Interview with Education by SR Founder, Stephanie Rosenfeld
We sat down with child education expert and founder of Education by SR, Stephanie Rosenfeld. Education by SR was started during COVID when Stephanie, educator extraordinaire, realized a lot of children were underprepared to begin school or were being left behind during their first years in school due to school shutdowns and remote learning. Her 24/7 education concierge business (fortunately offering online programs for anyone in the country!) caters to each individual child. Stephanie and her team take time to understand how each of their clients learn. They center a customized curriculum around things that spark interest and joy for each child. As a parent, and person who always wants to explore my own way of learning, I found speaking with Stephanie eye opening. Read on for all her advice on how to best support a child’s (and caregiver’s) education journey.
Tell me more about yourself, Education by SR, and how you came to work with children?
I started Education by SR 3 years ago. From a young age I knew teaching was my passion. At the beginning of high school, I volunteered in a special-ed classroom. It was a kindergarten class of boys and I loved it so much that I continued to volunteer all through high school. I fell in love with all aspects of education, from curriculum planning to classroom set up and organization. I studied at Tulane University and part of our undergraduate degree required community service. I volunteered in underserved schools in the community throughout college. I knew I wanted to know more about educating children and graduated from Bank Street College of Education with a Masters in early childhood general and special education. After graduate school, I worked in New York City at the Jewish Community Project, Wetherby Pembridge, and the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I began supporting families in my neighborhood by providing an at-home education program tailored to each child. This was where Education by SR was born.
I continue to work with the same families and my very first students are now going to kindergarten! They are far more prepared than if we hadn’t been working together, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. With that preparedness comes confidence, and being able to instill that in a child at such an early age is life changing. They are comfortable with the material they see in the classroom and have an invaluable base of knowledge at 4 years old.
You note that your mission is to work with the “whole child.” Can you tell us more about that?
There are a lot of different aspects to learning, for example some people are auditory learners or visual learners. Working individually with children allows me to know how they learn and their specific styles for best absorbing information. I bring in different materials and offer different entry points, so the child is getting all the things they personally need. I look at the whole child instead of just teaching, and will bring the curriculum to life for that child. Everything is custom to appeal to the things your child is interested in. We also work closely with parents and will provide them with tools to continue teaching their child as they go throughout their day. We offer a very collaborative service that best supports each family.
What do you think are the most important tools for helping our children be successful (however success might look for them)?
Listening to your child is key. What are they saying they’re interested in? I think when it comes to supporting children, sometimes caregivers assume certain things and insert their own opinions and feelings. Instead, speaking with your child about things that happened in their day, helps parents better understand what they like and allows for families to connect on topics children are actually interested in.
With welcoming boundaries I speak to children like they are adults. At Education by SR, we are big on instilling independence in children. It takes patience not just in our learning environment but at every opportunity to help children do things for themselves, like put on their own coat and shoes. Parents need to respect the child and their own development but also give them support when they need it. Start with letting them do the small things, for instance, give them three outfits to choose from in the morning, or have them pack their own backpack. One of my clients didn’t want to be left alone to do his work, but over time, we worked to build his confidence, and he now goes into his room, shuts the door and wants to learn or be left alone with a pile of crayons and paper to create. Children crave this desire to learn and what we do is continue to foster that passion and potential.
You talked about letting children choose their own outfits. How do you think fashion and clothing help children express themselves?
I think dressing is a form of self-expression. Grownups do it every day. I think it is important to give children that same autonomy to pick their own outfit. It allows them to be confident in their feelings and lets them express those feelings for that day. I think an ecommerce site like Meems that pays so much attention to the 3F’s, provides parents with so much sensory input and transparency. Parents can use this highlighted information to tailor their child’s wardrobe around things that make them comfortable and exclude things that bother them, like a big itchy tag that might consume your child’s whole day and stop them from really being able to absorb information. This goes back to listening to your child and letting them guide you through their feelings and/or needs.
How as a caregiver do you think we can best support that?
Encourage children to be themselves in whatever crazy outfit. Encouragement to feel safe. Teachers really aren’t supposed to comment on a kid's outward experience or focus on the material things. However, teachers could note how the child’s outfit might make the child feel, like, I can see that glittery shirt makes you [child] feel very happy.
Having raised children in Europe, I saw a lot more emphasis on play, rather than “strict” learning, and find America to be less play and more “strict” learning. As a highly experienced educator, do you think play is a more important aspect of education for young children?
I think play is an essential part of development. It helps us learn from a young age how to be a member of society and become a contributor. We learn how to work cooperatively in the sandbox at such a young age. In most nursery schools, you are there for three to five hours and are just playing. BUT, the reason I love what I do, is that children are so curious about everything around them. At Education by SR, we explicitly teach them in a playful, exploratory way. We aren’t handwriting or staring at the alphabet, but rather tracing letters in the sand and making them in playdough or shaving cream. Play is important, but you can introduce academic learning into it. Some children seek out learning and some don’t. If you have a child who is seeking to learn you should definitely support them on that journey. Learning through play provides children with the foundation to enjoy education and what they need to do to make it fun for them going forward.
As an educator, what is the biggest piece of advice you would give caregivers to help their children love learning?
Listen. Just listen to what they want and use that as the foundation for teaching them. Get creative! Put your phones away, put your tech away, and turn off the TV. Give them your undivided attention for a little while. You can turn everything into an opportunity to educate your children. Don’t give them an ipad when they are in the stroller for a walk, but rather use that opportunity to let them look around and talk to you about the world.
How much does Education by SR work with just the caregivers?
We would love to work with parents. It takes time to get to know the way each individual child learns and we believe it’s best when children have routines that are supported and reinforced by their parents. Often parents focus more on passing knowledge to their children, but maybe not always in the way that best suits that child. I come in and make learning exciting for your child and work with you on how to do that too. The kids only see me working with them and they don’t see me working with the parents, but hours can be spent doing that in person or over the phone. One thing I’m certain of, is that honesty with the parents at every level of teaching, about how their child is progressing, is imperative to everyone’s success. Also, making sure the child learns at the best time might mean teaching a child at 7am, because that is when they learn best, so that is when I will show up at your house to teach your child!
Remember, kids can have negative experiences in the classroom and that is their “day job” for 5-6 hours every day. Imagine if they dread it because they don’t know how to thrive in a learning environment? How horrible would that be? As caregivers, we must give them the best foundation we possibly can, so they can give their best selves to their learning journey.