What's the best way to spend $6000 on preschool for this kid?
January 15, 2014 8:13 AM   Subscribe

We have two choices for morning school for our daughter, who is just turned two. Happy School is walking distance, 2hrs/day this year and 3hrs/day for the next three years after. It's a fairly structured ordinary preschool (one hour of library/circle time, one hour of playtime is a typical day) and $170/month. Flower School is 30 minutes away for 3+hrs/day and is a open-ended play school with lots of outdoor garden and art time that costs about $670/month. Our daughter has had trial weeks at both, and somewhat prefers Flower School. She came home worn out and chatty from her days there. The Happy School's teachers have given us short answers (She played a lot today) when we pick her up, while School B sends a daily short newsletter and thoughtful answers (She liked watering the plants, can you let her try at home).

Given the $6,000 a year difference, we're not sure which school to choose. A complication is that our daughter is a very sociable, pleasant and generally compliant child who is very bright. When bored, she doesn't act out, she just gets sad and quiet. She is about 1-3 years ahead on every milestone currently. People mistake her for a bright 3+ often because she's quite tall and verbal.

Happy School will not skip grades, and the classes are age-segregated. Flower School is a mix of ages, but because it's new, mostly 3-year olds now. They have said they will support her learning at her speed. We live in an apartment, so Flower School's garden is a big plus for us.

Home has plenty of toys, books and older siblings, but we really really need the 3-4 hours of peace and quiet to get work done (both parents work from home) because she is exhaustingly active and intense so homeschooling preschool is not an alternative currently. We have a great housekeeper who takes her to the playground in the afternoons as well.

Basically - should we stick with the cheaper and closer Happy School and spend some of the $6000 each year on other activities to meet her needs, or should we commit to Flower School instead? $6000 is a lot to us, but we can sort of manage it if it would make a big difference to her.

My husband wants to know if preschool/kindergarten as just childcare for a kid like her is fine, and I want ideas on what we could provide outside of Happy School for her, or if (especially from parents of similar kids) if a flexible supportive school like Flower School is worth the money.

(And in advance: no, we are not delusional pushy parents, she is not reading Shakespeare in her cot and yes, we understand kindergarten is about social skills most of all, but this is a kid who is teaching herself to read at two and will spend 45-minutes absorbed in a single activity and who will also cry over having to share a doll with another 2-year-old.)

Apologies for the wall of text, we are really stuck!
posted by viggorlijah to Education (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hrmmmn. My logical, rational side says, "Dude, it's only for a few hours a day, BOTH places seem perfectly nice, if different, just pick the cheap one."

Yet again... as a single mom, I enrolled WeeThumbscrew in a daycare that cost MORE THAN MY RENT (not an exaggeration). And I can't say I regret the choice.

I think that logic may not necessarily apply here... you've gotta go with your gut (which is difficult, I know!). She's not MY kid, but MY gut says that Flower School would take an additional two hours a day away from you (going 30 minutes away and back, twice), PLUS cost as much as a used car each year, and that this added strain MIGHT not be worth it for what they offer (detailed write-ups and gardening time).

Again, though... that's logic. Flip a coin for it, and pretend you HAVE to go with whatever decision the coin says... then see if either of you is unexpectedly disappointed. That'll provide some insight.
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:30 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was a very bright child, consistently ahead of my peer group, the whole nine yards.

What made a big difference was, honestly, not school (the education system in my country is not great) but the amount of effort my parents and caregivers put in at home- reading to me, playing, making sure I had stuff to do. So there's that.
posted by Tamanna at 8:35 AM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'd jump on Flower, but my gut says Happy School for two reasons.

1) The distance to Flower. A 30 minute commute doesn't sound that bad but wait until your kid throws up at school the first time. You're going to have to drop everything and fetch her...and deal with a 30 minute ride home. Or will Housekeeper do that for you?

2) Socialization with other parents/kids. You meet lots of other parents at this stage and build some really cool friendships. This means playdates, birthday party invites, and other things. Would you get the same opportunities at Flower?

With the money you save on Happy you can start to pick up some other cheap activities at the park district or something to fill in more time.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

$6,000 is a LOT for preschool, and the distance isn't a bagatel.

I'd say go with Happy School for now, and see where you are in a few months. Preschool is a LOT about socialization, and being with kids her own age won't hurt that process.

I agree, if money and distance were no object, Flower School sounds awesome and preferable, but money and distance ARE objects. Significant objects.

That extra time and money can translate to ballet or gymnastics or some other enrichment. Is there a community garden where the family can go to do planting?

