Washington Market School
134 Duane Street (11⁄2- to 31⁄2-year-olds)
55 Hudson Street (21⁄2- to 51⁄2-year-olds).
Price Ranges from $4,400 for two half-days (all ages) to $15,800 for five full days (all ages).
Hot ticket "The morning program on Hudson Street is totally over-subscribed," says director-founder Ronnie Moskowitz. "We'll probably have to do a lottery, and even that will be with children in the younger program on Duane Street."
Amenities Loft buildings on the edge of Chinatown; Duane Street is a double-wide loft with skylights. Both sites have a gym and music room.
The program As Tribeca has changed, so has the Montessori-affiliated Washington Market School. There's more pressure now for the school to embrace the ERB. "Washington Market doesn't believe in testing a child at that age," says one mother. "We have to go outside, to an office situation or a different school."
Movin' on up "It used to be really artsy, and now it's really Wall Street," whispers one mom. "But Ronnie is trying hard to keep it diverse. The parents of some of the kids have actually been nannies in the neighborhood."
Social studies Good-bye to the funky street fair, hello to the silent auction. Still, one mom notes, "I don't feel like I need to get dressed up to go pick up our kids. I wore overalls on the class apple-picking trip. Even though these families could function in an Upper East Side world, they've chosen Washington Market because they like the more inclusive feeling."
Feeder to . . . St. Ann's, Packer, Friends Seminary, United Nations International School, Little Red School House, public gifted programs.
Boldface parents Spike Lee, Julian Schnabel, Nicole Miller.
146 West 13th Street
Price Ranges from $10,600 for five half-days (2-year-olds) to $15,200 for five full days (4-year-olds).
Acceptance rate Three applicants for every slot.
Amenities Three connected brownstones share a backyard. The play area's building blocks were designed by the school's founder, Caroline Pratt.
Motto "Learning from children since 1914."
The program It's the oldest progressive school in the nation. "They have this experimental philosophy," one mom says. "Kids paint with one color in the twos, then add another in the threes. The theory is, you'll be forced to use your imagination." Says another: "It's not for people who are concerned about getting their kids into Harvard."
Social studies "It's nice that every single person isn't a banker," says one mom. At one auction, Sarah Jessica Parker donated a visit to the Sex and the City set. (Matthew Broderick is an alum.)
Feeder to . . . Dalton, Calhoun, Friends Seminary, and St. Ann's -- but don't expect much help with exmissions. City & Country continues through middle school. "The school's interested in keeping children for a long-term commitment," one mom says.
People like us One former member of the diversity committee says, "My daughter's adopted from China, and we learned that not everyone was in favor of making the school population wider in range. It's hard for me to comprehend. You know, 'I'm okay and to hell with everybody else.' It was one of the reasons why we left."
Chelsea Day School
345 West 14th Street
Price Ranges from $3,255 for two half-days (all ages) to $11,550 for five full days (all ages).
Hot ticket "The open house was hot, we couldn't all fit in the room, people couldn't sit down," one mom recalls. "They would accept applications with your check and then said they were going to conduct a lottery. If you knew the director, I'm sure your application was accepted, but I respect the idea that they were at least trying to make it look fair."
Amenities An enormous roof-deck playground tops the school's open loft space.
Guiding wisdom "We envisioned a place where children could grow in a natural way," says the brochure.
Program Arm's-length from the preschool scene: There's no ERB testing on the premises. "It's not highly academic, it's not as aggressive as the 92nd Street Y," one parent says. "There's less posturing. It's more about socialization in the beginning."
Personality Founder Jean Rosenberg dominates this compact community school with a smile. "She's magnetic," one father says. "She's at the door greeting everyone, remembering everyone's mother-in-law's name."
Feeder to . . . Village Community School (Rosenberg is on the board), Little Red School House, Grace Church, P.S. 41.
375 Pearl Street, Brooklyn
Price Ranges from $6,900 for three half-days (for 2-year-olds) to $17,300 for five extended days (3-year-olds).
Social studies "Brooklyn has gotten as competitive as Manhattan," says one mom of the preschool scene across the river. While St. Ann's has always been difficult to get into, its preschool is for 3-year-olds, and you have to reapply to the kindergarten. Brooklyn Friends, however, takes you at 2 and keeps you till you vote.
Amenities Inside Brooklyn Law School's original Art Deco building, the school boasts two indoor gyms, a rooftop playground, and two dance studios.
The program A Quaker school, Brooklyn Friends takes a classic developmental approach while stressing the importance of community service. The art program is a standout.
Feeder to . . . About three quarters of the students stay on. The others go off to either public school or the top private schools.
The vibe "Friends is much more Brooklyn than St. Ann's," one parent says. "It's located downtown, and when you're heading to it from the outside, it is not a nice neighborhood at all. But you walk inside, and it's this great little oasis."
Hot ticket Preschool head Karen Luks insists, "We don't keep track of these statistics, but yes, there are many more applications than spots available." One parent says that when she tried to enroll her son, there were hundreds of applicants but only two spots for 2-year-olds: "The Quaker, noncompetitive, we're-all-friends message of the school was at odds with how competitive it was."
Additional reporting by David Amsden, Aric Chen, and Jada Yuan.