Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Few Thousand Words on Preschool

I'll try to break this up into manageable pieces. Hee.

PRESCHOOL RESOURCE: For all my L.A. ladies, join the Parents Education League mailing list to get notices about their preschool fairs. I've found a handful of preschool seminars, but so far this PEL thing is the only one offering an actual event with in-person access to multiple schools and directors. Tonight's fair was held at Turning Point, which is the Most Expensive Private School in Los Angeles. I have thoughts on Turning Point, but I'll save them for another snark session day. Anyway, Turning Point is around the corner, so I figured what the hell, registered and attended. According to the PEL lady at the fair, they have these things at least twice a year, and the location is different every time, to spread the burden of hosting and/or distance commuting.

PRESCHOOL FAIR DRAMA: The confirmation email for this thing said, firmly, NO STROLLERS PLEASE. To which I responded, "Wait, what? Strollers? Are we supposed to bring our kids to this thing and show them off? Is this a poorly disguised interview? This is a poorly disguised toddler show-off session isn't it?!"

I did not bring my toddler, and walking up there I was very concerned that I'd missed a key opportunity, but lo and behold, it just a mix of moms alone (including various preggos), dads alone, couples without kids, and parents with kids, generally wrapped snuggly in their Ergo carriers or Mobys or roaming free, depending on age. The babies were all adorable, and the parents seemed to be a mix of shell-shocked and schmoozy.

Now, I must confess, the whole thing gave me agita I haven't felt since Jackson was first born, when I would see other newborns on our walks and silently scream, "Goddamnit, there's another kid who's going to steal Jackson's spot at Local Public Foreign-Language Immersion Lottery-Only School. Aaaah!" And then I eventually realized, "Hey, everything is going to be fine." (And it will be fine, of course--if only because I can always homeschool if I have to.)

WHO'S WHO AT THE ZOO? I feared the fair would be content-free and artificial, but it was actually somewhat valuable. The schools were arranged by region: West, Beach, Hollywood, etc. A couple of the schools I wanted to learn about were MIA, but I chatted with directors from four schools:

1. Absolutely Ideal Local Preschool We Love That We'll Probably Go To. I adore the director and that adoration was just reinforced tonight. They're apparently starting a new Mommy & Me session shortly, at an astonishingly affordable price (did I mention this school was absolutely ideal?), so we'll probably give that a shot.

2. Little Darlings, which would be the prestige choice. It's a pretty darn great school, but it's (a) expensive, (b) not especially close, and (c) we probably wouldn't get in anyway. If we were to be magically accepted, it would be hard to say no to, but I'd probably have to go back to work to afford it. My talk with the boss lady felt awkward and weird, partly because I am awkward and weird and partly because it's just one of those schools people pant over and there are no doubt hundreds of parents clamoring for those 24 slots and she's got to manage expectations and generally keep the wolves at bay.

3. Commercial For-Profit Preschool Chain Preschool That Opened a New School Near-ish To Us: I'm not sure if this school is terrible or fine (I've heard both), but the director was friendly enough that I think I'll take a tour.

4. First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica Preschool: This is the preschool I went to, lo those many years ago, and it was really sweet talking to the director, because her daughter was there when I went there. Her assistant kept being amazed that I remembered stuff like the basement classroom (that they apparently still have!).

PRESCHOOL SEARCH STATUS UPDATE, PART ONE: The big status update is that we decided that if all else fails, homeschooling preschool is totally a thing you can do. Preschool only even became a thing in the last generation, and I feel confident that I can do what needs to be done at this level to keep Jackson "competitive" with the other kids. One of my mom friends asked the other day, "So, what are the deliverables from preschool? Colors, shapes, letters, numbers?" and I was like "Yes, but mostly it's 'Can they stand in line and pay attention during circle time?' " In short, I feel like I can deliver all the preschool deliverables (LOL) between now and the time he's 5.5.

Now, that said, there are plenty of advantages to preschool that I would like us to have, including, but not limited to: (1) The kid seeing friends his own age on a regular basis, (2) the craft-project mess being somewhere other than our kitchen table, (3) more puzzles and fancier block sets than I can possibly afford, (4) music and nursery rhymes, which I'm terrible at remembering and performing, (5) community-building for us and for him, (6) the intangibles of learning to exist outside the shelter of home and bumping up against the troubles of life and bouncing back from them.

