Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nursery Progress 1: the closet

With Thanksgiving around the corner, the future nursery was overwhelmed with baby stuff and my sister's sleeping space was quickly disappearing. We had to contain the clutter in time for her to have room for the blow-up bed.

We knew we'd need plenty of storage for all the stuff, and since the closet was formerly a built-in desk, we had some configuring to do. (I'm sure you're wondering...well, where are you going to work now? Why, thanks for your concern. Do not fret. A new desk was a big project for Cricket...which we've since installed and changed our mind about for space reasons and are in the midst of a replacement replacement desk project. Stay tuned for that reveal.)

After ripping out the desk stuff, we had to patch the wall. Which opened the door for painting the wall a fun color! Enter turquoise to brighten up the space. (Disregard the WILL be contained!)

A closet kit from Home Depot plus a drawer kit and we're in good shape.We went with the shelf-track system so that we can easily adjust the shelves without tearing up the wall as the kid grows & needs different configurations. I'm sure we'll adjust the set-up once we know what stuff we have and get everything organized. For now, this works to at least hold all the generous goodies we're receiving as the baby bump grows!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Urban Explorers Preschool

A few months ago, we visited the Open House at Urban Explorers Preschool. Located on Georgia Avenue between Grant Park and Zoo Atlanta, this was the southernmost school on our short list.

The owner, Jenni, is a spunky young woman full of energy. After shaving her head from a recent lice outbreak, she let the kiddos choose which color she should dye her short 'do. They chose blue--and she happily obliged! How fun is that?

We found UEP via a super strong referral from a good friend, and we were really interested in learning more. In early August, we inquired to find out that they were only accepting applications after the upcoming Open Houses--beginning in October. So, we basically wouldn't know whether it was a fit for us for a few more months. We attended the Open House in October and were very pleased with what we saw! Not to mention the Krispy Kreme donuts and hot coffee.

Open floor plan for the 1+ year olds with small classrooms for "learning" time. The facility is very clean and pretty hidden from the road--I thought it was a library or something, but the playground gave it away. The infant room is well laid out, with "classes" of cribs on either end and a common space in the middle. Each class of kids grows with each other throughout their tenure at UEP, and a teacher moves up right along with them. I love the stability this gives the kiddos.

Like many schools we visited, they follow the Creative Curriculum. Jenni was very transparent about her staff, her background, and the school's philosophy on all sorts of things. They don't deal with cloth diapers, but at 2 years old, all kids begin to potty train (whether they are doing so at home, or not). She pays her staff well and offers benefits--which results in low turnover. A rarity.

The proximity to the zoo & Grant Park makes outdoor excursions a normal occurrence, which is awesome.

Before the tour was over, we exchanged the "sign me up" look and were quick to complete the paperwork & the application fee of $50.

So far, so good.

Yeah...there's always a down side (or two):

Unfortunately, she mentioned that she only had two spots opening up in August of 2013 (remember, I'd initially inquired in August 2012), and she planned to fill those spots from a lottery based on applications received at Open Houses. The lottery was to be held in January. We weren't really sure what the "rush" to get our application in at the first Open House was, since the spots were being filled via lottery, but we complied.

Hours & Tuition: For infants, tuition runs $900/month and hours are 8:30-3:30, though you can drop-off at 8am.  Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Me too! But they offer early care (7-8?) for $25/week and after care (3:30-6:00) for $75/week ($6/hour). So, if you work normal hours and need full-time care M-F from 7:30-6, you're looking at about $1300/month. Once concern we had was traffic - their location is just down the street from Turner Field, so traffic could make it tough to be there by 6pm on game days. We like the flexibility of picking up early though, and only paying for what we used.

They also offer part-time care or split-weeks.

Also, they don't have a kitchen, so parents are responsible for all meals and snacks. Not a huge deal, but it's important when you're weighing the cost & trouble. But, at least you get to control what little Johnny eats. Jenni did say she's working with the city (who owns the building) to let her put in a kitchen in the future. Of course, tuition will increase proportionately.

More info:
Address: 250 Georgia Ave #103, Atlanta, GA 30312
Hours of Operation: M-F: 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

***UPDATE 12/28/12: Today, we received an email from UEP that the two spots opening in August were going to current families who already have older kids enrolled. So, no lottery. No chance of getting in unless some kid moves away & frees up a spot. I guess that's where our $50 deposit will go...since it didn't even buy us a chance at the lottery. Back to the freakin' drawing board. The more schools we visit, the more convinced I become that this whole childcare thing is a scam. But, what are we going to do?***

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bright Horizons at All Saints

Bright Horizons operates a ton of daycares across Atlanta, and we've heard really good things about the center at All Saints' Episcopal Church on West Peachtree and North Ave in Midtown. They aren't affiliated with the church. They're very reputable and pretty darn convenient to J's office and my commute route home.

Basically, this one stacked up very similarly to Sheltering Arms. Very similar feel, but more diversity. It maybe felt a little less corporate, but that could be because they're in a church vs. a stand-alone facility.

