When to Start Looking for Preschool
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Preschools > When to Start Looking for Preschool
(for preschools with their own site --
home-based preschools are often more flexible.)
In general, in the January before your child will be three, start researching
preschools in your target area, and find out when you can tour the
schools from their websites and/or from the BPN Schools & Preschools newsletter.
- Ages: Most preschools enroll children
for the two years prior to kindergarten only, so 3 and 4 year olds.
Some also have a "bridge" program for 5
years olds, which adds a third year.
There are a few preschools that also have programs for
two-year-olds but this is rare because
of licensing requirements for younger age groups.
- Start Date: Most preschools form a new class of 3-year-olds each Fall. Openings for 4 year olds, or mid-year openings, may be rare, depending on the school.
- Researching: Preschools hold open houses and tours from December through March. Check BPN's Schools & Preschools
newsletter for announcements, or check the school's website.
Applications are usually accepted beginning in January for the following Fall,
for children who will be 3 by then. Very few preschools accept applications earlier than this.
My son is 16 months old and happy in his daycare; I've been planning to move him to a
preschool in the fall of 2016, when he will be 3.5 years. Recently, I was chatting
with a neighborhood mom who said her son has been on a wait list for preschool since
he was born. That sounded insane, but I called a few nearby schools and the only one
that called me back told me that they are full for the next 2-3 years and discouraged
me from putting my son on their wait list. The other schools have not returned my
calls. I called about 5 or 6, a mix of home-based and more school-like settings.
What is going on? Am I calling too late or too soon? When did you start looking at
preschools for your child?
I would start looking now so you have an idea of what you want in a
preschool and get on some waitlists as soon as you can. I am also
planning on starting my kids at 3 1/2 in Fall 2015, but we have been on
several waitlists for over a year now with no guarantee we'll get spots
for Fall 2015(I have twins, so I need two spots). One school pretty
much told me there wouldn't be space for us in Fall 2015 even though at
that point we'll have been on the waitlist since before my kids turned
1! One factor is that I am really interested in a diverse student
population and that often means that up to half the spots are reserved
for subsidized kids, so if you don't qualify, then there are less spots
that you're eligible for. Many waitlists aren't straightforward - if
you're number 10 now, you might be number 20 months from now because the
schools are weighing multiple factors other than when you got on the
waitlist (age, gender, SES, race/ethnicity, etc).
There are more frequent openings at some preschools that I didn't like
as much and if we don't get in to one of our top two choices, then I
would send my kids to a less competitive/popular one, but I would
definitely start looking now to figure out what your top choices are.
It took me visits to a handful of preschools to really figure out what I
wanted and what combination of things I felt most comfortable with
(teaching philosophy, hours/vacations, location, discipline policy, food
issues, volunteer requirements, financial aid, capital campaigns, dress
code, % of kids that go to public/private kindergarten, the list of
considerations is endless!)
- Been there
I'm a new parent and am just curious about how far in advance we need to start
looking for a preschool. I've heard stories about needing to start a couple of
years in advance but I'm not sure if the Bay Area is like that. Are there
usually waitlists or is that only for certain preschools? We are interested
in a Spanish bilingual preschool like La Plazita.
Here's what I wish I had known before Preschool. My child has a Feb Birthday,
and I thought we would like to ideally start preschool somewhere close to his 3rd
birthday. I assumed year round enrollment, but I was wrong. (though there are a
very few that do enroll year round). As a result, I ended up paying for an extra
year of infant child care which turned out fine, but was way expensive.
