Ask the grumpies: How do you pick a preschool?

Leah asks:

How do you pick preschool? Our best options are the Catholic school ($6,300 tuition, and that includes lunch and the before/after care, but Catholic school), public school ($6,300 tuition and does NOT include those things, so we’d pay an extra $2k for lunch and care), or staying at our current daycare/preschool that our daughter seems to be aging out of (~$5,500ish, includes full day, breakfast, lunch, all snacks and no random vacation days). The other two preschools have random vacation days. We’d have to send in snack about once a month at the Catholic school, but at least they have snacks.

We are just so torn and are not sure what’s the most important and whether it’s worth it to pay $2k more for public school. That’s a lot of money for us.

Here’s our answer to a more general question 4 years ago on how to pick a daycare .  The fundamentals are still the same– visit the schools and look for teacher/student interactions and student/teacher happiness.  What’s slightly different for older kids is first that your child will be better able to tell you if something is going wrong, and second, intellectual stimulation may be more important.  So ask about differentiation if applicable.  (I also have to say I am in love with the way Montessori gets kids to clean up after themselves– a huge benefit, so keep an eye out for who cleans up after activities when you visit.)

Given that your current daycare is cheaper and less of a hassle (those random vacation days are no joke, also remembering snack once a month is non-trivial for us, though at least it’s just once a month), have you talked to their administration about getting more intellectual stimulation for your kid?  It may cost less than 1-3K to provide materials.  On the other hand, if the school just isn’t set up for that, it isn’t set up for that.

What is most important to us:

  1. Happiness
  2. Hassle
  3. Intellectual and physical exhaustion by the end of the day
  4. Actual learning

But YMMV.  Happiness is non-negotiable for us.  There are tradeoffs with hassle and learning that we’re willing to make, and indeed, getting DC1 to start K early was significantly more hassle than just keeping hir at preschool another year.  DC2’s public school isn’t leaving hir exhausted at the end of the day (zie still misses hir Montessori director’s math classes), but zie is learning Spanish so that’s pretty cool.  Thankfully we have paid care options for the random days off.

Regarding the religious aspect– ask them how they handle the Easter story.  That’s a good test for if they’re creepy religious or story-based religious at these ages.  I want to say that most Catholic preschools are story-religious, but I was a little traumatized by the Easter story in my Catholic kindergarten– how they handle these things really varies, even among preschools with the same denomination (as we found out with two different Missouri Synod Lutheran preschools).

Grumpy Nation:  What advice would you give Leah when making this decision?


5 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How do you pick a preschool?”

  1. Omdg Says:

    I’d go with vibe. Which place feels best to you when you walk through the door. Second on my list is intellectual / physical exhaustion achieved by the end of the day. Third is convenience. I don’t know your financial situation so that may be important too.

  2. sarah Says:

    #1-4 are excellent suggestion; #3 was the most important when looking at preschools for my child as he needed at least eight solid hours of physical and mental stimulation per day or he would not sleep at night.

    Some questions rolling around in my head – Is it possible to stay enrolled in the current daycare and if things do not work out move mid-year to the public or Catholic preschool? Can you enroll at the public preschool at any point during the year? Is the preschool the same school your child will go to for elementary school? Do all three schools provide summer programs/do you even need summer programs? Are all three locations equally convenient to work and/or home?

    For me, if most things are equal, I always choose the most conveniently located solution.

  3. rose Says:

    Re the Catholic school: if at Easter they are singing songs about ‘nails in J’s bloody hands and feet’….. for kindergarten…….. how will you handle it. YMMV.

  4. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I don’t have any advice for Leah, just sympathy. There are only two full-day preschools here, and one full-time daycare, and that is IT. There are three half-day preschools and two are church preschools. (We ended up with Liberal Methodist Preschool for the older kids – they had fun, they learned a little, it was inexpensive- and then the second full-day preschool for Kid 3, because the other one has a two-year waitlist that she was on for 18 months, and I have to be at work. They keep her alive! She enjoys it! She might learn something and in the meanwhile she knows how to clean up and they do music class every day.)

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