Advice about Applying to Preschool

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello all, 

    I'm looking for perspectives on mixed-age classrooms and/or being one of the oldest (or youngest) children within a same-age classroom (for example, the oldest two year-old in a 2's preschool class). 

    We have a few favorites in mind for preschool next year, when our child will be three, but aren't sure about the benefits and drawbacks of mixed-age classes versus same-age classes for her. Because of the birthday cutoff date set by some of the same-age schools, she would be one of the oldest in her class, with limited exposure to older kids. (I believe they only mix briefly throughout the day at the programs we looked at.) Conversely, at schools with a different cutoff date, she could end up being one of the youngest in the class. 

    We have browsed some of the research about mixed-age classrooms, but prefer to hear some real-life experiences to put what we've read in context. To what extent does your child's age relative to the rest of the class matter in terms of learning, development, and general enjoyment for them? Can anyone speak to the experience of having a child who is one of the oldest (or youngest) in their same-age preschool class? And we'd love to hear about any experiences in a mixed-age class as well. Bonus points if you've had experience with both and have some comparison points to share! 

    Thank you! 

    This will be a bit different from your situation but i have my two kids in a mixed-age, single classroom, montessori school. It's different because they love being together, but i will say that it has been so wonderful to see them develop relationships across the various age groups! My older child has been helping one of the new 2 year olds to get more comfortable at school, and my younger loves being with the big kids. There are kids ranging from just 2 to 5.5. My older child was always in mixed-age preschools, though this range is the biggest, and i think it's been wonderful for her.

    We had a youngest child, and the big kids did not engage with him (e.g. saying 'hi').  There were not that many younger kids, so that wasn't the best thing either.  We had an older kid in  day care who did great there (never bullied, looked up to) who transferred into a preschool as the youngest age, and in her case fine, I think it got even better when she got older (she stayed 3 years).  In my experience it partly depends on school culture, and on the kid, and luck of the draw in terms of the other kids.

    I just wanted to chime in and say I highly recommend mixed age preschools. We have two kids and had leaned towards mixed ages from the start. Then, our decision was reaffirmed, because this year our son's mixed age preschool had to split into two separate cohorts because of covid (his second year at the school). The school was divided primarily along age lines so we didn't have to split up any friendships from last year so he is with the 4-5yo group. It's a co-op so all of us parents have gotten to see first hand how different it is to go from mixed age (2.5-5) to a narrower range. 

    Last year our son made a few friends among the older kids and they showed him how to do a lot of things. There was a really good flow of different groups of kids playing together at different times. He's still really good friends with one of the 'big kids' to this day. This year I see our son not getting that same experience of getting to be the older kid taking younger ones under his wing. When kids have to deal with a lot of other children who are at different developmental levels, whether physical or social, it broadens their experience of what's normal and acceptable and increases their problem solving abilities (in my experience). Our buddy family in the younger cohort has said their son, who is the oldest in the group, struggles at times with no one older than him to play with or learn from as well. So that's my two cents about mixed age groups. Good luck in your decision making.

  • Do preschools accept new kids now?

    (3 replies)

    I was wondering if anyone knows if preschools are accepting new kids now with a start date after the SIP is lifted (we are not essential workers so kids are home now).  I was having a hard time getting my preschooler into a preschool of my choice but I am hearing that a lot of people are now withdrawing from preschools to avoid having to pay and several preschools are low on enrollment.  Do you know if preschools are trying to fill those spots now?  I'm ok paying tuition during the pandemic and support the preschool with the hope that in a month or two when this is over my kid will have a spot.  The preschools I'm looking into are year round so the summer coming up is not a concern.  I'm going to try to send some emails but wanted to check to see if anyone went through the process since if new students are not accepting now that it will be a waste of time to try applying since I don't want to pay several application fees to just get on long waiting lists I have no chance to get off of until my kid is in school. Anyone in this situation or tried contacting the preschools about this?

    I've contacted 6 preschools. 4 of the 6 got back to me and said they were planning to open in Fall 2020 as of now. 3 of them had availability for Fall 2020. The other 2 that did not get back to me - I suspect some preschools will also unfortunately be permanently closing. Reaching out directly and following up with questions has been where I've gotten my questions answered. I feel fairly confident I can get my son into *a* preschool in Fall 2020, but I am not sure if there will be guidelines in place that limit enrollment and/or restrict hours. In other words, I am casting a wide net and not trying to have my heart set on the top choice. No one has mentioned application fees and putting me on waitlist, though I'm still in preliminary talks with everyone.

