Growing Up In The Citi

Tracey Frost Rensky. Photo by Karen Haberberg Photography

After 10 years in SoHo, Citibabes is moving to Tribeca. We spoke with their CEO and co-founder, Tracey Frost Rensky, for all the scoop.

What’s driving this move? Is it primarily the city’s changing family demographics? Tribeca, of course, has become a kind of epicenter of Downtown family life.

The move was primarily driven by our desire to find and build the best possible space for the next phase of Citibabes. What we have found at 142 Duane Street is the perfect space for allowing us to stay true to our mission to serve the entire downtown community. The large, three-leveled, light-filled building allows us to offer seven classrooms for our preschool program, including Spanish and Mandarin immersion classes. The split-level layout also allows us to offer full-day child care and extended day programming for children ages 12 months and up. We envision our new home as a destination play space for all of our families.

The other big news is that after years of running a popular “alternative” preschool you now will have a Department of Health license to be a full-blown official preschool. Are you going to start with rolling admissions? What’s the age range?

We have been lucky to be part of a growing community where our preschool has developed organically and we are now in a position to take the next leap. We will continue to offer rolling admissions for the 2017-2018 school year. To get to know us, we encourage children as young as 2 months old to visit us with their parents to participate in mommy and me classes. Our preschool ranges from ages 2-5 years, and enrollment begins 11 months before the official start of the school year.

Interested parents will of course have a million questions about the school, but just to get them started, what should they know about the school’s early education philosophy and approach?

Yes, I remember those days! We offer families an eclectic philosophy with an emphasis on play-based academics. We differ from many schools in that we begin the educational journey as early as 2 months old with our mommy and me program and grow with your child up to age 5.

You’re also planning to introduce “extended day” options for parents interested in dropping off their children for part or all of the day. In general, are you finding that millennial parents are more open to forms of child care than previous generations of city parents?

We are always assessing the needs of our community and developing options accordingly. In this case, the demand for this additional service grew from our youngest members! Families literally begged us to offer this program. We have so many families who join us now to participate in our CitiBitty baby program. These young families are so attached to us after spending the early months of their child’s life with us that they cannot think of a better group of people to take care of their child when they go back to work. The reality is that today more families have two working parents, so we will be offering a safe, nurturing, and educational all-day experience that supports the needs of families with children ages 12 months and older.

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In SoHo, Citibabes was a pioneer in having a membership model in which families paid an annual fee for access to an indoor play space area and a big menu of enrichment classes. The membership model evolved over the years, so please bring us up to date: What’s the plan for Tribeca? Will there be enrichment classes that neighborhood families can take regardless of whether they’re in the preschool or not? Will the venue follow a member model, or can parents subscribe to the classes on a one-time or package basis?

Over the years of working with local families we found that opening our enrichment classes to non-members benefitted the entire community. Now, you don’t have to be a member to enroll your child in our classes. Our classes range from music and art to yoga and movement. We will be expanding our programming to Saturday and Sunday so that we can offer something for everyone in the downtown area.

For parents unfamiliar with your offerings, what age range do your classes cover? And what are some of your staple classes for babies and toddlers? And how about for older children?

Each of the programs at Citibabes targets the key milestones in a child’s development. We look to create a lasting love and appreciation for learning. Our enrichment classes range from 2 months to 5 years. Our staple infant programming is Citibitty, catering to the 2-12 month set. This program serves as an introduction for moms and babies to a structured educational environment. We also have a rich offering of afterschool programming for ages 3-5, ranging from mini-architects (where children study a variety of buildings and recreate them using different materials) to green art (where children utilize recycled materials to recreate masterpieces). We also offer yoga, movement, and ballet. We are very proud to offer a Spanish immersion program for 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds and, due to increased interest, during the upcoming school year we will offer Mandarin immersion for children as young as 2-3 years old.

On a more personal note, you are a city mom of two who, in your “spare time,” runs marathons. How old are your children now? And what are some of the joys and challenges of being their mom at these stages? What are some of your favorite things to do around the city with them?

My two daughters, Natasha and Chloe, are 11 and 9. They almost behave like my business partners. They have such a vested interest in Citibabes. Natasha has a beautiful eye for design, so she has all sorts of opinions on the color palette for our beautiful new location. Chloe is obsessed with teaching a dance class and wants to work as an assistant to one of our teachers. She thinks she knows how to make the classes a little bit more fun! So after living here for 20 years—10 of them as a mother—I never get tired of all the amazing things we can do as a family in New York. Both my girls have seen “Hamilton,” and to say they are obsessed is an understatement. We try and do one dinner out a week at a new restaurant. I find this is a great way to try and get them used to new kinds of food. As you mentioned, I am a huge runner, and I ran the NYC marathon with my dear friend Jennifer James, founder of the Scarlett Fund. She started the charity when her daughter was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago and I have run in support of the fund for the past three years. My two daughters are also very involved in the charity. I think it is so important to teach our kids that, for the most part, they live such privileged lives and that it’s important to give back!

Finally, do you have a favorite bit of advice for parents?

When you’re with your child, you should actually be with your child. That’s my best advice.

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