By Rebecca Martin
In most cases, a parent and child in this country are grossly under supported by our society and system. I learned this after having a son. For instance, who was the genius that came up with three months as the magic number for a woman to recover from a delivery and get settled into her new role as “mother”? It’s a funny thing, the discussion of family values in America while forcing both parents to work full time jobs so early in a child’s life (in places like Sweden for instance, a mother has a minimum of 69 weeks paid maternity leave).
For now, that’s just the way things are and in Kingston, we are fortunate to have some excellent choices for child care and early child development. Whether you have to work, or you wish for your preschooler to be in a sensitive, nurturing and community based program, this is it.
I had the opportunity to sit and chat with the founder of Livingston Street Early Childhood Community recently to share her ideas with our readers.
KingstonCitizens.org: Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how you came to Kingston?
Cheryl Demuth: I grew up in Middletown, NY and got my Bachelors degree in Psychology at SUNY New Paltz. After graduating, I moved to Kingston with my then boyfriend, now husband, Tim. Tim was accepted to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University shortly after coming to Kingston and we moved to Pittsburgh eighteen months later. We stayed in Pittsburgh for a couple of years, but moved back to the Hudson Valley in 2004.
After moving back to Kingston, I began working as the Head Teacher in the toddler classroom at Vassar College Infant Toddler Center (ITC). The ITC is an inclusive childcare center and laboratory school. Given the lab school setting, alongside the toddlers in the room there were researchers observing and studying children in the group care environment, student teachers learning classroom management and developmentally appropriate practice, and Vassar College students in the work-study program. This type of setting gave me a solid foundation in management, communication skills, working with young children, developing innovative curriculum, and engaging parents and community (just to name a few).
I worked at the ITC for two years before deciding to go back to school at Bank Street College of Education for Early Childhood Leadership. Working full-time and going to school full-time was not easy, but after two years I received my Masters degree. My wish was to open a progressive early childhood program in Kingston. Upon graduating from Bank Street in 2008, I left Vassar College to pursue my dream.
KC.org: The Livingston Street Early Childhood Community is a combination of school and daycare. Can you explain how your program works?
CD: Livingston Street operates from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Friday, except for Wednesdays when we close at 3:30. In thinking about what I wanted for children and families it was important to me to offer high quality care for the working part of the day. Yet, I also wanted to have a structured routine similar to school that offers engaging and challenging activities for young minds and bodies. Thus, Livingston Street meets the needs of working families with full-day care and high quality, progressive early childhood programming.
KC.org: What is your philosophy and approach to caring for and teaching young children?
CD: Livingston Street’s mission is to nourish the emotional well-being and social competence in young children through the creation of meaningful relationships with a diverse group of people, the development of early literacy and communication skills, and program wide participation in the process of community service.
I approach early childhood teaching and care from a social/emotional standpoint. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University said it simply when he stated, “Emotional well-being and social competence provide a strong foundation for emerging cognitive abilities. Together they are the ‘bricks and mortar’ of the foundation for human development.” With that said, I am most interested in making sure that young children believe in themselves and feel competent and effective in social settings.
What we do:
At Livingston Street, we expose children to a variety of experiences, including walks through the neighborhood, large group mural projects and individual artistic creations, music and movement, cooking projects, early literacy, and so much more. All of these experiences challenge and encourage development in a safe, nurturing environment where children feel comfortable to explore and learn at their own pace.
Part of the Livingston Street philosophy is to allow for a democratic classroom where the children lead the curriculum. This is called emergent curriculum and is based on the idea that children know best what they would like to learn about. It is the teacher’s responsibility to follow their lead and create experiences and challenges that teach based on the children’s interest.
Along with the work we do with young children, Livingston Street also has the component of community service. Twice during the calendar year, Livingston Street staff, friends and families volunteer for a community service event. The project is simple, something that the children can manage alongside the adults. The purpose is three-fold. First it brings the children a greater sense of security in the surrounding community. Second, it enables young families to learn together the joys of helping others and believing in a cause. Lastly, it connects the Livingston Street community with the broader community in a very meaningful and positive way.
KC.org: You have a new location that will be open shortly. Why did this space inspire you?
CD: We are located in a space at Immanuel Lutheran Church at 20 Livingston Street in Kingston. The building housed a school that closed in the early 1970’s. The classroom that we are using is a large, newly renovated open space. It has high ceilings, a wall of large, south facing windows that look back on the wooded play area, and a striking wood floor.
If ever a classroom could, this room stimulates imagination and creates an atmosphere of friendship and engaged learning. Each time I walk into the room I feel excited for the children that will be use this beautiful space and the families that will reap the rewards of delighted and inspired children.