    I know my kid's school is not accepting new students right now, because they can only open with lower numbers due the restrictions on group sizes. 

    I know our preschool in El Cerrito is accepting new students and is currently open following the new state guidelines. I think it's probably a preschool by preschool basis.  Also, our preschool has seen a decrease in enrollment due to lay offs and people feeling uncomfortable sending their kids to school during SIP.  So depending on where you are located, I would think you will be able to get your kid in preschool as enrollment has decreased.

  • Hi preschool parents! As the time for decisions for next year's enrollment nears, I'd like to make an informed decision about what different preschools are offering in terms of tuition discount and distance learning, in case we encounter an ongoing intermittent shelter-in-place scenario. I'm particularly interested in the 2yo to 5yo age group. Thank you for any information you can provide at this time!

    1. Is your preschool in-home or commercial?
    2. Is your preschool open for children of essential workers?
    3. Is your preschool offering tuition discount or reimbursement for children who are distance-learning? If so, how much or % reduction?
    4. How many online lessons per day is offered to your child? How many lessons per day does your child attend (realistically)?
    5. Has your school offered a plan for reopening?


    1. I am in a commercial preschool that is on the larger size (maybe 80 kids?)

    2. my preschool is not open for essential workers

    3. They are asking if we can to pay the full amount, which we did.

    4. they probably have some type of activity each day. Whether it be a class check in or a larger music class.  Realistically, we are going to 2 a week.  My daughter is in the 2s class and can't focus on zoom for that long.  She also gets very sad seeing classmates when she can't be in school.

    5. We don't have a plan for reopening.  My understanding is that many of the preschools have no additional information than we have and as waiting to see what classroom requirements will be to figure out what they can realistically do.  I get the impression they hope to be able to be open in some form this summer--but no guarantees.

    • Our preschool is in a large combo daycare/preschool center in Berkeley. 
    • After evaluating they opted to not be open for essential workers because it would be too difficult to meet guidelines (not enough teachers without floaters to provide the breaks which are disallowed under the new rules). 
    • The center is affiliated with a larger nonprofit that is using reserves to pay salaries.  We paid in full for all of March (were given the option for a 1-2 week refund if we demonstrated financial need).  We have not had to pay for April, and were just told we do not have to pay for May. 
    • We get a handful of activities, videos, etc. from teachers each week - nothing live and no connections with other students/parents.  We typically read the suggested e-book and watch the teacher videos (2-4 min each) a couple times that week. 
    • The school has written a plan that is going to the nonprofit leadership for approval, but we have not been given a copy of the plan.

    Margins are crazy-tight on daycare and preschool - less than 1%! - and friends who study ECE say 50% of centers will likely close and not re-open due to these shutdowns.  So food for thought may be that by paying some/any tuition they request is an investment in your child having a place to go when things do reopen.  Our family is lucky that we haven't had to pay, but we'd be dipping into savings to contribute to our preschool to ensure it remains open and teachers are cared-for if we did.  It's already excruciatingly difficult to secure a spot, and if our center closes, we know we'd be up a creek without a paddle!  We have done virtual info sessions with other preschools but many of them have told us a spot is very unlikely as they will probably have to reduce class sizes to meet any kind of new standards that emerge for fall!

    1. non-profit
    2. yes, starting next week
    3. yes, parents are asked to contribute "a fair share" to cover operational costs only
    4. between 2-4 per week (depends on classroom, we have several), we also get daily activities per email including recorded story time and activities that parents can print or show kids on tablets/ computer; we attend all, but my kids realistically only participate for 20-25 min - some days they refuse to be seen; overall attendance is around ~50%
    5. No. It's not possible because there is currently no timeline for when any childcare facility is allowed to open for non-essential workforce families. But the reopening plan for essential families scales. 

    Hope this helps! Good luck! 

    Colibri Preschool in Oakland

    1. Commercial

    2. Not currently. They polled the families with essential workers and based on their needs decided to remain closed completely.