Two is two. I don't think you'll do her any harm by putting her into a perfectly servicable nursery school.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you have a list of $6000 worth of activities already curated, vetted, and ready to go? It might be hard to find things that meet the same needs, plus then you have to personally do the work to find them.

I'd say Flower School in a heartbeat. Mainly for the culture of the place, but also because it seems like a one-stop-shop for all of your needs.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:39 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Money can be "not an issue", i.e. if you can afford it you can afford it - but that 30 minute drive will never get shorter. 30 minutes is not too bad, but we have just changed Little Ends' nursery from one 45 min drive away to one 10 min drive away because he was getting too bored in the car (or he'd fall asleep on the way home in the evening and be a mega grouch when we got back).

Depending on how your kid would handle the drive (are they happy to nap and wake up smiley, or look out the window, or sing songs, or play on an iPad, or would they get bored, cry, or fall asleep and be grumpy when woken?) - I would tend to go for school B based on how you describe it (curriculum, the way the involve parents, etc). But the distance would be the main point for me to consider (assuming the money is not a big deal for you).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:43 AM on January 15, 2014

Oh the other reason we moved to the closer nursery is so that he can make friends who live in the same city as us. That's another issue with the distance, although at 30 min drive away it's a bit less of an issue.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:44 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look at this math:
Say you hire a babysitter at $15/hr. $6000 buys you 400 hours of child care, or 8 hours a week 50 weeks a year.

How does one child free day a week sound? Because if that's the going rate in your area, that's what you're giving up.

If you must go to $20/hr, 300 hours of care is still 6 hours a week. That's an extra two preschool days!
posted by crazycanuck at 9:03 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I vote for flower school, just because your daughter prefers it, and it sounds like you do too. Sending your kids to a school you all love is a really happy place to be in. I have a long commute to get my kids to school, and while it sucks (its over an hour), I'd rather do that than send my kids to schools I don't love. The nurturing care it sounds like flower school provides is worth it, in my opinion.
posted by Joh at 9:04 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Preschool is arguably more important than college in terms of the impact it will have on your child's life. If you think Flower is better and you can afford it, I wouldn't let the $6,000 get in the way.

The commute, on the other hand, sounds like a major drag. You're going to drive 30 minutes, drop her off, drive home for 30 minutes, have two hours of free time at home, then drive back to get her 30 minutes, then drive home again for another 30 minutes. You're giving yourself two hours of commuting in return for two hours of time-without-the-kid. You'll need to decide whether that will really work for you, or just drive you crazy.

(I speak with some experience here. Mrs. Alms and I made great efforts to keep kid #1 out of preschool and at home as long as possible. At one point we were each working half time every day. So she'd commute 1 hour into Boston, work 4 hours, commute back 1 hour, then I'd hand off the kid to her and commute 1 hour into Boston, work 4 hours, and commute back one hour. We had very long days, very little time together, lots of time commuting, and very little pay! We were very happy when we stopped doing that.)
posted by alms at 9:06 AM on January 15, 2014

Pick the cheaper one, take her to the park if you want he to spend time outside. Between the commute and the extra cost it's a no brainier. If she is as bright as you say $6000 would buy a lot of experiences the 2 of you can do together. And as someone that walked he niece and nephew to daycare 3 days a week while their mum worked, the best part of my day was the walk to and from daycare and the conversations we had while stopping to pat the neighbours dog and admire someones garden etc. A harried half hour commute while you are distracted by traffic etc is not the same.
posted by wwax at 9:13 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Close school in walking distance would be my choice.
Local school means local friends both for your kid and yourself.
My kids went to the "local" school and it is so nice to have playdates and drop in share care.

30 minutes each way commute would drive me crazy. It's time you don't get back.

Walking to school with your kid can be a joy and may be some of the memories you keep forever.
Driving to school is a job.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:20 AM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

the only two salient premises in your wall of text are the price, and your daughter's reaction to the two test experiences, and if price is no object, i would vote for flower school because "worn out and chatty" is good; a worn out child will go to bed on time and be less likely to do mischief when you aren't looking.
posted by bruce at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2014

Having once been a kindergartener with a long trip to school, I wonder if the Flower School commute might wind up being a drawback for your kid as well as for you. It's not fun to sit in the car for a long time when you're little (or when you're big). Just a small point to consider.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2014

The commute would be public bus, and she chats, people-watches, reads or plays on our phones. We're okay with both, as we use the commute back to do email and read. Our housekeeper can also pick her up most days.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:37 AM on January 15, 2014

