A parent’s guide to surviving school search open house season

Ah, fall in Chicago. Crisp air, no tourists, moms rejoicing that at last they have gained jackets with pockets that fit larger items like phones, credit cards and what usually is in their purse on their person* and grumpy Matt Boresi yelling about kids getting off his leaf-ridden lawn while he also bemoans everyone else in the world loving fall. Really, there’s nothing like this magical time of year. Unfortunately, for many of us parents with little tykes not yet in school, fall doesn’t just mean apple-themed desserts, satisfyingly crunching leaves on our walks and cozy clothing, it also means something much more sinister: School Open House Season.

That’s right, folks. If you–like me–are looking down the barrel of preschool or kindergarten next year, the time is upon us when we book sitters or enlist friends and family to watch our children as we embark on the journey to Finding The Right School For Our Children Without Forever Damaging Their Longterm Psyches Or Earning Potentials (FTRSFOCWFDTLPOEP, for short).

Worried? Of course you are. This is a huge decision. And while intellectually deep down you know that everything will work out for the best, and you’ll figure out if you need to calibrate or change course later on, this is still a stressful time. But fear not; I am here in the weeds with you** providing a step-by-step guide on how to survive the slew of Open Houses you are about to attend.


Make a spreadsheet. You will probably make this in Google Docs because it’s 2016 and you’ll need to…


Share the spreadsheet with your spouse/partner/pre-preschooler (you know, the preschooler who is inevitably already better at pivot tables than you).


Realize you have no idea what column headings you actually need on the spreadsheet other than “Name of School” and “Comments/Feelings About School.”


Start Googling completely unhelpful things like, “What are good schools in Chicago?” and “When is the next Star Wars movie release date?”


Regroup. Perhaps find a school search “buddy” who is also in the middle of the school search process and with whom you share general educational philosophies/tastes in reasonably-priced wines. Bonus points if your school search buddy’s child will not be in the same grade as your child because, cough, competition, cough.


Start narrowing down what you’re actually looking for in a school (Preschool only? K-12? PK-8? Magnet? Educational approach? Recess, music, arts? Language Immersion? Teaching your child not to eat glue sticks?).


Label your spreadsheet columns like the organized educational maven you are. Gain confidence.


Start researching travel times, tuitions and admissions rates to the schools that meet all your criteria as you add those columns in as well. Cry just a little bit as you and your school search buddy open up the aforementioned reasonably-priced wine you agreed upon.


Consider switching to boxed wine, because you’re now drinking with your child’s educational future in mind and tuition and/or fundraising dollars are now tallying up in your brain.


Attend the NPN School Fair because if anything will help you in your search it’s GLOSSY PAMPHLETS.


Return from the school fair bewildered. Spreadsheet. Try to remember a time when The Spreadsheet did not exist in your life. Question when you started capitalizing The Spreadsheet and when it’s going to become self aware. When did The Spreadsheet re-label itself as Skynet? Maybe also stop with the wine for the night.


Start signing up for open houses at the schools you most like, making sure to diversify your options and types of schools. Book babysitters/friends/willing neighbors/family to watch your children on all these days/nights out. Resolve to make a New Year’s resolution of “have actual date nights that do not involve talking about The Spreadsheet.”


The night before the open house of a school, desperately search your house for the GLOSSY PAMPHLETS you collected at the school fair, because apparently now neither the internet nor the school’s website exist? Also, why are the pamphlets in the cabinet above the dryer? Who put them there? Side eye The Spreadsheet. It’s up to something.


Attend the open houses. Know that despite all efforts you will inevitably behave as your most awkward self, whether that’s asking all the questions or somehow forgetting how your vocal cords work. You will simply try to get through the open house holding a cup of complimentary coffee and nodding and half-smiling at everyone who passes by who looks somewhat affiliated with the school. There is simply no in-between behavior at a school open house, and the quicker you accept that, the quicker the pain will be over.


Return from the open house and resolve to “do better next time” as you untap that next box of wine and turn to the only being in the world who will still listen to your school search neuroses: The Spreadsheet.


Repeat steps 13-15 until all open houses have been attended.


Commence minor existential crisis. Panic that existential crisis is not a labeled column on The Spreadsheet.


Start trying to have conversations with loved ones that don’t involve the words “cluster magnet,”  “differentiated learning” or “Can you believe this is what we have to do just for preschool?!”


Start color-coding The Spreadsheet in order to whittle down options and preferences for the magnet lottery and/or applications. Ponder whether you should now call it “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamspreadsheet.” Maybe also put down the wine for the night.


Commence the application/magnet school lottery process. This will potentially make you lose whatever sanity you have left, but, on the bright side: congratulations! You have officially made it through School Open House Season!

Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Sure, you were most definitely awkward at the open houses. And sure, you thought of five questions you wanted to ask right as you were leaving, despite literally having written them down on a piece of paper that was in your purse the entire time. And of course, this process is completely bizarre and seems much worse than when you applied for college. But, you know, the thing is that you survived, which if there’s ever been an excuse to break out that “reserve” box o’ wine, I’d say this is it.


*No, seriously. This is one of my most favorite things about fall/winter.

**This fact, of course, provides no actual help or solace.

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