Preschool enrollment follows the traditional academic year: Apply in about
January for a spot that starts in September (this is due to the timing of the
older ones moving on to Kindergarten). Many preschools have information
available for prospective students in the Nov-Jan timeframe, so now is a good
time to inquire and visit a few. Good preschools with low-to-moderate cost often
have waiting lists. Some of the more expensive preschools seemed to have more
openings and shorter wait lists. Granted my experience was in 2009 when
employment was suffering, so an improving economy could change that dynamic
somewhat. There are some very good preschools that you have not heard of because
the spots are filled by great word of mouth, therefore they don't really need to
advertise (for example in this BPN newsletter). Some good ways to learn about
preschools near you are: On weekends, play at the park that is closest to your
home, and talk to parents of kids that are preschool age and older. Talk to your
friends, neighbors and co-workers. Look in BPN Marketplace newsletter and
Announcements newsletter for preschool fundraisers such as fun fairs and yard
sales. Patronize those events and learn a little about the school in the
process. And, if you get on a waiting list for a preschool that you are excited
about, check in regularly (every 1-2 months) to find out where you stand and let
them know you are seriously interested.
My son will be 3 next fall and we have begun looking at preschools for next
year. How many schools do you really have to apply to, to be sure you get in to
at least one of your choice?
I am interested in a play-based school with free-flow access so the kids can be
outside (or inside) if they want to. I am also looking for a schedule that's 5
days a week from 8-9 to 1-3. I am open to co-ops.
So far, I'm interested in CCC, Monte Verde, and Dandelion, but I've heard
stories from so many parents that they've applied to up to 6 schools and only
got into one!? I do not want to send my son to a school that I am not
enthusiastic about. Do I really have to apply to more schools than those 3? I'm
also planning to look at El Cerrito Co-op.
What can I do to ensure that my son gets in to at least one of the schools that
Our family structure is mom and dad, and we are white, so we don't have any
diversity to speak of (except that we're creative types).
Thank you for any insight, fellow parents who have already traveled this road.
We applied to three preschools for my almost 3 year old and got into all of them ---
I too was really worried about not getting a spot but it turns out it wasn't an
issue. But I think it is key that we started our search early and went to lots of
open house and info sessions (winter 2012 with plans to start my son fall 2013) as
some of his daycare friends who didn't start looking until Spring had a more
challenging time. We also ended up enrolling him in the school of our choice during
the summer instead, to take advantage of an opening at that time, rather than waiting
for September when more kids may have been starting. We were looking at Montessori
programs in El Cerrito/Albany/Berkeley ---- it may be more competitive in other
neighborhoods or for other program types. So my advice is start early and be flexible
about your transition time-frame. Good luck!
I survived the preschool application process
I have experience with 3 different preschools in Berkeley. We applied and got into
all 3, easily. Two of the three were excellent preschools, the third has since
closed (but my boy was mostly happy there). We have three kids, with a large age
spread, and lived in different parts of Berkeley for each of their preschool years,
hence the not sticking with the first excellent preschool we attended. So, first,
don't buy into the hype and don't assume that a preschool with a long waiting list,
or lower acceptance rate is superior. Ask each of the three schools you are
interested in what their acceptance rate is. If they are all close to 80 or 90
percent, then I'm sure you would be fine applying to just those three. I actually
don't know anyone who applied to more than that. By the way, my youngest just
started kindy, so my experience is not outdated!
Hi Jane, It's a great question ... we applied to 5 and got into 1, so the numbers can
I would invite you to check out Montclair Community Play Center's Toddler Playtime
program (for kids 18 months to 3 years) as it would give you a chance to spend some
time at that school and see how it feels to you. They accept students to the
preschool purely by lottery and it can be tough to get in if there are a lot of
returning siblings but people who take the Toddler class get an extra pull in the
lottery, so that can be of help. My son attends MCPC now. The days are a little
shorter than you're looking for (9-noon), but they have an extended program on
Tuesdays and Thursdays until 3pm. When you're looking at schools, I recommend asking
what your chances are of getting in and trying to have a frank discussion ... there
are so many variables I think the answers change from year to year (and then
sometimes in Sept people find their choice is not a good match and then an opening
occurs ...) Here's the website for MCPC: mcpckids.org. Best of luck! There's no ONE
right school, but I understand and empathize with your concerns about getting in
You seem to be missing a school that meets the criteria you have described - Skytown
We also have a toddler program that is open to kids from 18 months+, which is a nice
way to introduce kids to the community.
