The Scandinavian School of Jersey City.
If you're located in or around Jersey City, NJ, and are the parent of small children then you need to prick up your years.
Nordstjernan visited Swedish Maria Sharp a little over a year ago, as she was getting ready to open her Scandinavian School, a nursery school in Jersey City. On a recent re-visit, we can tell you that Maria’s school is thriving.
The school, which is located on 513 Manila Avenue in Jersey City, looked like an unfinished mess last year when we visited. This time around it's different. What greets me is an amazing place; inviting, creative, absolutely beautiful. Maria shows me around.
“This fall we have one group with about 13 smaller children (ages 1-2.5) and one group of 10 with children aged 2.5 to 4,” she explains.
Maria, who has a Master’s degree in Education, and her staff are all Swedish speaking or speak another Scandinavian language and they never or rarely use English. The school’s based on the Reggio Emilia approach, an educational philosophy that means children have control of their learning and learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing.
“We’ve just begun,” Maria says, “and we haven’t worked with this philosophy that long. The difference between Reggio Emilia and Montessori or Waldorf is that you can’t get certified or licensed in Reggio Emilia, the school is simply ‘a work in progress’, which I like. There’s no model to follow, no catalogue where you can order furniture or material that are to be used in a preconceived way. We learn and change in accordance with the children, the school is always developing, and there’s a charm in that I think.”
Being Scandinavian is of course a feature that sets the school aside. It is the only one of its kind on the East coast, there’s another Scandinavian nursery school in San Francisco. Maria describes what it means in practical terms:
“We go out every day, we serve healthy food and have a different kind of philosophy from the other schools in the neighborhood. I don’t think we can be compared with any other schools, perhaps because all teachers are Scandinavians and our way of viewing childhood is very different from the American way. But I’m not saying the other schools around here aren’t good, however we’re unique in what we stand for.”
A day at the Scandinavian School
For the younger group, a typical day starts with breakfast, inside or outside, then activities outside until lunchtime, after lunch they rest and in the afternoon they work in groups with whatever they want to; dramatic play, painting, trains, blocks, or the dollhouse. There are meetings several times throughout the day during which the kids can wind down a bit, talk, sing, discuss the day, or have a teacher read them books. The older group begins work as soon as they arrive in the morning; choosing their area themselves. After about 45 minutes, there’s a meeting during which they discuss what the morning was like, what’s next and so on. After that follows a light breakfast (usually knäckebröd, milk, fruit and berries) The children themselves set the table for meals, and they pass around the food to one another and pour their own milk. After breakfast they water the plants, and go out. Sometimes they visit local businesses, like the nearby ecological market or the florist. They play in the park or visit the playground.
“The kids especially like to play in the park, where they gather material for the school and use only their imagination for their activities,” Maria says. “After our outdoor activities we gather for a reflection meeting, then we have lunch, read books and rest. In the afternoon we work in smaller groups. We also have dance with an instructor who comes twice a week and one of the parents come in and gives us one yoga session a week, and we do yoga during the week too.”
Maria plans to introduce more writing/reading/math elements.
“We’ve seen how some of the children have already shown interest in writing, so we established a little writing center where they can write letters, cut and paste and so on. They love it!”
Both groups have schedules that allow for variations and flexibility.
Who is it for?
A Scandinavian school sounds good but who goes there, you may wonder. Are there really enough Scandinavian families in the area? Most of the children at Scandinavian School do come from households where at least one person speaks a Scandinavian language, but there are also non-Scandinavian families who send their children here. Says Faith Luby, an American mother who chose the Scandinavian School for her son:
“We love the school! And were so excited and honored that Tom was accepted, because the school had an amazing reputation. It has exceeded our expectations and as my husband would say ‘It’s rare when you feel 100% about leaving your child behind with someone.’ Although we are American, we feel that the cultural influence is a welcomed addition to our sons overall personality and development. The school provides what many American schools lack; wholesome food and outdoor activities. We love that our son is taken outside daily in rain, sleet (well maybe not sleet) and snow.”
Veronica Park agrees. She feels the people at Scandinavian School are great, and believes that the fact that her son’s learning Swedish is an added bonus.
“Language is such an amazing catalyst to the brain and exposure to another language is enriching on so many levels,” Park says. “My son Christopher is already tri-lingual and with Swedish will be exposed to another language. Although I’m very happy with the school my older kids are at, Christopher will now stay at the Scandinavian School until they kick him out. I can’t imagine him being anywhere else.”
Tuition for a full-time child (full-time being 8:30-5:30) is $375/week, for part time 3 days $275/week, and for half days (8:30-11:30) $225.
For more information: www.scandischool.com
If you’re interested to enroll a child, contact Maria Sharp at: firstname.lastname@example.org