River Park Nursery School
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Experienced teachers; family co-op
Demand outweighs available seats
River Park Nursery School has a glowing reputation on the Upper West Side for its gentle and loving approach. Maria Nunziata and Cindy Berman have been teaching young children there for more than three decades. In 2016, they hired two new teachers who attended River Park themselves as children.
"We place a lot of emphasis on each child's contribution," said Nunziata on a parent tour. "If you know anything about River Park, you know we're very tuned in to our kids."
The nursery school was founded as a family cooperative in 1967. Parents volunteer 25-35 hours during the school year. They accompany children on field trips, assist at lunch or help maintain the space.
Three and 4-year olds work and play in the same open space, which is divided by shelves stocked with blocks, costumes, puzzles and more. They sometimes break into groups for storytelling, show and tell and activities such as cooking or writing. "We don't expect them to be reading and writing but all are on their way," by the time they leave, Nunziata said. "It's about individual growth."
Long-established routines suit the rhythms of young children, with work and play in the morning, singing and clean up, then stories, lunch and rest, outdoor play, snack, and more activities until dismissal. "The more predictable the routine, the more empowered they feel," Nunziata said.
Right outside is a safe and inviting play area. Teachers take out tricycles, a balance beam, a teeter-totter and more. As seasons change, kids examine the seedpods and colored leaves that fall from the trees. They take walks to the green market, the firehouse, and the library, holding a rope with loops so they all stay together.
River Park is located on the ground floor of a residential building. The furniture is set up and put away daily by a custodian because the building uses the space after hours. The room is very clean as a resultfreshly swept tile floors, no dust bunniesbut also a tad utilitarian.
Lunch is available from Junior's Fresh, a healthy food vendor started by a New York City mom, with healthy versions of kid standards, such as butternut squash mac 'n cheese.
Parents may pay for an extra hour until 4 pm.
ADMISSIONS: The ten privately enrolled 3-year-old children have priority for the 18 pre-k spots. More than 175 families applied for the remaining 8 spots in 2016. (Lydie Raschka, February 2017)Read more