a mindful curriculum
Learning Through Play, Exploration and Friendships
At Chappaqua Friends Nursery School, every child’s growth is recognized as unique, and children develop their own special style at their own pace. We do not look for a standard set of skills to be mastered by a certain age. Rather, we look to nourish and enhance each child’s own complex set of interests, strengths and gifts through our mindful and deliberate curriculum.
We are proud of our curriculum. It is dynamic and mindful. We are passionate about investing energy and time in exploring and adopting progressive ideas to provide the finest Early Childhood Program.
Our programs remain true to the ideals of progressive education. Our curriculum supports a developmental, child-centered approach that uses a play-based methodology to help children discover the joy of learning while exploring the intersecting worlds of friendship, nature, self-expression and listening. We also engage in ongoing dialogue with our surrounding Elementary School communities to ensure we adopt ideas and practices in key subject areas and social development so that children are best prepared for a successful transition to their kindergarten environment.
Our curriculum represents the totality of our students’ experiences. It truly comes to life in activities that integrate studies in language arts, science, early mathematical thinking, nature and friendships–all through thoughtful play. Our dynamic yet predictable framework supports children in feeling safe and secure as they explore new relationships and feelings, new materials and ideas, as it develops a foundation for lifelong learning and friendship.
Our aim is to help children develop as whole persons through meaningful conversations, storytelling, productive play, hands-on nature study, big movement and art experiences. Our purpose is to help prepare these small beings to continue their educational journey to kindergarten and beyond.
“My children will enter elementary school as inspired learners, strong communicators and great friends. The core values that Chappaqua Friends has helped to instill into my children will not only make them ready learners but also ready human beings.”
Intentional instruction and enrichment
Language Arts is at the heart of our program. We are a literature rich environment and encourage a love of books, storytelling, music and movement to foster communication, reading, writing, listening, and creative expression.
Art is experiential and exploratory. The children are in charge of creation and every creation is different for each child. The differences are visual traces of the choices in color, shape, and form. The feeling, thinking, and talking in the art area are significant – linking the art experience to storytelling, science and math.
Our science focus fosters a child’s innate nature to question and learn. We use provoking tools for play and learning to ignite curiosity and empower open-ended investigation.
Our math focus is guided by how children build their understanding of mathematical concepts and skills. We integrate fundamental mathematical thinking into the children’s daily activities through our Building Blocks program.
Our school provides a natural setting for experiential learning and exploration that will foster a lifetime of awe, wonder and appreciation for our natural world.
Learning to be a good friend is at the core of everything we do. Each day children explore creative expression, kindness and respect. We help them navigate friendships, develop empathy, resolve conflict and care for one another.
We teach Spanish through song. The children hear sounds of another language when their brains are cognitively flexible and there is the potential for cognitive connections. Language is an element of traditions we explore as the children discover their expanding world.
Music & Movement
Children benefit from movement and music to learn and convey meaning. Through a combination of music, dance, creative movement and yoga, children explore how to translate aspects of their physical expression into verbal expression.
“Our aim is to help children develop as whole persons through meaningful conversations, storytelling, productive play, hands-on nature study, big movement and art experiences. Our purpose is to help prepare these small beings to continue their educational journey to kindergarten and beyond.”
Early Childhood Journey
The foundation for lifelong learning and friendship
Our progressive journey is designed to expand each child’s understanding of the world and themselves. We are committed to helping children discover and develop the skills they need for individual journeys to kindergarten and beyond.
We offer early childhood classes for children ages 2 through 5. Our classes are designed to expand a child’s understanding of the world and of themselves in an environment where they feel safe: safe to be both who they are and who they can become.
“Our natural outdoor playscape is designed as a landscape for learning and playing in a natural setting. It fosters greater imaginative play and a lifelong, meaningful relationship with the natural world.”
Chappaqua Friends Meeting House & Playscape
Where imagination, learning and friendships take flight
The Meeting House
We are fortunate to call the original Chappaqua Friends Meeting House home for over fifty years. Chappaqua Monthly Meeting began the Nursery School in 1962, to offer the community an excellent early childhood program. The Meeting House, built in 1753, provides an environment rich in history and warmed by friendship, as people have been coming together here and forming community for more than 260 years. While the Chappaqua Monthly Meeting and Chappaqua Friends Nursery School are actively engaged with nature, we continue to invest to create an educational space where young children flourish socially and in the Arts, Science and Math.
