I overheard a group of mothers talking in the pickup line at preschool the other day. They were talking about registering their kids for the next school year. At our school, registration begins in late January for enrolled students, and in February for those who are not.
One mom asked another if she was registering her youngest, a girl probably just under 2. It seemed so early for them to already be talking about this, but I remember similar conversations early last year that I ignored that got me to where I am today.
Working from home, I figured I would eventually enroll my son in preschool to help balance my work and home life. Eventually seemed at least a year away. That’s the distant future when you consider the ways you break down a toddler’s day into 15-minute increments.
Eventually came around August, roughly five months later, after all the preschools within a decent distance from our house had filled to capacity and moms like me were scouting for drop outs and families re-locating to other cities, the way someone looks for tickets to a sold-out concert.
“I hear you're moving, mind if I drop your name with the director?” was a question I found myself asking friends before wishing them well on their next adventures.
No dice. I had missed the early registration the winter before, and the early wait list, and my kid was to sit out, while pictures of harvest festivals and Thanksgiving crafts littered my Facebook throughout the fall.
Come January, when my toddler sliced a couple hours off his sleep schedule, and independent play time for him rapidly transformed into me building intricate wooden train systems on the floor, I decided something had to give.
I emailed the directors of various schools, expecting no openings. Wonder of wonders – there was an immediate opening in a 2-year-old program, two days a week, less than a mile from our house.
The director invited me in for a tour. A tour? If I haven’t seen your school or its faculty in the news for child abandonment or neglect, it will work. We’re talking finger paints, not calculus.
That’s not to say that the teachers aren’t great; they are more than qualified and fantastic with my son. I tried to convey more of my appreciation for their work and less of my desperation as I met the teachers on the tour.
I tried to talk up my son's best qualities. I’m sure, as they watched me, wide-eyed, babbling about his many talents, they were thinking to themselves, “We’re talking finger paints lady, not calculus.”
We were in.
Now, three weeks into my son’s preschool career and we are already jockeying for a position next year. I’ve spent three paychecks from my part-time job, plus multiple hours of work-at-home time to get the necessary forms filled out and notarized so he can stay in the school.
Earlier this week, a friend dropped off her son’s registration packet with me to hold on to for registration day, since she will be out of town. I asked her how this whole registration thing will go down.
She told me that moms start lining up at 9 a.m. My eyes glazed over. Now I’m starting the registration process again. I am not a stay-at-home-mom, I’m an agent.
Of course, it could be worse. I could be paying for both school AND an admissions coach, who helps parents navigate getting into the best preschools in Manhattan, which cost upwards of $40K in tuition.
Their advice? A year-and-a-half out, start making a wish list before you start working on applications to submit the winter before registration begins. Remember that joke I made about finger paints? This is much more oil on canvas.
No matter what your background, the push for preschool is growing. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count, 54 percent of young children (ages 3-4) were not enrolled in pre-school programs for the years 2008 - 2010. Only 2 million are enrolled in public preschools, but President Obama does hope to change that. In December, he announced $250 million in federal preschool development grants to help enroll 33,000 more children in preschools in 18 states, in order to reach his goal to enroll 6 million 3-4 year olds in preschool by 2020.
So whether you are privileged enough for a preschool that costs more than many colleges, or scraping by with the help of a publicly-funded program, parents of all backgrounds are trying to best answer the question - when and where should my kid go to school?
Our situation, thankfully, is somewhere in the middle. We have great preschools nearby, without too hefty of a price tag, and thankfully a chance to be enrolled before my kid heads off to Kindergarten. I’ll stand in line for that.