Pre-School Primer

Mariglynn Edlins at the Community Play School
Mariglynn Edlins at the Community Play School

Community Play School
Messy Engagement

By Mariglynn Edlins, Professor and CPS Parent

My partner, Geoff, and I found Community Play School late last summer as we frantically searched for a preschool option for our son, Bergen. After two years as a stay-at-home-parent, Geoff found out that he would begin teaching college courses in the fall and we knew Bergen, currently an only child, would benefit from being around other kids more regularly. We also knew we didn’t want something incredibly expensive or overly focused on traditional learning. In grad school, I’d written my dissertation about children in institutional settings, primarily American education systems, and I couldn’t bear the idea of sending my child—especially a boy—into a heavily structured environment. As such, we weren’t as concerned with a preschool where he’d learn the alphabet or master classroom behavior. Instead we wanted him to play, develop his confidence and learn to be around other kids.

Community Play School presented a viable option. We were enamored by those Scandinavian adventure schools—or outdoor schools—often profiled in magazines, and CPS is as close as we can get to that for Bergen. The cost is reasonable and, lucky for us, we snagged a spot.

A play-based preschool for kids 2 to 5 years old, CPS employs a Reggio-inspired program— it aims to be child-led and child-focused. The faculty believes “a messy child is an engaged child.” So, on a day-to-day basis, the kids set the pace and type of play: They get dirty; they take physical and social risks; and they go outside, rain or shine. The instructors focus on supporting individual experiences for each child, based on physical, social, emotional and cognitive development, as well as language and literacy development.

Because Community Play School is focused on each individual child, it’s probably a good fit for all kid personalities. And since the activities are child-led, one kid doesn’t have to conform to other kids for the classroom to be successful. Some kids in Bergen’s class were very talkative and others very quiet. They also ranged from rambunctious to reserved.

However, since the focus isn’t on those traditional academic tasks like the alphabet, numbers and colors, Community Play School may not be best for parents primarily concerned with what all kids “should” learn in preschool.

We were thrilled with Bergen’s first year at CPS. He didn’t start off as the most active or advanced kid in the room, but that was never a problem. He played at his own pace and his teachers celebrated each milestone he reached in his own time. The teachers focused on supporting his adjustment to other kids, as well as his social and language development, and he blossomed in the freedom.

As a 3-year-old now, Bergen will be attending CPS three days a week in the fall and we can’t wait to see how dirty he’ll come home each day.

For students age 2, two days a week, the cost is $235 a month; for students age 3, three days a week, the cost is $330 a month. Community Play School, 5532 Harford Road,


Elizabeth Dickinson, Bolton Hill Nursery School
Elizabeth Dickinson, Bolton Hill Nursery School

Bolton Hill Nursery
Life Skills

By Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, journalist and BHN parent

The first thing you’ll notice about Bolton Hill Nursery is the quaint gingerbread Victorian building. Located on Park Avenue, a stone’s throw from MICA’s main campus, this is the kind of schoolhouse dreamt up in central casting. There’s an actual picket fence corralling all those cherubic tots.

The next thing you’ll notice is the unmitigated joy of the kids inside. Louie Wilder, executive director at the school, says this is a good measure of any preschool. “When you are looking at schools and you take a tour, look for joy. That’s number one. Not just in the children, but also in the staff.”

In retrospect, “joy” is exactly what my husband and I wanted for our daughter, Nola, in preschool. We started researching options shortly after she was born in 2011 and we quickly realized a few things. Many preschools are faith-based and we weren’t interested in indoctrinating our kid. Some are so loosely structured they feel chaotic. Others believe in curricular rigor, even for toddlers. We decided that preschool should be a safe place of exploration and fun, one that introduces our daughter to the social skills necessary to be a kind and thoughtful person. It should be less about cognitive skills—she must be a reader by age 4!—and more about giving her the social and mental infrastructure for a lifetime of learning.

And that’s just what BHN does. Starting at age 2 and through pre-kindergarten 4, BHN offers a play-based curriculum in intimate class sizes averaging around 12 kids. “Play” does not mean “free-for-all.” There’s pedagogical logic underpinning all the frolicking. The teachers are creative, energetic and smart, and all of them bring special skills to the classroom. Many are musicians, artists and world travelers, and Nola has learned so much from her teachers’ unique experiences. That’s by design. “Teachers have to bring gifts, and that’s not necessarily in the education field,” Wilder says.