    3. They are requesting that everyone who is able continue to pay so that they can continue to pay their teachers. If families need a break, they are asking for us to pay 75%. If that is not possible, they are asking for families to talk to them and try and work something out. They are not enforcing the payment part of our contracts right now.

    4. Each weekday each class meets with one of their teachers. My 4 year old's lasts for about 30-40 minutes while my 2 year old's is about 20. Around 3 days a week they have an afternoon enrichment class, one of which is being paid for by the parents association. Each of these (music, story time, yoga) is about 30 minutes. Once a week each of my children have a short conversation with one of their teachers. Usually about 15 minutes. Today the school "went to the farm" and had a special 30 minute virtual tour of a farm they were supposed to visit this month in real life.

    5. Nothing in detail though they hope to open as soon as possible and that were will be new procedures in place to protect the teachers and students when that happens.

    My son goes to a commercial day care in Berkeley. They are totally closed at the moment, but they have been sending out updates saying they are working with the City of Berkeley to figure out when they can open, and whether it'll be for all kids or just children of essential workers. They asked for full tuition for April, but for May they are saying that they understand if anyone can't pay full tuition and we should all pay as much as we can (the two head teachers have gone without a salary since March). They have two half-hour lessons a day - circle time, music class, yoga class, art class, cooking class, play bingo, etc. My child usually attends at least one a day, but often refuses to turn on his video and plays with his cars in front of the screen (but he is half paying attention). When it's bingo or art, he usually participates more fully. There are usually about 5-10 kids on each call, usually the older ones (the school has about 30 kids, ages 2 to 5). They don't yet have a defined plan for reopening, but that's because there is no clear guidance from the City/State yet about allowing preschools to open. However, they have said that they will open as soon as they are legally allowed to.

    Our 4-yr-old will (hopefully) be returning to preschool at East Bay Waldorf this fall. They are PreK through 8, following the guidelines for schools, and seem to be in line with the school district in which we're embedded (West Contra Costa County); when the district announced its closure our school followed suit within a few hours. So even essential workers cannot use the school's services at this time.

    There are no tuition discounts for distance learning. The school is being very proactive working with families who have had an income loss as a result of COVID-related shutdowns, but they are also being quite open with everyone that those who are still able to pay tuition, including early childhood parents (pre-K and K), are the primary reason the school will be able to remain intact and reopen in the fall.

    There are no direct remote lessons being offered to Pre-K students. Instead, the teachers are making extensive use of the Google classroom to communicate with parents and provide content for parents to share with their children, as well as doing both one-on-one phone calls with children and semi-regular conferences with parents.

    No detailed plan for reopening just yet. I think they are quite reasonably waiting to see what happens moving forward into the summer.

    1. In-home daycare.

    2. yes, currently open for essential workers. 

    3. No, they asked for full tuition but not enforcing it and told those who cannot afford to pay that they won't enforce the contract. 

    4. none

    5. Yes, it is small in-home daycare and can easily comply with ratio and cleanliness requirements.  They already communicated that as soon as allowed the kids can all come back right away. 

  • Navigating Preschool

    (2 replies)

    My daughter will be 3 in Dec and I'm looking for advice on how to navigate the preschool selection process! I live in Berkeley and would like to find something that is nurturing with emphasis on learning/teaching basics. Ideally 2-3 days a week but open to full time starting in the fall or earlier. Also open to bilingual programs. Strongly looking for diversity.
    My major worry is finding something affordable for our means that meets what we're looking for since this will be her first school experience. Seems like there are soo many options and I'm feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to begin. I've worked in preschool/daycare and school settings and it's important to me to find the right fit. Any advice or suggestions would be much appreciated.

