Learning is fun in Rainbow Land
On any given day, it's hard to get hold of Patricia Peralto and Odette Epstein.
Dealing with 75 children in rooms full of Dora, the Explorer posters, counting charts and other fun learning tools can be a hassle, but the founders of Rainbow Land Nursery wouldn't have it any other way.
"These children keep you on your toes," laughs Peralto. "You can't be a dull teacher nowadays with Google. Our programme is centred around singing and playing, so everything that we do involves music, and it is through play that we learn."
Peralto and Epstein both worked at Hillel Academy, but decided to start their own institution. Thirty years later, Rainbow Land is even more colourful.
"It's a nursery, not a day care," said Peralto. "Most day cares are mostly babysitting. We are a school. We are preparing them for prep school. Every day, they have a routine." This includes the Learning Circle where the children sit together and teachers introduce concepts like letters or numbers, all done through music and singing. After that, it's lunch and playground time.
"But we also divide the programme where they have dancing once a week, physical education once a week, story and puppetry every day. We have social studies and science, and we have Spanish," Peralto explained. "So we function just like a school."
The first location was at Windsor Avenue, followed by two other stops. For the last three years, they have called Allerdyce Drive home.
"A good location is where it's easy for parents to drop off and pick up," she said. "But I've always said you travel for the best, even if it's out of the way. The early part of the children's education - the first five years - are the most important. You want them to have a good start."
The Gleaner's visit coincided with India Day, where children learnt about various aspects of the culture, including customs, festivals, attire and food from parents. A number of expatriats send their children to Rainbow Land. This helps to open the children's minds to different cultures at an early age.
"We have an open atmosphere here for parents. They can just turn up and say they would like to watch personal education class, or sit in with the Spanish class," said Peralto.
She explained that the school is very thematic, and there are different topics for every month. September is about 'me', where the children learn about themselves and are taught to feel unique. October is devoted to Jamaica's heroes, while December is centred around Christmas.
"January and February, we are big on community helpers, so the doctors, the dentists, hairdressers, as well as the garbage men come in," she said. "And if they don't come in, we go to them. We go to the fire station, we go to the soldiers, we go to the airport." Peralto believes this kind of interaction makes the school popular.
"We're very hands-on, and we don't just believe in teaching on a board. We believe in field trips, so children can see what's happening." At present, there are three teachers, plus one for dance and physical education respectively, and 10 teachers' assistants. School runs from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with an aftercare that goes up to 5:30 p.m.
Always improving, there are plans to supplement the computer room with tablets and upgrade the playground. Peralto noted that they keep up to date and bring new ideas to keep children stimulated.
"When they leave us at about age four (they start at 16 months), and go to a kindergarten at a prep school, they have actually started a kindergarten programme," said Peralto. "So I would say we have an awesome programme. You can definitely look to the future to see more of the 'Rainbow' in education."