In New York City, researching and finding the right preschool, Pre-K and public school program for your child is such a daunting task parents can pay a consultant to do the work for them. I am a research addict, but even I decided I’m not up for navigating the websites and guidebooks the task requires. I can’t say I want to pay someone else to do the work for me either.
Instead, we opted out.
Granted, like many families in our Brooklyn neighborhood, my husband and I are working with other parents to form a coop home school preschool, and until it gets going, we’re kind of taking the home school route. Except, my son is almost three and school for three year olds I think is a bit ludicrous.
When we moved to New York last winter, my husband and I joked that we were and we were not moving to New York for our children’s education. At the time, Cathie Black was bumbling her way through her position as School Chancellor and I was reading Diana Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Neither left me wanting to hand over my son’s education to the New York City public schools – even as I know that along with the nation’s worst schools, the district is also home to the nation’s best. But given the city’s resources in terms of museums, landmarks, libraries, parks, theaters, architecture, and schedule of events (with plenty of free ones) and it’s hard to imagine not having fun while learning in this city.
As Ravitch points out, the flaws in the current system are many and beyond the scope of just having a good teacher or a good school (as she also points out the way we measure that school and teacher could use some work) and there are no easy answers to reforming the schools. And while many parents are anxious to feed their young children’s minds with more curriculum and flash cards, so their children are “prepared” for kindergarten and not left behind, I am not. Because in addition to thinking “school” for three year olds is ludicrous, I also think the notion that children have to be “prepared” for kindergarten is ludicrous.
So rather than spending thousands of dollars on one of the cities private schools, how are we spending our preschool budget?
Well, the library cards are free, and while this grants us lots of books, sadly, the Brooklyn Library story hour leaves something to be desired. We did sign my son up for art class at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, and in art class, they sing songs and read stories. We already have museum memberships to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (which also gets us into the Transit Museum and the NY Hall of Science), the Natural History museum, the Met, and MOMA. Our In Lieu of Preschool project inspired me to look further into the museum program offerings, and both the Met and MOMA have activities, movies, and story hours for small children. New York City, thankfully, has such a variety of museums that I don’t know if we’ll ever have a shortage of things to learn, see, or experience.
The rest of our preschool budget? Given the cost of the average preschool, we have plenty left over for a whole lot of finger paint, glue and Popsicle sticks.
And how do we spend our time when we’re skipping preschool?
We spent Monday in Prospect Park with a good chunk of time in the playground and sandpit. Tuesday we had play dates and play grounds with friends. Wednesday was art class, and I admit, at first, my son didn’t want to go. We were fifteen minutes late due to his protests, and then once he was there, he didn’t want to leave. The museum has open studio time in the afternoon, and good thing – he spent another four hours playing in the art studio. Thursday he was at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum when it opened, and then stayed until it closed. He made a mask (out of paper plate – just like real preschool), he pet a turtle, he played in water, and the myriad of other things at the museum. On Friday, I took him to see his first black light puppet show of The Treasured Stories of Eric Carle (this, I must say, was as much about me reliving my childhood as it was about him having a good childhood). In the afternoon, he went to the library. Saturday, we went apple picking and afterward played on a beach by the apple orchard. We’ve also had a bit painting here and there, some play dough, and water play in the bathtub or kitchen sink. Tomorrow, we were going to go to the family art program at the Met, except that while he’d love to go, I’m worn out. Instead, I think we’ll be turning some of our picked apples into pie – and when I make pie dough, he plays with flour. Flour will end up on every surface of our kitchen, but since we’re not spending thousands of dollars on preschool tuition, we can afford a house cleaner.
My husband and I do feel fortunate that we can live on one income, so while many people do rely on preschool as a form of daycare, we don’t have to. I also feel fortunate that we have help – so I can have a nap, while my son goes to the library. And I don’t know that our In Lieu of Preschool Project is a long-term solution. At some point, I might get tired of cavorting all over the city with my son and his nursing newborn sister. But I do know that this week, we all had an absolute blast.