Friday, August 24, 2007

Choosing a nursery school

My son is starting nursery school in September. Of course, being that we live in Manhattan, the nursery school admission process is comparable, stress-wise, to admissions to college.

We started out looking at about ten different nursery programs, Jewish and secular. I made my requisite phone calls, insanely dialing like a radio call in contest for concert tickets. We got a handful of applications, some appointments for tours, and then did the second wave of inquiries at the first come first served schools (read, schools for losers that didn’t make it through the rigors of the process). My son, my delightful son, my bright son who can tell jokes, speaks in full sentences, and eats edamame, had three interviews. And was then waitlisted. And in the end, only accepted at the school we wanted (a first come first served program) and the school we hated the most.

We looked at four Jewish programs. Three were horrible. The first, I’ll call “A,” was a disaster. At the interview, the lead teacher effusively complimented one of the six children and ignored the rest (including my son). And most of all, they give “charity” instead of “tzedakah” and recite motzi as the catch all bracha instead of the correct brachot over various foods. Lost educational opportunity, if you ask me (we applied and were accepted).

The second, “B,” was worse. I called for information. The person who answered the phone told me I would have to come in during school hours for an information packet. I told her that I am a WOHM (work outside the home mom) and that I would not be able to come in: could I have it mailed? I was told no. Off my list.

“C” is a huge program in a gorgeous facility with great resources. It also seems corporate, the kids were all in lines, walking silently into their classrooms, and the teachers often leave after a year. In theory, I liked it, but it just wasn’t the messy, creative experience I imagined for my son. Plus, my husband walked into a classroom where he saw a group of children and a teacher spending five minutes discussing something they were about to do: “You put your foot like this, and then like this, and your arms like this.” Turns out, they were discussing how to do the “mayim” step. Get up and do it already, stop talking about it! We didn’t bother applying.

In the end, we chose D, the first come first served program that welcomes everyone and doesn’t penalize if you didn’t call that very first day to get an application. The fundamental religious philosophy of the institution is not one we share. The community and faculty are far more traditional than we are. But bottom line, it was the place we as parents felt most comfortable. It has a sunny, attractive facility and long-time faculty members. According to school policy, no one will invite my son to a birthday party held at a restaurant on Shabbat, or serve him pepperoni pizza at their home party. My son won’t be the only one who graduates and goes on to a Jewish day school. Sure, the other kid in the group interview decked my kid not once, not twice but three times in the head before the other parent intervened, but I have been thrilled with everything since, and school doesn’t start for another few weeks.

Bottom line, I discovered something very valuable. Nursery schools are all, by and large, places where kids learn how to be social beings and learn through play. Programs all conform to state standards and generally have decent teachers who care about the kids. Your child will thrive, regardless, because your child will thrive anywhere, with a little sunshine, a little water and a little love. But unless parents feel comfortable with the educational philosophy *and* the community, the experience is not likely to be a good one. Not only is my son excited for the beginning of the year, but I am too.


mother in israel said...

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

In DC there is exactly one bilingual preschool class, and most of the spots go to "legacies." When I asked my friend, half-kiddingly--if I should start making myself known the the school administration (my son was then 6 months, the program starts at 4 years) he said, with a totally straight face, "It couldn't hurt."