School search requires degree in patience
Crystal Lewis Brown is the editor of the Fort Jackson Leader and has been the spouse of a military member for six years.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- What do rising tuition costs, nerve-wracking school visits, waiting lists and expensive application fees have in common? No, I'm not going back to school; my son is. And so far, choosing a preschool seems a more daunting task than applying for college.
When it comes to choosing a college, the criteria seemed simpler somehow. Do they offer the major I want to pursue? Check. Can I afford it? Check. Do I like the location? Check.

But this preschool business has opened up a whole new can of worms for me to research. Do I want something close to home or close to work? And what type of curriculum is best? Do I want Montessori? A Beka? A Christian school? And while I'm at it, it is important to note that whatever choice we make will be the basis of my child's education for the rest of his life. If you can't tell, I'm just a bit freaked out by this whole thing.

In a few months, my son and I will join my husband in our new home that is literally on the other side of the country. We will make the more than 2,000-mile trip to Arizona to begin our life out of the military. And unfortunately, I've already been denied my request to include the entire Scales Child Development Center in my household goods.

I must admit, Fort Jackson's Child, School and Youth Services facilities have gotten me spoiled. The Scales CDC, which my son attends, is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, one of the most prestigious accreditations for programs that serve young children.

A quick search for NAEYC-accredited programs in Arizona yielded schools with tuitions that could get me an associate's degree.

On post, I also don't have to worry whether he is in the right class for his age. The centers follow an age-group progression, and move children up automatically after providing a short transition period. In my son's class, staff members follow a curriculum that teaches the children numbers, colors, letters, seasons and more.

I have been happy with the care I have received at the center and even happier with the amount my son seems to learn each day. He receives nutritious meals and snacks, and I can drop him off as early as 5 a.m. and pick him up as late at 6:30 p.m. I won't even get started on the Saturday care that costs less per hour than a Happy Meal (and is no cost for those whose missions require them to work Saturdays) and the twice-monthly Parents' Night Out opportunities that allow parents five free hours on a Friday evening to do whatever they want sans children.

For the same price as what I pay on post, one school offered a three-day-a-week program, which ended at noon and didn't even include lunch.

So, in the interest of getting my son in the best school possible (thus securing his entry into an Ivy League college), I've resorted to hardcore research. I've created intricate spreadsheets that compare schools' curriculums, prices and care hours. I've made phone calls to preschools, quizzing them on what the children learn, and whether Spanish is part of the curriculum. I've enlisted the help of other moms, day care staff and even a child education specialist (who also happens to be one of my closest friends).

I figure that through it all, we are bound to come up with a choice that fits our son, and our family's, needs. And who knows; at the end of it all, maybe my son will learn as much at his new preschool as I have through this entire process.

Page last updated Thu October 20th, 2011 at 08:59