For a number of success-obsessed New York parents, finding a preschool that promises to teach toddlers how to count to 10 and recite their ABC’s is an absolute must.
But not for Julia Niego. Last year, when she started searching for schools for her then-almost 3-year-old son, Juniper, the 37-year-old Crown Heights resident sought out something different.
She wanted to find a “Reggio Emilia” spot, where tots are unlikely to learn letters and numbers. Instead, they spend their time on hands-on projects, such as art, music and even cooking.
“Many children my son’s age are learning, specifically, letters and their sounds,” Niego, an educational therapist, says. “But some children are ready for it, and some are not. And for the ones who aren’t, they just get a sense that they’re less-than, and it affects them going forward.”
Enter Reggio Emilia, a mid-20th century Italian early-childhood educational philosophy that is flourishing in the baby-booming liberal enclaves of downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Named for the poor, battle-worn town where it emerged after World War II, Reggio Emilia schooling focuses on kids collaboratively learning through group projects.
Reggio has been around in New York since the late 1980s, but it’s having a renaissance with liberal, creative types — especially those in trendy areas of Brooklyn, says Victoria Goldman, an NYC schools admissions consultant and author of “The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools and Select Public Schools.”
“It’s a buzzword now,” she tells The Post.
In Reggio schools, kids shape the curriculum. A teacher with a class filled with truck-obsessed tots might plan a unit on cars and other four-wheelers.
Toddlers are more likely to spend their days painting pine cones and shaking tambourines than making any measurable progress toward traditional academic milestones, such as learning to read.
The play-based approach seems to attract a certain kind of parent, according to Emily Shapiro, a former preschool director who now works as an independent admissions consultant.
“[The people who seek out Reggio] tend to be a little more quirky, a bit less conventional,” Shapiro tells The Post. It’s “for people who want to wait before putting their kids on a success track.”
Of course, Reggio education doesn’t come cheap.
“Ironically, [Reggio schools were] set up as a method for providing support to children from disadvantaged families,” Shapiro says. “But of course, once it gets transferred to the States, it becomes for children of privileged families.”
In New York City, where full-time tuition at a competitive private preschool runs anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 a year, these programs are mostly available to the elite, she adds.
The principles of Reggio schooling are also not consistently applied from place to place.
“A lot of schools write on their websites and brochures that they’re Reggio-inspired, and there can be really different degrees of how that’s interpreted,” Kim Turnbull, founder and director of the Brooklyn Schoolhouse, tells The Post.
In 2010, she flew to the town of Reggio Emilia for a two-week training course. There, she learned that a proper Reggio classroom needs natural light, a lack of clutter and child-high shelves — features not consistently applied throughout New York’s Reggio-esque schools.
But Goldman doesn’t think that will deter anyone.
Hip NYC parents and Reggio are “like peanut butter and jelly,” she says. “Today, in Brooklyn, what could be better?”
This news has been published by title Why NYC Parents Are Obsessed With This Hipster Preschool Trend
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