Here is the problem. There are many people in a small space who all want passionately, and they want it NOW. Their main source of information is other people in the same boat who have a lot of fear but no accurate information or experience.
Here is the result. Unnecessary fear, misunderstanding, rigidness that creates hysteria, promotes wrong headed decisions and sets up a climate that is unhealthy for the schools, the children and the parents. You are doing it to yourselves, people.
Here is the reality. There are many appropriate and lovely early childhood seats available (enough for everyone evidenced by the range of stand alone private schools with open seats throughout the summer, many of which I list on my newsletter each year). I just can't buy into the myth when every year, I see popular schools, small schools, large schools, new and old that have seats available even into the fall. This is NOT A HIGH STAKES CHOICE. It is playbased inquiry and enrichment. You need to find someplace that is safe, loving and rich in experience (there are multitudes of schools that fill these requirements - hundreds in a few square miles in fact) and after that you will look at location, tuition and schedule. If you are restricted in your schedule or tuition you will of course have fewer choices. If you have some little bit of flexibility, you have a HUGE range of choices available. Remember this is preschool not daycare.
First, you are looking at two different kinds of schools:
Stand alone private early childhood programs (that begin at twos or threes and end at fours or kindergarten).
KEEP YOUR PANTS ON you won't see any information about the 2014-15 school year until (possibly) way after Labor Day despite what that woman at the playground told you
THEY ARE NOT TRYING TO TRICK YOU the few application questions (if any) and very very rare playdates are to balance the classes not to weed you out
IT IS NOT THAT HARD you must tour before you get a paper application (most common) which you will fill out on the tour or hand deliver on a specific day if they are first come first served
DON’T TAKE THE WAIT LIST PERSONALLY they are selecting their classes to balance by age and gender (if your child's gender is popular this year - that is the reason that you are wait-listed, if you have a "young two" when there are relatively few seats - that is why you are wait-listed), it all sorts out in April and if you cast your net a little wider, you will get into someplace that you love. The wait lists move.
PERSPECTIVE PEOPLE! this is short term play based preschool. Don't mistake it for Independent School below. They don't need the hard sell because their commitment to you is 3 years at best, probably more like one or two. If you feel that you need to marshal your forces and give them the hard sell to get in, you are part of the problem (and you may look ridiculous in the process)
Independent Schools that have early childhood classes but continue on into elementary and middle school.
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING you should be ready to spend the Tues. after Labor Day dotting all the "i's" (making sure that you have requested tours and filling out the applications in a timely way). Don't tarry. For these schools, you will likely fill out the applications before you tour. You will do the applications electronically.
THIS IS NOT "INSURANCE" only apply to these schools if you are sure that are looking for a private education through elementary school (and probably beyond) otherwise you are wasting your time and their time. They are looking for people who are willing to make a long commitment. That is why this is hard. If you get in and you decide that you are going to attend public K and you leave your seat - this is the message that you are sending - "we love you but not in the long term way that you had hoped when you chose us from among hundreds of our neighbors." Good luck getting them to believe that you really mean it this time when you apply for middle school.
NO HALF MEASURES you either do this right or you shouldn't do it. You will be doing some serious writing and editing, you will be mining your friends and colleagues for recommendations, and you will be expending a lot of time and energy attending interviews and playdates where they are trying to determine that you are a "good fit" for each other long term.
DO YOU GET THE DIFFERENCE? Don't confuse them.
If preschool is good then a twos program will give my kids an edge
The reason that you will see fewer preschools that have young twos classes is because no matter how precocious your 19 month old - they may be too young to benefit from the a lot of the interaction that happens in preschool. It is a developmental thing. There is no need to rush to something that is optional if you don’t want it or need it. Parents have driven the earlier and earlier age cut offs - generally NOT early childhood professionals. If you want a program earlier than around mid twos, you are more likely looking at daycare - nothing wrong with it. It is just more like babysitting than a focused classroom. The two classes are very small and short and you won't find them in many schools for a reason. Old twos/young threes is the perfect time to attend and if you don't want or can't afford to send your child to a “twos” or “threes” - don't sweat it as long as you give them lots of opportunity to explore, try and fail, make a mess and clean it up. It is not a bad idea to give them a little classroom experience before the rigors of kindergarten though - that is why the Mayor makes such a fuss about public prek.
If I don't get into a twos program, I will never get into a threes program
Would you guys stop spreading this rumor! All the stand-alones have the majority of their spots open at three. Chill out, would you!
You are screwed if you have a late summer or fall birthday
You may have to wait a year because you just missed a cut off. You will get in. It just makes it a little harder to figure because the private and public school cut offs don't align.
You are screwed if you have twins
No offense, but the parents of singletons don't know jack. They made you feel like a freak when you were pregnant, told you that you can't breast feed two (when you have two breasts), and they are making you cry at the playground now. When are you going to stop listening to them? You will have a different path on this road. You will be wait listed and you will all get into someplace you love. It will just be on a slightly different timeline. Trust me.
You have to get into the "right" preschool feeder for Independent School
If you want to make yourself crazy, go ahead and believe this but it isn't true. The Independents are taking kids each year from established preschools AND brand new programs. They are picking families NOT schools. If you go to an established program you may benefit from the advocacy of the director who has a relationship (but not a guarantee of entry - ever!) If you go to a new school you may have to do a little more advocacy for yourself - you also likely won't be competing for the same seat with a multitude of people from your class. Every path has it gifts and challenges.
If you want to subscribe to my newsletter list, where preschools know they can list open seats for free.