I'm with Joh on this. The sense of your kid going to a place she loves translates into pleasure for everyone. There's nothing like a good preschool community. And a compromised one is not great. I understand that the drive is a problem but remember that if you decide to schedule activities yourself you'll have to drive to those as well. Good preschools pull their families from all over the place so I'm guessing play dates and out of school socializing won't be too big a deal.
posted by firstdrop at 9:47 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just to add more variables to an already complicated choice, do you know what you'll be doing for kindergarten on? I ask because if you think you'll have the same issues going forward, you might be better to save up the 6k for a couple of years so that you'll have the ammunition for the enrichment activities that she'll really want later, when monkey bars and learning to share aren't her top priorities, and when your local public school might be scrambling to keep up with her. We kept our daughter (somewhat like yours) at a well-meaning but chaotic preschool because she liked the routines and kids, and because it was nearby, and then have gone gung-ho for a top progressive school that is still working hard to keep her challenged.

That is, you'll always be able to provide enrichment, whether that's advanced puzzles or books on things she's interested in, but the "core curriculum" for the preschool years (learning to play with others and follow directions) is provided pretty well by any well-intended school, while the boredom/inspiration years might come later. Just my two cents.
posted by acm at 9:49 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something to also consider: Kinetic 2 had a shared high school graduation party with her best friends from preschool (they actually had it IN the preschool which was a ton of nostalgic fun for everyone).

It was awesome, but my point is that the friends she (also Kinetics 1 and 3) made in preschool are still all best friends today.

Location of preschool can make a huge difference.
posted by kinetic at 9:49 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Since your daughter is outgoing and sociable, consider the logistics of play dates with other kids from preschool. My sons' preschool is three miles from home, but other families come from much farther away, which has made arranging play dates with other kids a challenge. Now that my older son is in a local public kindergarten, and all the families live within a few miles of us, it's made quite a difference in how much he gets to play with those friends.
posted by ambrosia at 9:52 AM on January 15, 2014

If the kiddo loved Flower School, I'd be more enthusiastic about it but "somewhat prefers" doesn't sound like it's worth $6,000. If it turns out that she hates Happy School, can't you switch to Flower? I know that's not ideal but if that helps make the decision easier, there you go. Every month that she goes to Happy instead of Flower saves you $500 (not counting lost travel time and expenses). Plus I agree that half an hour away doesn't sound like a big deal until your kid throws up at school.
posted by kat518 at 10:11 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Happy School and a tutor with the money you save.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:45 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

For a 2 year old? Pick the closer school. Especially if it's the kind of school that doesn't change diapers. It really is all about play and socialization at this age, and a short/walking commute is going to make your life easier when the inevitable getting dressed/putting on coats/etc. battles start. Remember that in six months she'll be a completely different kid, and asserting her independence more. Make your life easier now.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:55 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

We were just in exactly the same boat. Cromulent Preschool a block from our house, or Shiny Preschool a 15-20 minute commute. (Which for us isn't a big deal as Mr. Sonika works nearby and would do drop-off/pick-up) I was coming at the decision from not only the POV of my son's parent, but as a former preschool teacher myself.

Cromulent Preschool was... cromulent. My son would have been perfectly happy there. However, at Shiny Preschool there was more obvious engagement between teachers/students. During my tour, a teacher was setting up an indoor soccer activity and took ten minutes to play with my son while I talked to the director. That really meant a lot to me. They obviously did a lot to keep kids busy and happy and didn't just do lip service to "special activities." Whereas Cromulent Preschool's "curriculum" included "Cheerios garlands" as a fine motor activity for the holidays. Totally cromulent for three year kids, but didn't get me as excited as an indoor soccer program in Massachusetts in December.

The money for a happy, engaged preschooler is worth it. In your position, I would absolutely choose Flower School - in a heartbeat. It's the same decision I made to put down the deposit to send our son to Shiny Preschool next year.

(The ultimate deciding factor for me, which I didn't see you mention was student:teacher ratio. Cromulent Preschool went by state max guidelines, which is... cromulent. Shiny preschool had a ratio of half that. No brainer as to which teachers will have more time to spend one-on-one with the kiddos.)
posted by sonika at 3:37 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

From the tone of your question, it sounds like you WANT to send her to Flower school. It also, honestly, sounds a lot nicer. Send her to Flower School!
posted by katypickle at 3:43 PM on January 15, 2014

My instinct is for Flower also. Sure you will need to save money for college, but "as the twig is bent, so grows the tree". A bright 2 year old can be stultified academically by a dull school and age grouping. She should be where her achievement rate defines her placement.
posted by Cranberry at 4:25 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the '70s. Shit was different then. My only evidence is anecdotal.

