How to Pick the Brooklyn Preschool That’s Right For You (and Your Child!)

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kite_newThree years ago, a Manhattan mother sued her daughter’s $19,000/year preschool because, she claimed, it hadn’t adequately prepared little Lucia for admittance into one of New York’s hyper-competitive private elementary schools. Although the suit was quickly dismissed and widely mocked in the local media (at the time, Jen Doll wrote in the Village Voice, “One has to wonder whether that $19,000 might be well used for family therapy down the road—especially when Lucia begins to question Mommy’s scant faith in her ability to surmount the obstacle of having a sub-par nursery school”), there’s little doubt that many New York parents related to the spirit of the lawsuit, if not its legal legitimacy.
One line of the suit in particular stands out: “It is no secret that getting a child into the Ivy League starts in nursery school.”
And therein lies the rub. New York is a city of high-achievers with master’s degrees and impressive careers; it’s a place with large immigrant populations possessing a strong educational ethic. In Brooklyn, a borough that sometimes seems more heavily populated with strollers than with adults, the search for excellence in education begins at the earliest level, that formative time when the brain is plastic and anything is possible—preschool. In the last year or so, the major watchword when it came to early education in New York City was Pre-K. Mayor de Blasio made the institution of Universal Pre-K a priority for his administration, much to the delight of parents citywide. But Pre-K doesn’t start till age four, and, as any parent can tell you, there’s frequently a need to have some sort of educational structure in place starting at the age of three, or even two. And that’s where preschool comes in.
But what kind of preschool is right for your family? If only the answer were as simple as the breast-feeding versus formula-feeding debate! (Ahhh! Kidding!) As with just about every decision parents have to make, this one is fraught with hand-wringing over things as varied, and legitimate, as cost concerns, teaching methodology, and scheduling. And perhaps the most exciting (make that terrifying) part is that even if you do the right thing, you won’t really know that you made the right choice until your kids are all grown up. And even then? It’ll still be really hard to say! So the best thing you can do for your child and for your own peace of mind is to research the available options and see which one best suits your needs. And because we’ve got your back, Brooklyn, we figured we’d help you get off to a good start. Here’s our guide to picking the right preschool option for you. And, of course, for your kid.

booksIncorporated Private Preschool

Pro:
What sets these places apart from many other preschools is that these are the ones where students will frequently continue on through the upper grades. What does this mean? Well, it means that getting your child a spot at one of these top schools could secure the rest of their academic future. We’re not guaranteeing the Ivy League, but Wesleyan would probably be considered a safety. Oh, and the staff at schools like this tend to be among the most-trained and best-qualified in the city. Even if your kid doesn’t wind up going to an Ivy League, his or her preschool teacher probably did. The pedagogical techniques at these schools are always cutting edge, and you’ll marvel at—if not feel a little envious of—all the things your three-year-old is learning. There’s a lot more to these schools than finger painting.

Con:
Are you sitting down? Good. Because do you have any idea how much you’ll spend in a year at one of these preschools? We’re talking $18,000/year for the base tuition. And schools like this expect much more than just that. There are constant fund-raising efforts and donation requests galore. Also, some of these schools, like St. Ann’s, don’t let preschool attendees automatically graduate on to higher grades and so require families to reapply to the kindergarten program. There’s also the little fact that sibling priority means that spots in these preschool programs are few and far between. Plus, your child will be attending school in a bubble of privilege that is anachronistic in this borough in this era. Make sure to think long and hard about why that’s ok with you.

Options:
Brooklyn Friends: 375 Pearl Street, Downtown Brooklyn; St. Ann’s: 129 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn Height; Packer Collegiate: 170 Joralemon Street, Downtown Brooklyn; Poly Prep, 50 Prospect Park West, Park Slope; Brooklyn Heights Montessori: 185 Court Street, Cobble Hill; Berkeley Carroll School: 181 Lincoln Place, Park Slope; Bay Ridge Prep: 8101 Ridge Blvd, Bay Ridge; Williamsburg Northside School: 152 N. 5th Street, Williamsburg
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Stand-Alone Private Preschool

Pro:
Many of these preschools offer the same level of educational excellence as those that are part of incorporated institutions, only in a more intimate setting. This is a huge benefit to kids, and families, who might otherwise feel overwhelmed by immediately being part of a larger school. And because these schools are stand alone, there isn’t as much of an issue with sibling privilege, meaning that there are more (if not a ton of)available spots.

