Amazing and amazingly expensive preschool worth it vs. adequate one?
September 14, 2017 12:58 PM   Subscribe

We're not very happy with our current preschool, but it's not terrible. We're thinking of making a switch for our 2-year old. We just toured a preschool that really blew us away and addressed basically every concern we've ever brought up about preschool, but it costs much more than we currently pay. We could afford this, but it would be a hardship. Is it worth it?

Our son is two (27 months), and is developing normally, no major issues, though he is small for his age and more shy than average. We're not happy with his current school because of the small classroom coupled with 24(!) students and four teachers (one head teacher, and three assistants). He doesn't seem to be as happy to be there as he has been in previous situations, but he's not overtly miserable. The kids don't have enough space to run around or opportunity for much exercise (on the weekends, we do lots of physical activity, and we notice a big difference in getting him to sleep well). Also, they have "media time" everyday before lunch, plus extra video time here and there for whatever reason (my take is that the teachers are overwhelmed with keeping so many kids in a small classroom and use the videos as occasional resets/breaks).

We've been looking around, and found this amazing school that has dramatically fewer students (8-10, with two teachers) in much bigger classrooms, much bigger playgrounds, more time devoted to outdoor play and physical activity in general, a more serious educational/developmental philosophy, better lunch options, etc., etc. Basically we fell in love, except for the price. It's a lot more expensive, around 50% more for similar schedules than what we currently pay. But it's head and shoulders above any of the 6-7 schools we've visited in this city. Our question is, is it worth it? If our son had some developmental issues and we needed early intervention, I'd be more inclined to spend money to solve problems now rather than later. But if he's doing fine, maybe he could be doing even better? Or is it just not worth the extra money at this point in his life, I'm sure we can find some place where he is safe, happy, and learning to socialize, but not have to pay more per year than I paid for college.

So, is it worth it? We're probably going to make a switch, but all the options except the expensive one involve trade-offs that we'd not be very happy about. And of course, spending large amounts of money we could otherwise put to good purposes is a big trade-off as well.
posted by skewed to Education (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would make the switch. Knowing that your kid is in an educationally appropriate, caring environment is a big deal. (Media time in a day care?)

As for costs, your child is just over two, and will likely be going to regular school in 2-3 years. Can you handle the expense for a limited time? It's hard to swallow that we paid basically college tuition for a daycare, but we knew it was going to be a couple years maximum, and the quality of the care was worth it.
posted by Liesl at 1:20 PM on September 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't really worry about educational and developmental goals at this age. What you want is to know that he's:

1. safe
2. in the care of good-hearted people
3. getting opportunities to play with other kids
4. getting opportunities to play outside

It sounds like you don't think all those needs are being met at his current daycare, so you should definitely switch. But you should be able to meet those needs without spending an arm and a leg. I'll tell you that when I was shopping around for daycares for my kids, the single most important thing to me was how the teachers interacted with the kids. If they seemed warm, loving, and attentive, I could overlook almost anything else.
posted by 256 at 1:30 PM on September 14, 2017 [32 favorites]

I'm with 256. Your son is so incredibly young, I would not be worrying about educational efforts of the preschool on his behalf (but I do realize that's not your primary concern). To me, the things we got from our very best daycare (my daughter has attended three) were:

- gets attention / affection / love from staff
- is taught good social skills (ie. 'Use your words', 'Share', 'Be helpful', 'Accept differences').

I'm not sure if your current preschool is meeting those, but if they are I don't believe you should worry. If you feel like you'd like to do better, I know it's work trying to figure this stuff out but amongst all the schools you have visited there must be a cheaper, 'more-adequate' preschool he could attend. One that wouldn't be so much of a financial burden?
posted by kitcat at 2:27 PM on September 14, 2017

It's worth it. My kids went to an exorbitant preschool and I wouldn't go back and change a thing. More attention, more outdoor play and enriching activities sounds miles better than any school that would offer videos for toddlers.
posted by gryphonlover at 2:53 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a 5 yr old daughter at an expensive school. She used to be at a very expensive school until we took a hit to our income. In my experience it is very clear to me that. . .

