Back to New York Preschools

Downtown Little School

15 Dutch Street
New York, NY 10038

(212) 791-1300


8 parents took the survey TAKE THE SURVEY

Philosophy & Approach

School Philosophy

General Approach to Learning: Play-Based

From the Director:

Each classroom has a structure, an unvarying routine so that children feel secure within the school environment. Because they always know what to expect, they do not have to waste energy trying to figure out what's expected of them. Within this structure, children are allowed the freedom to explore. The are offered increasing amounts of independence and autonomy as they are ready for it. We pay careful attention to the needs of each individual child.

Curriculum & Teaching Approach

Learning Philosophy & Tools

  Play- based mostly teacher led not formally in curriculum conducive environment
Language       more

More Information

  • A well-stocked bookcase
  • Pencils, crayon, colored pencils, markers, paper and other materials depending on age group; in the oldest class, a group of 4s and 5s, there might be alphabet on wall; lots of picture charts to read.
Oral language  
Nursery rhymes, poems, songs  
Storybook reading  
Emerging literacy skills  
Cognitive development
Math & number sense more

More Information

  • Puzzles
  • unifix cubes, blocks, sorting materials, patterning activities etc.
Time & space more

More Information

  • Parquetry blocks, pegboards, and mosaic toys
  • Building blocks
  • week long calendars, timers and clocks and maps but not necessarily
Sci. reasoning/physical world more

More Information

  • A place for science activities such as growing plants
  • Pets for children to watch and care for
Music more

More Information

  • Musical instruments
  • music teacher once a week, records and tapes and CDs
Visual arts more

More Information

  • Materials such as paint, ink, paintbrushes, crayons, markers, chalk, paper, etc.
  • Art work on the walls
  • clay, collage, more
Physical activity more

More Information

  • A playground with climbing equipment
  • Bean bags, balls, and other objects that children can throw, kick, and play
  • Enough room for children to move around and play and a suitable indoor alternative to the outdoor playground on rainy days
  • Sandboxes and/or water stations for play
Other subjects taught Most important is that children, through play and through exposure to all the things mentioned above, learn about themselves and about each other.

From the Director:

We do have formal group times or meetings. During morning meeting the children come together as a group and often have discussions either about whatever is on their minds, or about a shared concern in the classroom or, a teacher may introduce a new material or organize a discussion around a theme such as growing up that the children are studying. There is a time called Songs and Story durinng which the children sing songs and then listen to a story read aloud. But everything that happens during these structured group times may also be a part of the children's experience during their worktime or outdoor time. We don't teach formal academics here but children are exposed to the world of stories both by listening and by telling their own stories. Work with number is a natural part of the children's school day. We give children art materials, show them how they are used but it is process and not necessarily product that is valued.

Quality of Teaching

Individualized Teaching: From the Director

We see all children on a continuum of development and teachers work with individual needs and goals in mind.

