When I moved to the Bay Area one year ago, I had a picture in my head of how my life would look there. I would find the perfect house (or at least one which was suitable for us), send the children to an amazing preschool, have time for myself and my career. I was waiting for perfect weather and beaches in the afternoons. I knew that some of these things would be harder to get than others but I also knew that at the end of the day I would get there in the end. I thought I planned everything, I did a lot of research when I was in Poland about life and costs around the San Francisco Bay Area. I thought I was prepared for everything that would happen. But I was so wrong…
I was wrong because I didn’t expect that a basic small thing – preschool/daycare – would be such a huge problem. With two little kids aged two and four years old, let’s be honest, your life depends on it.
I moved in April with the idea that I would find a beautiful small preschool in two months’ time, to give my children time to acclimate to the new environment. Well, let’s face it, you can’t find any preschools in this period of the year. Everything is full, maybe some openings will be available through the summer, but it’s unclear, and what was even worse, the better preschools only have enrollments for the next year between February and March.
I didn’t know that finding a preschool was so problematic here, but if I had thought about it a little bit more maybe I would have seen the signs…When I talked with my friend about moving to the Bay Area, her only response was, ” Moving to San Francisco? You’d better get the children’s names on preschool wait lists now!” It was eight months before we moved, so I thought she was joking and now I saw the reality.
After three months of searching, I finally found the one (only one!) which I actually liked. It was affordable (remember that cost of preschools in the Bay Area typically start at around $1000 a month full time and only go up) and it was not too far away from home.
The next huge problem I encountered was the age limit. Most of the better and nicer preschools around the Bay area start accepting children at age three and up. There are only a few where you can go with a two and a half year old. The moment I found the right pre-school for my daughter I felt like a superhero who had defied a massive monster that stood between me and my freedom!
September finally came, and we headed out to our first preschool in America. I thought I knew what to expect from preschool as Jan, my older child, was in preschool in Poland for the past two years, but once again, I was wrong. There are two main differences between early education in California and Poland. First and the worst for me – your child has to have a nap during the day. I didn’t know that this was the law in California (preschool and daycare providers are required to offer quiet/nap time during the day) Antonina hadn’t been sleeping during the day for past few months.
For her it was a shock, she didn’t want to go to bed in the daytime, so the first month was hard for her and her teachers, who tried to put her down to bed. But then she adjusted. And I was in for a shock. She usually went to bed around 8pm, but now that she was napping in the daytime, she began staying up much later in the evenings. It’s a good night when she’s asleep by 9:30pm. Why is this a problem? Well, it means that I don’t have any time in the evening because when she is finally asleep, I’m so tired that I am likely to fall asleep with her. I think all parents know the horror of not having an evening for themselves; the only thing that gets you through the day is knowing that once the kids are asleep, you can finally read a good book, have a small glass of wine and not be disturbed! And you can’t do anything about this, just adjust.
The second thing that’s different is field trips. In Poland, children go out from preschool and visit theaters, the cinema, or nearby parks. They are learning how to behave outside of their school environment. Here, preschools’ facilities are fantastic. Filled up with everything from children’s dreams, and with a perfect, complete curriculum. Remember, here four year olds are supposed to count and be starting to read ; I don’t exactly understand why because in kindergarten they have to learn these same things, but that’s how it is. In preschool here they only go outside to their own playground. It’s not a problem if your child is in preschool for 3-4 hours, but all day, every day? I don’t think that it is the best solution for them, I guess that’s where my opinion is different…
In the end, after several months of looking, and some adjustment from my side, I finally found a wonderful preschool. And not to scare you, but I will add one more thing; preschools here are great thanks to great teachers who know what they are doing and with input from parents. I have never seen before such an active, friendly community. A community who welcomes everyone, and is easygoing and helpful. I’ve met wonderful friends here. At the end of the day, I see that my preschool searching was an only small bump on my way and Antonina’s smile when she’s talking about her classmates only confirms this.
What’s different about schooling in the Bay Area from your home country?
Rows of Bentleys, Rolls Royces, and Ferraris, palm trees swaying, and well-heeled folks...this is drop off at an American elementary school in Dubai.