Charlie just started his fourth week of pre-k this week, and wow public school is so different from daycare! There are so many pre-k activities that I had to put up a family wall calendar to keep track of everything. There is also a lot less hand-holding, and kids are expected to be pretty self-sufficient. But it has also forced us to be a lot more organized and deliberate about our family time. Here’s a glimpse into how different our lives are now that we have one child in public school and one child in daycare!
C O S T
Daycare: Fixed monthly tuition with no additional costs.
Pre-K: Public school is free, but parents donate most of the extras and we’ve had to bring something into class every week (this is of course going to vary according to each school). All the classroom cleaning supplies for the year were brought in by parents the first week. The second week of school was Charlie’s snack week so we brought in a drink and snack for the kids every day. The third week was apple week and parents brought in all the apples and cooking utensils they needed. There are also regular PTA fundraising activities like movie nights. Since pre-k is free the cost is certainly much lower than that of daycare, but I must admit that I was a little surprised at all the extras parents provide, perhaps moreso because it also requires parents to invest a significant amount of time.
H O L I D A Y
Daycare: Our daycare closes for all major holidays and a month during the summer.
Pre-K: Public pre-k closes for all major holidays, almost 2 weeks over Christmas, 1 week midwinter break, 1 week spring break, half a dozen nonattendance days (when teachers are in mandatory meetings), and 2 1/2 months over the summer. We are extremely lucky to have flexibility in our schedules, but with so much time off, I really wonder how parents who work out of the home do it!
F O O D
Daycare: Daycare provides a snack at 9am, the kids eat lunch at 12pm, and they get another snack at 4pm. They don’t spoon feed the children, but they will sit beside the kids and encourage them to eat. If they don’t finish their meals at lunchtime, they are offered again at snacktime after naps. All food is refrigerated and reheated. Because Charlie and Olive tended to eat better at daycare when they were with other kids, I typically packed very big lunches.
Pre-K: All public schools in New York provide free breakfast, which is brought to the classroom at 9am in pre-k. The school lunch is brought to the classroom at 11am, and kids get an afternoon snack provided by parents at 2pm. Half the students bring their lunch, half eat the school lunch, and a couple of kids with big appetites eat both their sack lunch and the school lunch. Food has been a challenge for us because 1) lunch is so early — Charlie is not hungry by 11am since lunch is so soon after breakfast, 2) he’s not a big eater and since no one encourages him to eat, his lunches typically come back home 75% full, 3) his after school program offers a school lunch but I only recently found out how little he was eating all day — he’d been picking at his lunch at 11am and then not eating dinner until 6:30pm, at which point he was starving. Charlie does not eat the school lunches at all (I was previously told he had been) so now I pack two lunches for him — one to eat at 11am and another at 3pm during his after school program. I do miss how daycare really helped him eat, but I guess he has to grow up sometime! The school is also completely nut-free (I pack nuts almost every day for Olive).
S L E E P
Daycare: Our daycare gives 2 1/2 hour naps from 1:00 – 3:30pm. Charlie has always loved his naps and was typically the longest napper.
Pre-K: There is one hour of quiet time after lunch from 12pm – 1pm. Setting up and cleaning up the mats takes about 15 minutes, so the kids can get up to 45 minutes of sleep. This is actually the perfect length of nap for Charlie because he’s tired at bedtime now, whereas before he was napping too long at daycare and wouldn’t fall asleep until 10:30pm some nights!
A C T I V I T I E S
Daycare: Our daycare has mixed ages (1 1/2 – 3 1/2) and is play-based. So days were mostly filled with story time, alphabet practice, yoga, arts and crafts, outdoor play and free play. Although most of the kids in Charlie’s daycare went onto more education-focused preschools when they were 3, we kept Charlie at his daycare because Olive was able to be in the same class with him.
Pre-K: Charlie learns a lot in pre-k from math to science to reading to writing… lately he’s been saying, “I learn too much!” I love that they have themed weeks and focus on activities around that theme for the entire week. Last week was apple week and this week is pumpkin week. I can definitely see a difference in the quality and level of education, but they do have a dedicated pre-k playground and free play too.
H O M E W O R K
Daycare: They had no homework!
Pre-K: Charlie gets regular homework, which was a little surprising. He’s only 3 after all! He gets 5 pages of homework every Monday to be completed by Friday. His teacher also regularly gives out optional educational materials for us to do at home. For instance last week she passed out 3 booklets from the University of Chicago on doing math with pre-k students. We’ve had to schedule “education time” into our weeks now where we do homework with Charlie and read books with Olive.
P A R E N T P A R T I C I P A T I O N
Daycare: We never participated in any daycare related activities.
Pre-K: There is a teacher and an assistant teacher for 18 students, so they regularly request parent volunteers for specific activities. For instance, Mr. Bee and I went in last week to help the kids cook apples. They encourage parents to come in and do any teaching activity with the class. I don’t think my parents ever came to my elementary school! There is also always some form that’s due from field trip slips to Scholastic book order forms, and we get an email from the PTA almost every day.
O R G A N I Z A T I O N
Daycare: Our daycare was very laid back and it didn’t matter if we came in late or forgot something because they took care of everything the kids needed (help eating, going to the bathroom, an extra change of clothes, etc.). If the kids didn’t finish breakfast at home, we sent it with them to daycare and they ate it there during morning snack time. I also packed the kids’ lunches every morning because it was the last thing I wanted to do the night before after dinner.
Pre-K: Because we can’t be late, school starts earlier, and the kids go to two different places, I do as much as I can the night before. That means packing lunches, laying out the kids’ clothes, filling out forms, etc. Our mornings feel much more rushed now, and I have to plan out our days a lot more.
Q U A L I T Y T I M E
Daycare: We used to have a little bit of quality time in the mornings when both kids were in daycare. They also had later bedtimes (especially because Charlie was napping so much at daycare), so we had a lot of time with them in the evenings.
Pre-K: We’re go-go-go from the moment we wake up so we have no more quality time in the morning. Charlie is also exhausted after school and we devote a little bit of our evening time to homework some evenings, so our quality time has greatly diminished. This has made us truly appreciate our family time much more. We cherish pick up time (our favorite part of the day) and the time we spend together before the bedtime.
. . . . .
So much is expected of young children nowadays, and talking to my friends with kids who started kindergarten this year, it gets much more intense! I do think about whether it is too much for kids so young, especially because both Charlie and Olive have end of the year birthdays. All I know for sure is that school is a whole new ballgame compared to when we were in kindergarten, for both children and parents!
Do you have a child that started pre-k or kindergarten this year? Were you surprised about any aspect of it?