Regarding the “Why this Blog is Anonymous” category tag: it is impossible to not offend someone somewhere when discussing education (in our circle, education is way more controversial than religion or politics … we’re mostly all heathen liberals – but school?! Some pick private, some pick elite public, some pick alternative public and some pick neighborhood public and we all strongly defend our choices). Everyone wants best for their kid – we all just define “best” differently. I know that everyone that knows me knows how I feel about elementary school education. I hardly ever shut up about it. But, it being a somewhat sensitive issue hereabouts, I’d rather that a random acquaintance or neighbor doesn’t stumble in here after some innocent googling and end up all bent out of shape and feeling judged because they made a different choice than we. “Anonymous” will no longer be an option after next week anyway so who am I kidding? But humor me, will you?
The most important thing I learned is that you do not have to participate in the stress and competition. (This may not be what you expect or want to hear – but it is my 2 cents.) I’m not sure what your situation is – socioeconomic status, etc. – and I hope I don't offend – but the most important thing that my husband and I did to ensure our child a good education … we did before she was even born. By which I mean: the fact that she is the child of college-educated, affluent parents (who read to her every day) pretty much guarantees that she's be fine. She’s an adaptable, fairly “easy” kid who’s always been developmentally right on target. So basically, she doesn't need a super special (read: $$) school.
I believe education is important. And, since I believe part of "education" is learning tolerance, learning about other cultures and generally being exposed to folks that are different than she, I am strongly committed to having that education occur in a diverse environment. Thus, I think she's getting a better education at our neighborhood public school than she would at a homogeneous [public or private] school. And in terms of academics? There is a strong literacy and numeracy focus at Seattle Elementary Schools; including our school. It is a stated goal at our school that Kindergarteners read by the end of the year and in my daughter's class of 19 only 3 are still struggling and one has special education intervention services. They reach these goals with great teachers, dedicated classroom helpers (parents and others) and smart, progressive pedagogy – not with “command and control” rote drilling, etc. (I know that is a concern of some parents – they hesitate to send their kids to schools with a high percentage of minority and / or free-lunch kids based on the unfounded assumption that these schools are highly-structured, uncreative places. It is simply not true. My daughter’s school is 85% non-white and 65% free-lunch and it is a warm, friendly, fun learning environment.)
Bottom line – despite a lot of what you read (and the mom rumor mill) – Seattle Schools are fine. We have many great options in the Central and South clusters. Our school teaches Mandarin to all kids and has phenomenal art and PE programs, great teachers and a superb principal. All I had to do to "get her in" was list it as our top choice on the enrollment form.
Good for you for asking now – if you learn the ropes now, you can be less stressed later (whichever option you chose) ... my advice is to research the process for public school enrollment by reading the enrollment guide. (I've no advice re: private since we didn't apply to any private schools.) Find out what your reference school is and go on a tour; there is no rule that you have to wait until your child is four before you start looking at schools. Even if you think you would never send your kid to whatever your school is, it helps to see it to start to think about WHY . Or, maybe you'll tour and be pleasantly surprised. I toured then joined the PTA at my neighborhood school when my daughter was three and when it came time to fill out the enrollment form, I had no hesitation and no stress.
Regarding preschool – if you work and your child is in daycare, you don't need preschool. If you are home with your child and go to Little Gym or other classes like that, you don't need preschool yet. Preschool is all about social skills. As long as your child spends time with other kids learning how to share, how to wait her turn, etc. you're fine. My daughter went to our local preschool starting when she was three (we did a two morning / week co-op, Little Gym and similar stuff prior). When she stated Kindergarten she knew her ABCs, but not really very many letter sounds. She was reading by October. Academics in preschool are unnecessary – kids that age just need to play with each other and learn how to get along.