It’s that time of year. My Facebook feed is filled with cute kids heading off to the first day of school. But not my kids. My son is only one so no one expects me to have him in school, but... shhhhh, please don’t share this with anyone outside of this blog: I’m not sending my three-and-a-half-year-old to preschool either.
I’m so curious what it’s like to raise kids outside of Los Angeles. The last preschool fundraiser I went to had Moby as the entertainment. Let me say that again. Moby was the entertainer at the preschool fundraiser. So the bar has been set.
Here, I feel major peer pressure to get my child into the right preschool. And I do mean "get my child into," because you can’t just "put your child into" a preschool. You need to get on the one-year-at-minimum wait list, you and your spouse have to interview, your child has to interview (they call it a play date but we all know what it is). Your child should really go through the parent and me program first, which is also an interview, and it helps to know a family who volunteers at the preschool ten hours a week and will swear that you’ll do the same.
We found a good preschool in our area that is the same price as our in-home daycare. I think my daughter would love it. We got on the wait list. I’m pretty sure we passed the interview. But we didn’t get in. We didn’t play by the suggested rules and take a parent and me class, so it wasn’t entirely surprising.
I knew we should have been on several waitlists at several preschools. We weren’t. The preschool in our area most recommended to us is about $300 a month more than our daycare and about 40 hours a month less, and the waitlist is over a year.
So my daughter is not going to preschool this year. I’m embracing it and here’s why:
1. Daycare provides breakfast, snack, milk and lunch. That’s a lot of time and money that I’m saving. When my daughter goes to preschool, I’ll have to feed her breakfast at home and pack her lunch and snack. Or, at the preschool we’d like her to go to, we’ll take turns bringing snacks for the whole class. I’ll be responsible every few weeks for bringing thirty kids a snack. I’ll be competing with other parents to see who brings the best, most creative snacks. I’ll spend hours on Pinterest trying to come up with something besides ants on a log. I’ll blog about it a lot. You and I will both regret it.
2. Preschool may cost the same as daycare over all but cost more per hour. The preschool we’ve chosen (and got rejected from) costs about the same monthly as our daycare but it’s an hour less a day – so five fewer hours a week. That means we’d be paying more per hour for preschool than daycare.
3. Preschool closes holidays and summer. Our daycare is closed on major holidays for a few days versus preschool which is closed for few days at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, a week at spring break and two months in the summer. Unless you work in education, your work probably isn’t closed at those times. That means a scramble to find childcare and a lot more money for babysitters and camps. And remember, you are still expected to pay daycare and preschool during any closures. (Make sure you figure out the summer situation with preschool. Some schools will quote you a yearly rate but they divide it into ten payments versus twelve which results in a higher monthly rate.)
4. Daycare is my babysitter. If there is ever a day I need extended hours at daycare, I just pay a very small amount of money and my daughter stays longer. I know I’m covered until five o’clock even though I usually pick her up at one. I don’t have to scramble to find a babysitter or pay babysitter rates. A lot of preschools offer some sort of extended hours care but it’s not as cheap or as long as daycare.
5. Daycare is flexible. Preschools have rules about being potty trained, or picking up your child during nap, or what you can or can’t put in your child’s lunch. Daycare is just more relaxed.
6. Preschools have fees. One school I looked into charges a one time $500 "family fee" on top of monthly tuition. I love that they call it a "family fee." It seems like the polite way of saying, "We handle kids for free but it’s $500 to deal with the parents." At least they are upfront about it. Several of my friends have been hit with fees they weren’t expecting. My daycare has no fees.
7. Daycare payments are weekly. Due to the nature of the way we are paid, it’s easier for us to make four weekly payments a month versus a one large chunk on the first of the month.
8. Daycare is more convenient. When we’re ready, both my kids can go to daycare at the same place and the same time. Daycare is also a block away from home, where preschool will be a fifteen minute drive.
I started to panic when I realized my daughter wouldn’t be going to preschool this year. We were screwing up our kid’s education before it even began—at least, that’s what the parenting climate in LA made me feel. But the question is, do I believe that? Do I believe that my kids have to start school at age three in order to be a success in this world?
No, I don’t. I don’t believe that.
My daughter learns letters and numbers in daycare, and more importantly she’s learning how to navigate friendships, authority figures (who aren’t her parents), and rules, and really aren’t those the hardest and most important things we learn in school?
Plus my child’s daycare has never asked me and will never ask me to provide snacks for all the kids or participate in a fundraiser. Though it would be really cool to meet Moby.