Navigating kindergarten decision time

Your first choice might not end up being the only or best option. Photo:

For many, March means the start of spring, college basketball, and this year, a few more inches of snow in Tahoe. But for parents with children hoping to enter kindergarten in the fall, March, specifically mid-March, has a whole different meaning. The public-school lottery is held and acceptance letters for the independent schools are sent. This can be an anxious time for parents, especially if they have spent last fall touring, attending open houses, parent coffees, interviews, and assessments. Deciding where our children will spend the next nine years is one of the biggest decisions we have to make as parents. It can be overwhelming trying to determine the best fit for your child and your family in addition to the stress of hoping your child gets into one of your top-choice schools. Here are some tips on how to deal with this exciting yet anxious time: 


There are many wonderful schools in our area. If you don’t get your first-choice acceptance letter or lottery pick, be prepared to get on a wait-list and keep trying.

It’s most important not to let your child see your anxiety. This is still a bit confusing and overwhelming for children, so keep the discussions and decisions between you and your spouse.

Also, be open to “blessings in disguise.” Things may not turn out exactly as you had hoped, but that may not be the worst thing in the long run. Ultimately, remember there has never been a case of a child not getting into any school, and I can promise you, your child won’t be the first. Everyone will find a home in the fall. 


Every year I see this — in the excitement or misery of the moment, parents forget their social graces — blasting how many places your child was accepted on every social media platform to calling around to get “the scoop” on who got into where. Parents, the same way we teach our children to be kind and considerate, we must remember these virtues ourselves, especially during this time when tensions can run high.

Realize that some parents are going to be excited, but there will also be many who are disappointed or frustrated. It can be difficult not to take a rejection or wait-list letter personally, but try to think of it as one of those blessings in disguise — maybe the right fit would not have been right anyway.

Some preschools have instituted a “quiet time,” where students are not allowed to say where they got in for a week. This gives families time to make decisions if they are deciding between two schools or time to get on a wait-list. My best advice is that you share your excitement with family, and when it comes to dealing with other families, be discrete and humble. It would be a shame to lose a friendship over this process.


When you’ve made the decision, put down a deposit, or signed on the dotted line, now comes the fun part of sharing the exciting news with your child. This can be tricky and confusing so best to keep it simple and age appropriate. You may choose to drive by the new school and share a moment out front as you tell your child the news or provide a special treat and then share the news. Our youngest has spent many years watching his brother and sister head to school in uniform, so we bought him his first uniform as our way of telling him.

No matter how you decide to share the news, it’s most important to do it with excitement. Your child will feel that and in turn be excited also. Kids don’t have a great sense of timing at this age, so it is important to reinforce that this will happen in a few months — they still have lots to learn and much fun to have with their preschool friends. Make sure to also talk to your preschool director or teachers about how they will be dealing with this at school. For us, the school downplays it for the children because the idea of all that change can be overwhelming for some children.

It may be a long next few weeks for many of you, but I hope through the process you learn something new about your child and maybe even yourselves. For us, my husband and I were grateful for the process and the discernment as we learned a lot about each other and what is important to us in an education and a community. Trust your instincts and try to enjoy this time of preparing your child for the wonderful experience that awaits over the next several years.


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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. Formerly, she was a news producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]