Category Archives: co-op

Kitchen Table Math Drop-Outs

Another rigorous day of G&T test-prep!

In the process of creating and maintaining our amazing, spectacular, splendiferous playschool co-op, the mothers of Greenwood Playschool (nee Tomb Tots) and I have had the good fortune to have several meetings with Peggy Reimann, an education consultant with a passel of brilliant ideas about nurturing a love of reading and even encouraging an understanding and sense of friendliness with – gasp – math. She urged us to quit cold turkey anything like flash cards, and the strange but common process of quizzing little kids about books, i.e.: “DO YOU SEE THE COW? WHERE IS THE COW? WHAT DOES A COW SAY? GOOOOOOD A COW SAYS MOO!” Rather, she urged us in her gentle and wise manner to look at pictures with our kids, to move our fingers across the page, to talk about what we see together — and this process seriously changed completely the way Harper and I experience books and images and was utterly amazing.
So, now that Harper is a sage 3.5, I figured it was time to dive into Peggy’s math curriculum.

All summer I tried to introduce pattern sorting. I’d put Ollie down for a nap, make us some milky tea, and set the scene for something VERY SPECIAL. There – the paper with the circles on it. There – the colored pieces, in our case buttons. The idea is that you make it a kind of a game to make patterns together, to sort out the colors, and eventually start talking about quantities. “So!” I’d say brightly, like Peggy instructed, “I’m going to put the blue button here.” “Okay,” Harper would respond. And then, having found the thimble among the buttons, she’d switch into a high-pitched fairy-voice and offer a button some tea out of the thimble, and then the button would squeak, “Oh, yes please!”

And so on.  Pasta-shape-sorting turned into an elaborate story-play of Jack and the Magic Pasta-Seeds-Beanstalk. Absolutely everything becomes a game of pretend with this kid, even bath time turns into a 3-hour-long sessions of making bath-rice-pudding for bath-Foofa’s birthday. Of course I find this to be wonderful, and in my sick writer’s mind can’t think of anything better than an almost-absolute break with reality. But still, I really like the idea of appealing to some other corners of her busy, buzzing mind. And in classic parenting “it’s actually my issue not yours” fashion, I am eager for her to avoid the gut-wrenching math anxiety that to this day has me reacting to the words “fraction” and “division” with an outbreak of hives.

So today I tried an activity that looked so cute on Pinterest (I could probably just copy-and-paste this every night “It looked so cute on Pinterest but didn’t quite work out as well for me…”) : writing numbers (or I also tried dots) on craft sticks, and then sticking the numbers in order into a big snake of playdough.

First: excitement. “What’s this? A project?” My explanation was met with a “talk-to-the-hand” type gesture. “Nah, let’s make these sticks into people!”

“But, it’s a cool project!” I tried changing my tactics. “It’s a really fun big-girl activity. Um, it’s a game. It’s a puzzle.” Nothing. “You know what this is? It’s math!”

“I DON’T LIKE MATH! I ONLY LIKE DRAWING PEOPLE!”

And that, folks, is genetics at work. So much for instilling an early love of numbers. One thing I really feel that I have succeeded at, though, is encouraging an early love of tea parties, fairies,and flitting around singing little nonsense songs, all of which are sure to be very helpful in really any field Harper chooses to pursue.

Puppets, Finger Paints, and the Jackson 5: Our Year In A Co-op Playschool.

Harper got her diploma from playschool yesterday. I arrived to pick her up a few minutes before the end of class and could hear Cyndi, their awesome teacher, calling their names to get their certificates, and I thought about how the school year was over, and how our little dudes had just completed their first school experience, and how hard we all worked to make the school happen, and how we’d talked so long ago about what we wanted it to be and then made it just that, warm and nurturing and imaginative and positive, and how they loved it so much, and what a nice group of increasingly civilized little beasts they were… I really was about to tear up – and then Kim, the mom who was the helper, popped out of the school room with some empty snack cups, a harried look on her face, and said something like, “Oh man. They are so baaaaad today.” Oh well. That’s kids for you. Just when you’re so full of the purest love, so full you think you’ll float to the ceiling and then burst, they act like total dicks and just chew on your heart for a while. It’s probably for the best. Otherwise we’d be so lovey and goony and overly permissive and we would never let them sleep.