Their menu isn't organic, but you can bring it in. They are planning to switch to organic milk in 2013, and the cost will go up accordingly.

The outdoor playground was awesome. Really awesome. Even sprinklers for those hot summer days.

The staff was all very friendly and the facility was clean and spacious.

In addition to a state-funded Pre-K program, they also offer a private Pre-K for those who don't get into the state program. Curriculums are different, though results are similar. They boast that 85% of their graduates get into gifted programs.

Their hours are 7am-7pm, which is really more flexible than we even need, but thrilled to know it's an option!

Tuition, however, is where the similarities stop. $1400/month, averaging $70/day (based on 20 school days/month). That's almost twice the cost of Sheltering Arms without much of a difference in quality. Not to mention costs are increasing for 2013 to cover that organic milk. I can buy a LOT of organic milk for the $680/month difference.

For that, Bright Horizons gets a B. No, it doesn't break the bank, but I didn't see enough to justify the almost double tuition either. See how other daycares compare.

More info:
Address: 644 W Peachtree ST., Atlanta, GA 30308
Phone: 404-881-3790
Hours of Operation: M-F: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

The Village School in East Atlanta

The Village School was referred to us by dear friends, and it's literally a few blocks from our house. The facility is an unmarked house near East Atlanta Village.

One of the things we loved the most was the community feel. Most of the families here are from the adjacent neighborhoods: EAV, Kirkwood, Edgewood. We really like the idea of getting to know more families in the neighborhood, since our son will be growing up with them over the years. There's something comforting about seeing other parents in Target and Kroger.

The school started as an in-home daycare and has grown into it's own facility. Actually, it's almost bursting at the seams and they have plans in the works to expand to Pre-K. As of now, they only offer an infant & toddler classes (thru age 3ish). This means that we'd soon grow out of it and be in the same predicament all over again. Also really limits that the likelihood of having 2 kids there, unless our kids are very close in age.

The infant room is pretty packed with cribs, and there isn't a ton of room for tummy time on the floor or bouncers. The ladies who work there seem to really love the kids. In fact, our friend who referred us there just adored one of the infant caregivers. She used to spend so much time cuddling with her infant son, and he loved every minute! They wanted to steal her away as a nanny...but not so reasonable since they're moving to Texas.

There's a room for the next age group, and then a third classroom for the oldest kids. Kids advance based on their individual development & the available space versus their birthday. The curriculum is play-based, with regular themes that involve the families too.

The food here is all organic, and served family-style for the toddlers. They also don't toss un-used breast milk each day like some places. They send the leftovers home at the end of the day to the discretion of the parents. Of course, they don't re-feed out of the same bottle during the day because that's against some regulation. The owner just can't bring herself to tossing the "liquid gold" that some women work so hard to get! The kitchen is stocked with Trader Joe's and veggies and such.

They have an intimate playground, but the infants never leave the deck. Unfortunately, it overlooks the dumpster which can't be too appealing on hot summer days.

The application fee is $100. Tuition is $50/day, and they offer full-time & part-time options (M/W/F or T/Th only). Upon acceptance, a $100 Activity fee is due. You also pay for holidays here, even though those days are closed to students.

The reason this place didn't make our shortlist, the hours: 7:30-5:30. They close the doors at 5:30, and if you're late a few times, they'll suggest you find other options. A commute from Perimeter plus a Braves game in town means that would never fly. If they were located downtown or in Midtown, we might be able to make it work. But since they're south of I-20, it'd be nearly impossible.

Their waitlist sounded complicated. She has a whiteboard where she's constantly juggling applicants & availability. Priority goes to enrolled siblings. I wasn't terribly optimistic we'd get a spot when we needed it, though I wasn't terribly discouraged.

Because of the slight cramping, the less-than-ideal outdoor area, the fact we'd be looking for a new place in about 2 years, and the hours, I give them a B. For more childcare center reviews, read on.

More info:
1332 Glenwood Avenue SE
Atlanta, GA 30316
Tel: 404-688-3898

Sheltering Arms Centennial Park

Our first daycare tour was at Sheltering Arms Centennial Park. There's another location not far from our house, and, well, it's always seemed a bit sketch to me. But some co-workers RAVED about the Centennial Park location, so we thought we'd give it a look.

The Centennial Park location is a model center, with the corporate offices upstairs and the kiddos on the main level. That said, I'm thinking this particular location is held to a higher standard than some of the others you may find. Kinda like how the Moe's near my office is always on top of things...since it's their corporate training location across the street from their HQ.

First impression: Very nice facility with secure entry. The welcoming lobby has a receptionist to buzz in visitors, though parents get a code.

Our tour showed us all the basics, but since this was our first time in a daycare since our own childhoods, I think we were in awe of how far things had come.

They have two infant rooms, each with separate sleeping areas and indoor play areas. The infant rooms also access a private playground. These rooms are shoeless, and the cribs didn't seem like cages at the zoo. They had the nice plexi-glass ends so the babes are always visible. Those who've mastered the flip are indicated with a sign. Crib sheets are provided, and each room has its own mini fridge for bottles, etc.