    Hi! I was in the same boat as you when I began looking for preschool options for my son, Griffin, who is now 3. I must have looked at about 100 options across Yelp and BPN! Generally I found that there were two pretty distinct camps for 3yr olds - you have larger, more structured full day programs that are a little more daycare-esque by design. They tend to focus more on routine and set activities throughout the day, e.g., an hour of art-time, an hour of quiet time, an hour of puzzle time, etc. While some kids do well in this environment, it can be challenging as there isn't much room for free play and for child-led activities, where they have more discretion in how they want to interact and what they prefer. This kind of individualized, play-based learning can generally only be found in part-time and co-op programs, and there are only a handful of these around. My family found that it was very much oriented around this kind of philosophy, and luckily these programs also tend to be much more affordable than full day. We currently attend Broadway Children's School of Oakland and love it. They have a 2 and 3 day part-time program for 3-4 yr olds that runs from 9-12pm, and it has been just perfect for my son. They are definitely a diverse group of families, but really the best thing to do is to schedule a couple of tours and get a sense for what clicks for you. The first question will be evaluating the difference in cultures between full and part-time (and non-play vs play-based), and once you have that settled, evaluating the 'feel' of a school in terms of its culture and philosophy. For example, we really wanted a place that focused on individualized attention, empathy, kindness, and community. We also looked at a few co-ops, but those are much more demanding in terms of parent volunteer hours and we didn't have that flexibility. Happy to expand on any particular item....feel free to contact me directly for follow-up. Good luck!

    I'd recommend using to pre-select some preschools. It's a searchable database that will also often tell you whether the school has openings or not. That's where I started. Many of them will have open houses between now and December, I recommend attending them with your child so that you can get a feel for the school. Or call them to schedule a private tour. 

    In terms of affordability and diversity, I recommend looking at The Model School in Berkeley, a women owned and operated non-profit. Very diverse in terms of teachers and students. Very active parents group so if you're looking to connect with families with kids, you'll probably find new friends pretty quickly (we did!). Rates are well under market. They have openings, too. The overall program is Montessori based. My kid has been attending for a year now, he joined when he turned 3. It's amazing how much he has learned in one year! They did two months on the solar system, one on the ocean, October was about North America (cities, cultures, music, art, animals). Parents were invited to give short presentations about their cultural backgrounds, so the kids learned about Haiti, Thailand, Germany, Rosh Hashanah, China ... Is everything perfect? No. But teachers are lovely, engaged, loving, and my kid loves to go there. That's all that matters. 

    We can chat offline if you want to know more - just send me a PM. 

    Good luck!

  • I have a 1 year old and am having trouble finding enough info about when to apply and most importantly, which preschools in my area are good. I live near Montclair Village in Oakland - any recommendations? Should I be applying now for next fall? Thanks! 

    We recently went through this process - here are a few tips:

    - We searched for schools using a variety of different sources, since no single source had a comprehensive list. We used (good for seeing schools on a map), Yelp (good for reviews), Berkeley Parent's network (good for finding out about open houses), and 510 Families (lists schools across the broader east bay)

    - You're close to a few different neighborhoods, so I'd search them all like Montclair, Piedmont, Glenview

    -I would recommend looking now for your one year old, as the best schools that meet your needs may book up quickly. The best ones we found were already booked a year old.

    -Tours, especially when school is in session, give you the best sense of what the day to day will be like. We got way less out of touring the school when it wasn't in session.

    - We ended up at Storybrook Oakland, which we love, but have also heard good things about Growing Light and Smiles

    Good luck!

  • Preschool Application Timeline

    (2 replies)

    Our child will be starting preschool in Fall 2017.  What is the timeline for applications?  We have him on one waitlist and are told our chances are very good that there will be a spot, but were told that we wouldn't know whether there will be space for him until May.  Is that too late to apply other places?  Do we have to apply other places first while we're waiting to find out if we get into the other place?

    Leave deposits at other schools just in case. It's good you are doing this now because by January most places are full for the fall.

    What city? I would like to learn more too for El Cerrito.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


When do we start applying to preschools?

Sept 2014

Our daughter has an end-of-year birthday and will be turning 2 at the end of this year. I'm beginning to do research into preschools for her, and I'm quite overwhelmed and finding that information can be very scattered. We've spent a lot of time doing research, reading reviews, and gathering info from various sources (including the archives here at BPN), but still feeling overwhelmed. Since her birthday is at the end / beginning of the year, when do we start applying? What is the average age that most kids here attend preschool? Do most kids go 2-3 days, or do most go 4-5? I come from a state where preschool is automatically offered as part of public school at age 4, so all of these baffling degrees of choices are really overwhelming.

Hi, My daughter has a mid December birthday and we were also looking in Berkeley/Oakland. In my experience, most preschools accept kids that are 2 years and 9 months old in September of the year they start. So you likely want to start looking at preschools this fall. How to start? Get recommendations from people, then go to the preschool open houses which are generally scheduled in the fall. Most preschools require you to apply almost a year in advance for the following fall with applications being due generally between December and March. I really enjoyed the process of looking at different schools and exploring the different teaching philosophies. To try to ensure your child gets into one you like, I would apply to 3 to 5 schools because you won't necessarily get into all of them.

