The ABCs of Affording Preschool [Updated]

The preschool application process for kids three to five is quite an eye opener for many parents. If you’re like me, you had no idea that getting your child into her first preschool program could be just about as involved as applying to college. Enjoy this updated article about how to afford tuition more easily.

When to Start Looking

In many areas, the demand for preschool outpaces supply, so it pays to start your research early. I’ve heard stories of some parents putting their children on the preschool waiting list before they were born! Hopefully things won’t be so extreme in your town. Still, it’s smart to start researching preschools a year ahead and plan on touring schools and submitting applications at the beginning of the year in which you’d like your child to start. Most schools offer open houses and enrollment periods as early as January.

How Much?

Accompanying the question of how to get your child into a good program (for most of us anyway), is the equally important consideration of how you’ll afford it.

A recent survey of Parents magazine readers who use child care reveals that 84 percent of surveyed parents feel that finding affordable, quality care is either a challenge, very hard, or impossible. And yet despite the challenge of finding affordable care “only about 23 percent of moms and 3 percent of dads stay home full-time with their kids.”

It’s no wonder parents have a hard time. Preschool tuition costs generally run anywhere from about $250 to $1000 per month. That’s $3000 to $12,000 a year. Yikes! That price varies wildly according to your region, the type of preschool and the number of hours per week your child will attend.

Some types of childcare tend to be more affordable than others. Church-based preschools are some of the most affordable schools around. Whereas a local Montessori school in my area charged around $1000 a month, the church-based school we loved charged less than $300. Co-ops tend to be more affordable, too, but require a time commitment from parents. Even if your school’s not a co-op, see if you can work off a portion of your tuition by spending a few hours per week at the school.

The cost of full time care for a pre-K kiddo in my state (Georgia) is around $500 a month. You can find out average childcare expenses in your state here (.pdf) Note: The cost may be more manageable if you can pay in installments. Look for a school that lets you pay monthly rather than asking for a year’s tuition up front or in two payments.

Important Questions for Potential Schools

Schools are pretty upfront about how much they charge. Still, there are a few crucial questions you should ask potential schools before you make any committments. They’ll help you avoid sticker shock later.

  • Ask about scholarships and tuition assistance.
  • Ask if you can get a discount when you enroll more than one child at a time.
  • Ask about activity and materials fees and any other fees beyond tuition that you’ll be asked to pay.
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A Common Sense Guide to Baby Proofing Your Home

When you think your baby is about to get mobile, it’s time to shift into baby proofing mode.

I remember the first time I saw a catalog from One Step Ahead. I was shocked at how many baby proofing gadgets are on the market. I was confused, too. Did I need all of them? Only some of them? Which ones?

Exactly how much baby proofing you’ll need to do depend on your baby’s personality, your parenting style, and the particulars of your home. Some babies are real explorers, and some aren’t as adventurous. Some are climbers, and some simply aren’t. Some of us never leave our babies’ side as they play, and some of us have other things to attend to from time to time–like other kids–and can’t watch the baby every second. Above all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Start figuring out what you’ll need to do by exploring your home on your hands and knees to get a “baby’s eye view”. That way you can identify areas and objects of concern. You’ll get an even clearer idea of what needs to be done as you watch your baby’s first attempts to explore the house.

Here are eight easy, and inexpensive first steps to take to baby proof your home. I’ve linked to products at Amazon so that you can check them out.

  • Move cleaning supplies, medicines, paints, glues, solvents and other chemicals out of baby’s reach. The same goes for sharp objects (scissors, knives, tools, etc.), firearms, breakable objects, and some electronics. Sometimes this just means moving items from a lower cabinet or drawer to a higher one. If this isn’t practical, try cabinet and drawer locks.
  • Your toddler will figure out how to turn a doorknob sooner than you think, so doorknob covers are pretty handy. You’ll also want to make sure windows can’t be opened.
  • Pay special attention to the kitchen and bathroom. If the entire room is off limits, you can keep the door closed or use a baby gate. If your baby will have access to either room, don’t forget to secure your oven door, dishwasher door, fridge door, and toilet lid (some ovens and dishwashers have built-in locks). Turn down your hot water heater’s temperature to about 120 degrees F to prevent scalding–no purchase necessary.
  • Secure bookcases, dressers, televisions and other pieces of any furniture baby can pull up on to the wall to prevent tipping. You can buy special straps that attach to the top or back of the piece and then to the wall.
  • Cover electrical outlets to prevent insertion of little fingers and everything else. (and don’t forget about outlets in power strips). We used the inexpensive plastic pronged kind for our outlets and they worked fine for us. It’s also a great idea to throw a few extra plug-in outlet covers into your diaper bag for trips to grandma’s house, hotel rooms, etc.
  • Prevent falls on stairs if you have them by installing a baby gate at the top and/or bottom of the stairs. I think simple is best. We had a fancy (and expensive) remote-controlled  one and it drove us bonkers because it didn’t unlatch dependably. Consignment sales and stores are great places to find deals on baby gates (and other baby proofing items, too).
  • Remove strangulation hazards like mini blind cords, electric cords and other dangling objects from your tot’s reach. Watch out for items like table cloths, too. If your baby pulls on them items resting on top of them can fall on her.
  • Cover sharp edges of fireplace hearths and the edges of furniture to prevent a trip to the emergency room for stitches. You can buy foam covers and guards or you can improvise your own. We used a folded up comforter to cover the edge of our hearth. You can also cut open a pool noodle to cover the edge of a coffee table.

While I can’t tell you precisely what you need to do to baby proof your home, I can say with certainty that you do NOT need to spend a mint buying every single baby proofing doodad. Let common sense and awareness be your most powerful tools. And when in doubt, remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

10 Best Baby Products of 2011

Which baby products are definitely worth buying? Ask the masses!

Yesterday I asked BC Facebook Fans to give me their nominations for “Best Baby Product of 2011.” Here are the ten baby products that made fans’ lives easier this year (listed more or less in order of popularity). I’ve linked to each product at Amazon so that you can find out more about it.

And great news! 7 of the top 10 items below are around $50 or less.

Runners Up: Medela Pump in Style Electric Breast Pump, Sophie the Giraffe, Beco Butterfly 2 carrier, Fisher-Price Jumperoo, Wubbanub

If you take a look at last year’s list of top products, you’ll see that this year’s list features some repeat performers as well as some new items.

What would you add to the list?

Readers’ Top 15 Parenting Books

A few months ago I asked readers to tell me their all-time favorite parenting book. I’ve sorted through more than 300 responses to create the list below. The top 5 are the most popular, followed by ten runners-up in no particular order.

I’ve linked to the books at Amazon so that you can find out more about them, read reviews, etc. You should be able to find them used or at your local library. Enjoy!

Top 5

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two by Dr. William and Martha Sears

Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby’s First Year (Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Baby’s First Year by Ari Brown, M.D. and Denise Fields

On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg

The Rest of the Best

The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley

Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber

Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp

What to Expect The  First Year by Heidi Murkoff

Raising Your Spirited Child Rev Ed: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay

Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen

The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman

Baby Bargains: Secrets to Saving 20% to 50% on Baby Furniture, Equipment, Clothes, Toys, Maternity Wear and Much, Much More! by Denise and Alan Fields

Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron

Did your favorite parenting book make the list?