The wait list here didn't seem outrageous. We visited in August and were told we had good odds of getting a spot the following spring. There wasn't even an application fee, which we've learned is incredibly RARE.

The tuition...get this. Only $180/week. That averages out to $36 per day (based on 20 school days/month). They also have government-assisted tuition that is income-based. I think they said it's as low as $140/week. That being said, the school isn't very diverse, and our child would be the minority. Not a big issue, but I'd prefer a more diverse mix.

Tuition includes all meals, but not organic menu. The kids eat family-style within their classrooms. I was so impressed watching 2 year olds pass a bowl of spaghetti and pour each other a glass of milk!

The curriculum is based on NAEYC principles, and kids advance to the next class based on their age on September something (same as public schools). Their pre-K is state-funded, so absences are limited once the kiddos get to that age. Otherwise, you pay for the week whether you're there full-time or not. The school is NAEYC accredited.

Their hours are very accommodating for working parents. I think drop-off was as early as 7:30 and the doors stayed open until 7 without any ridiculous per-minute overage fee. They could close at 6:30pm, but I can't remember. I just remember it would work for us.

There really isn't any reason I wouldn't send my child here, so I give it an A-. It doesn't have all the bells & whistles we'd love to find, but it also doesn't cost the equivalent of a mortgage or require one of us to work banker's hours. Read how the others stack up.

More info:
Fax:  404-523-9952
385 Centennial Olympic Park Drive NW, Atlanta 30313-1956

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The search for infant care in Atlanta

So, as you know, we're expecting a little grasshopper in February. It's our first bambino, so we're learning all the ins + outs of parent-to-be-hood.

Since we both work full-time, and I have every intention of returning to my job once maternity leave comes to an end, a childcare option is imperative. From what we've heard, it's pretty competitive in-town Atlanta, so we wanted to get a jumpstart.

Here we are, about to enter the third trimester, without a strong feel-good feeling about who will be watching this little fella in six months.

Let me say this, though. We are INCREDIBLY blessed to have J's parents live nearby in Lilburn. And J's mom, Lolli, has offered to watch the little nugget. Though it may not be convenient, it's great to have an option. Asking a family member to babysit your infant for 8-9 hours a day, 5 days a week is a HUGE we're figuring out our options. I cannot imagine the stress level other new parents must have without this sort of back-up plan. I've been incredibly and endlessly frustrated by the childcare options lack of reasonable infant care options in this city.

Our wishlist of childcare providers, in no particular order:
  • More convenient to our house than our offices. My office has several nearby daycares, but that's WAYYYYY out of the way (near Perimeter Mall) for J. We expect to share the pick-up/drop-off duties, and that would be a haul for J on days when I travel, am sick, or am working from home. J works in downtown/midtown near Coca-Cola. Ideal location is an in-town neighorhood (Kirkwood, Inman Park, Candler Park, O4W, possibly East Atlanta Village, Grant Park, or Virginia Highlands), downtown, or midtown (as long as it's easy-access from the Interstate in rush hour).
  • Working parent hours. Drop-off between 7:30-8:30, pick up between 5:30-6:30. With traffic in Atlanta, shutting the doors at 5pm seems so impractical.
  • Solid accreditation & reputation.
  • A blend of a corporate feel & in-home care. An intimate environment, where the staff has been around a while and genuinely love to love on the kiddos.
  • Bonus would include organic milk (if not full menu), creative curriculum, lots of adventuring outdoors, and the option to stay in the same facility thru Pre-K.
  • Oh, and not cost an arm & a leg.
A quick run-down of places we've checked out to-date and our relative grade:
(I plan to keep this updated as we visit more on the links for full reviews). This list is in the order we visit, not preference, rating, etc.

Sheltering Arms Centennial Park:A-
Pros: Location, TUITION COST!!!, strong accreditation, experienced staff, clean & well-kept facility, hours
Cons: Diversity (lack thereof), very corporate

The Village School in East Atlanta: B
Pros: Location (literally, a few blocks away from home), intimacy of classes, community feel, organic menu
Cons: Hours, only goes thru 3yrs (though plans for expansion), outgrowing facility quickly

Bright Horizons at All Saints in Midtown: B
Pros: Very strong reputation, convenient location, great facility, private Pre-K on-site, diverse classes
Cons: Very corporate, tuition

Kids Kondo in Virginia Highlands: C-
Pros: Community feel
Cons: Lack of facility upkeep, chipping paint, chaotic classrooms

Urban Explorers in Grant Park: A+
Pros: Community feel, intimacy of classes, reasonable hours (if paying for after-care)
Cons: No food provided, limited admissions, tuition (after-care adds up)

Frazer Center: A (added 12/5/12)
Pros: Inclusive experience for the kids (up to 30% of each class may have some developmental disability), lots of creative outlets (dance, art, etc), great facility, reasonable hours, pre-K on-site
Cons: Chaotic (maybe just the day we visited), couldn't get a feel of the security between the Adult Care facility and Child Care side