Under-the-Radar Preschool: Children's International Workshop

3/5/07 - By Anna Fader

For some reason all-day schools are not considered in the same category as preschools with shorter programs. It seems the fewer hours your child is allowed to spend at a preschool, the more cachГѓВ© the school has. Perhaps it's the theory that if you're paying more for less, it must be good. Or maybe it's that the kids just don't have enough time at school for anything to happen that could make you not like it. But, most likely it's because all-day schools are often seen as daycare - which has become a dirty word in NYC parenting circles. (Newsflash: sending your child to daycare, instead of keeping them at home with and full-time nanny and paying $15K for a couple hours of preschool is considered neglect in some NYC circles.) But, of course, this is just nonsense and there are some wonderful all-day preschools that parents are really missing out on if they overlook them. One we particularly like is The Children's International Workshop on Union Square. Located in a sunny, open loft with large windows facing North - children learn colors from the lights on the Empire State Building - the space has a lively, homey energy.


The director, Jackie, can be kind of difficult, but she has a knack for picking great teachers. She seems to go for really interesting people rather than the typical, syrupy sweet nursery school teachers. This gives the school a rich and creative vibe. The children do art, music, dance, yoga, go to the McBurney Y for swim lessons and a little informal Spanish is thrown in for good measure. Despite the artsy vibe, the Children's International Workshop is actually one of the more academic preschools. They have an optional readiness program where students learn phonics and writing and numbers. With all those extra hours a day, there's plenty of time to be an artsy progressive school AND a traditional academic preschool. Children are not divided strictly by age. Nothing is really done strictly at the school. One of it's charms is that it is run more like a home and less like a school. "We purposely stay away from the classroom-like environment which your child will have from kindergarten through college," says Director Jackie Marks. Another smart move is that the teachers rotate throughout the day--so kids are never stuck with a burnt-out, grumpy adult. They have a musician for music class, an artist for art, and the other teachers mostly work part-time so they always seem fresh and full of energy. The children use the playground in Union Square Park every day for outdoor time. Some people don't like that the school doesn't have a private playground, but it hasn't seemed to be a problem and at least they get outdoors rather than an indoor gym. Admissions are first come first served. The International Children's Workshop has become more popular in the last few years, so you do need to be on top of it, but at least you have some control over the process. There are no mysterious interviews, essays or otehr games to play. Several years ago the school added the International to its name to distinguish it from the Children's Workshop, which is a public elementary school in the East Village, but it fits because the school has a large International crowd in the student body - it's popular with diplomats and other foreigners--perhaps partly because they don't have the daycare prejudice. So the student body has a nice diversity. The school also draws a creative parent body and there have been some celebrity families. Children go on to UNIS, St Anns, Grace Church and the other downtown privates, as well as to Hunter and the other excellent area public schools. The Children's International Workshop offers a variety of flexible schedules. Children can attend 2, 3, 4 or 5 days, Mornings or afternoons only or all day, which is 8am to 6pm. If you need all-day care, this is a great alternative. If you don't, just send your kid to a half-day and pretend it's not an all-day school. We won't tell your frenemies* if you won't. *frenemies are competitive mommy acquaintances who act like your friends, but would judge you for sending your child to an all-day preschool or some other perverse lack of judgment on your part.