Our family had always dreamed of moving to the North Country. The high peaks region is a playground for nature lovers—climbing, hiking, skiing, and air that smells like rain and leaves. Although I was born and raised in Brooklyn, my wife and I had been coming up for years before we had children, secretly scoping out real estate websites, different communities, places to hang out. Personally, I figured it wasn't possible prior to retirement--the job options are limited, and I had very specific ideas about education for the children I hoped to have.
Fast forward to 2017 when we had a toddler running amok and another child on the way. I dutifully traveled from one Brooklyn preschool open house tour to the next, trying to imagine my son enrolled in the extremely costly programs. No matter how many tours I went on, I just could not visualize dropping my son off where he would spend a day surrounded by bricks and fluorescent lights. The majority of programs offered 30-60 minutes of outdoors time per day, primarily spent in asphalt and astroturf, with a narrow permissible weather window. Instead, the children I observed on my tours sat stiffly at desks working on tracing shapes, learning their letters. While I saw some independent, self directed play, it became clear that the limitations of space and the need for the teachers to control large class sizes made true free play impossible.
One week before my second son was due, my wife got a solid job offer in the North Country. Lakeside School was like nothing we had seen before, full of creativity, wonder, and magic. My first impression of the school was that I wanted to be 3 years old and spend the day at this special spot, digging in the dirt, playing in the treehouse, smelling the air, eating up the endless views of the clouds and the mountains. The kids were engaged in imaginative, collaborative play that was self directed and unlike anything I had seen before. Instead of feeling dread at the thought of dropping my son into a brick walled, windowless room -- as I had felt on my Brooklyn tours--I felt peace and calm. I had come to realize that I had very high standards for preschool education for my sons, and spent many sleepless nights worrying that I would never find a good fit. With Lakeside, I had finally found a place that was not just acceptable, but that I was truly psyched about.
Did we move to the North Country because of Lakeside School? Not entirely, but it was a huge factor in our decision. The physical environment, educational expertise, attitude towards conflict resolution, and the teachers' willingness to allow play to develop naturally are unlike anything I've seen or read about. I feel completely solid and relaxed waving goodbye to my kid each day, and fully at peace with my decision to send him there-- a tremendous, ringing endorsement for a parent with almost impossibly high standards. My son comes home brimming with laughter and stories. Recently he has taught me how to split wood with an axe and a hammer; how to ice skate across slippery bridges; why the light changes with the clouds; how the birds sound different during story time; how to keep your hands warm by waving them in front of the fire; how to rake leaves into piles that are big enough to jump in; how there are many ways to get to the same secret spot in the woods; how to watch icicles melt; and how to slide down a snow-covered rock. How lucky I am to have found Lakeside and to be reminded of these most important life lessons.