Conversation with Jane Peters
Stella Maris Regional School Principal Jane Peters reveals the details of the school’s new program for two-year-olds, which will open its doors at the East Hampton satellite campus this month.
What prompted Stella Maris to start the two-year-old program this school year?
We finally have the space. We have been discussing this for several years. I get calls all the time from parents asking if we do a two-year-old program. We have had to say that we literally didn’t have the space. We made some changes in the building and were able to move our pre-school from East Hampton to here [Sag Harbor]. That leaves us our classrooms in East Hampton. It will be housed in our eastern campus at the [former] Most Holy Trinity School on Meadow Lane. We have our own private yard and two lovely classrooms. People have been asking for years for us to open a program.
What is the philosophy behind starting a program for two-year-olds?
I think more and more you find children are ready for a group experience of interacting with other kids. In terms of our philosophy, our aim is for the children to have play experience that enhances their development and widens their experiential based. We want to enable them to see themselves as great learners.
We are very eclectic in our approach to preschool. We use a variety of approaches based on developmental theories from Piaget to Montessori. There is a hefty thread of Montessori because that is my own background. A child development specialist provided us with a base of what experiences to provide each student at each age level. There is a lot of play, music, dancing and art. It is the kind of environment that aims to provide kids with a lot of opportunities to interact with other kids and great play materials.
What kinds of experiences will the children have? What skills will they develop and what kinds of toys will they play with?
Pretty much all the toys would be games that are designed to enhance their development capabilities with puzzles, geoboards, and other kinds of basic play toys. They will do a lot with play and art. Additionally our preschool program offers immersion in a foreign language, so for some part of the day they will hear words or conversations spoken in Spanish. The neural pathways start decreasing by age five. So the earlier you do this the better.
Parents can expect children to say they had fun. With music, painting and Playdough, they will have lots of tactile and kinesthetic experiences.
It is a two-and-a-half-hour program from 9 to 11:30 a.m. If we were to receive an overwhelming response we will consider opening an afternoon session as well. That would be from 12:30 to 3 p.m., but at the two-year-old level you wouldn’t be offering a full day program.
Developmentally, what changes are happening with a two-year-old?
Two-year-olds are fascinating. It is one of the first times the kids will push for their independence. They love to do things themselves. Obviously we want to make sure they have opportunities with toys and things so that they can do things independently.
The second piece is the beginning of verbalization of their ideas and imagination. We give them opportunities to express themselves and tell stories. The third piece is we would like to help them begin to build friendships and learn how to share. How do you let someone know that you will give them this toy in two minutes when you are done with it? At home a parent asks them to share their own things but at school, they are sharing the school’s things. It is a little easier for kids to do that. They aren’t able to pull out the “mine” card.
In terms of gross motor skills, they are working on running, jumping and hopping. All of those things are great for brain development. They are very busy and active.
It will be a program that isn’t time structured but space structured. With a two-year-old program you will have different centers at different parts of the room. The teachers facilitate movement from one center to the next. Occasionally the kids gather for things like snack, story or music. A two-year-old won’t be sitting for a prolonged period of time. Their attention span is 10 minutes at the most.
The goal is to have them feel really good about themselves and their abilities. They form their image of who they are as a learner. We hope it winds up being a whole lot of fun.
How many students will you accept per session?
We have a maximum of 10 students per session with two certified teachers. Right now we have six kids signed up, so we do have space for the morning program. People will have the option of two, three or five sessions per week. As I said if we had an overwhelming response, we will open up to an afternoon session.
What is the model for this school?
I worked for a Montessori program in Minneapolis that had a two-year-old program. When I worked at the Riverdale Neighborhood House I created a two-year-old program. That is the model that we are working off of.
The Stella Maris Regional School’s “Stella Stars” two-year-old program runs from Monday through Friday. Five morning sessions cost $617.50 per month. Three morning sessions per week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, cost $367.50 per month. Two morning sessions per week, on Tuesday and Thursday, cost $245 per month. For more information on the program call the Stella Maris office at 725-2525.