I found that most preschools require full time or nearly full time attendance (4 to 5 full days per week). There are a few schools with part time options out there.

But don't worry! There are a lot of great preschools out there. If you put the time in visiting schools, you are bound to get into a program you are happy with. As you will find, prices vary widely. If the co-op schedule works for you, start there! Oakland Mamma

Many preschools accept children ages 2.9 and older, so next fall would be an ideal time for your child to start. Having said that, my two younger kids started at age 4 and had only one year of preschool each, while my eldest child started at age 2.5 and had a total of three years of preschool. No regrets about any of those choices. As far as number of days, whatever works for your family is fine. My kids never went for 5 days, but sometimes it was 2, sometimes 3 and sometimes 4. Then, you say you are a single car family, but I think you include a too-large geographic area in your search. My criterion for preschool was that we could walk there. So you could certainly narrow your search geographically. We live in a preschool-dense area. But, affordability is a big deal and this will narrow your search quite a bit. So that leads me to my recommendation for preschool: The Model School in south Berkeley. We spent one lovely year there. It's cheaper than many of schools in the area and the hours/days are more flexible than any of the other schools we looked at. They enroll infants as young as 3 months and go all the way through Pre-K. They also enroll year-round, so your child wouldn't have to wait until next fall to begin. They are Montessori-influenced but not dogmatic about it. The teachers are loving and the families kind. Give them a call! Model School fan

Preschool admissions - I need to renege on oral commitment

March 2014

My child was admitted into a very desirable private preschool and I would love to accept, but as I calculate the costs again, I realize it is going to be a bit more than I had initially thought and the truth is, I have found good, less expensive alternatives. I had orally committed to accepting a spot if offered one, and so now I feel terrible about potentially turning it down. No deposits have been paid yet or contracts signed. I wonder, has this happened to anyone else - where you say that you will accept if offered a spot, are offered one, and then don't accept? How terrible is this? anon

Hello--I totally did this, and only 2 months ago. Worse yet, it was the night before I took her for the first day, with the contracts in hand to be delivered. We had some miscommunication about the costs. It was $200 more/month than I had expected/planned. In some ways, it was only $200, but in others, I knew it would really harm our financials to spend that. It was hard to communicate that, but I had to do what was best for our family. I was very respectful and apologetic, as that's how I felt, but also embarrassed. Looking back, I'm happy with my decision still. I wish I COULD have afforded it, but so grateful I chose what was best for our family. Good luck! mama who reneged on private preschool, too

It is not unusual at all for families to decline an offer of acceptance. Schools know that a certain percentage will do this. Don't give it another thought. Do what's best for your family. local mom

Not a big deal at all if you have not yet signed a contract; it's pretty common that families will look at multiple schools, and there are many reasons you might opt not to go with your top choice when it comes to the final decision. You say that you have told the school you'd take a spot if one were offered--so it sounds like you haven't actually even been offered a spot yet. If and when you are offered it, you simply tell the school that you have decided on a different program. Particularly if it is a highly desirable school, they will have no problem moving to the next person on the list (and honestly, if it is a highly desirable school they may not even offer you a spot in the first place, so the decision may be moot!) At some of the schools we considered, you had a period to change your mind even after signing the contract, too. The schools want it to be the right fit as much as you do. Mama to another preschool applicant

If the preschool is as desirable as you say it is, then I wouldn't worry about reneging on an oral agreement. Somebody else will happily take that spot and everybody's happy. Good for you for not going into debt for preschool! anon

How Many Preschools to Apply To?

Nov 2013

My son will be 3 next fall and we have begun looking at preschools for next year. How many schools do you really have to apply to, to be sure you get in to at least one of your choice? I am interested in a play-based school with free-flow access so the kids can be outside (or inside) if they want to. I am also looking for a schedule that's 5 days a week from 8-9 to 1-3. I am open to co-ops.

