Suzanne Bouffard Ph.D.

The Most Important Year

Are You Freaking Out About the Pre-K Lottery?

How to stay sane while you look for a preschool.

Posted Jan 18, 2018

Suzanne Bouffard
Source: Suzanne Bouffard

When your child was born, you probably figured application stress was at least a decade away. And then came preschool. With lotteries for limited public seats, lengthy applications, and sometimes even interviews or “supervised playdates” for private schools, there is no doubt that the process is stressful. Sometimes the waiting is the hardest part, even if you have consulted resources about how to find a quality program and feel confident about your choices. Whether you are finishing the application process or waiting to hear where your child will start the next school year, here are a few reminders to put your mind at ease and help you stay sane.

  • There are many great preschools, including a lot of hidden gems. A preschool doesn’t have to be fancy, expensive, or located in the newest facility to be an excellent experience for your child. My kids have gone to a wonderful preschool that has no windows. Many people have overlooked it because the entrance is in the loading dock to a large building, and that’s a shame because they have missed the amazing teachers and learning experiences inside. What children need is loving, enthusiastic teachers who “get” young kids and are ready to see each child’s unique strengths. If you are assigned a second or third choice school, look deeper – you might find it is more than you realized.
  • Preschool is just the beginning. Early education programs are the first stones on a child’s long educational path. Those stones should be strong and secure, but they are just the beginning of many experiences that will shape his knowledge, skills, and outlook. If you have done your due diligence and made sure that your child is safe, respected, and nurtured at school, remember that specific skills (like understanding rhymes and cutting with scissors) can and will be developed at many points along the way.
  • Your child will be fine if he’s not with his current friends (and so will you). Preschool is all about social relationships – making new friends, sharing, navigating conflicts, developing empathy. With a good teacher, your child will develop in all of those areas, regardless of whether she knows anyone on the first day. Sure, having a familiar face or two nearby can ease transitions, but it isn’t make-or-break. Sometimes the transition is even harder on us parents than the kids, and losing daily contact with your neighborhood parent friends can be tough. But if your kids can handle it, you can, too. You’ll be surprised – and delighted – by how fast you all make new friends.
  • Your child’s placement is usually not set in stone. Children thrive on consistency, so it’s important for adults to minimize transitions as much as possible. But if you are convinced that the preschool where you have ended up is not a good fit, don’t be afraid to make a change. If you do go to Plan B, try to figure out what wasn’t working at the first school and whether the new school you are considering addresses the issue in a more positive way, so you don’t end up hopping around. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to find out about your school’s withdrawal policy before you commit, especially if you are feeling uncertain about your choice, because private schools can charge heavy fines and public schools sometimes make you wait a year to re-enter the lottery.
  • You are the most important influence on your child. The relationship your child shares with you is the basis for all her experiences of the world. Nurturing, supporting, and engaging her will provide (and already has provided) the foundation she needs to feel worthwhile, curious, and ready to learn and share her gifts. Preschool should be a supplement to the things you are already giving your child. Know that many educators, policymakers, and researchers are working tirelessly to make that a reality for every single child. Rest assured, though, that your influence is enormous, and nothing can erase it.

You are giving your child a wonderful gift by looking for a good school. Keep calm and parent on.