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Who Says Learning Can’t Be Playful?

Thu, 08/29/2019 - 12:11
Mariah Bruehl, the former head of the Ross Lower School, has opened up a kids’ activity studio in East Hampton called Playful Learning.
Christine Sampson

After successfully piloting a summer camp for the last several weeks, a new educational center in East Hampton Village will kick off the coming school year with daily programs for toddlers and after-school activities for elementary children.

Playful Learning has opened up registration for its book club, writers’ club, Kinder Club for kids in prekindergarten and kindergarten, and STEAM Club, referring to science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.

“For kids who need a bit of extra help or are passionate about the topic, it’s a fun way to polish their academic skills in a group environment without having to do tutoring, which children don’t like and is really expensive for parents,” said Mariah Bruehl, the founder of Playful Learning.

In May, Ms. Bruehl, formerly the head of the elementary school at the Ross School and a teacher at the Dalton School in New York City, expanded Playful Learning from a tutoring and small-group program space on Newtown Lane into a larger studio space on Pantigo Road. This summer, she held a camp program for kids ages 18 months to 8 years, featuring a three-to-one student-to-teacher ratio and different theme each week — woodland animals, outer space, the human body, and others.

Playful Learning works on both a regular registration basis and a drop-in, drop-off system, in which parents can either sign up for a six-week session or come in for a single day. Daily programs are in two time blocks: 9 to 11:45 a.m. or 1 to 3:45 p.m. Ms. Bruehl says it is “play care,” rather than “day care.”

It addresses “the lack of quality drop-off experiences for children where the parents know their child is safe, productive, and wants to come back,” she said.

Children work on a different project each day and also have a healthy snack.

The philosophy at Playful Learning is inspired by the Montessori educational system, which is rooted in hands-on learning, independent exploration time, and collaborative playtime.

“We develop all of our own curriculum and each unit is differentiated for ages 18 months to 8 years,” Ms. Bruehl said. “Every student can come and they’re getting a different variation, depending on what age and stage of development they are in.”

The studio itself is sunny, with separate rooms for toddlers and older children. There’s a garden in which they grow fruits and vegetables, and an outdoor play area. There’s also a “maker space” filled with all sorts of tools and craft supplies.

“We try to make as many materials available to students as possible so they can solve design problems using a variety of mediums,” Ms. Bruehl said. “It encourages critical thinking, thinking outside the box, and creative solutions for a variety of challenges.”

Annika Smith, a parent from Sag Harbor, said by email that she loves to hang up her son’s artwork from Playful Learning at home, and loves hearing him tell her about his day there. She said she has been impressed with “the caliber of activities, staff, and resources.”

“It was a delight to witness my son’s wonder as he walked into the classroom each morning,” Ms. Smith said. “It was wonderful to see him explore the beautiful space and decide which of the carefully curated activities to work on, and then immerse himself in the theme-based project using supplies with ergonomic benefits and aesthetic appeal! Each hands-on lesson allowed me to understand my son’s learning process and see his way of thinking firsthand while developing methods or consulting with the teacher to further his creativity and build skills.”

Playful Learning’s first six-week session of the school year begins Sept. 16. Costs range from $60 for an hourlong Saturday learning lab to $480 for six hour-and-45-minute weekday labs. A full schedule is online at The studio is at 43 Pantigo Road.

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