Nursery School

It is already time to send your precious little one to school


One of the truly exciting aspects of raising children in New York City is that we have countless possibilities for education. The challenge is navigating all of those options, particularly at the nursery school level when your child is just beginning to walk and talk. How do you decide on the “right” educational environment to begin schooling? Most nursery schools are independent early childhood programs whose philosophies vary significantly, from play-based to traditional, Montessori to Reggio Emilia, with many combining a number of approaches into their curriculum. Families should take the time to explore and understand all of their options in order to make a thoughtful and well-informed decision, keeping in mind that the “right” school at the nursery level is the one that matches your priorities for your child’s first school experience.


How we can help

Our priority is to help parents thoroughly understand how to successfully navigate each step of the admissions process, which can be an overwhelming experience. Before we meet, we will send you a questionnaire that will help you think through what you want in a school for your child and in a community for your family. During our meeting, we will have a detailed discussion of your child and your priorities and this will help us assess schools that would be a good match. By the end of our initial meeting, parents have a preliminary list of schools to consider. The first step towards improving your child’s chances of being accepted is to apply to schools where the “fit” is right. Schools will be assessing the fit between your family and their program as carefully as you will be.

If you decide to work through the full admissions process with Smart City Kids, we will do a home visit to meet your child, provide our assessment of your child’s developmental skills and school readiness, and revisit your school list in context. We will work with you on essays, helping you present a realistic, appealing picture of your child and a clear expression of what you are looking for in a school. We review the best way to navigate the touring and interview process, focusing on what you should be looking for (and how the schools are evaluating at you), as well as expectations for your child during the “play group.” Finally, we strategize as you prioritize your list, communicate with the schools, and make choices from the offers you receive.

Educational Options

Traditional education

  • Teacher-directed and designed curriculum based on skills and readiness levels; performance oriented.
  • In classrooms, you will find designated activity centers to promote academic readiness.
  • Closely followed daily schedule; classroom etiquette emphasized.
  • Less “free play” is part of the routine, but rather more guided exploration.

Progressive Education

  • Child centered approach; “play based”- play is the work of the child; teachers are facilitators and mediators. (“Child centered” sounds like the children are in charge – this is absolutely not the case!)
  • “Learning by doing” with open-ended materials that can be used in a variety of ways. This allows teachers to connect with each child in a very individualized manner.
  • Generous free play time is built into the schedule to encourage exploration and imagination.
  • Emphasis is on classroom community and teamwork; transitions from individual work to group activity and back again.


  • This is an example of a philosophy that will be incorporated in different ways depending on the school. There are two ways that Montessori school can be accredited – AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) and AMS (American Montessori Society) schools.
  • AMI Schools more strictly adhere to the Montessori philosophy and AMS modifies the philosophy.
  • Montessori classrooms are considered ‘prepared environments’ – teachers very carefully organize the materials in the classroom into distinct areas to help promote independence, coordination, concentration, organization, and curiosity.
  • Classrooms include areas for language arts, mathematics, sensorial, practical life, and cultural arts. Classrooms will also have science, geography, art, and music.
  • Montessori programs incorporate a multi-year age span in the classroom – the range of ages will depend if the school is AMI or AMS.

Reggio Emilia

  • Based on nurturing a child’s sense of self-esteem and competency, as well as establishing a sense of community in the classroom.
  • Emphasis is placed on open-ended materials and imaginative play; encourages exploration with a curriculum based on children’s interests.  Long term projects are seen as vehicles for learning.
  • There is a belief that there are a “Hundred Languages of Children” – children use many different ways to demonstrate their understanding and express their thoughts and creativity. (Drawing and sculpting, dance and movement, painting and pretend play, modelling and music, etc.)
  • Emphasizes hands-on discovery learning that allows the child to use all their senses and their “languages” to learn.
  • Dedicated art space (“atelier”) seen as a haven for creative expression.

Preparing for the Admissions Process

If your child will be between 18 months and four years of age next September, each neighborhood within the city offers a wonderful variety of educational options. Some parts of the city are denser with nursery programs than others. You can get an overview of programs through books like “The New York Independent Schools Directory” (published by The Parents League) or by exploring the website for the Independent School Admissions Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY), which has links to its member schools. Once you have done research on schools in your area (or nearby to where you work), you can formulate your list. Do not feel the need to focus on one particular educational philosophy at the nursery school level. Many children are flexible and can be successful in a range of environments. Be honest about your needs: convenience of location and available schedules are as important as educational philosophy at this stage. Also make sure your child meets the school’s age cutoff. We generally recommend a list of 6-10 schools depending on which area of the city you live in.

Ideally, you will be submitting your applications in the September before your child actually begins school (a full year ahead), so do your research early to insure you are ready to submit applications and meet deadlines. Keep in mind that there may still be choices available if you are late in starting your search.

Application Process Checklist

Our consultants come with significant expertise in the field of nursery school admissions and will help families strategize how to most successfully navigate the admissions process. We will support and guide you through all the steps listed below in the timeline.


April – August

  • Do your research and learn about different educational philosophies.
  • Keep logistics (location of the school, hours of the program, etc.) at the forefront when formulating your school list.
  • Determine which schools your child is eligible to apply to by confirming cutoff dates. (It is very rare that schools make exceptions to these dates)
  • Find out when schools plan to make applications live on their websites.


  • The day after Labor Day is the official “start” to the admissions season. Pay close attention to when each school makes their application.
  • Parents should complete applications, begin touring and attending open houses, and continue scheduling appointments for tours and interviews.


  • Before visiting any schools, parents should review websites and learn about each school’s philosophy.
  • Handwrite thank you notes as a follow up after a tour.


  • Follow up with schools to which you have applied to make sure that you have fulfilled all necessary admissions requirements for your child’s age group.
  • Send handwritten thank you notes for parent/child interviews.
  • Make sure that any contacts and connections to the schools have been used to elevate your application.

Early February

  • Consider sending a “First Choice Letter” to the nursery school of your choice.  You should only send it to one school that you are 100% confident is a program where you would enroll your child.


  • Nursery school admissions decisions are generally emailed, but some will be mailed.  Parents have two weeks to respond to an offer of admission and sign an enrollment contract along with several other pieces.