So far, I'm interested in CCC, Monte Verde, and Dandelion, but I've heard stories from so many parents that they've applied to up to 6 schools and only got into one!? I do not want to send my son to a school that I am not enthusiastic about. Do I really have to apply to more schools than those 3? I'm also planning to look at El Cerrito Co-op. What can I do to ensure that my son gets in to at least one of the schools that we like? Our family structure is mom and dad, and we are white, so we don't have any diversity to speak of (except that we're creative types). Thank you for any insight, fellow parents who have already traveled this road. Jane

We applied to three preschools for my almost 3 year old and got into all of them --- I too was really worried about not getting a spot but it turns out it wasn't an issue. But I think it is key that we started our search early and went to lots of open house and info sessions (winter 2012 with plans to start my son fall 2013) as some of his daycare friends who didn't start looking until Spring had a more challenging time. We also ended up enrolling him in the school of our choice during the summer instead, to take advantage of an opening at that time, rather than waiting for September when more kids may have been starting. We were looking at Montessori programs in El Cerrito/Albany/Berkeley ---- it may be more competitive in other neighborhoods or for other program types. So my advice is start early and be flexible about your transition time-frame. Good luck! I survived the preschool application process

I have experience with 3 different preschools in Berkeley. We applied and got into all 3, easily. Two of the three were excellent preschools, the third has since closed (but my boy was mostly happy there). We have three kids, with a large age spread, and lived in different parts of Berkeley for each of their preschool years, hence the not sticking with the first excellent preschool we attended. So, first, don't buy into the hype and don't assume that a preschool with a long waiting list, or lower acceptance rate is superior. Ask each of the three schools you are interested in what their acceptance rate is. If they are all close to 80 or 90 percent, then I'm sure you would be fine applying to just those three. I actually don't know anyone who applied to more than that. By the way, my youngest just started kindy, so my experience is not outdated! Preschool x3

Hi Jane, It's a great question ... we applied to 5 and got into 1, so the numbers can be daunting. I would invite you to check out Montclair Community Play Center's Toddler Playtime program (for kids 18 months to 3 years) as it would give you a chance to spend some time at that school and see how it feels to you. They accept students to the preschool purely by lottery and it can be tough to get in if there are a lot of returning siblings but people who take the Toddler class get an extra pull in the lottery, so that can be of help. My son attends MCPC now. The days are a little shorter than you're looking for (9-noon), but they have an extended program on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 3pm. When you're looking at schools, I recommend asking what your chances are of getting in and trying to have a frank discussion ... there are so many variables I think the answers change from year to year (and then sometimes in Sept people find their choice is not a good match and then an opening occurs ...) Here's the website for MCPC: Best of luck! There's no ONE right school, but I understand and empathize with your concerns about getting in somewhere! Julie

You seem to be missing a school that meets the criteria you have described - Skytown ( We also have a toddler program that is open to kids from 18 months+, which is a nice way to introduce kids to the community. As for applications, we only applied to a few that we felt very comfortable with. Admittedly biased 5yr+ Skytown parent Mike

Child will be 3 this spring - when should I apply?

June 2009

Our son is going to be 3 years old in 2010 during the Spring, when should I start applying to preschools? Thanks. -anon

I'm assuming you're talking about Berkeley? I know this is crazy: From our experience and what we've been told by many Berkeley parents, you should start now. Like, today. Put your name on as many pre-school waiting lists as you can. There definitely will be a pre-school for your son, though it's possible you may have to go out of Berkeley to find one. There may be (?) less of a wait list for all day schools: we needed one that is open for 10 or 11 hours a day. Good Luck! Carey

Now. Seriously as soon as you're thinking about it, start researching. I used for basic info - but be aware not all schools keep their data up to date. However you should at least be able to determine which schools are within a reasonal drive for you, have the schedule you want, and are in your budget. Then you need to call and confirm the tuition, and make appointments. Confirming the tuition will save you a lot of time as I wasted two tours only to find out the rates were higher than posted on Savvy Source - in one case, significantly higher.

You didn't say when you want your child to start preschool - in the new year, or next fall? Either way I would start looking now, as you will have a lot more choices that way. We ended up with just one that fit our criteria (not because I'm so picky but because we couldn't afford most of them) and were on the wait list for over half a year before being admitted, just due to demand, not any competitive process.

For fall I think most schools will start taking applications in January. Some schools may allow your child to start in January if that's what you want. Start asap.