Do-It-Yourself Preschool!
January 21, 2010 · Posted in Education, Parenting, Play, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink

optout_button-p145196494186530513t5sj_400With all of the angst and money spent on preschool it was inspiring to hear Paulina Bemporad’s story of starting her own! She is our guest blogger today and we greatly appreciate her contribution. Paulina is the mother of a 3 1/2 year old daughter and an entrepreneur living in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Starting A Cooperative Preschool Morning Program by Paulina Bemporad

When my daughter was approaching her second birthday, I started inquiring about nursery schools in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.  I was horrified to discover that all of the preschools and private programs for toddlers require you to apply a year before the child actually starts the program. Since she was turning two in June of 2008, I was supposed to apply in September of 2007!  I had no idea this was even an issue. I felt like I failed as a mother because I didn’t realize how ultra competitive and over crowded preschools are in NYC.  Like everything else, space here is at a premium so why should a nursery school program for two-year-olds be any different?!  So, I desperately applied to about 10 preschool programs in the Spring of 2008 for my daughter to attend the following Fall. All I received back were rejection letters and notices that she was placed on waiting lists.

I was so frustrated and I didn’t think I had many other options – until I received an email from a parenting blog in my neighborhood looking for families that might be interested in starting a bilingual morning program for toddlers called “Escuelita.” As a native Spanish speaker from a Colombian family, I was thrilled by the opportunity. I was one of five parents who went to the open house.  I was excited to meet the incredible licensed Montessori teacher and an entrepreneurial couple who wanted to create the program for their daughter because they were facing the same situation I was.

To make this happen, they offered their own apartment to host the program which would take place 3 days a week from 9 am -12 p.m.  They are very involved in the community and have their own business right below their apartment. They had a great vision and entrepreurial spirit to create something from the ground up. Like me, they were also very interested in giving their daughter a bilingual education and were extremely frustrated by the lack of opportunities to attend Spanish language programs in Brooklyn. So, they found a teacher, offered their home and invited other parents to join their vision of a Bilingual Montessori preschool right here in our neighborhood.  Over a few planning meetings, the teacher outlined the curriculum, defined the costs and all of the participating parents agreed to the cooperative structure. The group hired a lawyer, had contracts drawn up and we gave our deposits with signed contracts.

We started with 4 children in September 2008, doubled the number of students by January 2009 and today we have ten families. Given the cooperative vision and spirit of the program, the parents play an active role in supporting the school. All parents are asked to provide healthy organic, snacks on a rotating basis.  We all paid for school supplies.  And all of the parents and children gather about every other month for a potluck brunch in each other’s homes. We’ve really become a close knit community and now regularly join together for play dates, share babysitting duties and enjoy hanging out during the weekends.

The greatest benefit has been watching our daughter blossom intellectually and socially. The beauty of the Montessori way of learning is that each child participates in carefully planned “work” activities that suit their specific stage of educational development. The children work independently, join together in pairs and perform group activities like singing and yoga. Lessons revolve around practical life  skills (water pouring work that emphasizes gross motor skills and measurement); sensory skills (from dramatic play with puppets to working with geometric shapes in puzzles); math (working with numbers, counting objects); language (focusing on pre-reading skills, word sounds, letters in alphabet); geography/science (identifying countries on maps, continents on the globe, changes in season, living and non-living objects); and art, physical movement and yoga.

Escuelita is now in its second year and we’ve expanded the program to 4 days a week. Our teacher is looking for permanent space and next year we are planning to expand to a full-time, 5 day-a-week structure. Our experience has been amazing and we feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of the founding and growth of a superb educational program for our daughter.

Based on our experience, here are my five tips for starting a cooperative preschool program:
1. Find a talented, experienced teacher
2. Invite like-minded parents who are willing to be actively involved
3. Find an appropriate space (be sure to consider NYC educational requirements and codes)
4. Develop a clear vision, educational philosophy and guidelines for teacher and parental roles
5. Be flexible to adapt and improve the program over time

Here are some great links to learn more about Montessori education:

The Montessori Foundation

The Wonder Years

Homemade Montessori

Montessori Story

A Montessori Classroom

Montessori Services

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  1. kcf
    January 25th, 2010 | 12:21 am

    This DIY concept can work for older kids, too. A good friend of mine structured a camp-like summer for her tween daughter and a few other kids, sharing resources and responsibilities with the other families. (A tennis playing parent did a tennis component at the local, free courts; another parent that loved to cook gave one lesson a week, etc.). My sister arranged for years her own swimming classes at her pool (granted it’s in the burbs) and called her own swimming teacher in for the nearly dozen kids that signed on. And, here in Clinton Hill, Bklyn, my kids went to a toddler playgroup (2-3 times a week) at a local church. The group was a total parent cooperative that had been “handed down” through generations of local parents for more than 20 years. The group had an incredible inventory of toys, crafts, etc. I think that playgroup is still in existence and my kids are teens now. It’s good to remember we don’t have to be slaves to overcrowded, competitive NYC options. We can take matters into our own hands sometimes.

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