Thanks to the generosity of our community, we continue to make improvements to our educational space. Our community’s donations, talent and time have afforded us extraordinary additions such as the dynamic details of our playscape, our birds nest climbing structure and the indoor magnet wall and loose parts project. These enhancements help us continually expand creative play outdoors and in the classrooms.
The Chappaqua Friends Meeting House is situated in a beautiful, tranquil wooded area we call the meadow. The meadow allows children to explore and study nature with their own eyes, ears and hands and empowers them to love the earth with wonder, respect and safety.
The meadow provides a natural setting for experiential learning and exploration that will foster a lifetime of wonder and appreciation for the natural world. Children enjoy ‘looking up’ to discover the characteristics of trees, birds and woodland creatures. They love running, playing ball and parachute play in our wide open space and take safe risks–climb our small trees, jump over rocks, dig in squishy mud, stomp in puddles. The meadow is enjoyed by our entire family community and is the natural setting for community traditions like our Annual Fall Festival.
Children love clambering about the playscape, a landscape designed to maximize instinctive, wholesome play. Like our curriculum, the playscape is thoughtful and deliberate. It provides different ways for children to move their bodies as they move from place to place. The children run vigorously across the flat tracks, hop along from one stepping stump to another and delicately tiptoe along the natural balance beam. The land’s natural slope provides wonderful ways to go up, like the uneven log steps, and wonderful ways to go down, such as the embedded slides.
Adding to the variations in the playscape, plantings were selected by a master gardener in our community to further engage the students with a variety of textures, scents, colors, and natural drama throughout the changing seasons. Plus the large sand area, at a depth of 16 inches, accommodates endless industrious digging and construction activity of an entire class, allowing for creativity, imagination and teamwork to develop.
“The faculty at Chappaqua Friends displays an uncommon commitment to understanding who our children are and to nurturing their individual growth, development and happiness.”
Committed. Inspired. Kind.
Janet Himel – Director “I love asking children open-ended questions. Through their responses, I learn how they are thinking, hear their humor, and get to know the essence of who they are.”
It was Janet Himel’s job interview by a group of four-year-old Chappaqua Friends students that ultimately sold her on the position of Director. “I did not stop smiling throughout the conversation, and I became convinced that I had found the age group I would thoroughly enjoy.”
Nine years later, Janet continues to bring that same sense of joy and devotion to pre-school aged children to her work at CFNS director. “My approach is to look to the children, as Chappaqua Friends is their school.” Following progressive educational principles, the CFNS curriculum is developed in response to the interests and needs of the specific children in each class, Janet explains. “Children are honored and celebrated as two-year olds, as three-year olds, as four-year olds, and as five-year olds. We honor each individual child and honor each as a member of a group.”
Janet’s stewardship of the school also is grounded in the principles of Friends education. CFNS “is a values-based learning community, embracing friendship, integrity, respect for others and the natural world, and empathy for the ideas and feelings of others.”
Building on the strong foundations of Quaker and progressive education, Janet has introduced a range of innovations and enhancements to the school’s curriculum and learning environment over the course of her tenure. One of Janet’s first accomplishments was to transform school’s traditional playground into a natural playscape where features, such as slides built into a pre-existing slope, encourage children to interact with the natural world. Janet also has launched enrichment programs in sign-language, Spanish and music and movement, and established the two-year-old Chickadee class.
Janet began her career in education after having her own children — twin sons and a daughter — and devoting her time to them during their early years. A graduate of William & Mary, Janet worked after college in computer programming and systems design on Wall Street, and when she went back to school for her Masters in Education, her initial focus was on computer education. Before coming to Friends, she created and taught computer classes at Briarcliff Middle School.
Janet’s skills and interest in math and science education have inspired more recent CFNS curricular enhancements, including the introduction of the Building Blocks early childhood mathematics program for 4- and 5-year olds, launched after Janet spent two summers studying and training at Bank Street College. Another recent innovation is the Magnet Wall — a three dimensional playspace that allows children to cooperatively explore physics in a hands-on environment.
