For New York City families with preschool-aged children, nothing strikes fear into the heart quite so much as the search for a decent school for your child, and this frantic search often starts in the toddler and even infant years. This situation might ring true all over the U.S, but in New York City, (and Manhattan in particular), the anxiety over schools is especially intense, as a boom in the birth of young children downtown in the past decade has totally overwhelmed the number of existing schools in the area. Public and private schools alike are inundated with far too many applications for available spaces, and many have wait lists exceeding 100 students for Kindergarten classes every year. Add to that the growing pressure on American school children with too much homework, too much teaching-to-the-test, and little to no outdoor time or creative education (such as art and music) in schools, and it is clear that New York City families need help. For downtown New York City children, a solution to these issues is finally arriving — in the form of a brand new, environmentally-friendly school in the East Village called New Amsterdam School.
New Amsterdam school is a new, green school inspired by the Waldorf approach to education. The school was started in 2006 as an early childhood center for toddlers and preschoolers. Waldorf education focuses on meeting the developmental needs of children with an emphasis on healthy food, natural toys and activities, and organic, seasonal rhythms. New Amsterdam School has met a need for downtown New York City parents, and every year the number of enrolled students has grown dramatically, with new classes added each year to keep up with demand. The current New Amsterdam school on Houston Street serves children aged 6 months – 6 years, and next year — in Autumn 2014 — New Amsterdam will launch downtown Manhattan’s first Waldorf grade school with a new 1st grade class on Avenue B. Each year a grade will be added to the school until the school reaches 8th grade in 2021. Children will go through their entire grade school journey with the same teacher and students in a Waldorf practice that is known as “looping”.
New Amsterdam is about to start renovation on a brand new, 5-classroom school space in the East Village which will be complete by Spring 2014. The school is currently accepting applications for 2014 Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st Grade, and will hold an open house on November 14th for prospective parents. Class sizes will be small with 2 or more teachers per class.
For those not familiar with Waldorf education, it is a holistic approach to pedagogy developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1919, who was well ahead of his time in terms of his understanding of child development. Waldorf teachers strive to transform school into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head — and meet a child’s specific developmental needs at each point in their education. Waldorf education is the largest, and fastest-growing alternative education model around the world.
I am a parent of children at a Waldorf school and I must say that it is hard to succinctly describe what Steiner education is about without actually experiencing it in person. I hope my photo slideshow (here) helps to paint a picture that words alone cannot. For those only vaguely familiar with Waldorf education, it is probably best known for its mandate against screen-based media for young children, and its emphasis on creativity and arts and crafts in the daily curriculum, such as painting, knitting, woodwork and drama. It’s sort of a Waldorf mom joke that if you send your child to a Steiner school, your house will gradually be taken over by a gazillion crocheted, knitted and felted items, and stacks of dreamy watercolor paintings. Waldorf education is very attuned to the natural world, using only natural materials in the classroom (wood, silk, wool, glass, leaves, shells, crystals, etc), following seasonal festivals throughout the year, and encouraging copious outdoor time for children with gardening, farming and playing in the outdoors daily. But of course, there is so much more to it than that, so I encourage anyone interested in Waldorf Education to read more about it here.
The new New Amsterdam school on Avenue B will be a “green” environment, and will consider LEED certification. Both the current and new spaces incorporate a myriad of sustainable building practices, including natural daylight from large windows in multiple exposures; energy-efficient lighting; excellent indoor-air quality with limited exposure to dust, pollen, and carbon monoxide; green building materials to limit exposure to off-gassing and VOCs; water efficiency; enhanced acoustics and low background noise, which are critical for learning; recycling and composting in the classroom; and using only ecological products for cleaning.
The New Amsterdam curriculum treats ecology as a fundamental—rather than secondary—part of a child’s education. The curriculum itself is seasonal, with an emphasis on the outdoor world brought into the classroom. The school has carefully nurtured a unique partnership with East Village community garden El Jardin del Paraiso, where children make daily excursions throughout the year to play outdoors – rain or shine – and climb trees, plant seeds, hang out in the treehouse, and watch the turtles, rabbits and chickens that live in the garden.
New Amsterdam also has a mission to bring healthy food to growing children – which is critical for our children’s future – seeing the current nutrition crisis in schools. In most schools, the snack and lunch options are made of processed and packaged foods, including sweetened drinks and baked goods made with refined grains and sugar. I remember, personally, in my grade school in California, eating “pizza” (basically cheese on french bread) and donuts every day for lunch. In Waldorf schools, by contrast, teachers prepare fresh meals from whole, organic, and often local and seasonal ingredients, and they cook these fresh meals with even the youngest children helping them by washing and chopping vegetables and kneading bread. The daily preparation of the meal and the time spent at the table teach children to appreciate food and at the same time encourages a sense of shared responsibility.
New Amsterdam is about to start renovation on their brand new, 5-classroom school space in the East Village which will be complete by Spring 2014. The school is currently accepting applications for 2014 Pre-K, Kindergarten and 1st Grade, and will hold an open house on November 14th for prospective parents. Interested parents should email Karen Talluto ([email protected]) to RSVP.