My aunt ran a day care across town that I could have gone to for free, but my parents set me up for preschool* at a local church a block and a half from home.

I have no idea how much it cost, but at that age, being entrusted with a task like "Walk to school. We'll send Mom with you the first couple times**, but then you're on your own, kiddo." was so empowering that I can't even tell you. I had the doohickey we made at the State Fair that had my name, address and phone number on a metal disk astoundingly similar to a dogtag. I had a lunch in my backpack. The neighborhood people knew my parents, they knew me.

You're obviously not sending your 2 year old out unsupervised, but I can't undersell the feeling of neighborhood that I feel when I look back on that.

alms: "Preschool is arguably more important than college in terms of the impact it will have on your child's life."

This is only true at all because college doesn't mean a thing anymore. Home life is so much more important at that stage that I'll almost stipulate that something something homeschooling something.

*(I think I was 4 or 5. They're putting kids in school at 2? Holy cow, I feel old)
**The actual number may have been closer to seventy.
***This isn't actually a note, I just want to say that I vote for the closer one. It sounds like my Aunt Mary's place. My other Aunt Mary.
posted by Sphinx at 6:46 PM on January 15, 2014

I will add that a 2 hr/day program doesn't actually give you a meaningful break by the time you walk to & from there twice. Even if it's next door, it's still 10-15m of drop off & pickup each time, which the gives you only 90m to work or take a break or cook a meal or do anything you might want to do without a toddler around.
posted by judith at 7:46 PM on January 15, 2014

30 minute commute, even by bus would be a no go for me no matter how good the place is. We have a 15 minute drive and even that is getting really annoying after 2 years of it. Forget a lunch, or shoes or kid gets sick*, whatever, it's forever to get back and forth. For two hours out of your day for a commute when there is a decent option close by, I would definitely do the closer option.

*and if your kid hasn't been in daycare or preschool yet, they will be getting sick, frequently for the first year as they are exposed to all the fun new germs.
posted by HMSSM at 9:27 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

If Flower School keeps her entertained and can be 3+ hours, then that $6000 a year isn't really a waste of money, because it gives her the stimulation she needs and gives you the possibility of even more time to get things done without her needing attention.

Look at it this way, if she spends an extra hour one week at Flower School, and in that hour, you're able to finish a work project that gets you an extra $50 - it's paid for that hour. Or getting to spend more time with the other kids without her interrupting. Or, heck, even an hour to recharge and spend all your time on the computer looking at photos of cats - that's an hour where she's being entertained and educated and you're getting what you need out of it.

And is the half-hour commute by bus a regular thing in general? Because if your family's used to that kind of journey, it won't seem very long if something goes wrong - I know that if I have to rush home, even with my hour-and-a-half bus commute, I can do it fairly quickly.
posted by Katemonkey at 8:51 AM on January 17, 2014

Thank you all! I marked as best answers those that raised points that influenced our final decision. To confirm, we took our daughter back to Flower School today for a visit, and she was so happy and full of energy and fell asleep shortly after we left and is already chatting about her friends at that school.

We worked out a commute in the morning that is a 25-minute walk with our dog through a nice neighbourhood to a busstop where one parent takes another 20 minute bus ride (our daughter loves the bus) to school, then goes off to work, while the other parent gone home for 4-5 hours at alone to work. Our housekeeper will handle afternoon pick-ups, giving us almost three times as much child-free time to work as the place nearby.

Flower school gave us a significant discount on the cost when we explained our budget today, and we can make it work. They are also open to additional hours at a small additional fee on an occasional basis. Best of all, they have decided after observing her last month and discussing with us that she will fit in well with the 3-4 year old group and are happy to move her up and work with her needs, something Happy School would not consider.

The biggest factors for us were thinking about kindergarten, and friendships. She sees kids in the neighbourhood a lot already, and we'd rather put her into one school for the next 4 years that will adapt to her than have to keep changing schools to meet her needs.

This was super-helpful in making sure we felt good about such a big decision. Thank you!
posted by viggorlijah at 12:56 AM on January 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry, also - the budget - we decided that it made more sense to put the money into a one-stop solution than to have the headache of scheduling extra activities. We can get free activities, but they take time which we're short on. The extra time to work translates into more money for us, so it balanced out.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:58 AM on January 20, 2014

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