You’ve picked a crib. And a stroller. And a car seat. How about … a preschool?!?
Jenn and Dan Guistolise of Chicago are one week away from becoming parents, and they’ve already gotten too much advice about preschools. Some, they’ve been told, have multi-year waiting lists.
When your first child hits the scene, it’s hard enough to figure out nap times and sippy cups. Should you add preschool applications to your Year One parental to-do list? Not necessarily, says Nancy Giannoni of Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center in Chicago.
If you’re interested in a popular preschool with rolling admissions, you could apply early to be sure a spot is held for your child. But, she says, many families who submit early applications end up moving or changing their plans by the time their children start preschool. So there are often open spots for families who apply later.
Plus, many in-demand preschools, such as Chicago’s Near North Montessori, use a lottery to randomly select students—so early applications don’t help.
There are other good reasons to slow down. By waiting and applying later, you’ll have a better sense of your child’s temperament and learning style—and it’ll be easier to find a compatible environment.
Tanya and Todd Svoboda of Brookfield just started looking into preschools for their son Mack, who’s almost 3. And they’re focusing on schools that best suit his independent, high-energy personality.
Plus, things change. Preschool staff and offerings fluctuate, and your priorities may shift. Amy and Andrew Ross of Chicago visited a variety of preschools, from co-ops to church-sponsored programs. Ultimately, they decided proximity was a top priority, so their decision became much simpler—and they found a nurturing preschool with a great arts program within walking distance.
Perhaps most important, life is crazy enough as a new parent. The last thing you need is additional stress about formal education that’s years away. Although Ross was initially worried about finding the ideal preschool for her daughter, she quickly realized there were plenty of good options. And, she points out, this is school for 3-year-olds. While we all want the best for our kids, it’s important to keep things in perspective.
How do you know when your child is ready for preschool?
In Chicago, preschool is optional, and it’s primarily for kids to socialize, feel good about themselves and enjoy learning, says Bonnie Roelle, director of the state pre-kindergarten and tuition-based programs for Chicago Public Schools.
Many kids begin preschool at age 3, and parents typically start looking into options about a year ahead, according to Roelle. But it’s a personal decision, she says, in terms of when you and your child are ready.
Ideally, kids in preschool should be potty-trained, able to follow instructions, comfortable separating from their parents, doing some simple tasks independently and interacting in a group. But it isn’t always necessary, Roelle says.
When you and your child are ready, enjoy the process of selecting her first school. For now, good luck with those sippy cups.