I feel so thankful to have gotten connected with all these awesome families and kids.  And I’m so glad we did the co-op. Harper definitely was ready for something schooly, and really has thrived with the structure and socialization and color freeze dance. The half-day ended up being perfect for her, too – she’s pretty strung out after those three hours, and basically unable to deal with anyone other than Murray for a while. (Murray who has been stomping into the apartment and threatening to steal princess bandaids, by the way — what a jerk of an imaginary friend he is sometimes.)

The Best Things About Greenwood Playschool:

1)   It is the prettiest playschool in the world. I mean, if you were 3, wouldn’t you want to go to school in a lovely house with a yard full of play equipment and fluffy hydrangeas? And, ah, across the street from a cemetery? OBVIOUSLY YES.

2)   Circle time. Harper rushed home to play circle time with her cubbies every day after school for about the first four months. (Now they’re more into this psychedelic mashup of ballet, Cinderella, getting married, and Miss Spider’s tea party.) Sitting on the adorable quilted spots our host mother (that makes us sound like leeches, which we are…not?) made, fighting over the pink one, discussing various topics of great importance like the color of the week or the weather, and hearing a story? Does it get better? I ask you.

3)   If you ask the kids, the answer to that last question would be: yes, it does get better. AT SNACK TIME. These kids, several of them avowed non-eaters, get crazy with snack time. Snack time is the greatest thing ever. It’s like the toddler equivalent of going for drinks with friend; they all get happy and solicitous all the sudden. It’s funny to me now at first we marveled that they sat at the table and ate their crackers and drank water from their cups without lids. That just shows me how far they’ve come, that in September that seemed impossible. What monsters!

4)   Music. Whether it’s free time, dance time, jump-up-and-down time (an important part of the curriculum particularly in those wilder times of the first semester), or that precious color freeze dance time, these kids regularly rocked out to The Ramones and The Jackson 5.  And that is a Brooklyn playschool co-op for you right there.

5)   Cyndi. I mean, she made this school what it is: fun, playful, high energy, imaginative. Every time I was the helper I was amazed at her patience with dickish kid moves that made me immediately slip into pissed-mom-voice. She’s so good at what she does. And obviously she’s also a comic, a puppeteer, and fluent in Spanish. And she thinks of really good art projects.

Which makes me extra happy that we are rebooting for next year.  I can only assume that our experiences with Brooklyn pre-K, public schools and beyond will be just as sensitive, imaginative, nurturing, and joyful.  Rrrrrrrright?

Simple Pleasures: Cloud Dough and the Blue Ball

Sometimes Harper is very good at entertaining herself and will be busy playing school or changing her dollies’ diapers or bossing around Murray and the Big Kids  or “reading” or cutting holes in her socks for many blissful minutes. Others, not so much. And what with this other kid around, I can’t always get into the elaborate art projects and such that we so favored last winter. This week, though, two amusements reminded me of how simple a thing can be and still capture her interest and imagination.

Item 1: Cloud Dough.
The other night all the co-op moms had another awesome meeting to discuss how our awesome playschool’s going (awesomely), and as always happens at these things I came away with lots of ideas for fun things to do with Harper other than just saying, “Go play! Scat!” We were talking about sensory-integration-fun when one mom suggested cloud dough, for which I found a recipe here.

Harper reported that cloud dough felt

Like most fun things, a big mess.

cloud dough

Cloud dough + Mum-mums = entertained children.

We tried it out one chilly, rainy morning when both kids were up BEFORE FIVE and we really needed something, well, soft and tickly. Big mess, but also, big fun.

Item 2: Blue Bouncy Ball.
It’s a real hassle when kids start having a lot of opinions about everything, has anyone noticed this? Today I was determined to get to Tumbling Tots, which is a very enriching class at the Y that involves waiting for a ticket so that you can go into a big padded room and let your kid run around on some sweaty floormat, but for some reason Harper wasn’t into it. She wanted to walk around and look for puddles instead. Fair enough. We stopped at a little drug store, and just as I was feeling bad for having such a boring morning, Harper spotted a bouncy ball that she felt she and Murray really needed. We bought it, stopped for a ride on the ancient motorcycle ridey-thingy outside, and then went to park. And guess what? Harper and Murray had a great time with this ball. It was super bouncy. And that was the morning. And that was more than enough.

Hello, Greenwood Playschool, How Are You?

