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From Brooklyn Preschool to Idyllic English Nursery

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My family and I have just moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Bradford-on-Avon, England, for a year. Our mission: try out life at a slower pace. In my new series Brooklyn to England, I'll write about the weekly adventures of living in the English countryside with my British husband, our three-year-old daughter, and my baby-bump (I'm due in September!). Come with me as I go from strollers to prams, diapers to nappies, and whatever else it takes to raise a family abroad.

From the moment we got to Trixie's new nursery school, I knew things were going to be different. Not just because the space itself is a gorgeous three-story Georgian home opposite a sprawling playing field, whereas her Brooklyn preschool was in an old schoolhouse with a concrete slab for outdoor space and a gym in the basement. Cosmetic allure aside, there are a few things that set this English nursery school apart.

It wasn't an ordeal to get in. Unlike Brooklyn, I wasn’t required to visit the school or (as in some cases) put Trixie through an interview process to apply for admission. All I did was send a pleading e-mail, informing the manager that we were about to move to England and if I didn’t get my daughter into a nursery school she wouldn’t make any friends and she’d hate her new life and we’d all drown in our own misery. Bam. Done.

It's total chaos … but organized chaos. I'm no longer fooled by the lush front lawn, sparsely strewn with children’s playthings and muddy wellies: inside the foyer, it is anarchy. Kids everywhere, caregivers trailing behind, and an alarma sort of muffled but constant wail. The siren seems to trigger whenever the front door is ajar (a reassuring thought, should a toddler be nimble and tall enough to twist the lock and escape). When the door shuts and the alarm stops, boisterous energy ebbs and flows between rooms. One plush-carpeted room leads to the next, each floor separating the different age groups in a Hogwarts-esque fashion from Minnows, to Puffins, to Tigers and Giraffes. Heaps of babies and toddlers giggle and cry; sing and play. And by pick-up time, the kids are never found quietly waiting at 4 p.m. sharp, as I relied on in Brooklyn; no, it's anyone's guess where I'll find Trixie, from the playhouse on the front lawn, to the field over the road, or maybe reading a story in the classroom. Like I saidanarchy! And yet, somehow it works.

There's a special school-issued bag. On the first day, I was given a pink cloth sack with the school’s logo and told to personalize it, fill it with spare clothes, and bring it back. I managed to throw in some extra princess undies, but completely forgot to 'Trixify' it. And so, on her second day, I foolishly scrawled her name across the label with Sharpie. Bad move. Turns out, most of her classmates bags are embellished with patchwork, buttons, and even macramé. Damn you, English parents! Needless to say, I went to my mother-in-law’s begging for colored ribbons, and hurriedly sewed an array of vibrant tassels onto Trixie’s bag. God forbid my daughter become the loser-new-girl with an uncaring, uninspired American mom.

The cirriculum is different. I’ve always been curious if my daughter was taught anything other than macaroni necklace techniques at her school in Brooklyn, but up on the third floor of her new nursery (I mean second floor, because the wacky English call the first floor the ground floor, and the second floor the first floor and—help!), the Tigers dress as knights and ladies for Medieval studies, and have a weekly French lesson during which they name and then eat fresh fruit from the market. Tres magnifique!

The field trips are less stressful (for me). In Brooklyn, the idea of toddler outings used to panic me. I’m not super-overprotective, but there was a lot of traffic and—I dunno—it just seemed like a lot of effort. Here, however, watching the kids don their tabards (aka neon yellow vests) and scurry down off-road passageways to the local farmers market to buy flowers, I feel totally at ease. I suppose maybe the organic cheese monger at the library-parking-lot market could accost them as they’re selecting a dazzling bouquet of foxgloves … but I think I’ll chance it.