The Obsessive Parents’ Guide to Preschool

This step-by-step guide will help you find a school with a philosophy and location that suits your own; explain what you need to get in; and offer myriad alternative plans—because, hey, in the end, it’s just preschool, right?


Reverse-Engineer Their Alma Mater

We match local tot lots to their higher-ed dopplegangers. —Kelley King Heyworth

harvard banner preschool

If you love Harvard’s prestige…

Beacon Hill Nursery School draws the progeny of Brahmins, bankers, and even a Bruin (the 2011 Stanley Cup made its first stop here).


If you love Wellesley College’s worldliness…

Tots at the Teddy Bear Club receive 40 percent of their instruction in French, surrounded by abstract artworks and an array of handsome playthings.


If you love Berklee’s music focus…

At the Henry Frost Children’s Program, Grammy-nominated music teacher Alastair Moock collaborates with budding maestros to create original scores.


If you love MIT’s high-tech facilities…

Dexter Southfield’s 36-acre spread includes a pool, ice rinks, research-grade telescopes, and a new “Playscape” with waterfalls and gardens.


If you love Boston College’s pastoral setting…

Mini Thoreaus at Mattapan’s Pathways to Nature spend time exploring the surrounding 68-acre reservation.


If you love Hampshire College’s curriculum…

Kingsley Montessori School tykes take weekly classes in Spanish, art, and music; an afterschool program offers yoga, science, and music.



Prepare a Backup Plan

Didn’t get your first choice? There are plenty of other schools out there with similar educational philosophies and shorter waitlists. “It’s the right match that leads to good outcomes—not the prestige of a school,” advises educational psychologist and consultant Lori Day. —Julie Suratt


DREAM SCHOOL: Spruce Street Nursery School in downtown Boston, for its emphasis on learning about the world through active exploration and play.

SHORTER WAITLIST: Charlestown Nursery School draws kids from as far as Brookline and Newton, offering a Reggio Emilia–inspired program with a deliberate focus on nature, exploration, and art in a play-based setting. Says one CNS mom, “I love that my son can walk through the streets of Charlestown and point out different species of birds.”

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DREAM SCHOOL: John Winthrop School for Young Children in the Back Bay, which encourages children to follow their curiosity and become active, self-directed learners.

SHORTER WAITLIST: The Early Childhood Learning Lab at Boston University, which has the advantage of being a teacher-preparation program for BU’s acclaimed Early Childhood Education program. Up to six adults oversee mixed-age classrooms.

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DREAM SCHOOL: Clinton Path Preschool in Brookline, a mixed-age co-op program known for its play-based approach.

SHORTER WAITLIST: The Apple Orchard School has a creative and outdoor- oriented program: Children spend a good portion of their days exploring the working farm. A mom of two boys describes it as a “magical school,” with “boat rides, hayrides, planting, caring for ducks and farm animals, cooking, singing, [and] mud puddles”—plus a flexible curriculum tailored to children’s interests.

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DREAM SCHOOL: The Cambridge-Ellis School in Cambridge, renowned for its creative arts, music, and foreign-language programs.

SHORTER WAITLIST: The Cambridge locations of Wildflower Montessori—a family-focused Montessori cooperative based on a model developed at the MIT Media Lab—are run as one-room classrooms (with low student-to-teacher ratios). Kids get involved in their communities, walk to playgrounds, and plant gardens.