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At Preschool of the Arts, Yoga for Toddlers - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


At Preschool of the Arts, Yoga for Toddlers


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Preschool of the ArtsLiv Buli

The 25 toddlers attending the new Preschool of the Arts in Cooper Union’s sleek new academic building aren’t just learning — they’re “exploring.” They don’t play with toys — they play with “heuristic tools.” And once a week, they do yoga.

The Jewish preschool originally opened on East Sixth Street in 1999, but quickly outgrew the location and found new digs in Chelsea four years later. “We have always been looking back to the neighborhood,” said director Sarah Rotenstreich of the school’s satellite location, which opened at 41 Cooper Square last month. “There is something so exciting about the East Village; the pulse, the creativity, the types of families.”

The Local visited on a recent Tuesday as an instructor gave morning yoga classes to each of the school’s three age groups. (In the case of toddlers, calling it yoga might be a bit of a stretch.)

Preschool of the ArtsLiv Buli

In one classroom for 18-month-olds as well as three-year-olds (older students are encouraged to mentor younger ones), a dramatic floor-to-ceiling window looked onto the street — the better to show the kids they’re part of something bigger. “Treasure baskets” full of the aforementioned heuristic tools — wicker balls, wooden blocks, interlocking neon squares, and plastic bendy sticks — lined the window.

According to Ms. Rotenstreich, these alternative toys allow the preschoolers to exercise both their minds and motor skills. “We are looking for children to be explorers,” she said. “When you provide them with all these different textures and opportunities, you’ll notice even young children really trying to discover the different properties of the object.”

Children sat around small tables, or “activity stations,” working on art projects that would eventually be mounted on shelves next to framed photos of their family members.

Children are allowed to choose their medium (watercolor, acrylic paint, pastels, crayons, etc.) but are only given primary colors, and must experiment to find the others.

Preschool of the ArtsLiv Buli

“Everything is open for them to play with,” said Malya Refson, the on-site director. “It’s always about the process, not the product,” she added, noting that each material and texture in the school was handpicked after research into early-childhood needs.

On the other side of a bookshelf, toddlers plucked toys out of a paint-stained water tank known as the “discovery center.” Splashing, said Ms. Refson, was part of the learning experience. “The water is going to be everywhere,” she said enthusiastically. “The paint is going to be everywhere. And that’s okay.”

The two-year-olds, who have a separate classroom down the hall, engaged in “dramatic play” (more commonly known as make-believe). They pretended to drink tea and chitchatted in a sukkah built for the Sukkot holiday. (The staff “strives to instill our children with a love for the land of Israel and the Torah and pride in their Jewish identities,” according to the preschool’s website.)

Ms. Rosenstreich said the cost of rent at Cooper was “a bit of a stretch,” but that the space was ideal, since the adjacent Milavec Hakimi Gallery exposed children to a variety of artwork.

Parents often come in to be “mystery readers” — part of the school’s effort toward community teaching. Soon, they’ll be able to sip espressos in an adjoining café. For up to $19,000 per year in tuition fees, an in-house coffee bar isn’t a bad perk.