Has kindergarten become too competitive?

Parents in West Philadelphia spent the night on the sidewalk on Sunday, vying for a chance to send their kids to a prestigious -- and public -- kindergarten.

Sleeping bags, chairs, and a few large tents occupied the sidewalk in front of the Penn Alexander school, which was accepting applications on a first-come, first-served basis. According to WPVI-TV, an ABC affiliate in Philadelphia, the waiting parents started queuing up when Kristofer Love and his wife got in line at 9 a.m. Sunday, hoping to be the first to submit their paperwork Monday morning.

"We were the catalyst to everyone getting out of their cars and getting in line. They started calling their friends and notifying everyone, within an hour there were about 35 people outside," Love said.

What makes this particular school so special? A $1,330 per student subsidy from the University of Pennsylvania, low teacher-to-student ratios, and an excellent reputation. With 60 or so spots and as many as 100 applicants, competition is fierce.

"It's a crime, really, that people have to do this," Naima Black told the TV station. She was helping a friend hold a spot in line. "First of all sit outside, have the anxiety that people have about trying to find a good school for their child."

Living in a good school district isn't necessarily enough anymore; parents are enrolling kids in tutoring programs in order to give them more of an academic edge. "Even though we live in the West Village and there are great public schools, obviously, any opportunity to step it up a notch in caliber, we would like to try," Jena Rosenblum told the New York Times, explaining why her not-quite-4-year-old already had a tutor.

After-school tutoring programs have started catering to the pre-school set. Kumon North American CFO Joe Nativo tells The Boston Globe Magazine that most of the company's growth is in the "Junior Kumon" program, where parents pay hundreds of dollars a month so their 3- to 5-year-olds to learn to count to 200 and write their numbers correctly. Tots spend as much as an hour twice a week being drilled in reading and math, plus an extra 20 minutes of homework each day.

“Age 3 is the sweet spot,” Nativo told The New York Times recently. "But if they’re out of a diaper and can sit still with a Kumon instructor for 15 minutes, we will take them."

When it comes to tutoring programs for toddlers, “The best you can say is that they’re useless," Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, told the New York Times.

Maybe for the kids, but what about the parents? Gina Goldman, who enrolled her 3-year-old daughter in Kumon in New York, says that the Kumon classes -- along with swimming, karate, music, art, and German classes, all of which were on her children's schedules at the same time -- have made a difference in the way she views her kids. "I treat them both with more respect now, because I see what they're capable of intellectually," she said.

Also on Shine:

Should your child be reading before kindergarten?

The slacker mom's guide to kindergarten

Does a 2-year-old child need kindergarten prep classes

Private? Public? Homeschool? How do they compare?