How to Choose the Right Culver City Preschool

Many parents in Culver City come into the preschool applications process with something like dread. Horror stories abound about five-year waiting lists and brutal interviews, but the truth is far gentler: many of the best preschools in Los Angeles come with reasonable waiting lists and genuinely delightful people at the helm. Because I field so many questions from parents about the best way to navigate this process, I thought I’d put together a quick checklist: seven things to consider when picking a preschool. Clip and save!

1. Location, location, location

It is a well-known fact that parents will drive just about any distance in the continental U.S. to get their kids into the right school, but it’s always wise to look close to home first. Culver City offers good options for nearly every schedule and commute, including a few that are easily accessible by public transit. The advantage of a short commute goes far beyond convenience – less time stuck in traffic means more time to relax and be a kid, not to mention a few extra years added to your life without all that stress.

2. Philosophy

I can’t tell you how many parents have toured my own preschool, listened to me speak at length about the value of learning social skills and sensitivity, only to admit that they don’t believe in sharing, and do we offer an exemption for that? Luckily every preschool comes with its own mandate and mission: no two are exactly alike. Preschool websites are a great place to start your research, but even before that I recommend sitting down and listing a few priorities. Are you hoping for that early third-grade placement, or would you prefer an unstructured space where your kids can play? Sometimes just talking it out can help crystallize what is most important to you, and why.

3. Educational approach

What do they teach? How does it work? What sort of preparation will your child receive, and how do those students typically track as they enter kindergarten and beyond? There is some debate about the place of hard academics in a preschool setting, but nobody doubts the value of learning how to learn. At Butterfly Garden, we offer a mix of creative play, child-directed exploration and Montessori instruction, but every Culver City preschool has its own approach to pedagogy. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions, and be sure to avoid any school that claims to have discovered a one-size-fits-all approach to education. There’s no such thing.

4. Budget

Well, sure. Preschool tuition throughout L.A. tends to vary widely, depending on the various details of size, facility, faculty and reputation. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t have to break the bank to get your kids into a worthwhile preschool; save that money for college. (Harvard, right?) The same advice applies here as I said about philosophy: the more detailed you can be before you start looking, the more likely you are to choose a place you can comfortably afford. Start with your needs, and stay within reason.

5. Recommendations

Nobody knows more about the top preschools in Los Angeles than the parents who watch their kids develop within those walls, and nobody knows your children better than your own friends and family. Keep an ear out open for great experiences and glowing recommendations; these could prove more valuable than a hundred online reviews. At Butterfly Garden we draw a great many students every semester through word of mouth alone. The reason is simple: parents who share playdates and plans often share similar values and priorities. Listen to your friends; they’ve been there.

6. Faculty

I can’t stress this one enough. You could have preschool in a castle with every possible amenity and teaching tool close at hand, but it won’t add up to anything without a stellar faculty. In a sense, preschools are their teachers; these gentle caretakers act as surrogate parents, instructors, guides and models for as long as your children are there. Look for attentive adults with a genuine love of children and an abiding interest in early childhood education. Err on the side of great teaching credentials and experience. And listen to your gut. When it comes to preschool teaching, there is no substitute for warmth, talent and energy. Being funny never hurts either.

7. The X Factor

Finally we come to that intangible something: let’s call it the X Factor. Have you ever toured a preschool in Culver City or elsewhere, loved every inch of it on paper, but somehow come away feeling less than enchanted? Maybe it was a throwaway comment made by your tour guide, maybe something less than joyful on the face of the kids, or maybe it was just all that wood paneling. Ultimately the decision to entrust your children to someone’s care must come down to your comfort level, period. Trust yourself on this; you know what you’re doing.

At the end of the day, choosing the perfect Culver City preschool is more art than science. Stick with a few basic questions and soak up all that info like a sponge, and you should be able to zero in on a great choice in a matter of weeks. Then it’s finally time to relax, kick back, and start thinking about elementary school.

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