Pre-School and Daycare

Making a hard choice between two preschools

 My son will start this fall (he's just turning three) and we have two options for preschool (he has a spot in both) and I don't know what to do.

Option 1: Great school we love. It is $450 per month (sadly cheap for where we live) and while I currently take public transit to work, I'd have to drive and do the pick up/drop off with him, and that would also add costs since we live in a big city where parking by work is pretty expensive even with validation (another $200 per month). This added $650 a month is a lot for our budget.

Option 2: Preschool through our local parks district. Very inexpensive- $800 for the whole year, same hours as option 1. Right across the street, nanny could take our infant and do pick up and drop off easily. Our nanny sees this class at the playground and says the teachers seem fine but not fantastic when she observes them with the kids at playground time. We have toured this place and it seems perfectly fine but nothing extraordinary.

We plan to move back to our home state in a year, so for age 4 he will likely be in a different program. I feel very torn about what is "best" for our son in this circumstance. Any advice?

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Re: Making a hard choice between two preschools

  • i would need more information before giving advice.

    observing on a playground is often more different than in a classroom.

    what i would look for is how teachers are talking with children - are they asking open ended questions, are they down at the children's eye level talking, are they disciplining in a way you do at home and approve of.

    what is the teacher to child ratio in each program. in most places, preschool is one teacher to ten children which is legal; however, places have more than one teacher for ten children.

    what type of materials are in the programs, are the materials ones you buy at walmart and are the newest commercialized product (ie frozen) or are they more open ended, recyclable materials to extend children's creativity.

    does any program offer nutritious meals to the children or are you providing meals?

    have you looked to see if there are any head start programs in your area? head start programs have a lot of guidelines to follow and provide quality care to children and families. some head starts (since they are income eligible programs) offer child care, so you could pay for the same services and quality education.

    is any program taking field trips and are you comfortable with your child leaving the property either walking or in a vehicle?

    there are a lot more ideas i have flowing through my head about this, but my laptop is dying.

    what i am trying to get at - look at everything, make a side by side list of the programs. don't go by just price and location because you may certainly deeply regret that at some point.


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  • Hm... That's a tough choice.  

    One thing you did not mention is whether this is FT or PT preschool.  I would be extremely skeptical about any FT preschool that was $800 for the entire 10 months.  There's no way a program that cheap could afford to pay professional teachers.  On the other hand, if that's $800 for 2 or 3 mornings a week, I could see doing it.  

    When I was looking at preschools when my DD was about to turn 3, I noticed that there was little correlation between price and quality.  I also noticed that some "preschool" programs are really just a jazzed up daycare.  These programs were marked by 2 things:  very little structure and low paid staff who weren't actually teachers.  Now, that's not to say that the caregivers weren't nice.  And a child could have a great experience at one of these programs.  But I got a strong sense that these programs viewed themselves as a holding tank for children.  It didn't really matter what the kids did during the day, as long as they were safe and happy.

    The preschool I chose was one of the cheaper options, but what stood out was that the teachers were actual teachers, not babysitters.  They had goals for the development of their students, most of which had nothing to do with cognitive development.  The playground equipment and every toy in the place (and there weren't tons of toys) were chosen carefully to maximize the opportunities for children to develop motor, social, emotional, and cognitive skills.  There was a progression to the art projects and a reason why certain projects were done in the fall and others not until spring. The teachers really knew and understood both of my very different children and worked with them to grow socially and emotionally.  

    If you are really just looking for him to have some exposure to kids his own age and a chance to gain some independence, and an introduction to a more organized classroom experience, then both schools probably fit the bill and you should go with the cheaper option.  This may work for you, since you will have another year of preschool in your hometown to find a program that's higher quality at a reasonable price.  If it doesn't make sense to pay even $800 for him to have exposure to other kids, and you think the other preschool is fantastic, go with it.

    As a price comparison (my kids were in preschool 6 to 10 years ago, but I do live in a pricey suburb of Washington, DC.)  the 3s class at my kids' preschool was two mornings a week and cost $100/month.  The pre-K was 5 afternoons a week and cost $390/month.  This was one of the least expensive schools I had visited.
    High School English teacher and mom of 2 kids:

    DD, born 9/06/00 -- 12th grade
    DS, born 8/25/04 -- 7th grade
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  • Can you visit them?

    Based on what you said, assuming both are safe and generally decent, I would definitely do the cheaper one. It will be SOooooo much easier, plus cheaper, and he's just three. It's mostly for socialization, manners, etc at that age. Then he can start something else after you move and I'm sure he'll do fine.

    The first option sounds like WAY too much hassle.

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