Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 34
 
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton



SUMMERTIME FUN: “This is the ‘new neighborhood’ where you are developing those first friendships in a safe place. The friendships here often last way beyond the children’s time at Harmony.” Lisa Forrester, founder and owner of The Harmony Schools, is shown with a group of five- and six-year-olds by the king-size sand box in Harmony’s outdoor play area.

The Forrestal Village Harmony School Relocates to New Forrestal Location

“Harmony comes from my music background, and also, the harmony of relationships of teacher, child, and parent working together with a common goal,” says Lisa Forrester, founder and owner of Harmony Schools, explaining the origin of the schools’ name.

“I have a B.A. in music,” she continues. “I have a certificate in Early Childhood Education and a Masters Degree in Child Care Administration.”

As a young bride, in 1981, she was concerned about opportunities available in child care for children of parents who both worked out of the house. “My husband was a public defender, specializing in juvenile issues. He wanted to help kids stay on the right path. We started thinking, ‘What if we have kids? We both work.’ There just weren’t enough options for people who work. There were some good half-day nursery schools, but we felt there was a need for something else.”

Ms. Forrester took steps to rectify the situation, and in 1981, opened the first Harmony School in the Chambersburg section of Trenton. It offered child care and pre-school programs for children from infancy to five years-old.

“I did everything,” she recalls. “I taught music, handled administrative work, and rubbed backs at naptime.”

With programs for different ages, including infants, toddlers (18 months to two), pre-school (three), pre-K (four), and kindergarten, the school thrived and expanded. At one point, there were six different school centers. Currently, there are two: one in Princeton Forrestal Village and a second in the Foxmoor section of Robbinsville.

State-of-the-Art

“We moved to Forrestal in 1988, and this changed my life,” reports Ms. Forrester. “The energy, vitality, ingenuity, and the taste here is unlike anything I have ever seen.”

And, just last week, the school moved to a new 10,000 square-foot location at 139 Village Boulevard, still in Forrestal. It is state-of-the-art and 21st Century “green”, with sustainable lighting and landscaping. Child-friendly, it features hallways with chalkboard panels for kids to draw upon, carpet with an interwoven alphabet, a covered rear porch, with ceiling fan, so that the curriculum, including coloring, playing with blocks, etc., can continue outdoors. An outdoor play area offers a king-size sand box, fun toys, and a big climbing swing set will be installed in September.

Safety is a key issue, and video cameras are situated in each classroom, the front entry way, and at the playground. Parents can view their child’s classroom via a monitor that is in the administrative area of the school. Registered families have a security key fob to enter the building.

Children can attend Harmony half or full days, and two, three, or five days a week. The Harmony Forrestal location is open from 7 a.m. to 7. p.m., with children typically there anywhere from 9 to 3 or 5 in the afternoon. Hours are flexible to accommodate parents with varying schedules. There is also a summer program, including “theme” weeks and field trips, for children up to nine years old.

Since both parents work out of the house today, Ms. Forrester believes the need for a safe, supportive, and stimulating pre-school environment is more important than ever.

“We have eight classrooms, excluding the infant rooms,” she notes. “We have a three to one child/teacher ratio, and all our lead teachers have a BA in early education or a related area, or have a childhood development degree. There are eight lead teachers and also teaching assistants.

Age-Appropriate

“The infant caregivers are nurturing, patient, and loving,” she adds. Babies are assigned a primary caregiver, and parents are welcome to bring items for the crib to personalize their space. Each child has his or her own crib. Infants are taken on daily stroller walks, have free playtime, and group activity.

Ms. Forrester believes that a good nursery school curriculum is at the core of a full-service child center. As the children advance to different age levels, they experience age-appropriate educational and play activities.

“We do not have a rigid program,” she explains. “We address each child as an individual. Although we have some group time, such as story time and lunch time, and outside play, learning through individual experience is accomplished through learning centers within each classroom.

“A child learns best by doing, not by watching something being done. They need to explore and experiment with their own minds and hands at their own pace. They also need the support, guidance, and encouragement of someone who respects them so they can learn to respect themselves.”

Written Report

Ms. Forrester points out that children all have their own personalities, and learning to interact with one another is important. “We help them learn how to talk to each other and instill respect for others. Also, I find that kids thrive when they have preparation and know what to expect. We tell them, ‘We’re going to put toys away and clean up our area’ ahead of time. We let them know there are rules and regulations.”

At the end of each day, parents receive a written report on their child. In addition, there are monthly newsletters and calendars to keep them up-to-date. There is constant communication between parents and the Harmony staff.

Ms. Forrester is justifiably proud of the success of the Harmony Schools, but it is always her goal to make them even better. “It’s difficult to be a small company in the early childhood industry. Others are under franchise or a national chain. There are not many independents, and it is really very personal to me. I have to make everything work and nothing is left to chance.

“It’s about being the best we can be, and it can always be better. It’s about making the two schools we have even more spectacular and wonderful.”

Ultimately, she adds, it’s about the children. “Any contact I have with the kids is wonderful. All I have to do is walk down the hallway and see the children. This is joy.”

An Open House will be held at the Forrestal location on Saturday, August 28. For more information, call (609) 799-4411. Website: harmonyschools.com.

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