In their tiny aprons, the toddlers moved through their work as though they had been baking for decades. Like soldiers, there was not one tot out of uniform, except for one 4-year-old who accidentally yanked his off.
Effortlessly, with minor hiccups and only two falls, their small hands collected more than $1,000 worth of raffle tickets for baked goods over the two-day span, stuffing the yellow tickets into their pockets like pros.
It was all part of the Riverdale Nursery School and Family Center’s annual fundraiser for Mosaic Mental Health. It’s part of a school mission centered around philanthropy, and the idea of taking care of the Earth and its people, no matter how different.
It’s all about teaching children early about giving back, said Susan Smelin, the nursery school’s founder and director. This wisdom has saved her staff a lot of tears and trouble over the years.
“You could see how there can be a problem,” Smelin said about giving up sweet treats normally meant for youngsters like them. “But once we sit down and explain to them whose it for, they’re very willing.” Smelin said.
Customers included parents, siblings and caregivers, who are sometimes also the bakers.
The fundraiser is part of an overall partnership between the school and the counseling group, formerly known as Riverdale Mental Health Clinic.
Special needs coordinator Greg Blackhall leads a special education program, and the halls of the nursery school are integrated where developing and special needs children share classrooms, and teachers that are certified to educate both.
Through her 4-year-old daughter, Emily Sandow has witnessed almost first-hand the reward there is in such a teaching style.
“She does not sense any difference from any of the children, and she gets to learn from the child with special needs,” Sandow said. “And the child with special needs gets to model the behavior of the typically developing child. My daughter never knows which teacher is for which child. She considers that all the teachers are working with all the children.”
Through learning and charity, the children are taught they are equal, and that anyone has the ability to help someone, no matter how small or different, Sandow said.
“We set up an atmosphere of acceptance,” Smelin said.
Mosaic provides the nursery school with a psychologist, who visits the school once a week.
Both establishments have always found ways to give to one another, and the bake sale is just one of them, Smelin said. However, selling cookies isn’t half of what these tots bring to the table. When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, for example, the children dropped off supplies and diapers intended to be delivered to the children on the storm-ravaged island.
Their Giving Tree is a community outreach program within the school that hosts a number of programs like canned food drives for Thanksgiving and coat drives for a women’s shelter. They also have donated books to children’s hospitals.
It is through these projects that teachers set in motion the psychological sculpting of the children toward the idea of charity, explained Smelin.
“The school does a very good job in doing outreach,” Sandow said. “There’s a mission for giving, and they teach kids that. They understand that the cookies are not for them, but for kids that need it more.”
In the bake sale’s final hour, Smelin placed the strawberry scoop marked “$1,200” on the wall, the children cheering with pride.
A few weeks after the bake sale, Mosaic’s executive director Donna Demetri Freedman will visit the children, without their aprons, and welcome her with song, and a check.
“It’s important that they’re involved,” Smelin said. “We want them to know why they’re doing it.
“It’s good to see how giving children can be.”