschool be a pre-cursor to that? Or am I way overthinking what would otherwise just be a fun way for her to spend her days?

Another friend raved to me about her child’s preschool, but then just as quickly added, “You’ll never get a spot … ” So that was that.

I started looking into a local Montessori school myself, as well as a Lutheran preschool I have heard amazing things about. Both, of course, also have long waiting lists to contend with.

Apparently I should have started thinking about this whole preschool thing back on the day my child was born. That’s clearly what all the good mommies did. And depending on who you’re talking to, some of them will even let you know it.

“So and so’s daughter went there,” one said. Then dropping her voice to a whisper, she added, “It didn’t seem to do her much good.”

Ouch. Are these still toddlers we’re talking about? I wondered.

“Preschool was a glorified daycare for me, not a first step on the path to Ivy Leagues.”
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I absolutely want my daughter to reach her fullest potential but when did this happen? When did it become so competitive? To that end, when did the age at which our children master writing their own names become some sort of marker for the potential they have ahead of them?

Obviously, I’m part of the problem because here I am, like so many other parents before me, weighing the pros and cons of various preschool options as though the choice I make truly could dictate who my child becomes.

I keep telling my friends that I am 90 percent positive nobody taught me to read until I was in 1st grade. Preschool was a glorified daycare for me, not a first step on the path to Ivy Leagues.

Of course, I didn’t attend the Ivy Leagues. So what do I know? Maybe if I had gone to a better preschool, my entire life would be different. Better somehow …

Or maybe those are the lies we tell ourselves to feel as though we have some measure of control. Giving ourselves pats on the back for choosing the “right” preschool, while other parents leave their children to wither away in an unaccredited daycare.

Gasp!

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