Valeska von Schirmeister
How many years have you been in business in NYC?
How did you get your start and what was your initial inspiration?
I met my business partner Amanda while living uptown. She had opened various kids gyms all around the U.S. and abroad. When I moved downtown with my family I realized that there were very few places for my children to play and be active. There was only Washington Market Park and a couple of small mommy and me classes. Yet, Tribeca had these great loft spaces with huge ceilings through the neighborhood. So, together with Amanda we looked at creating a Playground that could be better than being outside – clean, lots of light, large enough to run around, safe and open 365 days a year. For kids to have structured playtime is as important as unstructured, and therefore we also added the mommy & me classes, and eventually an early education program, Playgarden Prep.
What do you feel differentiates you from others in your field?
We truly think we have the best staff! We are also very passionate about doing the best we can in every aspect. We are like a small family, and we try to make all children and their parents and caregivers feel part of this family and at home at Playgarden.
What do you feel gives you longevity in this big city with so many options?
We hope it is how much effort we put in to everything we do. We have grown slower than other businesses but our intention is not to do anything unless we are entirely sure that it will be the quality we want. We also have a playground that opens seven days a week, all day (except an hour for cleaning). We have built a community. We have also been lucky that families keep coming to live downtown, so we can keep growing with them. It's amazing to see children first crawling, then starting to walk and finally climbing and running around the Playground, and then their siblings go through the same!
How do you positively impact your clientele?
We take care of their kids with care and smiles. We keep our place as clean as possible and try and change the playground to add new elements, and are constantly revising our Prep curriculum to improve and develop it. We also have an incredible staff that truly loves kids and knows everyone’s name when they come in, again, to make them feel at home.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Seeing kids happy and not wanting to leave (which is sometimes hard on the parents!). We also love seeing kids grow with our Prep program. The first day is so hard for them and in a matter of weeks they happily come to “school” and are a completely different little person from when they started.
What is your favorite secret NYC spot?
AIRE - right across from Playgarden. A lot of people have not heard of it yet!
How do you benefit mamas?
We offer a pre pre-school program (Playgarden Prep) that is teaching children social skills, practical life, math, science, potty training before the regular pre-school begins. It is not just a drop-off program where they play all day. Kids are learning a lot in one year and are ready for preschool as well as any drop-off program they choose after us. We really understand how hard the first drop off experience is, for parents sometimes more than for kids, as we have both been through it and we try and help every parent and child go through it while having the best experience possible. It is also amazing to see how the children grow and learn through this program and it is so rewarding to see the progress they make in just a few months. We also have the playground where moms can meet other moms as well as hosting moms groups with the same purpose.
What is the most memorable feedback a client has given you?
There are a few thankfully, but recently one family moved out of the city and within one month they called us and asked if they could bring their youngest child to our Prep program even if they had to commute. She could not find a program she trusted as much as ours or staff that matched our team.
Pay it forward and name your top colleagues in the same field or related field:
I think every place in the city has a target audience. We believe that parents will go to the place that best suits their needs, so I suppose I would recommend any place that one thinks their child can be happy at.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you? Or what is your "mantra" / words to live by?
My kids did the Lion King musical in their school and since then we use “HAKUNA MATATA” a lot (if only I could really not worry!).
As moms, the day can escape us, what is your best time-saving trick?
It’s a silly one, but I try and think of what I will pack for lunch for the kids in the morning and either pack a couple of things and have them ready in the fridge, or at least have the containers out ready to use the next morning. It lets me hit the snooze button at least once!