When I was pregnant with Biet, and a bit more naive, and without the everlasting wisdom that one undoubtedly gains from rearing a nursling into a two-year-old, a friend of mine asked me where we planned to send our child to school. I thought she was insane. Why on earth would I would be thinking about schools when I hadn't even had the baby yet!? I told her that once my baby was born, and then a whole five years had passed, she would probably go to public school. This made perfect sense to me. I had attended public school on the West Coast, and it was pretty great. So I dismissed the matter and pushed it out of my thoughts. And then I became a mother in NYC.
I should have picked up on it earlier, from the way that Biet interacts on the playground, the subway, and on playdates. I should have realized that, unlike her Mama, my little girl is a people person. She loves a challenge, learning new things, working within systems with rules (& breaking those rules when she's feeling ornery), making friends, playing games, and expressing herself. When we met up with LaTonya & Emily and their sweet girls the other week, I watched as Biet held hands in a little toddler chain gang, and I began to really see that she could flourish in the right preschool program. Then she began asking for "Rivahhh" and "Baby leeee" (River & Lilly) every day (along with a list of all of her toddler friends- the girl just wants to hang!), and reenacting the games they had played together. I began a proper search for a preschool that night. What I found shocked me.
Many, many people in NYC begin applying for schools when they find out they are pregnant- the waiting lists for the good ones take years. There are a couple nice progressive schools that your child can test into if they are bright, but the competition is brutal, and 1-year-olds beginning piano lessons in order to "keep up" and stand a chance is not my style.
Apparently, there are a number of underground co-op school in Brooklyn, where parents get together and hire a teacher and all pitch in to pay him or her, hosting the school from their homes. Then there are "playschool's", where the parents take turns teaching, also from their homes, with self-developed curriculums or themes each day. There are independent daycares, but I'm too skeptical of the quality of education offered at most of them. There are private Montessori schools, but they are certainly not affordable (at least not the ones I've seen). A few public schools have daycare and pre-k options, but not in the district we're zoned for. A couple of stand-up magnet schools have the same, but you must enter a lottery against tens of thousands of other children for a spot- the odds are not good, and they don't even accept kids as young as Biet. So what's a Mama to do?
All I'm looking for is a creative, safe environment where she can interact with other kids, learn some games and songs, and make a little art a couple of times a week. Some organic food and lessons about the environment would be cool too. It has to exist, doesn't it? I know I'm not the only one who wants this for my child.
I'm throwing this one out to universe and asking you, dear readers, for your help here. Tell me your experiences with NYC schools- the good and the bad and the ugly and the beautiful. Do you have any suggestions of where I should look? Are there groups or clubs or forums out there? Do you have a playschool? Should I start one? Is the Montessori method of teaching the best? Reggio Emilia? Certain school zones where I'll have better luck? I am so grateful for your insight and help with this!