preschools + psychos

In ALL, RAISING HOPS INTO BEERS by Stephanie Klein15 Comments

Today was one of those days where you can kind of stop and see your life, in a pause, a quiet moment, something that feels like an anchor, even if you’ve never held an anchor. Because who really is in the practice of hanging out with nautical equipment? Aside from those dirty sailors who go from port to port (Yes, that was an Austin Powers reference. You’ll get no apologies out of me.).

It happened over mangoes. My mother and I stopped by my grandmother’s home in Delray Beach. My grandmother is actually in Vermont with Aunt Georgette for the summer; so we were there to collect mail from a neighbor, turn off air conditioning, “upkeep.” I’ve spent winters of my life in this house, back when Papoo was still alive, working on mink coats in his makeshift studio—the garage. We opened the garage door, and immediately I was there, back when I’d fall asleep in a bedroom with Lea, the muffled sounds of a Danielle Steel made-for-TV movie with Joan Collins making it hard to sleep. I wanted to stay awake, to be included, to be older.

And I remembered Papoo, toiling beneath a task light, working on the insides of skins. I never understood what he was doing exactly, but he’d move his arms in a swooping motion, as if he were stripping down wood, leveling it. It almost looked as if he was pulling nails with the back of a hammer, yanking each one out in one long sweeping motion. Maybe they were staples. I still don’t know what a furrier does exactly.

My mother and I were in the yard, standing where a banana tree used to be. The grapefruit tree was replaced with an avocado tree, and right there, within arms reach was a lush mango tree, dripping with sappy mangoes. It was, in a word, glorious. I turned to my mother, offering up three words: Mango margaritas, baby.

It would not be a stretch, at all, to say that I’m passionate about food and about memories. Both can nourish you, make you ill, give you everything you need. It’s something I never learned in school. And THAT is what I needed to feel. Then and there, it was grounding, a reminder that some things can’t necessarily be taught. And everything is still okay.

Moi, in preschool (Attended a Montessori school where I learned—and swiftly forgot— French, hence the “Moi”)

Earlier in the day, I’d toured preschools. Made a spreadsheet of pros and cons. Seriously, 18 kids with only 1 teacher plus an assistant aide? Is that normal for pre-K? That’s a 9:1 ratio, no? Teachers have their masters degree, create the lesson plan, and then there’s the assistant, but 18 kids is like a football team… with 7 extra players on the bench! How much one-on-one time do they get? The ratio should be closer to 6:1, and it’s a lot to reconcile. 18 kids in a SMALL classroom. So, I spent the morning in a panic. Which school?

This is PRESCHOOL, so calm down. They will be smart, passionate children full of joy and curiosity no matter where they attend school because I am their mother. And, they’re already there. So much of a child’s success in school has to do with parenting anyway. Still, it’s a decision.

No, lie. What do I do? I read research. Forbes articles. I read about the top schools in the country, look for similarities (6:1 ratio was there, just sayin’), read about the application process at NYC’s Trinity, about how you need to be accepted for an interview, that not all applicants are even granted a tour or interview.

I knew it was cutthroat. Knew that parents worked on entrance essays, describing why their family would add to the diversity of the school, how involved they are as parents, how eager and committed. And the kids are subject to testing. FCATs, ERB Testing, and moreover, parents are prepping their children for the tests in hopes that the studying will prepare the kids (FOR KINDERGARTEN), so they’ll outperform those children who haven’t been exposed to the styles of the test… granting them entrance into gifted programs within public schools, and into competitive private schools in the practice of turning away more students than they accept. Holy shitballs. I bit off all my nails.

But you have to take a step back and remember a few things. I didn’t go to private school for kindergarten, or for any of high school, and I turned out okay. Phil, too, attended public school. We plan to send them to public school… but again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Because at the end of the day, children will thrive if they learn good habits and feel good, feel confident about who they are, knowing that they can achieve anything so long as they believe they can. What can’t be taught, but what can be contagious though, is passion. Kindness. Warmth and empathy. All I want for my children is for them to be happy and to feel good, really good, about who they are. I don’t know that a preschool can give them that. But I can.


