Decision time, traditionally the time frame when college-bound high schoolers learn their admissions fate and then must select a college to attend, has now claimed a new group—preschool parents who are competing to get their children admitted to preschools in cities across the nation.
Competitive preschool admission—once an isolated phenomenon of a few highly selective preschools catering to urban elites—is now the norm as preschool enrollments surge and parents flock to get a spot in one of the country’s many preschools. This new emphasis on preschool is fueled in large part by studies showing that how well a child reads at the end of first grade predicts how well they read in later grades, graduation rates and even their income level as an adult.
“Preschool is the new kindergarten,” states Stacey Boyd, Founder and CEO of The Savvy Source. “Preschool is the beginning of a child’s educational career, and parents naturally want to make informed decisions about their child’s first years of formal education.”
Research has found that great preschools share five critical characteristics:
1. Make sure that the ABCs and 123s are a key part of the school’s learning goals. The very best preschools help ready children advance beyond age norms, but they also nurture children who are behind so they catch up in these early years. Look for: Letter and number materials in the classroom and on the walls; a well-stocked bookcase, tracing paper, maps, clocks, and puzzles.
2. Ask how “play” is woven into the day, particularly imaginative and physical play. Great preschools encourage “pretend play” because research shows that it improves emotional/behavioral skills that predict academic performance later. Look for: a costume corner, art up on the walls, pretend kitchen sets and pairs or small groups of children working together creating and collaborating. Physical play helps children develop gross motor skills which directly correlate with long-term health. Look for: outside play time, room for kids to run around, a climbing structure, tricycles, and balls for children to throw.
3. Ask if children are able to choose some of their activities during the day. Studies show that when children have the chance to make choices at ages 3 or 4, they have better long term social and life outcomes on a variety of measures. Look for: A copy of the school’s schedule that shows windows of time that are dedicated to play and stations where children are able to choose activities.
4. Check for positive/nurturing relationships between teachers and children. A strong, a positive relationship with a teacher is a predictor of children’s cognitive advancement in preschool. Look for: teachers’ smiles encouraging children and strong teacher interaction in the classroom.
5. Look for close alignment with “home values.” Schools should handle social and emotional issues similar to the approach you use at home since consistency is essential in helping preschoolers develop. Ask the teachers or director: if two children always played together and one day one child decides to play with another child and leaves his friend behind, how the teacher might handle that situation. Think about whether that approach is the same one you would have taken.
Don’t fret if admission to the most popular preschools seems impossible. There’s a good chance that there are other equally good—or better—preschools available. In addition, many preschools have waiting pools, not waiting lists. If your child is waitlisted, take action right away.
Step 1: Write a friendly letter in which you:
• Express your disappointment.
• Explain in simple, clear terms why the preschool is such a great fit for your child.
• Explain clearly why other preschools will not be a good fit for your child.
• End with a simple statement about the one or two most impressive quality indicators that put the school at the top of your list.
• Grovel. Express directly the hope that your child will be admitted if a slot opens for any reason at any time.
Step 2: Call or visit the director’s office—make sure you actually speak to the director.
• The phone call is best made the day you get the “no” letter or soon thereafter.
• It’s also very appropriate to mention that you intend to contribute to the school in specific, helpful ways, if true.
• Talk to the director once, send your letter, and then give it a rest. More calls right away may backfire (what director wants that parent in the preschool?).
Step 3: Ask a friend with children in the preschool to call to the director on your child’s behalf.
• The theme: “This child and family are so awesome that we can’t allow them not to be admitted!” If you don’t have friends at the preschool, don’t sweat it. Polite persistence and knowledge of how well the preschool fits your child’s needs may win out.
Step 4: Follow up at the right times.
• An immediate barrage of phone calls may backfire, especially if you are not high on the ultra-politely-assertive scale.
• If you hear nothing for a few weeks, it’s OK to follow up with a quick check to say you are still interested.
• Halfway through the summer and again at the end of summer, check in again.
• Remember, if you cross the line between assertive and annoying/aggressive, you may lose out. But it’s better to try and fail than not try at all.
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