I love our school. Because Monkey is still there, Mabel gets automatic entry for next year, so I didn't have to worry about beating the crowd in some undefined way to get a hotly contested place. They don't interview the kids, or test them or anything, so it's not competitive in the manner of NYC preschools, for instance, but I know several people who turned in applications last year and yet didn't get in. As far as I know, they're offered on the basis of age and having a gender balance in the class, and it's a great thing for the school to be oversubscribed, but I have several friends who will be biting their nails down to the cuticles for another month or so as they contemplate one more year at home with their darling two-year-olds.
To be honest, we didn't even look at any other nursery schools when Monkey was two. I had heard good things about this one, it was local and didn't require the kids to be potty trained. That basically accounted for all my criteria. We went to the open house and it just felt the way I expected a nursery school to be: not all that different from when I was three. There were easels to paint on and playdough to squish and lots of toys and dolls and a play kitchen and little tables and chairs, and coathooks down low along the walls. Each kid had a tub with their name and photo on it under their hook, and the walls were covered in daubed, crumpled, or glittery artwork. I'm not really sure what more you could look for.
Today I watched lots of new parents come in the door for the first time, many of whom I already knew from the classes and playgroups we participate in locally. If all our friends are lucky, Mabel will probably be on first-name, hair-pulling basis with more than half her class before they even begin the year. And I'll be lucky to have another great group of mums (and dads) to co-op with on the days when it's our turn to help out at school.
The other parents really are my co-workers, whether we're at school or in the playground. They're the people I see more days than not, who form my social circle and are my real-life peers in this game of parenting. (As opposed to my online peers, whom I cannot discount as an important influence and vital other support system, both those I know personally and those who have never been more than names - and sometimes photos - on a screen.) We let our kids bogart each other's snacks, we pull the agressor off the agressee, we grab a passing runaway and return them gently but unceremoniously to their owner, we provide a push or an observing eye or a help down on the playground, we eat lunch together on Wednesdays, and once or twice we might even get to shed our workaday persona and have a night out, where we go crazy with a beer or a margarita and some nachos, and converse without juvenile interruption for the first time ever.