There’s more to AM drop off (and afternoon pickup) than just waiting in a never-ending line of cars…
School drop-offs and pick-ups are one of those parental inevitabilities—do it daily, do it sometimes or attempt to avoid it at all costs, and it doesn’t matter. Every parent winds up in that neverending line of cars or sea of drop-and-run moms and dads at some point. And, usually, your goal is to get in and get out ASAP.
We get it—that’s our morning drop-off M.O., too. That said, there’s something—or, more specifically, somethings—front-and-center at elementary school drop-off that, together, can tell you a lot about a town. They’re easy to overlook but, as you’re exploring suburbia, it makes sense to really tune in and see what you see. Because no matter how small these details, they can really impact the personality of a community—and, through that lens, whether or not a town truly syncs with your wants, needs and lifestyle.
So what can you tell from school drop off?
#1. What the childcare scene looks like
Who’s at drop off? Stay-at-home moms—or dads? Work-in-the-city moms dashing off to the train? Sitters? Nannies? Teen au pairs? Daycare vans? Be aware—it matters. No one wants to be the SAHM in a sea of nineteen-year-old au pairs. And, likewise, it’s tough to feel like your child is the only one heading off to daycare post-3pm when all the others are heading home with nannies or to playdates with parents.
#2. How engaged the parents are
Are parents parking and hauling in (nut-free…) treats, science projects and clarinet cases? Or is it a total drive-by—car slows down, a kid is ejected from the car and the next SUV slides into place? Keep tabs on whether moms are heading into the building or dropping and running. Neither is good or bad, but lots of moms and dads parking and making their way into the building could signal heavier parental involvement. If you want that—or know you can’t keep pace—it could be something to investigate more.
#3. What after school activities are popular
In some high-pressure districts, it’s not uncommon to see a line of vans and mini-buses delivering kids from school to enrichment activities. One Long Island principal—and mom of two elementary kids—says her school is known for the line of vans heading to Kumon, Mandarin enrichment, STEAM courses, coding and other targeted tutoring.
“It’s surprising if a student isn’t hopping into one of the vans or buses at least once or twice each week,” she says. “Most kids do some sort of academic enrichment after school.” And it shows—her school consistently places in the top of not just state rankings, but national roundups.
On the flip side, though, her kids attend a different area elementary school with zero enrichment vans rolling in. “It’s a totally different scene,” she says. “Some kids, I’m sure, have tutors, but most kids head home after school, or to sports or music or art.” —
#4. Where people hang
If the kids aren’t being whisked off to classes, tutors and enrichment programs, where are people heading? Does the DIY froyo place fill up? The school playground? The library? Somewhere else?
Again, while these clues seem small, they can be telling. If you’re looking for a town with a serious community vibe, it might be super appealing to see families packing the playground after school — and it will give you some clues for how to get in the mix post-move.
#5. What the vibe’s like
Are parents standing around chit-chatting happily, or is everyone head-down in their own world? Do they make eye contact — and if you and your crew stroll by, do you get smiles and “hellos?”
“I instantly knew this was our town,” says Danielle, a northern Westchester mom of four. “We happened to be at a playground next to the school when the kids got out. All of the moms were friendly with one another, and even with me. When I mentioned we were looking, they all said how much they loved living here and even suggested houses they knew were on the market! By next school year, we were living there!”
#6. Whether or not THIS could be your ‘burb
This goes back to the “intangibles” we always talk about at Suburban Jungle. Take a step back — could you picture yourself hanging with these moms? Could you picture being at drop off or pick up, and feeling totally at home? Does this seem to be your tribe?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you’re looking for here — it’s more of a you-know-it-when-you-see-it experience. And when you see it, you know you’ve found a spot you could call “home.”
There are hundreds of towns to choose from. How do you figure it all out? You simply don’t, without getting a Suburban Jungle Strategist to help you through it all. Schedule here for your strategy session with our innovative suburbs strategy team. All services are completely free.