Is choosing a kindergarten really that big a deal? Or is it more of a matter of just pick something and re-evaluate in Grade 1 if necessary? For me this is a choice that has called into question both of our careers and the neighborhood we have chosen to live. I feel a little ridiculous being so stressed out too - DD is four! (Locally, the cutoff date is March 1. Her birthday is in November.) But on the other hand I am already behind the curve...many people seem to have this kind of thing totally figured out when their child is much younger. We're registered at three places right now to hold the space, and are doing our school tours and checking out childcare options. I thought about putting more work into this when DD was younger but didn't feel I could really assess her learning style or what would be a good fit before she had some experience with preschool - which she started in September.
First, what you're stressed out about is what you're stressed out about. I don't think it serves anyone, especially you, if you denigrate yourself for your feelings. What you feel is never *dumb*. So give yourself permission to feel worried/stressed/scared about your kid's (and yours, as a parent) first school experience. It is a big deal, esp. to a first time school mommy.
That being said--I think you are overthinking this (well, more correctly, you are not, but you are maybe succumbing to worrying that you should be more worried because everyone else was?). I think you are one leg up on recognizing that it's hard to determine the best fit for your child when you don't even know their learning style yet. So many times, parents fall in love with a particular school's style or stats, when it's cruddy for their kid and they may not be willing to see that until damage is done. Your williness to re-evaluate for awhile is a GOOD thing.
Evaluate your options as best you can with the info you have now. Hey, if you need to switch schools later, so be it! The truth is that there is not just one fit for your kid, most likely. Everything is probably going to be just fine no matter what you pick. So if you can, try to relax into positive but watchful. Keep in mind that this experience, esp. with your firstborn is going to probably be harder on YOU than your kid, so you have to be very careful to separate out your feelings/issues from your kid's. That works both ways (YOU love the school and are thrilled with their stats, but your kid is not doing well in the environment; your kid is thriving, but you don't like relinquishing some controls so you constantly act as if the school is bad for your kid). I think all of us do that at some point, but it's something to keep in mind.
In our school district, you can't hold places at multiple schools. Once you pick one, you lose your offered slots/your waiver is declined at all others. (talking about the public school system here) Many of the private schools have a similar system in that your place will only be held for a short time before you must pay a substantial (nonrefundable) sum, most likely equivalent to the first month or two of tuition and most people can't afford to pay out 3 or more months tuition that they'll never see again if they don't continue on enrollment. if you don't show your committment by paying up, then your spot will go to the first person on that waiting list. So most parents are in the situation where they are making this decision semi-blind, and all are taking the risk that the school they chose may not work out for their kid.
Accepting a committing to a place for their kid to go to kindy does NOT mean "they have it all figured out." All it means is that they like this school and (hopefully) they think it's a good fit for their kid--right now.
I think wise parents evaluate their child's school experience often. My DH and I sit down after every school year and talk through things, for each individual kid. We look over teacher comments on the year's report cards, discuss conferences, talk about the problems that occured, where we feel each child has grown, where they didn't grow as much as we anticipated. Every year. While it would be a real pain in the butt to switch programs (my kids are all in a choice program that is a parent co-op, within a public school), we do evaluate our choices every year. This year we will bring in my DD on that discussion (she will be going in to 4th grade next year, it seems a good point to include her on the discussion from this point forward--her brothers are not quite ready for that).
So no, to me, it's not a big deal where anyone goes in any given year--because we re-evaluate every year and are willing to do what we can to make the changes necessary, if any. It doesn't have to be perfect, we are not locked into stone unwilling or unable to change, and we have a family process for doing so.
Pick what makes the most sense to you right now. Don't waste a lot of time worrying about what others are doing, because you have no idea how carefully it was done, or why people chose that school or if they know it was a good fit for their kid. If you need to change later, you can change!
We just sent ds to the local public school for K. We knew that charter schools existed in our (large) city but we live in a good district and didn't see a reason to seek out other schools. We ended up moving ds for 1st grade; some things we did not like about his K school were the size , the atmosphere was chaotic and impersonal (five K classes last year and more this year--ds has some sensory issues and ADHD), and we really did not like the attitude of the principle (ds had behavior issues and we saw her often). We moved him to a charter that was geared to his interests (science and technology), small (his entire school, K-12, has only about 100 more students than his elementary school), and nurturing.
I think the worry about elementary school is very common. No matter what you choose you have less control and it is hard not to feel like you must get the exact right school that fits your philosophy. I used to be very worried about school and spent a lot of time freaking out and checking into things. I am a lot more laid back now because I have been around so many people in college who came from many different educational settings and they all made it to college. As long as my dd is happy in school overall I am happy also. We went down a long road with a lot of stress on my end before I got to this point but now I am there and I just don't worry about things like this because I am sure it will all work itself out. I suggest picking the school that you will be the happiest with, or starting off with your local public school if the kids look happy there then moving her if she isn't happy.
As a BTDT parent mt key advice is this... take everything one year at a time. Certainly look into the future but don't stress unduly about it. Don't opt for a weaker fit NOW in hopes that a better fit will develop LATER. Look around but make sure you know what you are looking for.
Make sure to not get lost in how a school looks on paper because often, schools are really great in wording their programs but not nearly as good at following through on those programs. Pay attention to how the staff communicates with you when you visit. Watch the kids. Do they seem happy? Can you see your child there?
Go with your gut. Tour schools and get a feel for what seems the best fit for your child. If it's a mistake then change it! Nothing is written in stone.
I agree with what everyone above said.
That first step into the school system can be a scary one but I know you well enough to know that you will be an involved parent, and at this level that is the best thing you can be. True there are lots of different options all promising different things but it will all come down to how Libby vibes with the teacher. (and if it doesn't work you can re-evealuate).
I put K in public school this year, after homeschooling him last year, and the decision was great! However, it may not be the same way next year.
That is what is so awesome about where we live, we can change our minds again and again and again.
Also, don't feel that you *should* have been researching this or that, or that everyone else has their stuff together and you don't...because it is simply not true. Everyone feels the same way you do...and many will change their mind in September. :)
ps. (it's Alisha)
Thanks for your kind words Alisha. I know you have thought deeply about schooling for your own children and it's nice to know that other families are taking it one year at a time.
I think I am starting to realize why my school choice path is the way it is. First of all, I am really secure in my decision to send my child to school and she really wants to be in school. She is smart, extraverted, social, and loves structured activities. If she had needs that were harder to meet I probably would have dug a lot deeper into the educational philosophy and style.
I did ask three or four public school teachers in my acquaintance and they all said the same thing, just to make sure the teacher is nice and find a good fit...and no amount of internet research is going to help me there ;)