Early Decision

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I’ve been visiting preschools for Ellie for next year. She’s going to eat it up–she is curious and bold and impeccably coordinated, and she loves backpacks as much as anyone. When Ruby was Ellie’s age she and I lived with my parents in DC, and my mom’s church had a preschool, so the choice was a no-brainer and the only question was whether they’d let one of us stick around for a chunk of the three-hour day, because Ruby couldn’t safely navigate the few stairs, let alone the playground. (They did, and they were lovely with her.)

So for me, looking at preschool for Ellie–like so many things with Ellie–is a whole new world. In North Brooklyn, it’s a competitive, expensive, Progressive  (“with a capital P,” explained one preschool director) world. The applications contained a few humdingers, such as, “What does mindfulness mean to you?” but what really threw me was that one of the schools offered Early Decision.

Early Decision: what two words could better evoke the memory of being an overwrought, overprivileged, sexually frustrated teenager trying paradoxically to break free of the chains of high school BY flinging her optimized, well-trained self towards the most prestigious institute of higher learning within her sights?

Or, Ehm, maybe that’s just me. This particular preschool has some pretty slick marketing so most likely the gag reflex is not a common response to their application materials. I guess, as moms of toddlers, we are supposed to be over the angst of that bygone era.

Scared by the discovery that deadlines were looming (indeed, some had passed) by the time it occurred to me to start the preschool process, I completed some applications before visiting the schools.  But, flip as I might like to be, touring the schools showed me some real differences, and things I need to think about when deciding where Ellie will have her first classroom experiences. Progressive with a capital P school was nice but I thought a wee bit too anti-instruction, and the rooms seemed bare. While it was obviously very serious about early childhood education, I wondered if Ellie would ultimately get bored there. And I noted that Ellie has the choice to lie on the floor and look at the ceiling for a while at home, too. For free.

Another school was much cozier, with the vibe and aroma of a yoga studio. Come to think of it, there were some indications that it moonlighted as a yoga studio. Even though they seemed slightly offended when I asked what it meant that it was a co-op if it was originally a parent led co-op but is now a teacher led co-op (the answer: we use that word cause people seem to get it…), I felt pretty good about this school (by which I mean, the teeny, neurotic little type A calculator that hides beneath my overlapping layers of nonchalance, fatigue, and cluelessness had already chosen this school over P school, even as I marveled at their record player) until I asked how they got all the babies to Prospect Park twice a week for Forest Day.

On the S train! 12 two- and three-year olds! With 3 adults! Twice a week! Though I didn’t have the balls to ask the question that immediately came to mind– is that legal?– and though I described the school glowingly to Andrew before admitting that there was just one problem, ultimately, this was a deal breaker. The S train! Can you imagine?

So by the time I got to the Early Decision school I had re-calculated in favor of P school, and the Early Decision school’s self-presentation had me disinclined to like it. Their tour was an EventBrite event that I had to register for; they sat us down with a slideshow before walking us around the school, they had actual books presenting the school’s curriculum, piled neatly with give-away notebooks and packets of colored pencils branded with the school’s logo. Bah! I thought to myself, swag does not sway me, thinking loyally of P school’s odd combination of pretension and humility. The only thing that really perked up my ears while the admissions director talked us through the slideshow was when she said, “I always have to get a little embarrassed about this…” before mentioning the Early Decision option.

However. The fish tanks, the beautiful classrooms and the art studio swayed me. As did the fact that while they are also project-based and child-led, they do help the children with pre-writing or writing skills, and they have a pretty ideal balance of freedom and structure. I could imagine Elinor being filled with wonder and excitement there, and I said as much in the thank-you email I sent the director, in which I explained that I’d sent in my application before touring, and had not selected Early Decision, but after seeing the school, I was quite certain it was our first choice, and so I’d like to change my application to Early Decision!

Cause I sure do know how to apply to school by now.

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