The wonderful thing about raising children in New York City is that we have so many options for educating our children. The nightmare is navigating all of those options, particularly at the nursery school level when your child is barely beginning to walk and talk when you have to decide on the “right” school. Most nursery schools are independent early childhood centers whose educational philosophies can vary significantly, from play-based to traditional, from Montessori to Reggio Emilia, with many combining approaches. Families should take the time to explore all of their options in making a considered decision, keeping in mind that the “right” school is the one that most fits your priorities for your child’s first school experience.
- Traditional Education:
- Teacher-directed curriculum based on skills and readiness levels; performance oriented
- Designated activity centers to promote academic readiness
- Closely followed daily schedule; classroom etiquette emphasized
- Less “free play”, more guided exploration
- Progressive Education:
- Child centered approach; “play based”—play is the work of the child; teachers are facilitators and mediators
- “Learning by doing” with open-ended materials that can be used in a variety of ways
- Generous free play time to encourage exploration and imagination
- Emphasis on classroom community and teamwork; transitions from individual work to group activity and back again
- Emphasizes self-directed activity; teachers’ primary role is that of observer and recorder.
- Incorporates Montessori-specific materials for building “life skills”, used in a sequential manner to develop fine/gross motor skills and to encourage self-corrected independent learning
- Incorporates a multi-year age span in the classroom
- In its purest form, de-emphasizes group activities and displays of individual artwork or group projects
- 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 placed on open-ended materials and imaginative play; encourages exploration in a curriculum based on children’s interests. Long term projects seen as vehicles for learning.
- Dedicated art space (“atelier”) seen as a haven for creative expression
- Home-school partnership encouraged; parents seen as advocates and collaborators.
PREPARING FOR THE NURSERY SCHOOL ADMISSIONS PROCESS
If your child will be between 18 months and four years of age next September, there are a number of toddler and nursery school programs available for your consideration. You can get an overview of programs through books like Victoria Goldman’s Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools 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’ve done some research decided on a philosophical approach, you can formulate your list. Be honest about your needs: convenience of location and available schedules are as important as educational philosophy. Also make sure your child meets the school’s age cutoff. We generally recommend a list of 6-10 schools depending on your location.
Ideally, you'll be submitting your applications in the September before your child actually begins school (a full year ahead), so do your research early so that you’re ready to submit. Keep in mind though that there may still be choices available if you’re late starting your search.
APPLICATION PROCESS CHECKLIST
- Determine when your child will be eligible to apply
- Begin researching schools through print and internet sources
- compile a preliminary list of schools
- contact schools to confirm cutoff dates and application procedures
- Attend Information Sessions and Workshops for an overview of the process
- Knowing that some schools will want essays, begin formulating thoughts on paper describing your child and what you are looking for in a school.
- Speak with trusted friends, neighbors and colleagues about their own experiences, but be careful of park bench gossip!
- Finalize your list of schools and their procedures by September 1.
- Organize yourself for the day after Labor Day, when the majority of schools make their applications available (note that some Downtown schools have begun the process as early as August); you might need to enlist help in contacting the more competitive schools.
- Complete and submit applications in a timely fashion, begin touring and attending open houses and interviews.
- Review brochures and websites to learn about each school’s philosophy. For tours, think of a thoughtful question or two, and for interviews be prepared to talk about your child and the type of school you are looking for.
- Do a final review of your list to make sure you have enough range (your list may have narrowed because of lotteries or competitive deadlines). Apply to a less competitive program or two if necessary.
- Your child will be visiting schools during this period. Make sure to keep track of dates and procedures (should both parents be present? Just one?)
- Send brief thank you notes after interviews and tours in a timely fashion.
- Remember that the tours and interviews are your chance to get a feel for the schools and present a positive image: open and engaged.
- If you have contacts or connections at a school, now is the time to ensure that they have written on your behalf. Each school handles this differently.
- Follow up with schools to make sure your child’s file is complete
- Consider a first choice letter to the Nursery School you most want your child to attend. You can only write one first choice letter, but you should also write strong letters to any school on your list where you would welcome an offer.
- Decisions are mailed in early March and parents have a brief period (usually 7-10 days) to return contracts to the school they wish to attend. If you are placed on a wait list, stay in contact with the school throughout the Notification Period. A denial is final; a Wait List isn’t over until it’s over.
HOW WE CAN HELP
If you schedule a one-on-one session with a Smart City Kids Advisor, one of the first things we'll help you do is narrow your focus. Before we meet, we'll send you a questionnaire that will help you think through what you want in a school for your child and for your family. During our meeting, we will spend time with you in advance of meeting your child and talk further about your goals. A detailed discussion of your child and your priorities will help us assess schools that would be a good match.
The first step towards improving your child's chance to be accepted at the schools you want is to apply to schools where the fit is right. Schools will be assessing fit as carefully as you will be, so if you get that right, you are already one step ahead. We'll talk with you about why we think the school is right for your family, what the environment and culture are like at these schools, and how competitive each school is. If, after you visit the recommended schools, you feel the need for more choices, we can suggest other options. But our goal is to point you to the right options immediately so you don't waste time or feel overwhelmed with possibilities.
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’ll discuss the all-important touring and interview process, focusing on what you should be looking for (and how the schools are looking at you), as well as expectations for your child during the “play visit.” Finally, we’ll strategize together as you prioritize your list, communicate with the schools and make choices from the offers you receive.
For more information, call Smart City
Kids at (212) 249-4066 or e-mail us at email@example.com