  1. Everytime I read anything from a parent I am so consumed by exhaustion and avoidance. There are so many forks in the road where you can go the wrong way. Good luck!

  2. Damn right, Steph. I love your attitude. Your kids will do great. I really, really mean it!

  3. I love this post, I felt like we were having a conversation over a much needed drink. I want a mango ‘rita, now..wait its not even 8 AM! As far as preschool-I get it. The last thing I want to do is stress out my boys because of testing standards, life will give them enough stress after school. That all being said, your babies are so lucky to have such a thoughtful mommy.

  4. Okay – my two cents. My babies all went to private pre-school and kindergarten. They had uniforms, and they LEARNED how to learn to succeed in school. They were all reading by age 4 (I believe this is the key to their success), and got the whole ‘school, snack, study, play’ routine drilled into them when they were impressionable and it was fun.

    After the divorce, private school wasn’t possible, so off to public school we went. And I’m not being snobbish here, but seriously – the plain old public school here is atrocious (this is a geographical phenomenon). But, because they had learned how to learn, they were all accepted into gifted and talented programs, and flew through school. We put middle daughter back into private school when we realized her high school (of 3500 kids) was just too big and rough, but the other two have excelled. They are all in honors now (2 in college, one a sr.)…I think it goes back to that strict private preschool and reading with them or having them read to us ALL THE TIME.

    But that’s just my little fam.

    Have a beautiful day and weekend.

    1. Author

      School in FL is nearly 20k for 2 kids, and that school is 18 kids with 1 teacher, plus an aide. For 40k for 2 kids, the ratio drops to 12 kids with 2 teachers. 40k for preschool? Seriously???

      Also, I love the idea of uniforms (so kids get compliments on their behavior, a smile, instead of their outfit). The other school we are considering has uniforms but is $7606 MORE than the other school). That’s over 24k to send 4/5 year olds to preschool. Which would you do? 17k for 18 kids in a class or 24k for 12 kids in a class (if they had 16 kids, the 24k school would be 3 teachers).

      24k. Forevermore know as the 24 Karat Gold School.

      1. Late to the conversation, sorry. Son is now 30, only child. We did everything we could for him and for his education. Montessori from age 2 thru 6th grade. Private middle and high. He is a brilliant man but a well educated kid does not a good citizen make. That comes from the family. You have a brilliant and strong family. I would take the public school route nad use the money that would have spent on tuition to enhance what they are learning outside of thre confines of school. Hire a teacher/nanny that can beef up in the evening/weekends/Holidays and summers. In retrospect, I truly wish I had kept him in Montessori until age 6 then had gone to public shcoll where he would have had to deal with real life, not bubble life. Good luck. It’s stressful for sure.

  5. I don’t know if you’ve seen the doc ‘Nursery University’ or not. It’s a real eye-opener about how crazy the pre-school admissions process can be.

    I think it can be easy to lose sight of what’s important when you’re in the thick of the pre-school rabble. But you seem to have a clear view of how not to be and how to keep your beans’ self-esteem intact. They’re really lucky to have a mom whose best ambition for them is to be happy and to feel good about themselves.

  6. I’ve said it before: I’m not a mother. I was raised by one that probably did spreadsheets like you did, although I don’t know for sure. I’ve never been to public school and neither has my boyfriend (we met in high school). That being said, I am the only one of three kids that went to both a public and a private kindergarten. We have jr. and sr. kindergarten in Canada and I assume that’s the case in the US as well. I attended JK at a public school that I still have good memories of to this day. SK was spent at the private school which became school until 8th grade. I have almost no memories of it. I went through private school and university with no problems and I was in advanced math in high school. My high school didn’t have a gifted program, we were evaluated for each course separately. Having done both: I didn’t really notice a difference.

  7. We live in Denver. I found a lot of great information about local schools in our city’s premiere magazine (“5280”). It appears to be a segment they run once a year. Maybe you can find a similar resource in your new city?

