Choosing The Right Preschool: A Condensed Guide To Not Ruining Your Kid

by Ali Wilkinson
choosing a preschool
Susan Chiang / iStock

It’s February, friends. At one point in your life, that may have meant Valentine’s Day and the beginning of spring thaws and other things that are right and lovely with the world. But if you have a child between the ages of, say, 2 and 4, February is no longer a source of candy hearts and early daffodils. No, it is time to think ahead seven months to the start of preschool.

There is an awesome post making its way around social media, aptly titled “How to Choose the Right Preschool So You Don’t F**k Your Kid Up for Life.” I commend the author for his thoughtful approach to choosing the correct school. And while I laughed, it was that kind of self-conscious laughter that you do because the joke hits a little too close to home. (I refer you to basically all of Portlandia.)

But the thing is, while I totally agree that there are a lot of considerations to make when choosing a preschool, this mama brain has room for about five things total, and I can’t be using up four times that capacity for preschool choices. When it comes down to it, here is all you really need to think about:

1. The Name

The correct preschool should be two words long (not including “and”) or one compound word. Those words must fit within two of the following categories: 1) birds, 2) plants, 3) children, and/or 4) nurturing. So for instance, a correct preschool could be called:

– “Talons and Sprouts”: killer name. I would send my kid there sight unseen.

– “Caring Garden”: maybe a little too Waldorfy, but acceptable.

– “Loving Conifer”: okay, a little strange, but I’d check it out.

– “KinderGrowth”: I’m intrigued, and I sense an immersion component here.

In contrast, unacceptable preschools would be those along the lines of:

– “Growing Wings for Little Trees”: they got the main points, but too long.

– “Playground”: too short, and also unclear whether this is actually a preschool or just, in fact, a playground. “PlayGround,” however, could be acceptable.

– “Child Kid”: two words, but both from the same category.

– “Uncle Jim’s Drive-In Daycare”: too long and really didn’t hit any of the big four.

2. Hours

Preschools break down into roughly two categories: those that require your child to be there for 14 hours a day, five days a week, and those that are open for roughly 45 minutes twice a week. Preschools that allow flexible schedules are likely to have a multi-decade long wait-list. Get on it now, for your grandchildren’s sake.

3. Location

The ideal school should be no more than 60 seconds walking distance from your house. If that means it’s in a treehouse in your neighbor’s yard, or in a tent the block over, whatever, that’s fine. I know you may be thinking “15 minutes isn’t too far; it’s for my child, for her education!” Yes, it is too far. Even if you just have one kid in preschool, that’s an hour of driving every day, not to mention the extra, oh, three hours it takes to get everyone ready and in the car.

4 . Cost

As with hours, the cost of preschools tends to fall into two categories: “How could it be so cheap?” and “How could it be so expensive?” If it’s super cheap, it may be because: 1) you are expected to volunteer there, a lot, as well as do massive amounts of fundraising; or 2) it actually is a playground and not a preschool. If it’s super expensive, it’s because of crazy parents like us who think it’s reasonable that the lag time between applying to a preschool and starting there should equate to the amount of time it took to grow that same child from scratch. (I feel like there’s a preschool name in there—ChildGrowth? Gestation Soar?)

5. Open House Behavior

Assuming you find a preschool that meets all your requirements, it is then time to go to the open house. Be prepared: Open houses are super awkward. You want to show that you are interested, but not too interested. Here are some pointers to help navigate:

– Never try to sit in one of those child-sized chairs. Just don’t.

– Observe the classroom for the appropriate amount of time.

– Let me know if you figure out what the appropriate amount of time is, because I have no idea. I went to one today where they asked everyone to be out in 90 minutes. Ninety minutes?! I was ready to go in approximately 90 seconds. So I awkwardly crouched in the corner of a room (so as to be at child level) before discreetly getting the heck out of there.

– If you ask a question, remember to listen to the answer instead of just rethinking whether you asked the right question for the full amount of time it takes to answer.

– If you forget to listen, at least remember to nod your head thoughtfully.

If all goes well, you should have the right preschool for your yet-to-be-conceived child just after he or she starts second grade. Good luck!