As a parent, you want to provide the best education possible for your child — and in some cases, as soon as Baby can sit up on their own. But when should you really start thinking about enrolling your child into early education? Well, that depends on the parent, but Victoria Goldman, an author of three guidebooks on private schools, knows that the sooner you start your child’s educational adventure, the better. Here are Goldman’s tips on when your little nugget should start nursery school, and how to make sure that they get into the school that would be the most beneficial to them.
How old does my child have to be to apply to nursery school?
It depends on the school. Typically, when you child is two-years-old is a good time. Many programs require children to be three-years-old when they begin school, so two is when you should apply. For exact birthday cut-offs, call the school, or check their website, or the individual school entries in The Manhattan Directory to Private Nursery Schools, Soho Press by this columnist.
When is a good time to apply?
The September, roughly a year, before your child will enroll. Note: the top-tier, elite nurseries are extremely difficult to reach by phone in early September it gets easier towards the end of the month and there are wait lists for applications at some schools. Most other nurseries are far easier to reach, and applications are usually mailed within a week or two of calling.
Why do so many nursery programs start at three-years old?
Early childhood experts assert that by three-years-old, a normally developing child will have a good sense of confidence, independence and security and be ready to start exploring things beyond their homes. Also, they have the ability to separate, share and play with other children, and the skills to deal with the physical demands of going to school, like using the bathroom, getting dressed and walking up stairs.
Do children have to attend parenting or other programs before nursery school?
No, but it helps. Children who are exposed to other children and teachers on a regular basis are more familiar with what goes on inside a classroom, and other social and pre-academic expectations that many nursery and elementary schools require. On the other hand, many early childhood experts agree that children ages eighteen months to two-years-old who are within the normal range of development, and have supportive, enriched families and homes do just as well as those who attend toddler or parenting programs.
What are some good reasons to send a child to a toddler or parenting program?
When both parents work full-time, toddler programs provide additional stimulation from trained early childhood educators, and access to other children. Or, if you’re a stay-at-home parent it provides an opportunity to meet other parents with children the same age. Also, if English isn’t the primary language, these programs can really help junior’s English.
Also, it’s generally easier to get children who are in toddler or parenting programs into affiliated nursery schools because they tend to accept families they already know and like.
How many schools should we look at?
No less than six, but it’s best to consider around ten or twelve. The trick isn’t how many its how balanced your list of schools is. You can’t apply to all the top schools and expect to get in. It’s best to apply to a range of schools, at least to two or three of the toughest and most elite; two or three reasonable reaches, and two or three safe schools. Depending on where you live, the choices and competition to get in vary.
Is one visit enough, or should we go back again?
Many schools have a set admissions process that involves at least one visit that includes an interview and a tour. Some schools offer an Open House, others require two separate visits for tours and interviews. For sure, both parents should do everything that’s asked for, and only call for another visit after you’ve been accepted or you might not be!
Does it make a difference which nursery school a child attends when it comes time to apply to an on-going school for kindergarten?
Absolutely. Although the concept of “feeder schools” is all but dashed by admissions directors at the on-going schools, the relationships forged over many, sometimes twenty, years between certain nursery school directors and admissions directors at the on-going schools are deep, meaningful and strong. A powerful and respected nursery school director can make all the difference in gaining acceptances to on-going schools assuming all else is in place.
What questions do I ask?
This can be very tricky. It really helps if you’ve read absolutely everything you can get your hands on about the school before you have your tour and interview. And, do not try to stump the admissions director or interviewer.
It’s a huge milestone when your child starts school. And as a parent, only you will know when the right time is for them to put on a backpack and begin school. But if your child (and you) are both ready, get ready to sharpen those No. 2 pencils and prepare them for the educational journey that will last a lifetime.