Under the Radar Preschool: The Downtown Little School
The Downtown Little School is old school. By that I mean it reminds me of what nursery or preschools were like before they became the first step to getting your child into Harvard. The program focuses on the social development. The school claims not to focus on academics, but, perhaps unavoidably, many activities teach counting and pre-reading skills). Children in the 2s start out with separation, potty training, etc and later, "Me." The 3s study "My Family," the 4s "Growing Up." Basically they play with blocks, paint, do clay, and dress-up while learning about how to be part of a community. You know, old-school preschool stuff.
They offer 4 days of half-day classes for twos. Threes are half-days, five days. For fours you can choose half or full day. The school is located in the Financial District and the facilities are nothing superb. The classrooms are mostly windowless, although large and well-stocked. They do have a roof-top playground and a large indoor space they use when weather prevents going outdoors. Some people don't like that the school is on a pretty grim-looking alley off Fulton St.
It is an inclusion school which means that there are children with disabilities in the same classroom with "normal" kids (though when you're talking about people who are regularly happy and cheerful one minute and laying on the floor screaming bloody murder the next it's hard to call any of them normal.) Again, accepting, understanding and getting along with other people is stressed.
But, the people are the thing that really stand out about this school. Kate Delacorte, the founder and Director of the school, has a reputation amongst the school's almost cult-like followers as an exceptional educator in early childhood development.
Kate is very involved in the classroom and knows all the children very well. "Every time I speak to her I feel like I learn something about my child or see something in a different way," says one DLS parent.
But the attentiveness goes beyond Kate. When I went to pick up an application I had my 2 year old with me. The staff invited him into the empty 2s classroom, offering to watch him and let him play while I filled out the application. The 2s teacher happened to be in there and she got up from her seat, followed my son to the bookshelf and proceeded to read to him and talk to him for the following 10-15 minutes. She also noticed that my son does a weird thing with his Ks and she responded by annunciating her Ks as she spoke to him. I found that experience just really exceptional.
The preschool years can be tough. A lot is going on in those little heads and having the support of a school like The Downtown Little School can really help you make the most of this time and prepare you and your child for the school years with much more substantial than knowing your ABCs.
Don't let this laid-back attitude fool you, though. With her decades of experience as an educator and her intimate knowledge of your child, Kate will help you find the ongoing school that will best match your child and put together a strong application. Children from DLS go on to Packer, Friends, City and Country, St Anns, LREI and UNIS, but, since many of the children from the school go on to the excellent neighborhood public schools, you will not be competing against a quota - possibly giving you a better shot at admissions than if you came from a "feeder school."
And, if that isn't enough to make you love The Downtown Little School, there's this: The application process is first-come first-served, removing all the BS and mystery. For $50 you are guaranteed a spot if you apply early enough. End of story.