Letting Children Do What They Do Best




Acquire Language


Develop Social Skills



Our Mission: Morningside PlayCare cultivates the language genius, open mindedness, and wonder-filled hearts of young children.

We do this by providing nurturing care, as we immerse children in the Mandarin and Spanish languages through play, authentic creative activities, Yoga and exploration of Nature.

Our History: In 2015 Mom/Educator, Gail Foster, approached leaders in the field of early childhood education and linguistics with a vision:  Let’s establish a model nursery school specifically designed to tap the emerging neuroscience on the linguistic genius of the young brain. With support from scholars and practitioners, Dr. Foster recruited Columbia affiliated families with toddlers to collaborate in the start-up of an early childhood program that would give their children the gift of multilingualism. This team helped open the first home of the Toddler Language Project on the 18th floor of a residential building in beautiful Morningside Gardens. As part of their commitment to the field, PhD students and language experts have helped document every aspect of the initiative, from the children’s acquisition of a second, third, or fourth language to their social emotional development.  This year our work is being featured at the National Chinese Language Conference.
Today:  Almost 5 years later, our program is a key resource for the field, hosting visitors from both national and local foreign language learning institutes and think tanks. Our little graduates are bi and tri-lingual and are annually accepted into the top dual language private schools in the city. We enroll 14 children from a diverse group of future-minded families, traveling from as far as Riverdale.
Curriculum & Philosophy: We are a 100% Mandarin and Spanish immersion program. Morningside PlayCare's distinctive play-based and nature-based curriculum was inspired by the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf school, Flying Deer Nature Center, and yoga. Our emphasis on nature exploration and organic living is a match for families who want their children to be grounded in earth-based values and also prepared to build relationships across cultures. Through our nature curriculum, we explore and practice such concepts as respect for all living things, love, gratitude for our food and toys, being mindful, and wondering about everything!  Our gardens and nature exploration play for toddlers is unmatched in the city. Visit us and come early to explore and enjoy our grounds.
Diversity: We attract a rich diversity of visionary families.  These include families whose home language is English, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Russian, Portuguese, Vietnamese and who want their children to be multilingual.  Our Sliding Scale tuition assures our economic diversity.


Our Vision: To help create a generation of young Americans distinguished to serve as bridge builders, peacemakers, and citizen diplomats.  We envision young adults who are globally and academically competent, multilingual, fluent in Chinese culture, living in loving connection with nature, confident in their ability to build and create, and aspiring to a planet where all have the opportunity to realize their potential.


Our Location: Morningside PlayCare is located in the lovely Morningside Gardens, a residential co-op community in Morningside Heights, three blocks from Columbia's Teachers College. The co-op's one square block, filled with trees, gardens, birds, squirrels, and the occasional rabbit, comprises our nature exploration laboratory. It is also a sweet place to enjoy a picnic lunch and playground fun.  Should you visit, come early and tour our grounds.

Our Staff: Our staff is comprised of native Mandarin, Spanish and English speakers. With our close proximity to Columbia University's Teachers College, most of our teachers and interns are Teachers College graduates and students.  New York University and CUNY are also prime sources of recruitment. All staff we hire share the values of child-centered care and learning. And our professional development program is robust.  We are committed to the highest-quality care and teaching.​

See Team Profiles.



We are a 100% Mandarin and Spanish multilingual immersion play-based program. That means our teachers and caregivers speak to the children 100% of the time in the target language. We have support staff who speak to the children in English. Children are almost always learning and exploring their world in Mandarin or Spanish.  Because of our program's unique design, children whose parents want them to acquire English, are able to acquire all three languages through equal access.  Nature studies, yoga and mindfulness, are the curriculum threads that run through our program on a daily basis.  Our curriculum is Waldorf, Nature, and yoga inspired.  


Nursery: 18 mos. - 2.5 years

The focus for these years is on Language, Math, Motor Skills, and Social/Emotional Skills. 

LanguageChildren are introduced to the target languages (Mandarin, Spanish, English).  The focus is on comprehension. Children are exposed to writing in all three languages.


MathChildren are introduced to the early arithmetic skills of numbers, counting, and reading numerals in three languages.


Fine and Gross Motor Skills  - Children are given opportunities to develop and practice these skills through group and independent activities.

Social Emotional Development - Children are taught to regulate recognize and manage their emotions and behaviors, communicate their needs and care for themselves appropriately. They are taught the basic social skills necessary for group play, class activities and relationship building.

Science - Children are taught to notice, ask questions about, document, and categorize the living things in our backyard, field and gardens.  


Nursery Transitional: 2.5 - 3 years

LanguageChildren's development of comprehension skills in the target languages is continued (Mandarin, Spanish, English).  The focus is on comprehension as well as speech production. Children are exposed to writing in all three languages. Children are encouraged to site-read Chinese characters for numerals.

Math - The development of early arithmetic skills in three languages is continued, with increasing attention to conceptual understanding. 

Fine and Gross Motor Skills  - Children are given increasingly challenging opportunities to develop their skills through more challenging gross and fine motor activities, with the longer term goal of becoming able in a single area such as jump rope or soccer, or tracing, or writing their name.

