My call to the first preschool on my list was answered by a voicemail
"Thank you for calling the First Church of Exclusivity
Preschool. We are currently accepting applications for the 2018/2019 school year.
Please visit our website to download the application form. Please do NOT leave
messages for us. Have a beautiful and joyful day."
"Okay," I told myself. "We didn't want that fancy pants
preschool anyway. Moving on."
The next preschool I called had space available on a tour a
few days later. I arranged childcare for 10:00 am on a Wednesday. (No, you
can't bring your baby to a preschool tour, you naïve woman!) The school had
five small bungalows arranged in a semicircle around an outdoor play area. We
trooped into the first one where a group of three-year-olds were playing with
"This is the Building Hut," the tour guide explained in a
In next bungalow, more small children were using drawing and
painting materials. The tour guide whispered that this was the "Art Hut." A
third bungalow contained dress-up clothes and various props. It was the "Drama
Hut". The fourth was the "Library". And the last one held a kitchen and staff room.
After a lengthy speech by the school director, describing how
her program would turn our toddlers into brilliantly creative problem solvers
with a profound sense of social responsibility, a dad tentatively raised his
"So, what if my kid wants to use blocks in the Drama Hut?"
There was a silence. The director raised her eyebrows.
"Here at The Garden of A Million Rules, we believe that
children need to learn how to follow a daily schedule. This is part of a
fundamental skill set that is essential for their transition to kindergarten."
The dad looked blank. "So that's a no on blocks in the Drama
We sat in the semi-dark while the director gave a speech about the school's guiding philosophy of social constructivist theory influenced by the work of Piaget and Vygotsky.
Preschool #3 was more relaxed. There were attractive
classrooms and a large outdoor space with swings, a sandbox, water tables etc.
A complicated tangle of ropes and pulleys that I couldn't identify hung
suspended in one corner. During the question period, a mom in the front row raised
"How long have most of your teachers been with the school?"
The director looked irritated. "It's so hard to retain
teachers at the preschool level. Almost all of them are young women who want to
have babies of their own, so they don't stay with us for long. We're actually
interviewing for the upcoming school year right now."
The mom looked disappointed.
"I'm sure we'll get some good ones," the director added more
cheerfully. "And now, if you'll follow
me outside, we'll have a demonstration of our circus trapeze equipment!"
I read glowing reviews on several websites for the next preschool:
"Amazing!" "Incredible teachers!" "Caring community!" It was located next door
to a large media corporation, and the tour began in the company's plush
screening room. We sat in the semi-dark while the director gave a speech about
the school's guiding philosophy of social constructivist theory influenced by
the work of Piaget and Vygotsky. (Who?!)
"The Ivy League Boot Camp Preschool program actually begins
over the summer," she explained. "Parents are asked to bring in twenty-five photos
that they feel best represent their child's personality. We analyze each photo
and narrow it down to five. Parents also write a five-page essay about their
child and the family as a whole. We then publish a textbook containing all of
these character profiles, which the entire class will study at home, so that
each child is fully prepared to meet all the other classmates on the first day
She paused. I glanced around. Were the other parents were
also in shock? I couldn't tell.
"Parents are also required to serve on at least two
committees focusing on a range of important school needs," the director went
on. She fixed us all with an accusatory glare. "And if you don't pull your
weight, trust me, I'll hear about it."
Was it really impossible in a major city to find a preschool my daughter would enjoy that felt, well... normal?
A mom in the third row had been furiously taking notes on
her iPad. Now she raised her hand.
"Which schools do your graduates generally go to?"
The director beamed with pride. "Well, most of our kids go
to Ivy League universities," she said. "We keep tabs on them."
The mom looked embarrassed. "Oh, that's wonderful. I meant
which elementary schools."
I learned about preschool #5 through a friend with two
adopted daughters. "Check out Circle of Specialness," she urged. "It's so
magical. We love it there."
Hidden from the street by an ivy-covered wall, the school certainly
looked lovely. A huge climbing structure dominated the play yard. It was surrounded
by an immaculate garden of vegetables and herbs. Not a grain of sand seemed to
have ever escaped from the Zen-like sand box. Even the lunch area was
beautifully arranged with matching bouquets of flowers on each table.
After the question period, we toured the classrooms and were
encouraged to explore the "atelier." (Um, the what?) This turned out to be an art
room with various paintings, sculptures, and other projects in progress. An
assistant handed out application forms, which several parents began filling in
"We'll never get in," one mom confided to me as she turned
in her form with a check for $75. "We live just outside the five-block-radius.
Those people get priority."
I responded that I lived almost three miles away from this
"Oh no," said the mom sympathetically. "Are you even going
At this point I was close to despair. Was it really
impossible in a major city to find a preschool my daughter would enjoy that
felt, well... normal? Not a philosophical dictatorship or an exclusive clique or
a mini university that required a PhD thesis to get in?
Telling myself I would walk out if I heard the terms "Reggio"
or "conflict resolution" one more time, I headed to yet another tour.
"Welcome to the Little Kids Being Little Kids Preschool,"
the director smiled calmly at all of us. "Every child is different. Every child
develops at his or her particular pace, marching to the beat of their own
distinct drum. We believe that an effective preschool program stays in step
with the rhythms of each child, gently guiding them toward security and sound
development. There is no one right way to do this."
I think my mouth may have fallen open at this point. I
wanted to hug her. Or possibly burst into tears. Or both. I felt a wave of relief as she
talked about the program, the teachers who had been with the school for over
ten years, the concept of nurturing each child through every aspect of
development—emotional, social, physical and cognitive—at his or her own rate
I filled out an application on the spot, and a
month later, my daughter was accepted into the weekly toddler class, which will
feed into the preschool next year. Every week, as my daughter paints, or rides
a tricycle, or explores the seeds inside a pumpkin, or plays with the pet
bunny, that intense feeling of relief comes back. I trust these people with my
child. And, as a parent, that's the only philosophy I need.