I was sitting here thinking of how to write this post and experienced a brain-montage of “talking! doing! making!” moments. Listening to a friend talk about how she’d started a playschool co-op for her daughter. Sitting on the bench in front of the bakery, casually mentioning the idea to another mom-friend. Gathering notes. Trading ideas. Meetings and playdates along the way with various baked goods in tow (this, before the second children started to appear). Interviewing teachers. Having sample lessons with teachers. Running up all those steps. Wait. That last one maybe wasn’t us.

Anyway, here it is, it’s started! We’ve had two-and-a-half weeks of playschool (we have to call it playschool or the accredited-preschool cops will bust down Beth’s  beautiful door). It’s been, honestly, better than I ever imagined. The kids are so READY. When we started talking about this process, many of us weren’t sure 2-year-olds even needed any kind of school, which was part of what made paying 8 zillion dollars for a Park Slope Sprouts Something feel silly.  Now that they are all two-and-a-half or thereabouts, they are just so ready and so into it.

Our teacher Cyndi is amazing — smart, funny, easy-going, creative, and so energetic I think she might not be actually human. I was the TA on the first day, and it was too rainy to really play outside much. Cyndi took one look at the bouncing bunch and announced that it was jumping time. And then they sang a song and jumped up and down.  Over and over. It was amazing. They are also doing schoolier stuff too — learning days of the week and talking about weather and sitting nicely for snacks and reading stories and having choice time and doing art projects…it’s so cute I might explode.

Impressively, everyone’s done really great with the separation. Harper freaked out a little the first time I left but since has been completely fine. Every morning we go over it. “And then you come back?” “Yes.” “You’ll come get me?” “Yes.” “Is Ollie going to be there?” “Ollie will stay with me and we will come pick you up.” Then she asks me what color Cyndi will be wearing. “Will it be purple Cyndi or orange Cyndi?” “I don’t know.” “Because why?” “Because…um…get your backpack.”

Harper loves the routines. She comes home and immediately commences to play school like it’s her job. Which it sort of is, I guess. She doles out spots. She sits down cubbies. She sings the hello song and goodbye song in an endless loop. She only answers to the name “Pretend Cyndi.” It’s all just a very satisfying response.

If anyone is interested in starting a co-op, or wondering how to go about it, or has any advice for us as we proceed through our school year, let me know! I can’t say how pleased I am with how it’s going. I feel so lucky to have found this group of moms and kids, too.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s choice time. And my choice is always to read. (By which I mean sleep, obviously.)

Starting a Playschool Co-op: Only About 90 Percent Fun and Games.

Last week we had our first playdate with the entire Greenwood Playschool (aka Tomb Tots) class of ’12 AND our wonderful teacher, Cyndi. It was terribly, terribly exciting.  There was circle time. There was a hello song. There was a tactile activity that sparked creative thinking. By the end of the activities, all the little blondes (we used to have a brunette for some cultural diversity but he was ousted, I mean he moved) spontaneously sat themselves down in a row to enjoy their snack — see photographic evidence below. (Yes, Harper stripped off her clothing at some point after the water table. Ready for school, I’d say!)


Is this a cute group or what?  (From left, Harper,  Hayden, Jasper, Emily, and Glory. Not in the lineup, Isaiah; don’t worry, also a curly-headed blonde.) What can I say, the Tomb Tots admissions policies are extremely superficial. Must be 2 years old and very cute and blonde. Ringlets a plus. Anyway, it really is exciting that after almost a year of talking and planning this thing is coming together. I’ve been meaning to write more about the process of putting this thing together here. Here’s pretty much how it’s gone down so far.

1. Last fall I looked up the tuition at some local preschools and fainted. When I came to I started casting around for interest in starting a co-op among neighborhood moms. Interest was expressed. I breathed a sigh of relief.

2. Soon we had a group of 7 families (of which 4 remain, plus 2 new curly-headed blondes). We met as an informal playgroup a few times to see how the kids got along. They impressed us by fighting over every scrap of toy-like material around. We had a few meetings of just the moms (and a dad here and there) to discuss what we wanted our kids to get out of their preschool/playschool experience. I came home all excited: “Adam, everyone loved art and books and creative moment as a little kid and wants the school to be about play and creativity!” Adam: “You’re kidding. Your friends who are all artists feel this way? Wow.” Me:”…”

3. We met with an amazing education/homeschooling consultant, Peggy Reimann, who inspired us/explained why we were assholes for quizzing our kids all the time instead of encouraging conversation and discovery. Also there were snacks.

4. We talked to other parents who had started/been involved with co-ops and got their tips and warnings. We stole all their ideas.

