Choosing A Preschool: 5 Things That Matter and 5 That Probably Don’t by Mommy Poppins



Sunshine Preschool in Brentwood has a reputation as a "feeder" school to John Thomas Dye, Brentwood and others.
Sunshine Preschool in Brentwood has a reputation as a strong “feeder preschool” to John Thomas Dye and Brentwood School. Photo: Sunshine

Here’s a super-helpful article in Mommy Poppins by Jacqueline Stanbury about choosing a preschool in L.A. I sent my kids to two different preschools. My daughter went to an expensive preschool (Montessori Shir-Hashirim) with celebrities and all the extras like Chinese, theater and piano lessons. It is a “feeder preschool” to several schools where I knew we’d apply for my daughter (Oakwood, Willows). It is also feeds to  schools like Laurence, Center For Early Education and Mirman where we didn’t apply. My daughter flourished there and attended Willows for K-6. She’s now in 10th grade at Viewpoint in Calabasas.

My son attended a local neighborhood school that has since closed. I found it through a friend who sent her son there. It wasn’t fancy and cost about half the price of my daughter’s school. It had great teachers, a shabby exterior, hot lunch and a willingness to play football in the yard with him before pickup. He loved it. He was the only kid who attended private elementary school from that preschool and that’s because his sister was already at The Willows. If I’d wanted him to go to a different private school, the preschool director wouldn’t have been able to help at all.

I will say that Stanbury makes an important point about preschools that feed to specific elementary schools. She says, “Those of us who make the mistake of applying only to preschools that feed into one of Los Angeles’s many prestigious elementary programs can too easily get caught up in seeking approval from the director to secure a kindergarten slot.” However, I think these  “feeder preschools” can be important if you want your child to attend a specific, competitive private elementary school.

There’s a clear path from certain preschools to a few of the same elementary schools every year. By sending their kids to “feeder preschools” parents hope to increase their chances of getting into schools like John Thomas Dye, Curtis, Brentwood, Carlthorp and others. Attending a “feeder” isn’t a guarantee into specific schools, but it’s a good place to start (if you can get in) and it makes it a lot easier than applying from a preschool John Thomas Dye has never heard of–good luck with that! Certain hard-to-get-into-private elementary schools admit high numbers of kids from “feeder preschools” and you’ll have to decide if that’s the route you want to go. There are politics involved in elementary school admissions and reasons as to why they choose kids from preschools they know and have worked with for years. Relationships exist between the preschool director and elementary school admission director. A single phone call can smooth the way for your kid to get in. A blow-up with the preschool director can ruin everything. Your relationship with your preschool director can’t be underestimated when it comes time for your kids to apply to kindergarten. And, expect that the preschool director will wield power when it comes to where your kid should attend elementary school. If you have your heart set on one school, but the director thinks it’s not the right school for your child, you’ll be in a difficult position and that’s where your negotiating skills will be required. Also be aware that your child will be competing for a few kindergarten spots with his/her classmates. It all depends on what you’re looking for in a school. “Feeder Preschools” are one option, but certainly not the only preschool option! As the author points out, and I agree, a small, low-key neighborhood school can be just the right place for your child too.

Click to read Choosing A Preschool 5 Things That Matter and 5 That Probably Don’t


Sunshine Preschool in Brentwood. Photo: Sunshine
Sunshine Preschool in Brentwood. Photo: Sunshine

Here’s more about Beyond The Brochure’s thoughts on “feeder schools” as we explore how it works and some of the benefits and drawbacks:

You’ll note that when we talk about “feeder” schools (preschools that send more than a few students to particular elementary schools every year) we put the term “feeder” in quotation marks. We use quotes because there is some disagreement within the private school community about whether “feeder” schools even exist. We think they do. But, some private school administrators, preschool directors and even some parents don’t buy into the idea of a “feeder” school. They argue that even if a school is termed a “feeder” school for a certain elementary school, there is no guarantee that any specific child will get into that school. They also believe that to call a preschool a “feeder” diminishes the hard work of the preschool staff and the students who are accepted to the elementary school that receives the “feeder” preschool’s kids. In other words, saying a preschool is a “feeder” implies that it operates primarily on it’s relationship and connections with an elementary school and not much more.

