Great schools, big backyards, cool community—they’re important, but they don’t tell a suburb’s whole story
We get it—you’re ready to leave the city for the suburbs and you’ve narrowed down your list of essentials. The town you’ll call “home” needs to have A+ schools, a solid youth sports scene, tons of parks and playgrounds and a real sense of community you and your crew can dive right into.
And, with that, the search begins.
The only problem? Even though this initial list is a great jumping-off point, these details don’t necessarily give you a real sense of what life’s like in that community.
Often it’s the little things you’re likely to gloss over or not even consider that truly defines the day-to-day in a particular town. By understanding and unpacking those details, you’ll be better positioned to find where you belong. Beyond the basics, consider…
#1. The Childcare Scene
Nannies, au pairs, after school sitters, SAHMs, SAHDs, day care, after school enrichment—there’s no shortage of childcare options in suburbia. But, while a town may have a ton of options at the ready, most communities veer towards one childcare approach over the others.
In other words, a “nanny town” could still be dotted with daycares and offer exceptional after care—but, in reality, the majority of kids are being whisked off the playground by live-in and live-out sitters. Or maybe those caregivers aren’t nannies but, instead, 19-year-old au pairs who cluster at pick up and spend afternoons hanging at the local DIY froyo spot, kids in tow. Maybe stay-at-home moms are the norm—or work-from-home dads. Maybe everyone hops on a mini bus to master Mandarin or algebra or coding after school.
While it may not seem mission-critical, finding a town that syncs with your childcare plans can be very important, especially as you’re getting acclimated. Chances are, you don’t want to spend your post-school hours gossiping with teenage au pairs—and chances are you’re going to feel more than a little out of the mix if all of your could-be parent friends are scooping up their kids in the afternoon and you’re still elbow-deep in your workday.
“The childcare personality of each town is critical,” explains Ali Bernstein, Founder & President of Suburban Jungle. “It’s something you can’t uncover while house hunting—or even know to think about.”
Same goes for your kids. If your children head to daycare after school, you’ll probably be bummed to hear they’re missing birthday parties or impromptu park playdates week after week.
While you’ll likely find families that align with your childcare plans no matter what and where you choose, there’s something to be said to finding a suburb where your structure is the norm—and where you and your brood will slide right into the after school scene.
#2. The Summertime Scene
The same goes for summertime. If you aren’t exploring the suburbs in the summer, be sure you do your due diligence and get a sense for what happens in the warmer months.
Does every kid head to sleepaway camp, leaving your kids with zero social life?
Are there a few day camps all of the kids all flock to?
Do families join pool clubs, beach clubs, tennis clubs or yacht clubs—and is, literally, everyone there from Memorial Day weekend on?
Or are people heading off to the Hamptons, Jersey Shore, Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket for the season, leaving your future block like a ghost town?
While, again, there’s no right or wrong, it’s great to find a town that’s in-step with your summer plans—or, at least, make sure you know enough to prepare your crew if the neighborhood clears out after school lets out.
“It can be tough to find out post-move that all of the kids are out of town for the summer when their kids are home—or vice versa,” says Robin Hoberman, Suburban Jungle Strategist in the NYC market. “In either case, you want to be prepared and educated on the subject.”
#3. The Real Commute
We’d all love a sub-30 minute commute—and, maybe, you’ll get it. But, hands down, we’d take a comfortable, convenient 40 or even 50 plus minute commute over an unreliable, standing-room-only 30 minute ride.
Think about it. While a 28-minute express train is amazing, taking two crowded subways to a local train with a by-the-skin-of-your-teeth transfer midway through—and, of course, standing for every minute of the ride—might be much less appealing than popping into Penn Station, jumping on a 45-minute non-stop train and kicking back with Spotify and an iced latte in your own three-seater.
“We see it over and over,” Patti Natiss, Head of Strategy for Suburban Jungle, says. “People base their decisions on the number of minutes they’re sitting on the train or on a bus. But there’s so much more to it. If you can’t get a seat on the train or a spot in the parking lot, that 28-minute train ride might not matter. Suddenly, an easy 40-minute commute that leaves you right outside of your office looks amazing.”
Ultimately, the choice is yours. But in our experience, the “commute” umbrella needs to encompass more than just minutes on a train, bus or carpool.
#4. The Inside Scoop on Schools
Every parent—ourselves included—want top-notch schools for our kids. And, more often than not, the draw of A+ schools without the hassle or the expense is what sends families to suburbia.
The reality, though? “Good schools” means something different to every family.
“In your mind a ‘good school’ might offer tons of one-on-one attention, individualized learning and an IB track,” Maya Konig, NYC Strategist for Suburban Jungle, explains. “But other families might want a huge school with tons of AP classes, super-competitive sports and endless clubs and activities. There’s no right or wrong, just what’s right for you.”
That said, before diving into your suburban school search—and before relying solely on test scores, rankings and college matriculations—consider what matters to your family and where your kids are most likely to thrive, then hone in on districts that sync.
#5. The Expert Perspective is Priceless
While you can (and should) explore towns you’re considering and really try to live like a local—hit up the town diner, swing by the sports fields on a Saturday afternoon, head to the farmers market, chat it up at the playground—there’s a lot you won’t see or experience until you’re there. Suburban Jungle, though, can help you gain that insider’s perspective before you make the leap.
By working with a dedicated Strategist and mixing and mingling with Suburban Jungle Locals in the towns you’re considering, you’ll get a real feel for a town and whether or not it makes sense for your family. Layer in that local mom’s group newsletter you subscribed to and the town Facebook page you’ve been scouting out and suddenly a real image of that community starts to emerge.
And, ultimately, that’s what you want—that’s what can help drive your decision. Get in touch now to schedule your FREE Suburbs Strategy session now.
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