When I found out that I was pregnant, I quickly realized that I had a big task ahead of me. And no, I’m not just talking about my expanding belly. As a professional in the Early Childhood field, I knew that valuable educational and social experiences begin at birth. And as a parent, I wanted a program for my baby that would be like the preschool that I oversee: warm, loving, safe, engaging, and inspiring for both children and parents. Even though many of my friends in similar stages of life looked for nannies to engage one-on-one with their children at home, I knew that the best route ahead for my little one would include a social school environment from an early age.
We know that children are social beings from the moment they are born. We know that the brain develops at a rapid pace between birth and age 3. We know that children learn best when they are provided opportunities to explore and discover the world around them. Social learning and experiences help children build grit, tenacity, perseverance, and collaborative thinking. Through these experiences children take risks, make mistakes, and try again. They also learn to negotiate, compromise, and work together, while building up their empathy and social responsibility. At an early age children are capable of beginning to build these complex relationships and traits, and experience in an open and exploration-based school allows for their social sense of the world around them to develop naturally.
So I set out to find a warm and welcoming social setting for my own little one, where she could grow and thrive throughout her infant and toddler years, until she would be old enough to attend my preschool. Wearing my dual hat as an educator and a parent, I visited over 30 infant and toddler programs across New York City. The landscape was bleak—small, dark spaces, high tuition, low quality, and rigid policies that did not feel welcoming to parents. I signed my daughter up for the best of what I saw but, alas, the program fell short of my expectations.
I started to dream about creating the type of program that I would want for my own daughter: one where children thrive and where parents are partners. Where babies and toddlers explore light-filled surroundings under the care of experienced and loving educators. Where parents are free to drop in and join the exploration, if they wish. Where teachers work in collaborative partnership with parents: teachers helping parents to navigate the amazing journey of early childhood, and parents helping teachers best understand their own child’s unique gifts. I imagined the colors of finger-paint squishing together in their chubby little fingers and dripping on the floor, the smell of fresh challah baking in the oven, and the exuberant sounds of little ones trying out their first sounds and words as they recognize and greet their friends each morning.
Well, thanks to a generous gift from the Jewish Communal Fund, my dream came true. Beginning in September, Educational Alliance’s Preschool at the Manny Cantor Center will welcome an inaugural class of toddlers (ages 12-24 months). The toddler classroom will be a place where young children explore and experience the world through their own eyes and senses. Children will be understood as competent, capable, and full of potential, and parents will be welcomed with open arms. Children will work in collaboration with the teachers, and become creators of their own learning paths. Nurturing care and deep exploration will be the curriculum. Teachers will be experienced educators, working in partnership with families on a journey of learning and understanding.
I am in the process of meeting prospective parents, all of whom are looking for exactly what I was looking for. When I share our plans, and when they see our beautiful spaces, I feel very proud of what we are creating. I can’t wait for the little ones to get to know each other, and for their parents to build lasting friendships that will endure over many years. I can’t wait to see what our educators, children, and parents create, together. And I can’t wait for how my own daughter will grow and connect in this environment. She was the first child signed up!