Progressive Preschool to Open in Beacon

Brooklyn educator joins others promising holistic learning

By Jeff Simms

A new Beacon preschool for children ages 2 to 4 will open its doors Monday morning (Feb. 22), as Bija Beacon hopes to spread its brand of movement-, arts- and nature-based progressive education.

Founded 11 years ago in Brooklyn by Lauren Maples, who is its director, Bija (Sanskrit for “seed”) combines experiential learning techniques with yoga, fresh food and exercise, and lots of access to the outdoors to create what Maples calls a blueprint for a “purpose-driven life.”

“We’re thinking about the whole child — about creating experiences and opportunities to support children in growing into thoughtful, aware, graceful human beings,” she says. “We aren’t thinking about children meeting a standardized level of development. We understand that each child is a unique individual.”

Bija is opening at 869 Wolcott Ave., where a 1935 Colonial doubles as Maples’ home. Behind the house, a finished barn contains a library space, a place for dramatic play, a “sensory area” and tables for science, social studies and snack and mealtime. A large backyard is equipped for outdoor play, and extra room there, as well as in the front, will be used for food that the children will grow and eat.

Outdoor activities at Bija Beacon  (Photo by Ethan Harrison)
Outdoor activities at Bija Beacon (Photo by Ethan Harrison)

Maples, 33, says Bija came to be after she began teaching yoga and dance to children in Brooklyn. As interest grew in the community there, so did Bija, organically.

“I was thinking really deeply about my own experiences and where we are in the world, and my role in helping to shape the next generation,” said Maples, a graduate of The New School. “The more I’ve done this, the more committed I am to this work.”

Bija’s Brooklyn school continues to operate, serving around 200 families a year through its various offerings. Instructors from the Brooklyn school will probably come to Beacon from time to time, Maples said, to give students here access to new faces and ideas.

In the Hudson Valley, Bija is connected with Grass + Grit Farm in New Paltz, which will also help supply food for the school. Bija’s Beacon location, in addition, will serve as a host site for Grass + Grit’s CSA. Maples said a dedication to sustainable food, much of it plant-based, is a key component of the holistic educational environment Bija seeks to create.

“I think a focus on doing what we preach can have a long-term impact on kids,” she said. “It encapsulates a lot of my other educational ideas.”

Lauren Maples (Photo by Ethan Harrison)
Lauren Maples  (Photo by Ethan Harrison)

The school will launch with five children and two instructors, including Maples. After the abbreviated first session ends in June, Bija will host four weeks of summer camp in July and August, and then begin its first full school year in Beacon in September.

On Wednesday, as Maples led a tour through Bija’s still under-construction space, she commented on the rain outside, offering some insight into her educational philosophies as well: “If it was warm enough, we could be outside today.”

Doing what? “The kids would be using movable materials outside. It would be dictated by the child. We would let them lead, and if they didn’t want to be outside, they wouldn’t be forced to.”

Why? “It develops resiliency, coping, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. I don’t think they have that many opportunities for those things anymore because their lives are so structured.”

For more information on Bija, visit bijakids.com/beacon.

Other schools

Besides Bija, Beacon has several other schools for pre-school students:

  • Be Creative As Possible, located on West Main St. near the Metro-North Station, offers programs that address the needs of the “whole child”— social, emotional, intellectual, and physical (becreativeaspossible.com).
  • On Hannah Lane, Hudson Hills Montessori utilizes the practices of Maria Montessori and offers primary and elementary programs for children from 3 to 8 years old (hudsonhillsmontessori.org).
  • Kid’s Place is located at 60 Liberty St. and includes toddler, preschool and summer camp programs (kidsplacebeacon.org).
  • Rose Hill Manor, on Wolcott Avenue, offers programs for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children (845-831-4847).

In addition, the Beacon City School District offers a half-day, pre-kindergarten program at each of the district’s four elementary schools. However, it will only operate if the Beacon City School District continues to receive state funding for the program.