    We put our Munchkin in a great Montessori school. The ratio in the toddler community is 15:3 (1 teacher, 2 aides, ALL have Montessori training) and the cost is $16,800 (for year round care). It is a very quiet, orderly classroom, and (as I am sure you know) self-directed learning is key to the approach. It is very easy to adapt that atmosphere to our home– but it is important that we are very consistent with the practices of her classroom (still working on that one).

    Maybe you could narrow it down by the school’s educational philosophy?

    Good luck!

  8. Florida is graded a B-. This new nightmare governor, whose only goal is to make rich people richer, has cut the education budget tremendously.
    Given the high rate of senior citizens and part-time residents who care nothing about education, their lack of interest in ed is reflected in so many ways. You probably already know the skills your kids will need before starting school. And you can supplement if the private school doesn’t meet your kids needs. But if I were you, I would plan on splitting at least by the time they are in the second grade, if you intend to put kids in public schools. There are communities that have great schools, like Montgomery Co, Md. Westchester, NY etc. but if you want your kids to be Ivy competitive then get the heck out of here.

    Forget comparing your educational experiences to current times, there is no comparison. The good news about Florida is that there is no state income tax (another reason ed is hurting) so you will have lots of extra bucks to contribute to education. You are leaving an enlightened community and coming to a state with few consumer benefits. At least you are in Palm Beach Co, which has a .5% gas tax just for ed. In Miami, it isn’t even considered America,

    Not trying to be a downer, but you are moving to a town that doesn’t even have a newspaper, that should tell you something. But you seem very clear on what makes good parenting, and you know that is the most important thing.

  9. Pingback: Preschool priviter | Superprotronix

  10. Wow, spending that much money for Pre-K, I just don’t get it. I can’t believe the figures people are throwing around as the cost of private school. I’d rather put the money away for their college. Otherwise it sounds like it would be, “sorry honey, but we sent you to the very best kindergarten, so there ain’t no money left for higher education.”

    I share your instincts that I will be an involved parent and my kids are smart and will thrive anywhere. Even in, ‘shudder’, public school! I don’t believe they need some special expensive environment to do well in school. And I’m in Texas, so I bet most people commenting on this post would judge our school system to be sub-par like Florida’s. Of course you have to do what is best for you and your family, but I personally have a knee-jerk reaction against private school because this country is more and more turning into a place where education pits the haves against the have-nots and I find it so disheartening. I feel like if the involved parents who have the resources to send their kids to private school would invest that time and energy in public schools, we could really turn around public school education. And I worry that the more people who send their kids to private school, the less of a priority public school will be for voters, and the worse public school will get.

    My kid’s actually attending a public school next year for kinder
    where she will learn Spanish and English at the same time, and be directly partnered with English-language learners so that they can help each other learn their respective language. It’s pretty neat and I’m sort of jealous I didn’t get to learn this way. And it’s not at a upper-class suburban elementary, but at an urban, 88% economically disadvantaged, 40% english-language learning school. Pretty neat stuff!

    Good luck with your little ones’ school choice, I’m sure they’ll do great no matter what. But I agree, the thought of teaching 18 4-year olds fills me with fear:)

  11. You would pay $15,000 a year for two kids at $150/week/child for regular daycare, no? What’s $5k more, annually, for a school that teaches them to learn?

  12. I have two sisters who are teachers and both of them are STRONGLY AGAINST a preschool class of 18 children!! One of them is a Kindergarten teacher and the other a teacher of 4th grade..

  13. Finding school’s in general is difficult, especially preschools because that is when your kids first start to learn. Once I found the perfect school I just knew, so keep looking and you’ll know when you found the perfect fit.

    But also, this may be random, but I was looking for good, new TV shows that I could enjoy with my kids because we all know that TV is quickly maturing and almost becoming inappropriate for young ones.

    But I came across this new show coming out called iKid. They put kids in funny situations and it is actually really funny and a show I can enjoy WITH my kids. I found it when I was searching around on, so everyone should check it out if you are looking for good shows to watch with your kids!!! I cannot wait till it premeires!

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