There's no better way to panic a group of new mother's on a Los Angeles playground than to start talking about the preschool application process. Although the manifestation of this panic ranges from denial ("It's ridiculous to even think about preschool this early...") to anger ("I can't get an interview at Wagon Wheel without knowing someone!") to paralyzing fear ("What's preschool?"), the common underlying emotion appears to be one of guilt. Am I not doing enough soon enough? And will my child suffer because of it?
Sadly, the truth of the matter is that there are more kids than there are spots in school. Waiting lists exist. Tours must be taken and are only offered at certain times of the year. Personal connections and economics can be factors. Such is the reality of attending preschool in Los Angeles.
When it comes to Los Angeles preschool reference materials, there are two books that dominate the marketplace: Coping With Preschool Panic and The Whitney Guide. Both are self-published by LA moms who saw a need for more complete information, and in terms of content there is certainly some overlap between the two. But there are also some key differences.
Coping With Preschool Panic is the book mentioned most by Westside moms, and with good reason. The book focuses almost exclusively on the west side of town and is rather selective. One might say that it reviews only the "top" preschools, but with considerable depth. The book is well designed and extremely professional looking. The author, Michelle Nitka, is a therapist with two children whose observations are detailed and well communicated.
The Whitney Guide: The Los Angeles Preschool Guide is one of a series of directories about Los Angeles schools published by author/education consultant Fiona Whitney. Ms. Whitney created these books after searching for a private school for her child and finding that there were many contributing factors to why other parents recommended a particular school. Although the design of the book is not as appealing on the shelf, it offers a broader range of reviews. Smaller facilities are included, as well as schools on the east side and in the valley. New editions are published on a yearly basis.
There are also a number of online directories available, but they tend to be a bit overwhelming and reviews are spotty at best. Once you have narrowed down your selections, they can be helpful in the research process, but not if you are beginning a search from scratch. One of the most popular websites for school ratings is www.greatschools.org. Their preschool listings are growing, but the majority of their information is for elementary school and up.
Will your child suffer emotionally and academically if they don't attend the most popular, most tricked out, fanciest of all fancy preschools? Of course not. But consider this... it is the first time your child will venture out into the world on their own; you might want to make sure you know where you are sending them.