Those are definitely valid points. We do think “feeder” schools develop based on relationships and connections between schools, but also because a particular preschool fits the educational philosophy of a specific elementary school. And, the elementary school probably has success with students and parents from that preschool.

We simply believe that if you look at certain preschools and the number of students they send each year to certain elementary schools, they fit our definition of “feeder” school. If a preschool sends 1/3 or more of it’s class to the same elementary school year after year, that’s what we’d call a “feeder” preschool. We think this is helpful information when you’re in the application process. It can give you important information about your child’s preschool and about the preschool director’s ability to help you place your child. But, don’t enroll your child in a “feeder” preschool just because you want your child to attend a certain elementary school. That’s not enough of a reason to pick a preschool-and things might not work out as you planned. You need to really love your preschool and if it’s a “feeder” to a great private elementary school, all the better. See our previous posts for more about which preschools are known as “feeder” schools. This term also applies to elementary schools that send significant numbers of kids to upper schools.

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Reader Question: Feeder Preschools?

Here’s a recent question from one of our blog readers:


Question: Do you believe it really matters where a child goes to preschool when it comes to applying to private elementary school? I am making myself crazy about choosing and getting into the right preschool and would like to let go a little if it doesn’t have a big effect. Thank you for taking a moment to give me your perspective.


Answer: I think your question is a good one–and one that isn’t asked enough by parents. It’s my opinion that it does matter where your child goes to preschool if you think (or know) you want him/her to go to a private elementary school. Obviously, the most important factor is your child’s happiness and well-being at preschool. But, if you want your child to go to private elementary school, some preschools have more experience helping families go through the admissions process than others. “Feeder” preschools, as they are called, send their graduates to specific private elementary schools each year. They have experience helping families go through the admissions process and they have a track record of helping kids from their preschool get in. On the other hand, if you send your child to a preschool where the majority of kids go to public elementary school, the preschool director may have very little knowledge about private admissions and may also have very few contacts with admissions directors. Furthermore, he/she may have little interest in helping guide you through the process.


That said, private elementary schools accept children from many different preschools, some “feeders”, some not. I knew early on that I wanted my kids to go to private school. I picked a preschool for my daughter that I knew sent at least 50 percent of its graduates to private school. And, then when it came time to apply to schools, our director was a huge help, every step of the process. However, when your child is at a “feeder” preschool, you will be applying to schools along with other families from your preschool. It can get stressful!


I think the best thing to do is to apply to several preschools you like, some of which are the ones that you know send kids to private elementary schools. And, apply to some that are perhaps less competitive to get into and are less known as “feeder” schools. Then, you’ll hopefully have options to choose from. Some of this depends on how much help you think you’ll need from your preschool director to go through the admission process for elementary school. If you think you will need a lot of support, think about that when you select a preschool. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes between “feeder” preschools and admissions directors that can help you get into schools. For example, if your child is wait-listed, do you have a preschool director who can call admissions directors to help get your child off the wait-list. Some preschools can do this, others can’t.


Good luck with everything!