5. I drafted a handbook, mostly stolen from other co-ops. This laid out the commitment expected from each family (a parent/caregiver works as the teacher’s assistant one out of every six weeks, etc), our schedule, and importantly, lists of acceptable snacks. All soda must be diet, for example. Kidding!

6. We created a teacher ad. Our teacher search languished terrifyingly as every member of the “teacher-searching-committee” simultaneously became way too pregnant to think. A new not-quite-as-pregnant co-op member swooped in and saved the day. Soon we were interviewing candidates (newborns in slings, naturally) (ours, not the candidates) and found ourselves impressed and overwhelmed by how excellent each was and wallowed in indecision for a while. We invited a few to give sample lessons, which were all awesome and further fueled our indecision. It was TOUGH! But one lady had co-op experience, which we don’t. So that seemed good. Also she knows Spanish. Also, puppets.

3.5 I forget to mention the space issue. I know other co-ops rotate among the members’ homes. This was scary to me. I think to fit 6 kids in our apartment at least 3 would have to be rappelling out the windows at any given moment. Which might be kinda fun, but a liability nightmare, right? Luckily we have one member who has a beautiful and perfect home across the street from Greenwood Cemetery (hence Tomb Tots), and 2 more with suitable homes as backups. Phew!!

7. Now we  have some mundane details to sort out. Money, our teaching assistant schedule, gathering supplies, preparing for potential zombie attacks, what to do if a student’s hair starts to darken, etc. A lesson-planning meeting with Cyndi is slated for August, and class begins in September, just like the real schools. I mean, other schools.

8. I’m sure I left out a lot of steps.

9. I just looked back at my earlier posts about this process and OMG, our kids have already grown up so much, I can’t believe it. They really do seem ready for something like this now, or anyway I know Harper does. I just know she will be psyched to have this little routine, this thing that is hers, this time with her classmate-crush Jasper whom she regularly names as her favorite friend despite the fact that they rarely actually see each other. Anyway, wish us luck.

Quadberry Muffins

berry muffins

Harper's favorite part is mixing in the berries. And eating them, naturally.

I thought I would share this recipe from the excellent cookbook Real Food for Healthy Kids because it was such a big hit at a recent co-op play date.  It is reported that one small child ate up to four of these muffins in a single day.  They are normal-sized muffins, by the way.
Baking has always been a stress-relieving activity for me.  I loved that great scene in that annoying movie about Sylvia Plath where she’s supposed to be working on poems and the camera just pans over, like, 15 pies cooling in her kitchen.  When I’m in the knotty throes of a piece of writing (as I am now, trying to kick my way through yet another round of novel revisions), baking is just so much more satisfying.  The rewards are immediate, the merits obvious, the product enjoyed by all.
And baking with Harper feels like such a sweet homey activity, despite its many grave dangers — the hot oven, the contact with raw egg, the ensuing glut of baked goods.  I think it teaches some sort of vague chemistry lesson, right?  I like that it produces something she’s very eager to share (unlike, oh, everything else in the universe) — she loves delivering plates of cookies to our neighbors and friends.  And also it’s a known fact that pregnant ladies must eat many, many baked goods or their babies will turn out weird and grumpy.  I’m doing it for the child.
So anyway, the recipe.  I’ve made these a couple times, and the most recent time I used a frozen mixed assortment of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries  (hence, quadberries). The result was berrylicious and very moist and yummy, although I learned that too many strawberries can lead to some structural unsoundness.  I recommend letting a toddler mix in the berries.  Kid saliva is a delicious addition to any recipe.

Bursting Berry Muffins, from Real Food for Healthy Kids.
Prep: 10 plus cooling
Baking: 30 minutes
Makes 1 dozen muffins

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
2/3 cup whole-wheat flour, preferably King Arthur
1/3 cup unprocessed wheat bran or additional white whole-wheat flour
1 (10-ounce) bag frozen blueberries (do not thaw) [or mixed berries]

1.    Arrange an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375. Lightly grease the top of a 12 (1/2-cup capacity) muffin pan. Line the cups with paper cupcake liners and set aside.
2.    Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy, at least 3 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating until fluffy after each. Add the baking powder, vanilla and salt and mix at medium speed to blend. Add the all-purpose flour and the milk and mix at medium speed until just incorporated. Add the whole-wheat flour and bran and mix just until blended. Add the frozen berries and stir in.
3.    Spoon the batter, piling high, into the muffin cups. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden on top and springy to the touch. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.