BHN, which has been around since 1969, also aims to make kids citizens of the city. They walk to see the symphony at the Meyerhoff; they learn how litter ends up in the Bay. Other perks: Few preschools offer a flexible schedule, but BHN does. Admission is mostly first come first served, so get on the registration list early. (Wilder has pregnant women on her waiting list.) Siblings are guaranteed a spot.

Once there, teachers send home thoughtful weekly notes about what your kid is up to, what she’s learning, what she’s excited about. These notes have become wonderful milestones of Nola’s childhood. At the end, you get a journal of photos, notes and artwork from your child’s entire time at BHN. Nothing brings on the waterworks quite like a parent flipping through that journal at graduation. And while Nola has made great friends, so have we. The community of parents is spectacular.

Ultimately, BHN is about giving kids the confidence they need to embark on their school careers. “When our children leave here, I want them to ask questions, I want them to not be afraid to try things, to not be afraid to fail, to be empathetic and to be assertive,” Wilder says. “This is their first introduction to school. How they feel about themselves, about the world, aside from their family—this is where it all starts and that’s a big responsibility for us.”

Nola has now blossomed into an inquisitive, sweet, happy 5-year-old. She’s well-prepared and excited for starting kindergarten this year. I’m the one who’s not ready. They might have to pull me out of that gingerbread house kicking and screaming. I know, though, that my daughter will have the skills to manage the situation.

“Mommy,” she may say, “what can I do to help you feel better?”

Suspend time, kid. Suspend time.

Parents can schedule partial or full days; partial or full weeks—monthly tuition ranges from $460 to about $1,100, plus fees. Bolton Hill Nursery, Inc., 204 W. Lanvale St.,


Dina: Junior Millennium Childcare center
Dina: Junior Millennium Childcare center

Junior Millenium Day Care Center
Nurturing the Soul of the Child

By Dina Brown, childcare center owner

I opened my first day care center in 1994 after the birth of my daughter, Jasmine. I’d babysat younger kids since childhood—and worked a paper route starting at age 8—and I knew I could handle owning my own business. Licensed daycare appealed to me as a busy new mom and as a thinker: As you may know, such care provides a home-like experience in which a child is looked after while his or her parent or other guardian goes to work or school. I like providing such care because, frankly, I’m good at it. I keep my roster small, so kids get lots of one-on-one attention.

I opened my current center, Junior Millenium Day Care, in 1999. Employing a curriculum I’ve honed over time, I teach short classes or lessons throughout the day. All children 6 weeks and older are welcome in this environment that is kid-friendly and safe. I support parents and provide written resources to help their children reach the educational goals I’ve outlined.

Junior Millennium, based in my family home in Belair-Edison, goes beyond the call of basic care and reaches out to the soul of the child—I believe love makes everything grow. My focus is totally different from the normal “it’s just a job” type of corporate childcare setting. I get to know each child, his or her world, and he or she learns about my life in return. We discuss ethics and emotions, and we talk about the power of love in daily life.

I homeschooled my daughter in 1999—suddenly, Montebello Elementary, our zoned school, was not a safe environment. So I filed with the School Board of Education for permission to homeschool her. I provided lessons in reading, math, writing and music (enlisting private piano lessons), and worked with an educator to ensure Jasmine would be provided with everything to meet her educational goals in order to attend third grade on time at a new school, which she did (one of my proudest moments).

Day care can offer kids a large or small-group setting, depending on what the parent is looking for, and of course, depending on the personality of the child. Day care centers are typically more flexible than preschools—JMDCC opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. We also provide weekend care for those who need it.

Preparation for formal school is one goal I set for my little students—so is preparation for living a good life.

Infant care costs $187 per week; toddler care (ages 2-4) costs $112 per week; before and after care costs $75 per week. Junior Millennium Day Care Center, 2612 Erdman Ave.


mia-white-2The Waldorf School
The Rhythm of Imagination

By Mia White, fiction writer and Waldorf alumnus

It is not so easy for me to remember my earliest times at Waldorf, but I do know that the story-based curriculum was highly important in my development as a writer—I earned an MFA from the University of Baltimore last May. From the early years, fairy tales and stories from all cultures were a part of every school day. Thanks to Waldorf, I also retain a strong awareness of the importance of limiting my own screen time in day-to-day living. Additionally, my aesthetic awareness—for beauty in nature and space—is rooted in the reverence that was instilled in me at Waldorf as a very young child.

Playfulness of mind and spirit is a Waldorf core value. In fact, the young child’s infinite imagination is viewed as her most powerful learning tool. And the opportunity for free play is ample in early year classrooms. Toys in the classroom are simple and meant to be malleable by a child’s desires. For example, a simple block equipped with four wheels can be a fire engine one moment, a car the next. The classroom is also a screen-free zone, since imagination will supply the material needed for the child’s own inventive play.

