History and Overview of Cedar Lane Nursery School

Founded in 1959, Cedar Lane Nursery School is a co-operative nursery school where parents work together with dedicated teachers to create a joyful educational experience for their children. All aspects of our school are rooted in a respect for children and their ability to learn through play. Under the leadership of Cedar Lane’s teacher-director, Bernadine Occhiuzzo, we encourage our children to explore, experiment, ponder, and create. The school’s program and physical resources offer children ample opportunities to develop a sense of belonging, competence, purposefulness, and responsibility.

Cedar Lane is a non-sectarian school housed in Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, located in a beautiful wooded setting adjoining Rock Creek Park.

Our three classrooms are spacious and bright with reading nooks, easels, room for large block and vehicle play, as well as dramatic play, science and other activities that encourage learning through play. The school has a large, shaded playground with a variety of equipment, including swings, a sandbox, several different kinds of climbers, a rice table, and materials for outdoor art projects, allowing for active and imaginative outdoor play.

Parents at Cedar Lane play an integral role through their participation in the classroom and in all aspects of the school’s administration. The high level of parent involvement and the school’s intimate size allows our program to nurture children and foster their developmental needs.

We have a number of routines within our day's activities. Our goal is to provide a familiar and comfortable environment for the children. However, as a child-centered program our schedule is subject to change so that we can be responsive to the needs and leadership of the children on a particular day.

Our daily schedule includes the following activities, as well occasional enrichment activities (e.g., weekly music or Spanish class, special lessons offered by co-oping parents, etc):

Free Play

Our day opens with free play. During free play, children can choose from a variety of developmentally appropriate activities, including art, dramatic play, building with blocks or other materials, books, games, puzzles and science discovery.

Clean-Up and Story Time

At clean-up time, the children work together to clean up the classroom before washing hands in preparation for snack time. During story time, the teacher or a co-oper reads the children a developmentally appropriate story.

Snack Time

One of the co-oping parents is responsible for snack each day. Snack consists of a dry snack, such as goldfish/veggie straws and a fresh snack (fruits, vegetables, cheese, hummus, etc.). Co-opers are made aware of children’s allergies and dry snacks are planned around allergies of children in the classroom so that snack is safe for all children.

Circle Time

After snack, the children join together for circle time. During this time they may sing, play, or move to music, listen to a story, share news from home, or talk about events at school.

Outdoor Recess

Finally, the children enjoy an outdoor recess where they can run, climb, swing, play in the sandbox, make outdoor art, or participate in imaginary play with their friends prior to parent pick up.


Classroom Activities (Varies by Age Group)


  • Art provides opportunities for motor activities, self-expression, problem-solving, science, and many other experiences. Children are free to experiment, change, invent and create with available materials. Requests for different materials are also honored.

  • Our concern is for the PROCESS, the interaction with the materials, versus the finished product


  • When children build with blocks, they are often learning about size, shape, weight, and number concepts. They are also coordinating and controlling muscles. They are expressing ideas and learning to cooperate with others. They are problem-solving and inventing.

  • The children may build anything they choose.

Table Toys, Puzzles, and Games

  • In addition to sheer fun, these activities help develop spatial awareness, concept building, cooperation, matching and classifying, coordinating the actions of the eyes and the hands (reading and writing readiness), and expression of ideas (language development).

  • Children may choose toys, puzzles, or games from the shelf or cabinets. Many activities are child-directed with some guidance from the adults.


  • Reading with children develops a love of books and a desire to read (reading readiness). Turning the pages alone teaches children about reading from left to right. Talking about what happened in a story helps with language development, expression of ideas, and critical thinking.

  • We have a variety of books available to children. The library is a peaceful place where a child may go to look at books. Parents are also encouraged to read to individual children or small groups. Interruptions to the story are allowed to encourage children’s extensions and interpretations of the written word.

Science and Math

  • Children in this area may be sharpening their observation skills, conducting experiments, manipulating or grouping objects into categories, inventing, developing hypotheses, enjoying nature, or taking care of animals.

  • Children are free to explore the science area. Tools for exploration (such as magnets, magnifying glasses, tape measures, scales, etc.) are provided for the children’s use. Teachers and/or co-opers are available for discussions to spark the children’s curiosity and to help them find answers to their questions. Say things like, “What do YOU think?” or “Let’s see what will happen if...” Take them exploring around the room to measure, magnify, etc.

Dramatic Play

  • Children in this dress-up area are using their self-help skills, understanding the roles that people play in our society, grouping objects by category, interacting with other people, and engaging in creative, dramatic experiences. Fantasy and make-believe are an important part of young children’s worlds. It builds creative thinking, self-image, and allows children to act out real world situations.

  • We encourage the children’s creativity and imagination and allow them to role play in any way they make sense of the world around them.

Sensory Table

  • The versatility of sand, water, and other tactile experiences provide a framework for the development of many concepts. Weight, volume, and texture allow for the most basic type of scientific and mathematical exploration. This area will help children develop logical thinking, recognize cause and effect, develop cooperation by working together, and build small motor skills.

  • This is a way to explore tactile learning and sensory integration.


  • Each child washes his/her hands before sitting down to snack.

  • Autonomy in serving themselves (except during flu season) and good manners are encouraged.

  • Children are encouraged to try new foods.

  • When children are done eating their snack, they clean up their space. Developing self-help encourages autonomy and a sense of accomplishment.

Circle Time

  • At Circle time, the entire group of children and adults gather together for an active ten or fifteen minutes of games, music, dance, stories, or sharing. This time provides an opportunity for each child to participate in a large group activity, sharing and demonstrating ideas and building on the ideas of others. They learn turn taking, self-control, and respect for one another’s time and space.

Gross Motor Activities (for rainy days)

  • Using large muscle groups is an important means of developing balance and coordination as well as channeling children’s energy in positive ways. On occasion we will use bikes and whiz wheels in the hallway.

  • Additional materials are available as well, including gymnastics mats and apparatus, a climbing structure, and other things that will be used from time to time on inclement weather days as an alternative to outdoor play.

  • Outdoor play encourages neurological development, sense of balance and stability, social interaction, and self-confidence.

Outdoor Play

  • The playground is merely an extension of the classroom. While some of the equipment and space differs, the interaction and learning are similar. Children work actively trying out ideas, making up games, role-playing, and exploring the environment. There are many opportunities for gross motor development and learning more about the natural world.

  • Outside time occurs every day except in bitterly cold or rainy weather. Most children enjoy the colder weather if they are dressed accordingly.

  • The children are free to run, yell, and dig in the dirt, but they must play safely.

As a co-operative pre-school, parents are an essential part of day-to-day activities in our play-based classrooms. Parent involvement at several levels assures that parents are vested in the learning community.

Families assist or “co-op” in the classroom approximately two times per month, during which they support the children’s activities and provide healthy snacks. In addition to their time in the classroom, each parent is assigned a job to facilitate the successful running of the school more generally under the direction of the director. Some examples of co-op jobs include Class Photographer and Newsletter.

Parents are given an orientation for their co-op responsibilities upon enrollment and must be CPR and first aid certified, complete the state-mandated health and safety training, and have a state and national criminal background check. Our nursery school provides all the support needed for parents to be successful co-opers.

Parents attend 4 membership meetings per year, during which general issues and plans are discussed, and outside speakers are invited to give talks as part of our ongoing parent education initiative. Membership meetings and other social activities also offer opportunities for parents to get to know each other and foster a sense of community.