Category Archives: preschool

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!”


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?

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.

The Read Balloon: Madlenka

great kids' books A while ago the other preschool co-op parents and I had a meeting with this wonderful woman Peggy Reiman, who specializes in helping parents to deepen/supplement/create their children’s education. The thing she said that struck me the most was that in constantly asking our kids questions — you know, that frenetic and faintly ridiculous “Where’s the piggy in this picture? What does a piggy say? COME ON WHAT DOES A PIGGY SAY YOU KNOW THIS!” — we prepare them mostly for test-taking. She suggested that to encourage the kind of creative thinking, attention to detail, and page-scanning kids need to become good readers, we instead run our fingers across pictures with the kids and say things like, “Oh look, here’s a pig.” (I know, I know — reading! It’s so last century. Don’t tell my kids.)

It sounds so simple, and it is. Simply AWESOME. I started doing this with Harper and she really loves it. She will take my finger and push it across the page and order me, “Talk.” Or we’ll be reading a book and she’ll shake her head and say, “Show me the pictures.” I mean, “Show me the pictures, my beloved and respected mother.”

Now I notice she does this too. There is nothing better than finding her in some cozy nook or the reading fort, telling a dolly about a book. She does it to her brother, too:  “See, Alton, this color is called purple, but you don’t know that because you’re just a little baby.”

ANYway, I mention all of this because Madlenka, by Peter Sis, is the perfect book for looking at in this attentive way. The book tells the story of a little girl who is psyched that she has a loose tooth, so she races around her Manhattan block telling her exotic friends from all across the world. I love a book that reminds you how cool it must be to grow up in NYC. But also, I love a book with insanely textured, complex, layered illustrations. (Click the images below to make them screen-bustingly big!)

Madlenka, by Peter Sis. This bakery makes Ladybird Bakery, on our street, seem charmless and ultra-American..

"And so this is Latin America," I confusingly tell Harper. "It's a bird?" "Um, sort of."

We go through all the pictures, squinting to find the hidden Madeline on the french baker’s page, or turning the book around to see all the little cartoons about each country Madlenka “visits.” Now this is a good time!

madlenka's dog

Madlenka's Dog, which this image is from, is pretty excellent too.

Harper also loves Madlenka’s Dog, in which the poor deprived dogless child has to imagine a pooch, and all her international friends remember their own departed dogs. I’d definitely recommend both Madlenka and Madlenka’s Dog (less so Madlenka Soccer Star though Harper loved it so what do I know) to anyone looking for rich images to explore, reasons to love New York, or just another spunky picture book heroine to love. Also: fashion inspiration. Pink rain boots and yellow umbrellas are very in this season. At least, in this household.

The Co-op: Getting Started

school kids

The CemeteryTown CreepyKids Academy. (aka School children with teachers under Magnolia trees on Oxford Street, George Eastman House)

All right, so it seems like our co-op playschool is really going to happen.  We’ve been having these wonderful, chaotic playgroup sessions once a month or so, when all 6 kids run wild and we impotently attempt to have coherent conversations about educational philosophies.  After the most recent one I asked Harper if she had fun and she said, enthusiastically, “Yes!  Everyone was crying!”

We’ve established that kids are a little crazier when their parents are around, but it still does seem pretty funny to be thinking so carefully about how to best set up their first gentle, creativity-based, routine-establishing, love-of-learning-instilling educational experience, researching philosophies and motor skills activities and whatnot, and then looking at the actual kids: fighting tooth and nail over a toy truck, chewing on paint pens, and of course, crying.  Just last week, Harper had a complete nervous breakdown over a pair of kiddie scissors and I swear nearly stabbed her good friend Emily over it.  It was one of the worst temper tantrums she’s ever had.  A few hours later, on the phone with Adam, she proudly reported that she had “shared scissors with Emily.”  Liar!!

But, we just have to tell ourselves that they are still just barely 2, and by the time “school” starts they will be mature 2.5 year olds.  Uh.  Right?  And Harper will learn to share eventually.  Right?  RIGHT?

At any rate, it’s fun to start thinking about how to actually put this all together.  We’ve met, just the moms, to discuss what we are hoping to create, what we most want to replicate about our own educational experiences, and how to keep the children from stabbing one another.  This weekend a few of us got together, drank some special coffee called “regular” (oh yeah, we’re all pregnant too!  Ha!  Ignoring that for now), and zoomed around in our brains drafting an ad for a teacher and a sort of mission statement of sorts.  The next step is finding the right teacher, and then comes a bunch of really fascinating logistical work like arranging a schedule for the parent helpers, figuring out what it will actually cost (so much less than preschool that we are practically making money, we keep telling ourselves!), and that kind of thing.

This feels weird, since I think most of the co-op moms read this blog.  In fact, they might be the only people who do.  Hi, momfriend.  You’re pretty, and your child is the most special and brilliant one.

Anyway, I’ve found it really useful in this process to gather advice from other parents who have started or been involved with similar co-ops, so I will try to share here as we go, in case anyone cares.  Or the other co-op moms want to read about themselves.  I promise to post very flattering pictures of all of you on good hair days, and your adorable children.  I swear.

Anyone out there have experience they can share?

(Oh yeah, and I think we should have a school name.  We will be meeting in a beautiful house across the street from Greenwood Cemetery, thus my suggestion of CemeteryTown CreepyKids, which, weirdly, no one has responded to.)


Mrs. Bacarella and Playing Pretend

school girl

Rural school girl, San Augustine County, Texas -- Library of Congress

As I’ve mentioned here, some Park Slope momfriends and I are working on starting a preschool co-op. A while ago we met with this lovely woman Peggy Reimann, who consults with parents who homeschool or are looking for other education options for their kids. As one of the other moms said, the meeting made the preschool co-op feel real, like something that can actually happen. I certainly hope so, because while I love the idea I sometimes still feel like we’re bluffing. What do I know about early childhood education? Um…you should let them play and have lots of books and art supplies and stuff around?  And stuff like playing in sand and water is good for motor skills or something? And you try to teach them about sitting in chairs? Ah ha! Wouldn’t you like to have me teaching your preschool?

Peggy suggested that all of us moms get together to discuss what we want the experience to be like for our kids and to talk about what in our own early educations we had positive associations with. I immediately thought of Mrs Bacarella, my kindergarten teacher whom I obsessively loved. As far as I can recall, her class was perfect, the classroom its own little wonderful world, and she was the smartest, nicest, most ravishingly beautiful person in the entire world. I assume this was all true. Most importantly, she always seemed somehow playful.  Every morning all the children would crowd behind the toy store stand, very sneakily I’m sure, and leap out at her when she arrived in the room, and every morning she acted surprised. It has only recently occurred to me that maybe she wasn’t really. She dressed up as a giant crayon for Halloween, and told an awesome story about her son swallowing his own tooth, and had excellent art supply selections including magenta crayons which apparently was new to us because it was very, very thrilling.

Ok, so I guess I don’t really remember much about what I actually learned in her class, but I do know that the tiny wisps of memory I have of kindergarten feel lovely and fun and exciting in a way that school soon was not. Which is probably to be expected. I mean, we don’t want the school system to churn out creative thinking types, now do we?  I mean, you can’t very well live in your imagination all through elementary school and then the rest of school and then maybe imagining-and-creating-graduate-school and then life and then sit around making stuff up and writing it down and expecting people to buy your books now can you?

Ahem.  Where was I?  Oh yes — so thank you, wherever you are, the perfect Mrs. Bacarella, whose very name still sounds like a wonderful song to me, for being so, well, playful.