Con:
Just because these schools are smaller than incorporated ones, it doesn’t mean that they’re any cheaper. Also, the princely sum you’ll be paying? It won’t give you any kind of in with local private schools. But if your plan all along was to pay $18,000/year and then send your child to public school, this might be the choice for you!

Options:
BeanSprouts: 453 Sixth Avenue, Park Slope; Open House Nursery School: 318 Warren Street, Cobble Hill; Montessori Day School of Brooklyn: 237 Park Place, Prospect Heights; Williamsburg Montessori: Schaefer Landing 450 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg; Rory’s Room: 3003 Fort Hamilton Parkway, Windsor Terrace; The Williamsburg Neighborhood Nursery School: 54 S. 2nd Street, Williamsburg

crayonPlay-Based Preschool

Pro:
It’s not that we think that kids shouldn’t be learning how to engineer a functioning model suspension bridge by the age of 2½, but sometimes the curriculum for these preschools sounds more suitable for high school than the high chair. Play-based learning is a positive alternative to a more traditional approach, one that prioritizes movement and a hands-on learning experience. And don’t worry—your kids will still be learning their ABCs. Plus, many of these schools offer rolling admission, which makes enrollment much easier.

Con:
A lot of these play-based schools are among the newer arrivals to the Brooklyn preschool scene, though that certainly doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile additions. Some of them offer only very limited hours, though, and don’t have the option of extended day.

Options:
New York Kids Club: 2 Northside Piers, Williamsburg; Chickpeas Childcare Center: 451 Seventh Avenue, Park Slope; Maple Street School: 21 Lincoln Road, Prospect Lefferts Gardens; The Park Slope Childcare Collective: 186 St. John’s Place, Park Slope

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Religiously Affiliated Preschool

Pro:

Depending on your own beliefs, a religiously affiliated preschool might seem like a no-brainer to you. What better opportunity to introduce your family’s beliefs and traditions than in an educational setting? But another benefit to these schools—particularly the Catholic ones—is that they’re frequently more affordable than secular preschools. Also, most of these schools do not require your family to be members of the churches or temples with which they’re associated, so this is also an opportunity to expose your kids to people with a variety of beliefs.

Con:
Even the most Reform temple or the most liberal Catholic church is still going to be promoting some kind of religious dogma, so that’s something you’ll have to be comfortable with your children learning. Also, the curriculum at these schools is typically pretty traditional—particularly at the Catholic schools.

Options:
St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Academy: 241 Prospect Park West, Windsor Terrace; St. Saviour Catholic Academy: 701 Eighth Avenue, Park Slope; Beth Elohim: 274 Garfield Place, Park Slope; Chai Tots Preschool: 852 Classon Avenue, Crown Heights

Cooperative Preschool

Pro:
Does 2-years-old seem too young to be sending your children out to school on their own? Do you wish you could be more involved with their education? Like, in a really hands-on kind of way? Well, you can! Cooperative preschools don’t just encourage parental involvement—they mandate it! It’s a great way to transition your child from home to school in a manner that will make him or her feel safe and protected. And if what you’re interested in is a progressive learning environment, this could be for you. Plus, families attending these schools tend to love them with an almost cult-like devotion.
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Con:
Families at these schools tend to love them with an almost cult-like devotion. That can be sort of intimidating and a bit much to bear. Plus, maybe you, I don’t know, work? The time commitment at these schools can be prohibitive for many families.

Options:
Redk Play Group: 295 Columbia Street, Red Hook; Brooklyn Free Space: 298 Sixth Avenue, Park Slope; Co-op School: 87 Irving Place, Clinton Hill