So, we're basically pro-preschool but having the option of homeschooling has been tremendously liberating for me. There were three preschool applications sitting on my desk since I did a cluster of tours in April. Quite frankly, I wasn't that bowled over by any of the three schools so I delayed, postponed and procrastinated on submitting the forms and the application fee. But why consider them at all if I wasn't enthused about the schools? Because for a long while I felt like I should cast as wide a net as possible in case the ideal schools didn't come through. No more. I shredded all those applications and put 'em in the compost pile; if our favorite schools don't happen for us, we'll just stay home.

PRESCHOOL SEARCH STATUS UPDATE, PART TWO: Out of 44 possible preschools that have been in our consideration set so far, there are 18 schools remaining in contention and 26 schools on the reject list. The schools in the "no" pile are there for a variety of reasons ranging from too far and too fancy to "the horror, the horror!" (For my L.A. people, the horror rhymes with Zel-o-Dee Zontessori.) Of the 18 schools still in consideration, there are applications in at 7, there are a couple that I've toured but that I can't commit to yet for one reason or another, and there are another 8 or so that I still need to visit. The to-be-visited group is split evenly between schools that might really be prospects and schools that are probably the dregs. Still, I just have to see them for myself because I am an OCD completist like that.

All that said, so far there are three schools that have genuinely impressed me: Ideal Local, Little Darlings and Next-Neighborhood Montessori. Andrew is a fan of Ideal Local, because he found it and because it's the closest and most affordable, too, but I don't want to give up on the other two too soon, just in case things change in our lives in some way I can't predict now. (When I was looking at schools on maternity leave I didn't apply at one local co-op preschool because I was sure that as a working mom I wouldn't be able to volunteer. Obviously now I would have time to volunteer, so lesson learned on keeping my options open!)

RANDOM: When I went to that Betsy Brown Braun preschool thing last year, she said go visit First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica Preschool just to see what the ideal preschool looks like. I did as I was told, and so help me, it really was a wonderful place. Of course, Betsy was right, as she always is. Having the First Pres experience as a visual has been surprisingly helpful in evaluating other schools; I'm just better able to recognize what the various schools are trying to achieve with their chicken coops and their mosaic walls, and I can see to what degree the concept and execution are working (or not).

There was no chance of us going to First Pres, so it was an incredibly relaxed tour for me, and I really enjoyed it--I kinda recommend it if you have time. Plus, celebrity sightings! An early '90s child actor was on my tour, a minor USA Network TV star was there dropping off her kid as we walked through the yard, I think I recognized the name of a quasi-famous screenwriter's kid, and there was a picture of a celebrity kid you see in Us Weekly every other week on one of the photo walls.

How are your school searches going, folks? Hit the comments. I wanna know.

Further Reading: How Do I Find a Preschool in West Los Angeles?


Cupcake Mama said...

Hey lady. I can't find my red sheet from BBB! Ahhhhh the horror--do you remember what she said about Beth Shir?

jengod said...

No idea and I gave my red sheet to another friend, but I was just eyeballing one school thinking, "Damn, what does BBB think of this place? That's all I need to know to decide if I should tour." :)

Jenny said...

Wow! The CA preschool scene is so intense. It is very low key where we live here. The very wonderful Montessori my son attended for ages 3-4 was only $300 a month for four days, a week, and three hours a day. There are sometimes waiting lists for preschools in our area, but never the need to camp out or anything. Good luck!

Elana said...

Ughhhhhhh! This is so grim. (You are totally my preschool guru, so thank you for these updates - but still, GRIM!!!)

I just want my kid to fool around in the mud and learn about circle time and come home tired. Do I have to move to Portland for this dream to be a reality?!?

I just signed up for the PEL mailing list - thanks for that tip. We went to a preschool fair in Pasadena back when we thought we'd be staying on the Eastside. It was kind of useful, at least in terms of immediately realizing that I was not a Christian school kind of person... and feeling deeply wistful about the Waldorf school and their enormous live bunny. Hopefully the PEL people will do another one soon!