Finding a Kindergarten in China

The past few months have been full indeed! Which is why we haven’t been around here too much updating. The good news is that our lives have been full of children, making plans for the future, and simply making it from day to day. The other good news is that we continue to enjoy our lives here, so much so that we intend to stay around Nanjing a few more years.

And that means Leo, our almost 3 year old boy, will go to kindergarten here! The Chinese system generally starts children in school at 2 or 3 years old. Two is early, and three is more standard. Especially because most women in the cities work full time, and also because the children lack siblings from which to learn so many important social skills, early kindergarten, in the more developed parts of China, is simply standard. Children typically begin a full day kindergarten at 3 years old. Leo will go for a half day, as we are not quite ready to say goodbye for a full day of school quite yet!

Now that we’ve been through the larger part of the process, we’d like to share a bit of our experience. First of all, we didn’t know how difficult it would be to find a school! After visiting many kindergartens in our downtown neighborhood and receiving raised eyebrows, pitiful looks, and statements like, "You’re going to need good guanxi (or connections) at this point to get in." – we realized that we ought to have started sooner. We heard that we should start early, and folks told us to start looking in March, which we did. We should have started last September. Oops. For a country where the words "plan ahead" don’t usually mean much, this came as a surprise. It shouldn’t have, I’m sure. China is so competitive and education is so very important here. So the good kindergartens fill up fast! What’s more, Leo was born in the year of the ‘Golden Pig’ – a very fortunate year to be born, according to Chinese zodiac. There are a lot of ‘Golden Pigs’, becuase everyone who was going to have a child around that time tried to have them in ’07. So the kindergartens filled up fast.

After all those fruitless visits (and there were many), we got smarter. We returned to each school, and began to sell ourselves as a family. We spiffed up, bribed Leo with good snacks, and came up with a sales pitch for the headmasters. We can help with Christmas programs, JM can come play his violin with a quartet, etc… This brought better results, but still no solid offer of admission.

We tried guanxi (connections) but we really just don’t know anybody in the kindergarten world! Finally, though, a friend of a friend did, and we gained entrance (after an audition by Leo) to a decent kindergarten a bit far away. At least we had an offer! They auditioned Leo in a couple of classrooms to see how he would adapt and if he could really speak Chinese. He did, and although he only wanted to share the stickers he brought with one pretty girl (he’s a smart little man), they thought he did well enough.

We were also told to just simply find reasons to return, again and again to the kindergartens we liked, and be persistent with the headmasters. This seems to be a waste of time, having to spend afternoon after afternoon playing musical kindergartens, but this has also gotten results. We’re slowly developing relationships through these short visits. They know us and have seen Leo multiple times. The headmasters all like Rosaline, and can hear us speak Chinese over and over so they know it won’t be hard to communicate with us if Leo goes to school there. This has just resulted in an as of yet informal offer of admission at our second choice kindergarten. We THINK he’s in, but in China, it’s just not a sure thing quite yet.

We’ll keep you posted, as the kindergarten chronciles proceed. It’s been quite a process, but we can’t wait to give Leo this opportunity to go to school. He will love it!


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