Each day, Janet keeps in mind that “children are in the process of becoming and growing into their potential” during their years at CFNS. “Our daily mission is to empower the teacher within every individual, children and teachers alike.” The school encourages students “to seek truth, to learn in order to serve others, and to take responsibility for one’s own learning.” She adds that “parents are honored guests, integral to our school community, and families and teachers share the children’s journey of growth.
DeeAnn Gautney – Head Teacher “It’s a joy to walk into school each day.”Like many Friends teachers, Robins and Owls head teacher DeeAnn Gautney was a CFNS parent before becoming a teacher. “I loved the experience my children had, and my husband and I loved the experience we had as parents.” A native of Pittsburgh, DeeAnn studied computer science and accounting at Lehigh University and previously worked in information technology training, both in the private sector and the University of Pittsburgh. DeeAnn has a particular interest in weaving math concepts into the CFNS curriculum through building, number games and pattern exercises. “It’s a joy to walk into school each day,” she explains. “I love that all of the teachers are very devoted to the children, to the school, and to continuing to build on our early childhood foundations. And, of course, I love that I get to spend each day with the children — they are happy, loving, funny, curious and have boundless energy!”
Dannielle Renza – Head Teacher “The Mother’s Day celebration is my favorite tradition at CFNS. I have experienced it as a parent and a teacher, and it is pure love and admiration for the people who are at the core of our special community.”Hummingbirds head teacher Dannielle Renza relishes “the sense of community among teachers and families” at Chappaqua Friends. Dannielle, who also is an assistant teacher in the Chickadee class, first became involved with Friends as a parent and subsequently joined the staff in 2012. “The staff at CFNS functions as a team, we all support one another, and strive to learn from each other. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such talented supportive peers.” A native of Yonkers, Dannielle studied psychology at Pace University, where part of her studies included working as a teaching assistant at Blythedale Children’s Hospital. “I am fascinated by early childhood development, and enjoy staying current with the latest research.” Dannielle adds that “teaching a Friends is joyful, rewarding experience,” which provides her with the opportunity to “watch a group of children form bonds throughout the year and see growth and explorations through the eyes of children.”
Vicky Vidal – Head Teacher & Spanish Teacher“You meet one child at the beginning of the year and by the end of the year you watch a whole new person walk out the door.”Vicky Vidal wears three hats at CFNS: schoolwide Spanish teacher, Bluebirds head teacher and parent. A New Jersey native of Uruguayan and Puerto Rican descent, Vicky earned a graduate degree in bilingual early childhood and elementary education from Bank Street College. She has spent significant portions of her life in Uruguay and lived in Madrid for eight years after graduate school working as an English teacher and translator/interpreter. As a Friends parent, Vicky has observed her three children have preschool experiences “full of nature, play, friendship and community — all I’ve ever wanted for their early years.” And as a CFNS teacher, Vicky has “fallen in love with the minds of young children. At no point in their lives will there be such rapid and dynamic development. You meet one child at the beginning of the year and by the end of the year you watch a whole new person walk out the door.”
Andrea North – Head Teacher“The CFNS curriculum is thematic, and we develop cohesive lesson plans to incorporate literacy, math, science, handwriting, art and dramatic play in a fun and exciting way.”Andreina North loves integrating her talent and interest in art into her teaching at CFNS. “Art is interlaced with our curriculum and is used to build hand strength, improve fine and gross motor skills and allow the children to express their creativity.” A native of Connecticut and graduate of Boston College, Andreina lives in Chappaqua with her husband and children and learned about CFNS through extended family. “The CFNS curriculum is thematic, and we develop cohesive lesson plans to incorporate literacy, math, science, handwriting, art and dramatic play in a fun and exciting way,” she explains. Andreina has been actively involved in the recent launch of CFNS’s Magnet Wall, a three-dimensional playspace that introduces children to the physical sciences and creates opportunities for cooperation. The Magnet Wall encourages students to work together to build ramps, pathways and other structures, and in doing so, they “are making social and scientific connections, problem-solving and learning in a truly child-directed exploration,” Andreina explains. CFNS is “always looking for creative new ways to help the children stretch their minds and build on their communication skills.”
