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Inside the Sandbox

Private nursery school is about expensive toys and wild tantrums . . . but enough about the parents. We've compiled the skinny on twenty established fast-track schools: who goes, famous alums, what strings you can pull, and, most important, what are the exmissions -- that's preschool lingo for getting your kid into Dalton, Spence, or Brearley.


East Side

92nd Street Y

1395 Lexington Avenue, at 92nd Street

Price Ranges from $7,300 for two half-days (for 2-year-olds) to $14,400 for five full days (ages 4 and 5).

Acceptance rate Sixty-five openings a year and just 300 tour appointments. (To get one, start speed-dialing the admissions office the day after Labor Day.) Observers of l'affaire Grubman-Weill may be surprised that money doesn't always open the door. "I had a friend who had gone but couldn't get her daughter in -- even though I'm sure her family gave money," says one mom.

The program Its exclusivity isn't the only reason it's known as the Harvard of nursery schools. "The teachers are phenomenal," marvels one parent. "There's commitment, sophistication, and interest in child development. They can recite the nuanced differences between a 3-year-old and a 3-year-3-month-old child. That makes it exciting."

Social studies The Y is the cultural epicenter of Jewish New York, but the nursery attracts parents of all faiths. "There are non-Jewish families who celebrate the Sabbath now because the kids like it," says one mom. And there are other forms of diversity: During the nineties, one mom remarks, the Y became less neighborhoody, drawing kids from as far as Soho. Snipes another, "Diversity at the Y is who has a plane and who doesn't."

Feeder to . . . A Y diploma is more or less a Go Directly to the Prep School of Your Choice card.

Boldface parents New York's version of Dynasty: Lauders, Bronfmans, and Tisches start their academic lives here. Recent Y parents include Woody Allen, Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline, Katie Couric, Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan, and Ian Schrager.

The Episcopal School

35 East 69th Street

Price Ranges from $8,788 for five two-hour days (for 2-year-olds) to $9,812 for five full days (for 3 and up).

Hot ticket "I have a friend who's Jewish who joined the church a few years ahead of time to help get her child in," says one mother. Still, it's unlikely that proud Episcopal parents Ron Perelman and Harvey Weinstein joined the congregation. "I wouldn't go so far as to call it meritocratic, but it's breachable," says one dad.

The program The white-glove treatment. "It's hyperorganized, just the most perfect kind of place," says one dad. "They're so nice -- and you feel so bad when you don't get in."

Social studies Very Bonfire of the Vanities -- the most socially stellar of all the preschools. Nothing matches the mommy fashion show at Episcopal's pickup. "It's sort of like a straight line from there to the Times 'Sunday Styles' section," reports one dad.

Small world One mother says the school encourages families to make birthday parties intramural affairs. "Do they think a small party is something they'd enjoy more?" she wonders. "Or are they frightened we might invite the wrong people?"

The interview One of the only nursery schools with a one-on-one interview with the children. "One person talks to the parents, and one sits with the child," reports one father. "You can lose your mind wondering if your kid is doing something wrong."

Feeder to . . . Everywhere private and exclusive. "I remember meeting a mother who had kids at Episcopal," one mom says, "and she said, 'The best thing about Episcopal is the way they package your kid for the kindergarten process,' " one mom says. "And I was like, you're choosing a preschool because of the way they package your child?"

Brick Church

62 East 92nd Street

Price Ranges from $10,200 for five half-days (for 3-year-olds) to $13,200 for three full days and two half-days (ages 4 and 5).

Acceptance rate Six applications per acceptance.

The program "We've been called traditional because we teach skills," director Lydia Spinelli says of the school's emphasis on literacy and math. "But we do integrate project work that comes out of the interests of the children."

The vibe As blue-blood as it gets, short of Episcopal. "It's a wholesome place," one father says. A dissenting parental opinion: "It's very Stepford Wives. It's very homogenous. Everyone's cute."

Royal treatment "I'll never forget," one mom says, "at the new parents' tea, a 3-year-old was wearing a name tag that identified her as a princess! Were we all supposed to fall down and kiss her boots?"

Boldface parents Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, Katie Couric.

The real headmaster -- the man upstairs Church members get preference. (The school discourages cheaters by requiring two years' membership before that preference kicks in.) The required weekly chapel is ecumenical. "It's sweet," says one parent. "It's like, 'Oh, we talked about sharing.' Nothing too heavy."

Feeder to . . . The majority go on to single-sex schools.

Social studies "Its social wattage is lower than Episcopal's," one father says, "but only to the extent that Carnegie Hill is slightly lower-key than Park Avenue in the Sixties." Adds a mother with a day job, "If you rank preschools in terms of comfort level for women who work, Brick Church does not rank very high. It's full of women who went to Princeton and stopped working so they could have children. And now they're ferociously funneling all of their energies and misguided intellectualism into this child-rearing process."

Temple Emanu-El

1 East 65th Street

Price Ranges from $6,200 for two half-days (for 2-year-olds) to $12,560 for four full days and one half-day (for ages 3 and up).

Hot ticket "It has long been our policy to give priority to members of the congregation and siblings," the Website notes, adding ominously: "However, that priority is not automatic."

The program Traditional, with Jewish programming from the synagogue. "A warm, comfortable environment in which children can develop physically, emotionally, and intellectually."

Amenities "I have to say that the facility is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen for a nursery school in my entire life," one mom says. "You couldn't ask for a tidier space -- clean and bright and lots of nice windows."

Social studies "My husband called drop-off 'the Prada parade,' " says one mom. "Not that many of the moms work. There was a big group that would go off to a special exercise class nearby. One woman said to me, 'You're so lucky your daughter has big feet.' And I said, 'What do you mean?' And she said, 'Well, she can fit into Gucci loafers already!' "

Feeder to . . . The best and brightest day schools. "Yes, the director is wired, and she gets kids in places," one parent says.

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