How to choose a school before Kindergarten

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at



When you arrive in Silicon Valley with little kids you can be confused, at first, about schools. It could be very different from Europe. In Italy, for example, kids usually go to daycares from when they are 6 months old to 3 years old, then the State offers free education in pre-schools for kids from 3 to 6 years old. Elementary School starts with first grade. We don’t have Kindergarten. We usually start to read and write directly in first grade.

Here it’s different, you have to find a private pre-school school until Kindergarten and they usually are very expensive and with a long waiting list. Few centers offer daycares for infants (even for 2 months old kids).

You can find many interesting information here.

I resume some of them. You could find different types of schools:

  • Family child care home: they are in someone’s home who needs to have a license. They can accept from newborns to after school K-5 programs. They could be small (up to 8 kids) or large (up to 14 kids).
  • Child Care Centers Preschool: kids are usually 2-5 years old
  • Child Care Infant Centers: from 0 to 24 months old kids.
  • School Age Child Care centers: they can run after school programs on the school’s site or in a separate facility.

When you choose a daycare or a preschool always check the limits on the number of kids they can have. You need to be sure they are not against the law, especially in the Family Daycares.

Adult-to-child ratios is also very important. Always ask this information to the Director.

  • Infants (0-18 mos.): 1:3 adult-child ratio
  • Toddler Program (18-30 mos.): 1:6 adult-child ratio
  • Preschoolers (36 mos – kindergarten entry): 1:8 adult-child ratio
  • Parent Co-ops: 1:5 adult-child ratio
  • Schoolaged K – 14 yrs: 1:14 adult-child ratio

Centers are usually accredited by some agencies. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is one of the most famous one.

Centers often ask for a fee even just to tour the school and then it remains valid as “application fee” even if there is a waiting list. This is the only way to be on a waiting list. When a spot becomes available you need to pay for a deposit, that could be half of the monthly tuition, to keep the place.

Some daycares ask then for an initial higher fees, the first and the last months. Everything will be given back if you follow the rule of telling the center one month in advance if you want to quit.

The application fee won’t be given back.

There also several type of methods in the various school in the area.

The Montessori method is quite common here especially in the preschools.

The Play based one is another one . Few preschools are more academics (HighScope approach). Thera also schols following Waldorf and Reggio Emilia philosophy. Be sure to be informed about the differences so that you can choose the one that apply better to your family values and goals in terms of education. Some centers are Parents Co-Ops, that means that parents are very involved in children’s education. You can find here a nice explanation of all the different approaches.. I found it really insightful. We also already spoke about the Montessori method here.

Another difference I found here with respect to Italy is the the flexibility of the programs. You can choose from full-time to part-time, 2 or 3 days per week or even 4. They have summer programs, so the school almost never closes. Few of them provide meals, remember this aspect too when you choose the school.

Look also at the activities they offer on site. Sometime they offer gym or ballet or music and you usually have to pay for those extra curriculum activities even if they are during the normal school hours.

You can find here a list of family daycares and centers in Palo Alto.

Here is a list of daycares centers in Mountain View. And here is a list of home Daycares in Mountain View.

Here is a list of Daycares Centers in Redwood city. Here is a partial list for Family Daycares in Redwood City.