5 Innovative Pre-Schools: CapNY

Public school pre-K programs are more widely available than ever before. However, some CapNY parents might be looking for non-traditional preschool options.

These 5 innovative pre-schools in the capital region provide play and nature based-choices for families with young children. If you are looking for public-education alternatives, read on.

Forest Kindergarten Homeschool Program at the Flying Deer Nature Center, East Chatham, NY

Forest Kindergarten Homeschool Program

At the start of the day, students and teachers meet in a circle and enjoy morning games. The Forest Preschool program nurtures a sense of wonder. The emphasis is on curiosity and reverence, through exploration, observation, inquiry, and free play. The kids go to a campsite or forest to build, explore, create, play, and adventure throughout the wetlands, streams, and forest.

“We teach things like bird language, hazard prevention, shelter building, and carving with knives,” said Tresca Weinstein, the program’s registration and marketing coordinator. “They learn skills like tracking animals, plant identification, fire building and tending. Storytelling and tending the earth are just some of the skills acquired.” She continued, “Many of the skills have been handed down from First Nations people. We acknowledge and honor their teachings and tradition. Within those skills, the children are building on math, science, literacy, and social skills.”

Ages: 4-6
Attendance options: Half-day, two, three or five days a week
Annual Fees: $1,200 to $5,190

Susan O’Dell Taylor School

Child with leaf, Susan O'Dell Taylor School

Music, art, literature, math and science flow throughout the day at the Susan O’Dell Taylor School in Troy. The day’s lessons are planned for preschoolers to a multi-sensory experience, encouraging observation and inquiry.

In the fall kids collect leaves to learn why they change color, and why evergreens keep their needles. Trees are woven into every aspect of learning. Incorporating evergreen boughs and pinecone murals, and an interpretive tree-themed dance. “The program is centered on what children experience in real life. They can make connections between school and the world around them,” said Meagan Duncan, director of admissions.

Ages: 3-4
Attendance options: Half-day, two, three or five days a week
Annual Fees: $7,500 to $11,000 (2020 tuition)

The Free School of Albany

The Free School of Albany

Of our 5 innovative pre-schools, the Free School is the longest running inner-city independent alternative school. In the entire the United States! Students learn through a self-directed approach that balances traditional academic subjects and valuable life lessons ranging from responsibility to problem solving, social justice and how to interact with their peers.

The school kitchen is a classroom. Students help choose the crops. They learn how they grow and prepare a meal from the fruit or vegetable. A food and garden program connects kids to where their food comes from and the importance of nutrition. Community involvement through volunteering, local events and learning about different cultures in Albany’s historic South End emphasize the larger connection to others.

Ages: 3-5
Annual Fees: Income based ranges from $300 to $1,525

Montessori School of Schenectady (One Family Montessori)

Montessori School of Schenectady

At Montessori schools it’s the kids that determine how and what they will learn, explained Jodi McClernan, head of One Family Montessori.

“We love the small size and student focus, allowing each teacher to really get to know your child. The way they support, educate, and care for children is heartfelt,” said Rochelle Caruso. “Our three children have attended this school and easily matriculated into public school for kindergarten.”

Multiple Montessori Schools are available across the CapNY region making them easily accessible in several neighborhoods. The enrollment information provided below is specific to One Family Montessori. Finding other locations in your community is only a Google search away.

Ages: 3 to 6
Attendance options: Half-day, part-time and full-time
Annual Fees: $4,500 to $12,200

Waldorf School Saratoga

Forested hiking trails, yard space, gardening and playing serve as the curriculum and setting for the Waldorf School in Saratoga. A restored farmhouse offers respite from extreme weather. Feeding the birds, chickens and guinea hens are part of the daily activities.

Waldorf School Saratoga

“The foundation of Waldorf School education is preserving childhood,” said Elisabeth Garofalo, who oversees admissions. “Children learn self-care skills. They build cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills through free play, exploration.”

Ages: 3 – 6
Attendance options: Three or five days a week. Half-day with option for extended care and full-day.
Annual Fees: $4,000 to $14,000

Have other pre-school programs beyond our 5 innovative pre-schools? Let us know about your educational alternatives.

Written by: Katie Navarra

Katie Navarra is a professional writer based in the Capital Region. She has written for Popular Science, The Motley Fool Blueprint, Western Horseman, Horse & Rider and others. She is also a life and executive career coach who helps clients find clarity and success in and out of the office. Learn more at katienavarra.com.