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choosing the best preschool

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If I had it my way, my four-year-old would be home schooled by her pop pop for the next 10 years, starting each day with Paw Patrol puzzles and strawberry milk in my childhood home. But that’s not realistic and eventually, like most parents, I want my daughter to get started on her academic journey through life, so currently I find myself searching for the perfect Pre-Kindergarten for my first born that started with a tour of local private school late last fall.

Daycare and preschool haven’t been stops on my parenting journey so far. My childcare has been limited to my parents and my in-laws since my daughter was born. Admittedly, I’ve been super protective of my daughter as a first-time mom, so the idea of her being in a stranger’s care before she could properly express herself was not something I was comfortable with anyway. I also figured I’d take advantage of the fact that she has two sets of retired grandparents (a rare occurrence according to many of my peers) who were eager to sign up for childcare duties before I had barely made it out of my second trimester. There’s also the reality that despite the fact that my spouse and I are not wealthy by any means, we’re apparently well enough off to not qualify for any federal assistance with childcare costs so daycare would’ve been yet another extravagant expense that we figured we could do without.

As my daughter gets more curious about the world outside of the three addresses she visits in her weekly routine, my instinct is telling me that it’s time for her to socialize with people that don’t share her DNA and get accustomed to the routine and structure of the real world and engage with (as she puts it) “real kids.” But while my baby’s biggest concern is finally having playmates that can meet her at eye-level, I am low-key in panic mode on making sure I make the right choice for her first experiences with formal education. And being the extreme planner that I am, I made the decision to start my school search a year early. To be honest though, I figured that’s how long it would take for me to get comfortable with sending my first-born into the outside world.

When it comes to parenting, like most newbies facing milestones with their first-born children, the first place I looked to was my own parents as an example of what to do (or not to do). My parents made the decision in the 1980’s to bypass the public school directly across the street and send my older sister and I to the Catholic school a few blocks over. They weren’t the least concerned about our relationship with the Lord honestly, but did feel like it was the safer option at the time and that a little body and blood of Christ was cool if it meant overall a better education. Looking back decades later, I must admit they were right.  

My husband often tells me about his elementary school experiences with a public school in West Philly and how he saw a gun for the first time in third grade when one of his classmates brought it to school “for protection.” This was long before metal detectors and school shootings regularly making headlines. The most traumatic thing that happened in my elementary school was a fifth grade fight in the lunchroom where the most damage that was done was to my classmates’ egos. Decades later, my experiences with the public schools that I visit intermittently in my career as a sexual health educator are varied. There are definitely some gems in the Philadelphia school district, but they are far and few with many of the better-performing schools based on the luck of a draw in the form of a lottery. I’m not convinced the odds are in our favor.

Times have changed, children have changed, but in all honesty many of these dated Philadelphia school buildings are exactly the same. Unreliable heating and cooling systems that end up in early dismissals when the weather isn’t perfect and honestly what seems to be a general “don’t give a damn” attitude among city government to do anything about it. But before I protest for public schools to get their ish together, my first priority is my child. And as we prepare our daughter to be with other “real kids” we’ve managed to limit our choices to a private Christian school and the Catholic school I attended when I was a child. I don’t know how confident I’ll be in my choice for my child until she’s actually sitting in a classroom, but until then I’m taking into account advice from my parents, peers and even rapper Killer Mike as I navigate the school system of Philadelphia.

Academic models, teaching credentials and lunch and breakfast programs are the standard concerns for most parents, but what about the small details you may easily miss? Here are a few things that you may want to take into consideration to ease your anxiety and make the best decision you can for your child:

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