Day in the Life

General School Mission

In each classroom at the Little School, a primary focus is on the traditional early childhood materials like blocks, hollow blocks and paints, on the dramatic play area and on clay, sand and water and a variety of art activities. In addition, there is an emphasis on independence, on independent thinking and on self-discovery. Children are supported in expressing a full range of emotion. As children explore materials, they explore relationships. First, there is each child's relationships to the materials. Then there is the child's relationship with teachers, with a peer group and, finally, with the whole world of school and the broader world. The youngest child learns to stack wooden blocks one on top of another. Soon she discovers that blocks can be used to make an enclosure. Still older children are thrilled to recreate buildings they've seen in the real world and, before long, whole cities spring up in the block area. Painting and drawing begin as simple marks on paper and grow to complex representations of the child's world. As the child grows, so grows the material. And, as children work together, use materials together, they must figure out how to get their own needs met through language. They must use materials together or take turns with them. Adults are there to supply words, to mete out justice, to comfort and to push. Teachers structure the children's school environment, plan activities, expand thinking and support friendships and feelings. The children learn from the materials; they learn from the teachers and they learn from each other. Personalities, temperaments and talents vary but the children are expected to coexist peacefully. They learn to negotiate, to bargain, to persuade. They learn when to compromise and when to stand firm. They learn to express their own feelings and they learn to respond to the feelings of others. They learn to see themselves as significant members of a community. The process of self-discovery through the use of early childhood materials is supplemented in each classroom by a social studies curricululum. Although children may spend a week or two studying caterpillars, for example; while a teacher may respond to a sudden and intense interest in trucks or princesses and initiate a study of transportation or of fairytales, the over-all curriculum is ongoing. It begins in the Fall and continues throughout the school year. In the Twos or the Red Room, the curriculum is really separation, adjustment to school, toilet training and independence. Different aspects of this important learning may take on more or less significance depending on a group but there is no need with this age group to impose more content than the simple experience of school. In the Threes, the Blue Room, separation and the school experience are still focal but the children also begin a study of babies and families. The teachers read books about new babies. Families with infants bring them in for a diaper change, breast or bottle feeding etc. The Threes taste baby cereal and compare it to regular cereal. They dictate about their own baby pictures and about pictures of family members. Family members visit the classroom. Teachers read books and lead discussions about family. The children become familiar with each other's families. The teachers take pictures of the children's school experiences. Classroom books are made. Children take home their own book of dictated stories at the end of the school year. In the Fours, the Yellow Room, the curriculum is called the Growing Up Curriculum. This program involves the making of individual books which are a record of the school year, a record of growing up. Children again dictate about their baby pictures. They write about themselves as four year-olds. They are interviewed about the differences between themselves as babies and as fours. They bring in strings the length they were when they were born and the length they are now. They bring in clothes they wore as babies, copies of their infant footprints to compare to classroom made footprints. Children draw self-portraits once a month. And teachers keep photographic record of the children's paintings and block buildings as they change. A record of any other studies done during the year will also go into these books along with the children's stories and examples of their work. At each stage of development, children bring different interests, abilities and issues to their work with materials and to their interactions with other people, both children and adults. Through guidance in the use of materials and in the intricacies of human relationships, teachers support each child's development. And as children explore the process of creating with blocks or clay or paper, they experience a sense of industry and mastery that grows into a sense of competence and confidence that affects the way they see their world.

A Typical Day

Rug time: adults and children gather during arrival on the rug with books, puzzles, toys like Duplo. Most families have some daily routine like one puzzle or story before saying goodbye.
Meeting: once everyone has arrived (rug is about 15 minutes), children have a meeting. A greeting song, reading picture schedule, attendance with photos and, in some classes, a week long calendar. Then either discussion or introduction of activity or material and then children sign up for worktime activities.
Worktime: typical choices are Blocks, Painting, Sand or Water, Clay or Playdough, Dramatic Play, Cooking
Clean Up: children and teachers clean up the classroom
Snack: water and graham crackers or saltines.
Roof: each class has 30-45 minutes on our playground
Songs and Story: children sing and listen to a story.

Home-School Connection

Home-School Connection: From the Director

2 scheduled parent/teacher conferences. curriculum night. Workshop series. Director available to discuss school or home issues. Teachers available by phone, e-mail or in person.

Parents Say They are Encouraged to:

  • Hold social events at the school to build community
  • Fundraise
  • Are able to visit the school anytime we want
  • Go on field trips
  • Volunteer in the classroom
  • Receive newsletters

Modes of Communication

  • Notes
  • Phone Calls
  • Voice Mail
  • Email
  • Special Meetings
  • Two or More Regular Conferences
  • Drop-Off
  • Pick-Up
  • Regular newsletter/printed updates circulated to the whole school


Separation is Handled through:

  • Home visits by teachers
  • Pre-entry meetings with parents at school
  • Small group sessions
  • Extra staff dedicated to handle separation
  • Parents in classroom early on
  • Abbreviated schedule at start of school year

Handling Separation: From the Director

We use a calendar that is a paper chain. We use teacher made books, discussions, charts. Separation from school or transition to next school is the curriculum during the last two weeks of school.