The student who will thrive—and feel happiest—at Waldorf is an active imaginer, someone who loves playing and hands-on activities. To my mind, she (or he!) is an adventurous renaissance kid who likes to try all sorts of new things from painting, to baking, to crafts, to music. Waldorf emphasizes well-rounded children, who have the chance to learn many skills. Children who enjoy playing with others will also thrive, since Waldorf values all interactions as opportunities for interpersonal growth. But there is the understanding that children grow into themselves at different rates and with unique preferences. Although Waldorf is frequently compared to Montessori school, it’s worth noting that the former is less focused on group play and more on the individual child’s path in learning.

Like most other playschools, the Waldorf day has an ordered rhythm. Playtime and snack time occur at the same time every day, as does recess, naptime and the periods when everyone works at tasks or listens together to a teacher’s stories. But early age education at Waldorf is less focused on fact-based learning and more on the natural absorption of experiences and observations.

“There are no dead lessons,” says Cecilia Liss, academic director. “There are lived experiences.”

An example of this is a Waldorf nature walk. For young children, it will not include a planned lesson on acorns and photosynthesis—instead, children are encouraged to draw their own observations and collect items that are interesting to them. Another example: When planting bulbs in a garden, a teacher will not explain what will happen. Instead, come spring, the children will check the garden each day, and they will see for themselves when the tiny sprouts emerge.

Between the ages of 21⁄2 and 6, there are seven preschool and kindergarten options available depending on age and the number and length of days, with costs that range from roughly $8,000 to $18,000 per year. Waldorf School of Baltimore, 4801 Tamarind Road,


Elisabeth Dahl, The Calverty School
Elisabeth Dahl, The Calvert School

Calvert School
A Solid Academic Foundation

By Elisabeth Dahl, novelist and Calvert alumnus

I landed at Calvert as a faculty kid after my mother began a job there. (She ended up teaching there for 31 years.) Thirty years later, my husband and I sent our son, Jackson, to Calvert.

The first year of Lower School is known as Fifth Age, so named because students turn five either the summer before or over the course of that academic year. For students too young for Fifth Age, there’s Kiddie Calvert, but it’s open only to the children of Calvert employees, current Calvert families, and faculty at other independent schools. Calvert goes through middle school.

Calvert has a reputation as a demanding school. While that reputation is earned—for instance, compositions don’t go in students’ monthly portfolios until they’re error-free—a Calvert day emphasizes creative endeavors as well. It also includes some appealing longstanding traditions, such as shaking hands with an administrator upon entering the building every morning.

I asked parents of current and former Calvert students to weigh in. Here’s what several anonymous but enthusiastic sources had to say:

“We were looking for a classic curriculum that had an emphasis on the quality of work, while encouraging creativity. The Fifth Age does a wonderful job of teaching the students to love learning.”

“The ideal student for Calvert School will be motivated, intellectually curious and able to thrive in a structured setting.”

“Calvert is a great choice for children from artistic families. Calvert’s rock-solid academic foundation is a nice complement to a more free-form education at home.”

“It helps if one believes the old adage ‘measure twice, cut once,’ since Calvert requires lots of self-discipline, planning, preparation and deliberate practice in the pursuit of excellence.”

“I think Fifth Age would work for most kids, although it may be more challenging for very high energy, boisterous kids that may need more flexibility in the classroom.”

After Calvert, Jackson went on to Friends, which, along with our local public school, we had also considered for kindergarten. A senior now, his roots as a student and person are strong, and I attribute that partly to his Calvert foundation.

Last May, I attended a reunion for my Calvert class. Of the girls, 21 out of 25 attended, coming from as far away as Maine, California and France. It’s been three decades since we shared a classroom, and yet we can still recall each other’s middle names, birthdays and most embarrassing elementary-school moments. In pursuing our many different callings—social worker, doctor, acupuncturist, etc.—we’ve also retained many of the work habits—attention to detail, preparation and completion—central to our early school days. Measuring twice, cutting once—it still works.

For 2016-2017, the bundled tuition for a half-day (8:15-12:30) of Fifth Age is $12,100; a full day (8:15-3:15) runs $15,800. About 33 percent of Calvert students receive financial aid. For the 2016-2017 academic year, Kiddie Calvert’s tuition for infants (10 weeks) to 24 months is $13,800; for ages 2-4, it’s $10,100. Calvert School, 4300 N. Charles St.,



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