Social Emotional Development - Continued development of their ability to recognize and manage their feelings and behavior, establish and sustain positive relationships with peers (making friends), and participate constructively in group activities. 

Science - Children continue their exploration of nature through authentic activities such as reading, planting, gardening, inquiring, observing and documenting.  

PreK Transitional: 3 - 4 years

LanguageChildren listen to and understand increasingly complex communications in the target languages. They increasingly use the dominant target language to communicate their thoughts and needs.  They are encouraged to speak, read, and write in English and Chinese, and to speak in Spanish.

Math - Children count, quantify, and begin to understand relationships between quantities and their numbers, place value and base ten, spacial relationships and shapes. The development of early arithmetic skills in three languages is continued, with increasing attention to concepts.

Fine and Gross Motor Skills  - Children continue their development in this area with increasingly challenging opportunities to engage in non-competitive children's sports , complex play, drawing, and writing. 

Social Emotional Development - Continued development of their social/emotional skills, ability to recognize and manage their feelings and behavior, establish and sustain positive relationships with peers (making friends), and participate constructively in group activities. 

Science - Children are encouraged to be scientists.  They engage in scientific projects that focus on a single topic in nature for several weeks.  They review literature, hypothesize, collect specimens, experiment, observe, document, conclude, and make reports and recommendations for future research projects. 


Time in Nature, Healthy Eating, Family Time: We value time in nature; feeding young bodies organic healthy meals; and strong ties between PlayCare and home. We explore our backyard, discover our own biology, and work hard to support parents in spending quality time with their children. From support with meals to our Nature Day Family Outings, we encourage community. We encourage the making of items, and purchase many hand-made toys.  Our furniture, from Community Play Things, is non-toxic and our carpets, natural fiber.

New  Online Kindergarten and First Grade Mandarin Course.

Coming this fall for Children with previous Mandarin exposure.

PlayCare is Fun and Exploration: PlayCare is an environment in which children learn in the context of self-expression, wonder, and play. There are no foreign language lessons, no reading lessons, no math lessons. Yet children become fluent in a second language, develop a love for reading and stories, become capable of numeracy, and begin to develop a knowing relationship with nature, express themselves creatively, and acquire a conceptual understanding of how their body works in the course of group and individidual play, song, and walks.
This Kind of Fun Can Occur in any Language. At Morningside PlayCare, we take advantage of the fact that the young brain is primed for multiple language acquisition. As your children play and explore, we will immerse them in the Mandarin language. If they remain in our program, we may immerse them in another language — all to take advantage of the brain's amazing capacity to acquire language in early childhood.
Cognitive Development: Because they are learning another language, their cognitive capability increases in ways that research shows will lead to higher academic performance and standardized test scores during their elementary and secondary school years. Why? In part, because acquiring multiple languages leads to a mental agility that serves children in all academic areas, and particularly in acquiring fluency in a third or fourth language.
Intellectual Curiosity: Exploratory projects develop children's intellectual curiosity and intellectual confidence by cultivating four key habits of mind:  being mindful of the world around us (young children are naturally mindful); formulating effective questions about it (young children are naturally inquisitive); developing a method for answering those questions; and then reporting discoveries to other children and adults. Teachers listen for the child's interests and questions, and help them design a method for exploring and reporting.
Shared Values Community: Research shows that being cared for, learning, and socializing in a community of shared values supports the emotional well-being of children. We are a community of families and educators who value the holistic, the child-centered, the organic, the creative, the multicultural, and the celebration of differences and commonalities. 
What if my child is ready to learn to read and write at an early age?   Children who are ready for our dual-language literacy curriculum will be offerred the opportunity to take it on, regardless of their age! We are small enough to easily indvidualize. That said, our focus in the toddler and pre-school years is on cognitive development over rote learning. Their brains are still developing, and we want to create neurological pathways for higher-order thinking skills. Through inquiry-based play, exploratory projects, and creative expression, we cultivate these skills. We instill the habits of mind that nurture intellectual curiosity and intellectual confidence for a lifetime. That is our goal. Our dual-language literacy program teaches a Kindergarten and First Grade curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic skills in both Mandarin and English, using a 50/50 immersion model. Our goal is to produce students on a track for reading and writing in both Mandarin and English at a college level during their high school years.
What about rote learning?  Parents love to teach children to memorize the alphabet, count to 10, spell their name, and more. Of course, this is fine and important when developmentally appropriate. Rote knowledge and lower-order skills are not bad or to be avoided - they are useful in service to inquiry. Children who are developmentally inclined to acquire rote knowledge are encouraged to do so. Teachers help them use and value this knowledge in the context of their authentic exploratory projects.  
How does Morningside PlayCare empower children?  Our approach empowers children from an early age to view themselves as designers of ways of knowing, and creators and disseminators of knowledge and aesthetics - rather than teaching them that there is a teacher or a book or a website that contains knowledge that they can passively receive. Instead of teaching children to memorize words, numbers, and facts, we communicate to them that what we value most are their efforts to design methods of discovery and self-expression, and their activities that disseminate their knowledge and aesthetics.