Westside Feeder Schools: From Preschool To The Ivy League: A Well-Traveled Path

Each year, most top Los Angeles private elementary schools send several of their graduates to excellent secondary schools. But, we know you really want specifics. Which schools are “feeders” to specific secondary schools? Obviously, each year this changes. But, there are some well-trodden paths, from preschool to elementary school and then on to secondary schools and from their to certain colleges. According to a friend of ours who works at Harvard-Westlake, the Westside feeder school path goes like this:

Sunshine Preschool and Circle of Friends Preschool* send graduates to Brentwood, John Thomas Dye, The Center For Early Education,Curtis School and Carlthorp, which in turn, send their graduates to Harvard-Westlake and Marlborough, which then send their graduates to Harvard College, Yale, Princeton and Stanford (and the other Ivy League Schools).
Obviously, these are not the only ways for a child to get into Harvard-Westlake or Marlborough. But, it’s a common path, familiar to the well-connected and well-to-do families on the Westside of LA. From the schools’ perspective, according to our source at Harvard-Westlake, it’s about test scores, ensuring that the kids who follow the “feeder” school paths will hit the test scores the schools desire at every level.
Another well-traveled “feeder” school path:
Temple Isaiah Preschool, Wagon Wheel Preschool and Crestwood Hills Co-Op Nursery School send scores of kids to The Willows Community School, which is a feeder school to Crossroads and Windward (the head of the Willows Lower School has a child at Crossroads High School and Lisa Rosenstein, head of school at The Willows, used to run Temple Isaiah Preschool before founding The Willows School)
Note: Crossroads, Oakwood, Brentwood, Campbell Hall and Wildwood are K-12 schools so naturally their own students continue from their lower schools through secondary school.
* According to the book, Coping With Preschool Panic, “Circle of Friends Preschool in Santa Monica has a reputation of being a bit like a much-sought after private-club–very hard to gain admittance. There are those who call it “Circle of Celebrities’ Children”. (P. 67)
We discuss the issue of “feeder” schools in more detail in Beyond The Brochure.

Reader Question: Feeder Preschools To Private Elementary Schools

We got a question from a mom who asked whether she should consider where preschools send their graduates (to public or private elementary schools) since she wants her child to attend private school. I’ve had the experience of both types of preschools. My daughter attended a preschool where lots of kids attend private elementary schools each year. My son attended a preschool where almost all the children attend public elementary school.

If it is your first child and you want him/her to attend private school, you should definitely consider the “feeder” preschools. Those are the preschools that feed into top private elementary schools. You shouldn’t try to send your child to a “feeder” preschool ONLY because it has a connection to a good private elementary school. But, I know firsthand how helpful it is to have a preschool director who is on a first name basis with admissions directors at the top schools, who knows what a parent interview is all about, who can tell you which schools might be good for your child and who can help you navigate the entire process. If the preschool director is not “in the loop” about private schools, it will be more difficult for him/her to guide you through the process. Elena Cielak at Montessori Shir-Hashirim was incredibly helpful to me and other parents as we went through the admissions process. When we stopped by her office to tell her about our visiting day, she knew exactly what we were talking about. She discussed our application with admissions directors. She helped me decide which school would be best for my daughter (and she was right because she knew my daughter and she knew The Willows School.). That knowledge comes with experience of helping families get into private elementary schools year after year. Private elementary schools accept children from a wide variety of preschools. Still, there’s a reason certain preschools are called “feeder” preschools. These are the preschools whose graduates go on to a few specific private elementary schools.
Preschool directors who have years of experience helping place their graduates at top LA private elementary schools juggle many potentially conflicting issues, including families from their own preschool who are competing for admission to the same schools. They are dealing with families that get wait-listed at their top choice and families who are declined admission at all the schools they applied to. They have to advise families who ignore their advice and only apply to one school, which then wait-lists their child. That’s a lot to handle! But, if your preschool director knows your child and knows the private elementary schools you like, that’s a huge advantage. Do preschool directors get upset at families who refuse to follow their advice during the application process? Yes, it can happen. Do preschool directors sometimes get upset if a family selects a school that they don’t think is best for the child. Sometimes. Still, most preschool directors will do their best to place each family at their top choice school.
The book, Coping With Preschool Panic, lists the elementary schools, public and private, where each preschool sends its graduates. This can be really helpful if you are just starting to look at preschools.
We also discuss the topic of feeder preschools in our book.