Tuesday Trends: Preschools/It’s Now a Grind For 2-Year-Olds
For some well-heeled New York City parents, preschool starts far too late.
Parents looking to jump-start their children’s formal education are fueling the demand for—and filling the waiting lists at—a new wave of early childhood learning centers where toddlers and infants are cared for by trained teachers.
To be sure, most affluent parents still opt for a full-time nanny instead of an early childhood care center. And many lower-income parents rely on government subsidies to pay for day care. But some are looking for an alternative—one that can come with the same high prices and limited spaces as the city’s top private schools.
“Parents now—and this is a real sea change—they understand the infant-toddler years as learning years,” said Betty Holcomb, policy director at the nonprofit Center for Children’s Initiatives, which advocates for early-childhood education funding. She said the new popularity of early learning made such care “impossible to find, even if you’re a millionaire.”
At the Childrens’ Creative Learning Center, which opened in Midtown last month, 10 children still in utero are signed up for the $2,555-a-month infant education program. Five of 20 early-learning spots were filled after the new center sent an email to workers sharing its building, with little additional advertising.
Andrew Cohen, regional director for CCLC, said about 300 parents have expressed interest so far, with the majority seeking an educational placement for an infant or toddler.
“I like that they use a guided curriculum. I like that they have a highly professional staff,” said Ruth Brenner, who enrolled her 4-month-old daughter at CCLC’s new Midtown outpost. “One-on-one care from a nanny is great, but are they trained in getting my child to certain milestones?”
Ms. Holcomb said the turn toward very early education began with a 2000 study from the National Research Council that brought together years of research arguing that the first three years of life are crucial in a child’s development. A nationwide Better Baby Care campaign followed, led by national child care groups, as did dedicated federal funding for early-childhood care.
Across New York City, the number of spots for children under 2 at all child-care centers grew by about 3% last year, said the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The surge in interest has brought more parents to private centers like CCLC, which employ teachers—often with master’s degrees in early education—and claim to better socialize their young pupils than care by a nanny. The centers also tout the benefits to children’s verbal and motor skills.
Getting in can be similar to applying for an elite private school: applications are often due a year in advance, some schools require interviews, and tuition can run upward of $30,000 a year.
Even with high prices, early childhood education programs still see long waiting lists, particularly in neighborhoods that have become home to more families in recent years.
To nab an under-2 spot at Hansen Place in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene, parents need to apply when the mother is in the first trimester of pregnancy. Five or six years ago, parents could wait until the third trimester to reserve a spot, said executive director Carol Brathwaite.
Buckle My Shoe in TriBeCa has seen its waiting list for infant care grow steadily in the past five years. The waiting list for under-2 care at the Vanderbilt YMCA Early Childhood Center in Midtown is nearly two years long, meaning few children on the list will ever land a spot.
When Petya DeVallance was in her first month of pregnancy, she put her daughter on the waiting list for a private infant-care program in a home in Astoria, Queens. When her maternity leave was over, the spot still hadn’t opened up.
“It’s so incredibly hard to find something for children under 2,” Ms. DeVallance said.
She spent months looking for another center-based program—nearly quitting her job to stay home—before enrolling her 15-month-old daughter at Astoria’s Kid Krazy last month. “We got really lucky,” she said.
High overhead makes it hard for new centers to keep up with demand.
The city mandates that under-2 programs hire more staff members per child than other child-care businesses, said Frank Cresciullo, assistant commissioner at the city’s Bureau of Child Care. Under-2 programs also face pricier rents because they are often required by fire codes to be located on the ground floor.
“We really are interested in opening programs, safe programs, because we know that’s a need,” said Mr. Cresciullo. “Cost of business is cost of business, though. That’s not something we have control over. It’s markets.”