This is not the time to short change your kid's education!

This is their FIRST impression of school so make it a good one! (Of course, quality not tuition is everything.) This is how they first remember school. These will become "the good ol' days" later on in high school. It is SO much easier to start on top and stay on top than it is to start in the middle, eliminate bad habits, and claw your way up the education ladder.

Pay for a good education now for as long as you can. It's better and cheaper than paying later.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 3:00 PM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it were us, we would do it if it did not put us in a bad position financially. Of course see if you can find one that meets your needs that is less expensive, but if that's not possible, I would do it.

My daughter has gone to two amazing daycares that sound like they would meet your needs and they have been worth it. While I agree that how the teachers interact with the children is extremely important, I do believe education is valuable even at that young age. Your child will be going to kindergarten at some point and I learned that it's come a long way from when I went. When I was young, we took a nap and colored and maybe practiced letters and numbers. Now? Now they want kids knowing that before they show up. Here's an example of kindergarten readiness.

No daycare we have ever sent our daughter to or even checked out had ANY video time.
posted by polkadot at 3:14 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Assuming that you aren't putting yourself in a bad financial spot, I would do it. In my experience, who are happy with their child care arrangements do better at work. Plus I'm imagining 24 toddlers in a room and it sounds terrifying.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:26 PM on September 14, 2017

It's worth it. My kids went to an exorbitant preschool and I wouldn't go back and change a thing.

Ditto. One of the few things I'd overspend on when it comes to kids.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:33 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think anyone can give a satisfactory answer to the question as presented because the question says so little about your financial situation. A preschool that appears to be better is probably going to be preferable, but, as you said, there will be trade-offs. What would the cost difference between the two schools require you to forego? Would it leave you scraping by? Would you have to cancel a vacation or two? Would it make it impossible for you to pay for other enrichment activities for your son later on? Or would it be a mere blip that wouldn't require much adjustment at all?

Perhaps you could provide that information in a response, or perhaps this would just be a useful exercise for you to think over yourself. If you know what you are going to lose (in practical terms, not just in terms of $$), it might be more clear whether the cost of the fanciest preschool is worthwhile.
posted by reren at 3:39 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm biased as a former ECE but I would not dismiss educational enrichment and developmental milestones. Is your kid hitting his milestones? Does your child's current preschool have a curriculum? (OK so it falls short on physical activity; does it offer regular, scheduled music and art? They are important predictors of language and math skills, and they're important for cognitive development.) These are data points you can asses in making this decision.

Preschool is your child's first introduction to structured learning. With the caveat that knowing your child is safe, warm, fed and cared for is unfortunately a tremendous luxury you already able to give your son, this is a pretty crucial stage for brain development, and if you feel that he could benefit more from a richer educational environment, and if you can afford it, it's money you're unlikely to regret spending in retrospect.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:49 PM on September 14, 2017

It sounds like your current school is fairly bad and the others have trade offs you're not very happy with. While I think sometimes good enough is good enough - and it's easy to get must-be-the-best-itis with your kids - it sounds like this place might work pretty well for you.
posted by vunder at 6:25 PM on September 14, 2017

I would not pay for a day care that had screen time in the routine for a two-year-old. That alone would be a deal breaker.

Can you possibly spy on any of the places you're considering? When my homeschooled daughter was young we ended up often sharing space (in museums, at library storytimes, etc) with groups of kids and caregivers from all sorts of day cares. (We also saw nannies/mom-based home care charges, of course.) The variation in quality -- when they think nobody is looking -- runs the gamut from "Holy balls, is that normal? Legal? Jeez, the poor kids..." to "Huh! If I had the cash I'd throw mine in that one once a week or something, because those kids are being doted on and I am learning some fascinating new child care techniques just by watching the people in charge..."