As for applications, we only applied to a few that we felt very comfortable with.
Admittedly biased 5yr+ Skytown parent
Our son is going to be 3 years old in 2010 during the Spring,
when should I start applying to preschools? Thanks.
I'm assuming you're talking about Berkeley? I know this is crazy: From our experience
and what we've been told by many Berkeley parents, you should start now. Like, today.
Put your name on as many pre-school waiting lists as you can. There definitely will be
a pre-school for your son, though it's possible you may have to go out of Berkeley to
There may be (?) less of a wait list for all day schools: we needed one that is open for
10 or 11 hours a day.
Seriously as soon as you're thinking about it, start researching.
I used Savvysource.com for basic info - but be aware not all
schools keep their data up to date. However you should at least
be able to determine which schools are within a reasonal drive
for you, have the schedule you want, and are in your budget. Then
you need to call and confirm the tuition, and make appointments.
Confirming the tuition will save you a lot of time as I wasted
two tours only to find out the rates were higher than posted on
Savvy Source - in one case, significantly higher.
You didn't say when you want your child to start preschool - in
the new year, or next fall? Either way I would start looking now,
as you will have a lot more choices that way. We ended up with
just one that fit our criteria (not because I'm so picky but
because we couldn't afford most of them) and were on the wait
list for over half a year before being admitted, just due to
demand, not any competitive process.
For fall I think most schools will start taking applications in
January. Some schools may allow your child to start in January if
that's what you want. Start asap.
My first child just turned 1, and I'm wondering at what point do
we begin researching pre-schools? Is it as crazy as everyone
says it is - do we need to begin looking NOW if we want him to
begin pre-school next year? His birthday is in October; how
does that factor into it? Having never done this before, I'm
welcome any advice as to how to initiate this daunting process!
Thanks so much
I would start in January. However, you should know that most
preschools require that your child be 2 years, 9 months to
start. So, yours may not be ready until the following fall. In
any case, I found it helpful to start making calls the January
prior to the fall that my son began.
Some schools do have waiting lists, but we found that most local
preschools enroll children in about December through March to
begin attending in August/September. Larger schools, of course,
will tend to have more openings than smaller ones, so it won't
hurt you to start thinking early about where you'd like your
child to go, but you won't be shut out of the process if you
start later. Given your child's October birthday, you might
want to wait another year (starting him when he is not-quite-3
rather than when he is not-quite-2) since most preschools will
not enroll children younger than 2 (sometimes 2.5 or 3), or you
could look for a spring opening instead of starting him in the
Amazingly enough you really do have to start researching
preschools now for next fall. Many schools will be full up by
January. The Neighborhood Parent's Network does a preschool
school fair that could help you get the lay of the land. They
also publish a preschool guide you can purchase. Not all
preschools in the area are listed. Check Parent's Press for info
on Open Houses and school fair dates.
Dear Parents - need some advice here. Help, a Mom here being
tripped up by self-doubts!
My question is - what pre-schools are signed up for pre-birth?
I'm new to East Bay and a new Mom of a 1 yr old gal. She's a
happy gal and goes to a home daycare p/t.
But recently met a Mom with older kids (nice kids!) who remarked
how pleased she was that she had ''done the right thing'' by
signing up her kids at XXX school while they were either in the
tummy or right at birth. THEN I met another Mom, in Marin, who
remarked the same thing about how her kids got into this place
that she had signed up for right at birth. What's going on?
I'm a product of public schools and did well, 7-sisters
undergrad...but when it comes to private schools for tots I admit
to being a novice. Moreover, I don't know the N. Cal area that
well so have no clue what schools she could possibly mean? I'm
not pushing private over public, but i'd be curious to at least
see what the big deal is all about.
Can you share the answer to this? Thanks! Cassindy
I did not find a problem with preschool waiting lists. I found
my daughter's preschool when she was about 18 months old by
looking in the Yellow Pages and calling around to check if
schools fit my basic criteria: location, cost, operating hours.