Karen Warren – Head Teacher & Assistant Teacher“Feeling safe, respected and encouraged at school is important to facilitate a love of learning.”Karen Warren traces her interest in early childhood education back to her own experience in Kindergarten. “I had a very difficult time separating from my mother, and sadly, was not supported by a kind Kindergarten teacher. I think this is why later I became determined to help young children adjust to school in a gentle, positive way. Feeling safe, respected and encouraged at school is important to facilitate a love of learning.” A native of upstate New York, with a BA in Elementary Education from SUNY Cortland, Karen came to Friends after relocating to Chappaqua from England, where she substitute taught at the American School in London. She has held a number of positions over the years at CFNS, including head teacher for the Robins. Karen was drawn to “the Friends philosophy of kindness, friendship and appreciation of nature, as well as the school’s child-centered approach to learning through productive play.” One of the things Karen loves most about being a teacher at CFNS is “having the privilege of listening and sharing conversations with young children. It’s a gift to hear their stories.” An active volunteer in the community, Karen serves on the board and is a past president of CAREERS For People With Disabilities.
Missy Fabel – Assistant Teacher“The appeal of CFNS is its emphasis on letting children be themselves as individuals and as part of a larger community.”Bluebirds assistant teacher Missy Fabel brings extensive knowledge of the natural world to her work at CFNS. A Master Naturalist with a certificate in field biology from the New York Botanical Garden, Missy enjoys “introducing children to the natural world around them and having them experience and appreciate it as part of their everyday lives.” Missy’s husband’s family has a long-term relationship with the Friends Meeting House and her three children attended CFNS. “The appeal of CFNS is its emphasis on letting children be themselves as individuals and as part of a larger community,” Missy says. As a parent and teacher, she likes that “the staff appreciates all children’s strengths, weaknesses and individual personalities and takes that a step further by not only allowing, but enabling and encouraging, children to express themselves while also respecting their peers.”
Kathy Gonzalez – Assistant Teacher“Every day at CFNS brings new excitement, new joy and new challenges.”Distraught when it was time for her youngest son to leave CFNS for Kindergarten, Kathy Gonzalez feared her nearly lifelong association with the school was drawing to a close. So the Chappaqua native and CFNS alum was “elated” when school director Janet Himel asked her to join the faculty, first as a substitute and then as a full-time assistant. “Every day at CFNS brings new excitement, new joy, and new challenges,” Kathy says. “When unsolicited hugs come my way, I know those children feel loved and are safe. When a child takes something we have taught one day, such as leaf types, and the next day says ‘Look! It’s an oak leaf!’ then I know they are excited about learning. When they say ‘I’m sorry’ to a friend, I know we have taught them to be empathetic.” A graduate of Syracuse University who worked in the fashion industry before returning to Chappaqua to raise her family, Kathy also sits on the board of the Steffi Nossen School of Dance and Foundation, where she danced and taught during high school.
Liz Diederich – Assistant Teacher“I do not take for granted that I am a part of place that has been helping to educate families since 1962 and serving the surrounding community since 1753.”One of Liz Diederich’s most treasured memories of her decade-long tenure at CFNS is of her daughter “bounding up the front stairs of the Meeting House as a Robin, putting her coat on her hook (the only place she ever did that) and receiving a warm and inviting welcome from two inspiring teachers. She was ready to begin another wonderful morning of art, song, cooking, learning and exploring, and she never looked back.” An 18-year resident of Chappaqua who also works in the Children’s Room at the Chappaqua Public Library, Liz appreciates that as a CFNS teacher, she has “the opportunity to watch and engage with children as they learn to make new friends and deepen their school and community connections.” Liz adds: “I do not take for granted that I am a part of place that has been helping to educate families since 1962 and serving the surrounding community since 1753.”
Kaoru Morgan – Assistant Teacher“Having four children attend various nursery schools in the area and then finding Chappaqua Friends, I recognize that this is a unique and special place.”Kaoru Morgan loves that working at CFNS “is a new learning experience every day.” A native of Japan, Kaoru also enjoys bringing a different cultural perspective to the classroom. Kaoru moved to the U.S. in the 1980s and worked in finance before taking time off to focus on her four children with husband Michael. Her youngest two attended CFNS. “Having four children who attended various nursery schools in the area, including CFNS, I recognize that Friends is unique and a special place,” she explains. Kaoru appreciates that CFNS allows each child to develop individually. “The kids are wonderful. Each child is special, and it’s cute when they express their personalities.”