Beware of relying just on appearances and recommendations -- a very nice-looking and highly regarded centre here was enough to turn my neighbour into an at-home mother despite plans to stay at work, and, statistically, very very few people are able to critique their kid's care -- who on earth wants to admit that they send their kid somewhere that gives them some heebies and jeebies? In parents' eyes, everywhere is above average.

After what I observed in those years I would either spend far too much, and still worry -- or, more likely, work my bum off to interview every in-home provider in the area, and interview and call references and interview and call references and make that a 2nd f/t job until I found the right one. There are a lot of awful home cares, yes -- my favourite (sigh) are the ones that advertise "loving home environment!" and some photographs are shown of a finished basement with a teevee, tiny kitchen set-up, dollar store decor, and some beat-up toys, as though a "home environment" would involve spending the day in the basement! But there are real sweethearts out there, ones who treat the kids like their own, ones who are well educated in child care and development, ones who spent $ on safety instead of a big screen with Dora videos. If you can track down one of those (look for an always-open-door policy, listen to your gut), they are gold.

Too many people have an idea that centre-based care is "better" because it can offer more toys/playground space, and, mostly, because they think there is safety in numbers, as though if one employee sucks, the others will rush to tattle and the boss will see her out the door. The odds are that they cover for each other when they screw up. That, and they are so poorly paid that the staff turnover is high and I think it's lousy to be a consumer of an industry that pays people doing vital work poorly -- but a skilled home caregiver can pull down a decent salary, while enjoying the work.

(My absolute favourite overheard/extensively snooped on, er, I mean, observed, pair of caregivers were an older hippie couple. I had never ever seen a "manny" before. They worked beautifully together, seemed unflappable, the kids clearly adored them. They were taking the kids around a museum, and were there for at least as long as we were -- I silently gave them permission to shove in a DVD when they got home. Don't overlook couples and mannies!)
posted by kmennie at 6:33 PM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

The one you're at now sounds pretty bad and I don't fault you from wanting to switch, but I think there's a degree of diminishing returns when it comes to daycares and preschools on the quite-good to super-fancy scale. Meaning: really substandard daycares and preschools are definitely bad, moving to a quite good facility would be a massive improvement, but the difference between that quite good facility and The Greatest Preschool of All Time is not that much.

We were very very happy with your good enough daycare/preschool. The teachers were happy and there was barely any staff turnover, the building was bright and spacious, the playground was nice, and they used a standard play-based preschool structure with not much in the way of academics. It was a HUGE improvement over our really fairly crappy original daycare. But thinking about comparing the good enough daycare we loved with some of the fancy Reggio Emelia or Montessori or language immersions preschools we looked at? Eh. I'm glad we saved our money for things like museum memberships and family trips and cool toys. Good enough was good enough. (Note: it does not sound like your current place is good enough. I'm not saying to stay there. I'm saying to consider one that is an improvement but not The #1 Preschool Of All Time if it's going to keep you from being able to afford enriching things at home and in your personal lives.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:19 PM on September 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Kids that age are easily overwhelmed and the reduction in class size alone would be enough to make me switch. I think having a serious educational philosophy is great as long as it's age appropriate--I think people see "educational philosophy" and think it means flash cards and worksheets for 2-year-olds. In reality at a high-quality place it just means that the teachers have a good idea of what skills they want the kids to be learning (cooperation, handling conflicts, fine and gross motor skills, etc) and how their activities will encourage development.

Expensive schools also tend to have low turnover and pay their teachers and staff adequately, which was important to me.

I would say that if you're able to make the switch without actively compromising your life (like, having to stop making retirement contributions, not downgrading a vacation) you should go with your guts and change schools.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:02 PM on September 14, 2017

I would not pay for a day care that had screen time in the routine for a two-year-old. That alone would be a deal breaker.

Absolutely this.
posted by somanyamys at 8:27 AM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hi all, thanks very much for the input. We're leaning against going with the expensive school until next summer, when hopefully our financial situation will be a bit stronger. We've got a couple of options that we're looking at that will hopefully be better than old school.
posted by skewed at 9:11 AM on September 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

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