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Picking a Preschool – And Trying to Get In…

After having grown up in Manhattan and going through the private school scene there, one thing that I thought I would not have to worry about when I had my own kids in San Francisco was getting them into preschool. That turned out to be almost as stressful as I hear it is in NYC these days. I know many of our customers, in all three cities, start to think about this as soon as their babies are born or even before. We decided to ask Susan Beatus, the Director of the Madison Playgroup, to share what she has learned after 30 years of working to get the students in her twos program into the preschool that is best for them. Her comments are below:

1. Tell us about Madison Playgroup. Is there a specific philosophy to which you adhere?

The Madison Playgroup is a one year toddler program that is an introduction to Nursery School.  Our goal is for the children to learn how to function in a group setting, learn to use their words to solve problems and understand the sharing process of give and take.  To a two year old sharing is the most difficult problem of all. We have a very gradual process for phasing in the children at the beginning of the year. 

2. Where do kids usually go after your program?

From the Madison Playgroup the children go on to a variety of Nursery Schools in the area.  Our goal is to make sure every child has a place and so far we have been very successful.  All the Nursery Schools are very receptive to our applicants as they graduate with an ability to be successful in the next step in their education.

3. At what age should parents start thinking about where to send their kids to preschool?

To be honest there is no rule that a child has to go to a toddler program.  Many nursery schools have a toddler program.  It is usually just one class with siblings getting priority.  They all add additional classes for the three year old children.  We work with each family on an individual basis to help place his or her child.

4. What should parents be looking for in choosing a preschool?

When looking at a nursery school the parent needs to remember that he or she already went to school.  They are looking for a setting for their child that meets his or her needs.  Most parents will get a “gut feeling” about a program.  It either feels right or not.  Home and school should be similar.  If the home environment is structured the school should be.  All the schools are different; that is why they are called “independent schools”.  Some are less structured than others.  That is why it is important for each parent to visit the schools.  Watch the children at play.  Notice the art work on the walls.  Ask how the school handles separation or discipline.  Always read the brochure so you do not ask a question that has already been answered in their pamphlet. 

Always ask about the separation process.  Some schools have a very short time for the children to acclimate.  Others have a gradual process.  It is a good question to ask on your visit.  Also ask if you will be present with the child.  Usually toddlers remain with the parent.

5. Any do's or dont's for getting in?

Most important rule of all – “Turn off your cell phone” during your visit to a school.  If you are experiencing an emergency at home you need to tell the person giving the tour the reason why your phone needs to be on.  Otherwise you must be sure it is off!!! 

Many schools require both parents to be at the initial visit.  It is perfectly acceptable to ask.

6. What do you think about how many days/hours per week a 2/3/4 year old is ready to be away for?

Most toddler programs are two or three days a week.  There are a few that may be for five mornings or afternoons a week.  Remember going to school is hard work for young children.  Many children are over programmed in New York City.  They all need time to learn how to entertain themselves.  In fact, I believe it is the best gift a parent can give a child. 

The most important thing to remember is you want your child to be successful and happy at his or her first experience at school.

To learn more about the Madison Playgroup, visit their website at:  http://www.madisonplaygroup.com/