My almost 2.5 year old daughter just started preschool for the first time this week. She had previously been in drop-in daycares and had babysitters and generally does great with other caregivers. We also do a lot of classes together and she loves her teachers.

6 months ago, we enrolled her in a local Goddard School that we thought would be the best experience for her and we finally started this week. She started this week and within a few minutes, my wife and I both felt it was not the right fit for her. After two days of observing (and peeking in every hour or two), and asking my daughter questions after school, we decided to pull her out. We had a couple other preschools we were interested in, and quickly enrolled her in another one where I think she will be happy.

But I can’t help but feel we (especially me!) might have been a bit rash to make such a quick decision. But here is what happened:

First, when we signed up 6 months ago, the classroom environment looked really nurturing and fun. But when she finally started this week, I felt like it was a totally different environment. Here are few areas that made us unhappy with the school:
- The teachers and the kids never looked happy. The teachers were not smiling. In fact, they looked stressed and miserable. This was the case during drop off, pickup, and everytime we peeked (about every 1.5 hrs over 2 days).
- My daughter usually gets pretty affectionate with teachers real quick. But not at this preschool. She just looked really serious and shy the whole time. Of course, she was new, but the other kids (most of whom were there for well over a year) were the same way. I felt the teachers did not create a warm and free environment.
- My daughter never got a big greeting and was never introduced to her classmates even on her first day (and my wife sat in for an hour the first morning to see how she was treated). I even had to go around asking some kids their names on the second day so that I can talk about them with my daughter. (My daughter is really good at remembering who everyone is). She got better treatment and attention at drop-in daycares than she did at the Goddard.
- When my daughter wanted to hug the teacher at the end of the class, the teacher was not interested. When my daughter said bye, the teacher walked away and tiredly said bye without looking back at her.
- Even by 9:30 AM, the teacher looked like she was ready to lose her mind, and she is there from 8AM to 5PM.
- My daughter told me she cried a bit (which we did see a couple times we peeked). When I asked her if the teacher hugged her, she told me “no, she said shhhhh” (and made a shusshing sound to show me what the teacher did). I am inclined to believe my daughter. She has a history of being very accurate when she tells me things.
- Having peeked in so many times over two days, I simply never saw any joy from the kids nor the teachers, and especially the teachers just looked really stressed out.

When I filed my withdrawal letter, the director felt I did not give them a chance. And it is probably true, we could have waited longer. But this is my daughter’s first preschool experience, and I just did not want her there for another minute. I quickly enrolled her in another preschool that had an opening and already took her in for an hour just to see. And the teacher and the last couple kids there (we went at the end of the day) immediately were interested in her and made her feel special. My daughter loves the teacher and is already talking about her. My daughter even danced around happily there with one of the older kids. The teacher was so warm with my daughter, something I never saw at Goddard, not even when my daughter first walked in all timid on her first day.

Of course, this was a very costly decision. We lost our one month’s tuition plus registration at Goddard, which was nearly $1000.

But I still question whether the experience at Goddard was bad enough to warrant such a rash decision. I don’t want to do this everytime my daughter is in a less than perfect environment, and normally I try to work things out. But given my description, was the Goddard experience as toxic as I thought it was? Or is it normal for schools to be really serious and all about learning even for a 2-year old? Or is it normal for some days to be really stressful for the teachers and I should have given them a few more weeks to turn it around? I just felt after 2 days, we had seen enough and that there was something deeply wrong about the school.

Curious your thoughts and what some of you might have done? What’s done is done and I don’t regret withdrawing her, but some perspective would be helpful in understanding what to expect as my child gets older and we deal with challenges. Thanks so much!