Then I scheduled a school visit. I was prepared to wait 6-12
months for her to start, but I found one that took her right
There are many good preschools that do not have waiting lists.
Figure out your criteria and work from there.
I think the deal here is that N.California is now a hyper-
affluent place where lots of parents feel they need to pay for
fancy pre-schools to get their tots on the right track to Yale.
You'll pay twice as much for half the time you'd get in a good,
loving family daycare. My daughter is ahead of the kindergarten
curve thanks to her wonderful daycare provider, Sandra.
I sometimes wonder if I'm in the minority of parents here
because I think academics are wasted on the under-five set, and
that kids really do thrive under a regular, play-based schedule.
If you want to keep up with the people in the million dollar
(three-bedroom) houses, then go ahead and sign up for that
expensive, elite pre-school. And get yourself a Land Rover while
you'e at it. Your child would be just as fine in a good daycare,
but then you don't get bragging rights.
A regular local mom
Some preschools have a long waiting list--years long--but these
are few. For example, there is a Spanish Speaking preschool, El
Centro Vida (I think) that has a waiting list that is years long.
But others, like Duck's Nest on 4th street, or Children's
Community Center, on Walnut, start taking applications at the
beginning of the year, for September. You HAVE to sign up early
to get in. At the Duck's Nest, the toddler room fills up right
away, so if you wait until the summer or fall, there are no
openings. Many preschools have open houses, and you can enroll
then. Call the schools to be sent the information. The Parent's
Press has a preschool list every year. You can also call around
and visit various schools.
Been there, done that
When I first moved here and was early in my pregancy, a
friend suggested that I plunk down $20 to ensure a spot on
the list at Step One school. I did so. When it came time to
look at schools I decided Step One wasn't for us, but I was
glad I had put in the application ''early'' so it would be there
for us if we decided to pursue it. I believe most preschools
don't have this policy of letting people apply ''in utero.'' The
Neighborhood Parents Association publishes a preschool
directory that gives an overview of policies and fees.
In the fall they hold a Preschool Fair where you can buy the
directory and visit with representatives from area
preschools. My main piece of advice, having just been
through the preschool admission process, is apply early
and often--and be patient. I fixated on one school, thought I
applied early, then found out they only had one opening for
next year. I then spent two months rushing around looking
at schools and applying, only to be put on endless waiting
lists. After almost accepting an offer at a school that really
didn't meet our needs, I got a call from the school I had
wanted in the first place. A few people had decided to leave
the area unexpectantly, and we got in.
I read the reply from the person who recommended a good family
based daycare over the expensive elite preschool, unless you
feel the need for the status. I did the elite route and far from
taking offense, I agree with what this person said 95% (the part
I don't agree with is the Landrover :). Save your money and do
the family daycare thing. And put the money you save in the
college fund for Yale.
I went the co-op route with my kids and was very happy. Most co-op
preschools seem not to have years-long waiting lists. Often you can enroll
your child just before school starts, or even in the middle of the year.
The preschool I have heard the "in utero" comment about is Step One.
Although my kids did not go there, I know a couple of people whose kids
have, and they were extremely happy with the school. In fact, it has
a large number of glowing recommendations on the Parents web site. So,
it is probably a very good preschool. On the other hand, there are so
many other options in Berkeley and the surrounding area that you almost
can't go wrong. Like a friend of mine said, it's hard to pick a "bad"
preschool in Berkeley, so pick one that's convenient for the parents!
Even with expensive, prestige schools, you'll be fine if you start
looking and putting in your applications 18 months in advance. And I
have heard many stories of children being admitted at the last minute
because families moved or needepd to change their schedules. You may
also want to keep in mind that these preschools tend to have crazy
rules related to age, physical coordination, and potty training. (Can
anyone predict when their unborn child will stop needing a diaper?)
On the other hand, there are plenty of high-quality schools
to choose from. Just give yourself about a year to research
and submit an application.
I think that when you are about to give birth there are more important
things to worry about than getting your child into ''the right school.''
this page was last updated: Aug 30, 2014
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