If you are thinking about applying your child to nursery school in a city like New York or Los Angeles, where getting into nursery school can be as competitive as getting into an Ivy League, here are some of the most frequently asked questions parents ask on about the admissions process.
- Is getting into a private nursery school really that competitive?
It depends where you live. In New York City, it can be very difficult if you have your sights set on what are often referred to as “The Baby Ivies.” These are the nursery schools that supposedly feed into the most in-demand private schools that allegedly feed into the Ivy League Colleges (which allegedly feed into a highly successful and happy life – but that’s a whole other story!). Even if you live in Denver, Colorado, there are preschools that are very hard to get into. In a city like Denver, however, there are pre-schools that are easy to get into, so you can relax more there about this issue than you can in a competitive private nursery school city like Manhattan.
- Why is it so hard to get into some nursery schools?
Space is an issue. Nursery school classes must be kept small by law. Once an older sibling has attended a preschool, his younger sibling will almost always be admitted, limiting the number of spaces available. Unlike kindergarten and on, there are few public preschool options available. Also, like hot restaurants, certain preschools take on a cache and soon, everyone wants their child to go there.
- When do I apply for nursery school?
This depends where you live. In most cities, you can start looking one year before your child would start, in September. Believe it or not, there are schools that make you sign your child up as soon as he is born if he is even to be considered for admission the year he is eligible. In New York City, the most popular schools accept requests for applications the day after Labor Day and often run out of space before the end of the day. Other schools will take everyone’s request and then give applications away by lottery. There are also many programs that take applications long after Labor Day. My advice is to do a bit of research in your own market and find out what is customary there.
- At what age should my child start?
Early childhood experts say that children under age 2 who are developing normally and have loving, supportive families do not need to be in school. As long as you are engaged with your child, talking to him about things you do together, reading to him, exploring the world, and bringing him up in a stimulating environment, school isn’t necessary at such a young age. You may have a good reason for putting a child into nursery school before age 2 (i.e. you work full time and want your child stimulated during the day by a professional educator), but it generally isn’t necessary. Three is the ideal time to send a child to school. By then, kids are independent, able to separate and handle the physical demands of going to nursery school.
- What is the process to apply?
Again, this depends on where you live. You’ll need to do your research. Even in a market where there seems to be a customary way to apply, some schools may not follow the pack, so ask at each school that interests you. For example, some schools will require that you tour before they will accept your application. Others won’t schedule a tour unless you’ve already applied. If you are in a very competitive market, apply to multiple schools and get your applications in as soon as you can. In tough markets, they may close out application acceptance earlier than when they say they will if they get too many in to handle. Once your applications are in, make sure that you schedule your tour, your child’s visit, your interview or whatever they require before making an admissions decision.
- Do nursery school applications have essay questions?
In many markets, yes. You might find a question on an application such as, “Tell us about your child?” “What does your family enjoy doing together?’ “What separation experiences has your child had so far?’ When you are asked questions like these, take time to answer them thoughtfully. Many nursery schools don’t interview parents individually. In those cases, your answers may be the only way they can get to know your family. If they don’t give you enough space on the application, just attach a separate piece of paper with your typed answer.
- What should you look for in a nursery school?
Ideally, the school will be close to home for your convenience and also so that your child makes friends in the neighborhood. Consider the type of school you want, whether it is Montessori, progressive, traditional, religious or cooperative. If you aren’t sure, visit several different types to see what feels right to you.
Do you want a morning, afternoon or extended day program? How much do the programs in your neighborhood cost? When you visit the school, notice the vibe you are getting. Is it noisy? Calm? Chaotic? Are the children having fun? What are the teachers like? Do they have degrees in early childhood education? Do they look interested and engaged? How do they handle an upset child? What is the director like? Would she be easy for you to work with if there is a problem? What is the space like? Is it bright? Well organized? Are materials accessible to children? Is it Clean? Is the toilet area clean? Is there an outdoor play space? Does the school seem safe and secure? What is the parent community like? Are there chances to volunteer and be in the classroom? Are parents or babysitters dropping off the kids? What is your gut reaction? Can you imagine your child going there?
- What are the nursery school directors looking for in the families they accept?
The director is looking for families whose values are consistent with theirs and with the other parents already in the school community. She wants to be sure that you understand and agree with the school’s educational philosophy. When you choose a program, you should be looking for the right fit between the school, it’s community, and your family. The director is going to evaluate whether you fit as well. The director wants to know that you would be a reasonable family to work with if there is ever a problem. If you have something special you can offer the school (i.e. you own a restaurant where they could hold a benefit or you are a web site designer who could help revamp the school’s site), this will appeal to the director. She is also looking for a balanced class of boys, girls, ethnicities and personalities.
- Do nursery schools really interview 3-year-olds?
A nursery school interview is usually just a classroom visit where the teachers observe children at play. They want to be sure the kids are where they should be developmentally. They are assessing personalities in order to create a class that is balanced in that respect. They may also be watching how you handle any situation that comes up with your child. If he poops in his Pampers, do you pretend it’s another child or do you shrug your shoulders and jump in to change him (you laugh, but I’ve a child eliminated because the parents ignored their child’s BM).
- Will connections help me get my child into nursery school?
Families with no connections manage to get their kids into nursery school every day. That said, if you do have friends with kids at a school that interests you, ask them to put in a good word for you and your child. You can also ask a teacher at the school, former parent, or board member to vouch for you. If you are the kind of family that will likely donate to the school, let someone else tell the director this – not you. In nursery school, connections are more likely to help than in the later grades.
- If my child attends an in-demand preschool, is she more likely to get into a top private school or gifted program?
The preschool directors of in-demand schools are likely to have established strong relationships with admissions directors of private schools so they can be very effective in getting your child placed in a top program. At the same time, your child will need to have qualifying test scores, a solid recommendation from her preschool, a good interview, and you will have to impress the director in your interview.
To get your child into a gifted program, your child will need to make qualifying test scores. The most important thing you can do to effect this is to send her to an excellent early childhood program. You can also learn the abilities your child needs to test well and make sure she has these by reading Testing For Kindergarten, by Karen Quinn (moi!) or by becoming a member of www.TestingMom.com .
- I’m planning to send my child to public school. Does it really matter if I send him to a top preschool?
Even if your child is going to a public school, charter school, or magnet school, he will be evaluated for placement in slow, average, and advance reading, writing and math groups as soon as he begins. He will have more opportunities to learn if he is placed in an advanced group. The key is to make sure your child attends a quality preschool so he is ready to hit the ground running as soon as he starts kindergarten.