Although my days at pre-school are long gone, I’m excited to share that my dear friend Valeska has opened up her fabulous Montessori-based program on the Upper East Side! There are so many programs out there for children age 2-4, but hers is by far my favorite because of the solid foundations she provides her students. When my girls were younger, they both started out at Playgarden Prep and have such strength when it comes to independence, confidence, socialization, and character. I loved the program so much, I would have kept them in school with her for pre-K too if she’d offered it! My favorite aspect of this early learning center is the education it provides giving our little ones the tools to thrive in the next chapter of schooling. It’s a perfect feeder program for both progressive and more traditional elementary schools, and the Upper East Side is lucky to have them in the neighborhood.
How many years have you been in business in NYC?
2 and 1/2 years on the UES, and 12 years in Tribeca.
How did you get your start and what was your initial inspiration?
We had a great early education program in Tribeca, “Playgarden Prep," and some of our members where moving to the UES to continue school there. It seemed like the logical neighborhood to open our second Prep location. Also, it is a neighborhood with a lot of preschools and pre-K’s our kids can go to, which gives our kids many options to go after they have done Prep with us.
What do you feel differentiates you from others in your field?
Playgarden Prep is an early education center designed for children’s first school experiences. We take their first drop-off and their first school experience very seriously. Our curriculum is Montessori-based, pairing Montessori methods and materials with custom Playgarden educational tools. Aside from introducing first separation, we work on daily school routine, group lessons and independent work in classrooms carefully prepared for young students. We help them learn to socialize, expose them to Art and Music, Science, Language development and we work on Potty Training.
What do you feel gives you longevity in this big city with so many options?
I feel that we have taken our time in growing our business. We waited almost 10 years to open a second location. We have developed our own curriculum, putting in a lot of effort and thought into what works best for the young kids. Also we understand that parents want to be involved, they want to know how to support their little ones in their growth so we also make an effort to focus on our parents.
How do you positively impact your clientele?
We hope we are giving them the tranquility that we are taking care of their kids while they are with us, while also teaching them to be independent. Every week they kids work with a letter, and every activity, including a vegan baking project, is based on this letter. The kids finish the year with a beautiful graduation ceremony and ready to go their next school. We truly believe early education provides the foundation for a lifetime of learning, and we thrive in giving the best of it to our Prep kids.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Meeting kids, seeing them smile when their parents pick them up, but more so, seeing them smile the next morning when they are getting dropped off again. Also, interacting with our amazing staff! We would not be able to do any of this without the amazing teachers we have.
What is your favorite secret NYC spot?
I used to think AIRE was pretty secret (it is right across from our Tribeca location), but I think by now most people know about it. I need to find a new one!
How do you benefit mamas?
Hopefully with the peace of mind that we are teaching their kids and that we are making the first school experience their best. And importantly, that we care for their little ones!
What is the most memorable feedback a client has given you?
We have had amazing feedback of parents coming back to us, bringing their second and third babies to the program. Also, it amazing to hear we are making a difference, as one mom told us once “My son started your program without speaking, now he leaves not only a ‘chatter box’ but also, amazingly, able to read.”
What is the best advice anyone's ever given you? Or what is your "mantra" / words to live by?
Do not sweat the small stuff. It has taken me years to think like this, and I am not quite there yet. But I think we all need to focus on the bigger picture. Time flies, and if we stop to worry about small things, we are not enjoying the moments that really matter, those that make a difference in our lives.
As moms, the day can escape us, what is your best time-saving trick?
Count on your spouse/partner to help out! As moms we try to do it all ourselves (or at least I feel I do that!) but we have a partner, a husband, that is part of our team. We can, and we should ask for help and rely on them, even for small things like to make breakfast and school lunches.