Tracy K. Smith


Professor of Creative Writing

Lewis Center for the Arts

Princeton University


I can’t overstate how much my family and I love Choo Choo Train Daycare. Firstly, it’s so much more than the term “Daycare” implies. It is a preschool with a very stimulating curriculum. The children study science in the garden; they make a wide range of original art projects—often guided by some of the parents who are practicing artists; they go on field trips; they write and perform plays. Ms. Ela and her amazing group of teachers provide a stimulating and idyllic environment in which children can learn through happy exploration. In my daughter’s two years here, I have seen her develop in such beautiful ways—she has become more verbally expressive, she is writing and beginning to read, she has forged loving friendships with her teachers and peers, and has become more confident in moving through the world. Her experience at Choo Choo has shaped her into a girl whose inquisitiveness, awareness of others, and quiet confidence will surely allow her to thrive in the larger arena of grade school.

My husband and I have benefitted from Choo Choo as well. We’ve become friends with some of the other amazing and creative parents, we’ve learned more about how to foster our child’s talents and focus her abundant energy, and we’ve been moved and touched by all of the warmth and devotion that fills the classroom.

Ms. Ela is one of the most gifted, insightful, and naturally warm educators I have ever met. And her demeanor with children has been instructive for me. She has a wonderful sense of play and mischief, she understands how children see the world, and she listens to them with such attention and respect. I suspect she is a child at heart. She fills the classroom with beautiful art, and with the help of the children she transforms the space from season to season. My daughter is always thrilled to arrive each morning, and when we pick her up in the afternoons, we are eager to see what has been brewing during the day.

I could go on and on about the field trips, the exquisite art projects, the performances the children write and produce—and the picnics for families or the annual dance party for parents. The short version is: We love Choo Choo. I can’t imagine a preschool where the teachers are more attentive, intuitive, or where they would come to know and appreciate our child in a more wholehearted or genuine way.


William C. Wu


M.D. Child Psychiatrist

Instructor in Clinical Psychiatry

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

Ms. Ela, the intrepid director of Choo Choo Train, has a profound gift for understanding and channeling the spirit of young children. Her wisdom and sensitivity guides an already extraordinary staff of passionate teachers who bring their unique talents and interests to the Choo Choo Train curriculum. Ms. Ela and her staff treat the children of Choo Choo Train not only as minds to be taught, but minds already full of ideas and of unique ways of seeing, to be opened, discovered, and shared. The Choo Choo Train team engages children in learning and growing through their most natural and vital impulses of playing and creating. At every turn the children are nurtured and encouraged to discover with all their senses the possibilities the world around them and the worlds within themselves.

Ms. Ela takes great care in providing the children with rich materials and a breadth of activities that inspire exploration and experimentation in play, and ignite their imaginations. And always the children lead the way with their curiosity, wonder, and excitement.

Of course, along the way they encounter limits, have conflicts, and struggle with difficult feelings. With great admiration I have watched Ms. Ela and her staff guide the children through the inevitable moments of frustration and tears as well as disputes and hurt feelings among friends with utmost patience and compassion, helping them to understand and express their own feelings while coming to understand and respect the feelings of others, and helping the children to find solutions together. In this way the Choo Choo Train teachers and children build an amazing community of respect, safety and mutual support.

My wife and I have been repeatedly blown away by the original music and drama performances put on by the children during the year. Mr. John has a rare gift for tuning into the children’s unique voices, taking their own words and themes and turning them into wonderful original songs. Ms. Sarah has an equally remarkable gift for working with the children to develop collaborative dramas, tapping into the particular passions and fascinations of each class. Every aspect of the process from story writing, to costume and stage design is led by the children. As parents we have been moved to tears and laughter by the beauty, spunk, and feeling of the children as expressed in these wonderful songs and stories.

But most of all these performances touch us deeply because they show us the profound trust and joyful connection the teachers have formed with the children through the year. This is what makes Choo Choo Train such a magical place, and one of the best-kept secrets in early childhood education in the city.

Noah Reinhardt


Middle School Head

The Packer Collegiate Institute

I am so fortunate to have been able to send two of my children to Choo Choo, and years after, to know that my family is still part of the amazing community that has been created there.  My children benefitted so much from the open, caring, beautiful environment, from the warmth and love and dedication of their teachers, and from the incredible opportunities they had to find and explore their interests and their growing sense of themselves.  I am indebted to Ms. Ela and the rest of the Choo Choo faculty for providing such an extraordinary experience for my children as they learned to become writers, artists, engineers, philosophers, and friends.


Choo Choo is a very special place for young children, filled with the magic of discovery and the gift of real learning.

Alice Twemlow


Chair, School of Visual Arts MA in Design Research




The minute I walked into the Choo Choo classroom, I knew I’d found a very special place. It was filled with music, sunlight, and the chatter of children. The walls were adorned with original and expressive artworks, thoughtfully displayed, and from the ceiling hung wild and wonderful papier-mache creations—planets, alien creatures, and swarms of butterflies. On each low table neatly set out were work stations of blocks, shapes, ribbons, modeling dough, and buttons. Vibrant yet calm; exuberant yet framed. It was a place that appealed to me as a parent, design educator, and art lover. I knew instantly it would provide a warm and stimulating environment for my child, who was then three.

We signed up immediately and our son has spent two and half blissful years in the Choo Choo fold. He has flourished as a person—intellectually, imaginatively, and socially. He now expresses freely and confidently his opinions on subjects that range from empathy with bugs, the attributes of black and white photography, elemental forces such as gravity, and the techniques of storytelling. Through regular activities such as movement, yoga, show-and-tell, visits to artist studios, cooking projects, and scientific experiments, he has found a small but vital voice, supported by an exceptional staff of warm and caring teachers who urge the children to let their imaginations run wild and to experiment and explore.

It turns out that the parent community that orbits Choo Choo is as vibrant as the school itself—international, creative, and committed to the Choo Choo philosophy that art is learning and learning is an art. The fact that parents, whose children have long-graduated still return for ceremonies and celebrations and continue to contribute to the rich program of activities, is a testament to the magnetizing force that this school exudes. Choo Choo feels like home not just for my son, but also for my husband and I, who feel both energized and uplifted by every interaction we have with its teachers, students, and parents.

This is a truly amazing place. We feel so lucky to have found it. I recommend Choo Choo from the bottom of my heart to any parent who is sensitive to the visual environment and who yearns for a warm, safe, and courageous home-away-from-home for their child.

Xico Greenwald


Professor of Art, Borough of Manhattan Community College, NY and Pratt Institute, NY

The art curriculum exemplifies what I most admire about Choo Choo Train Day Care. I never detect an agenda regarding what art should look like from the teachers, nor is there special praise for certain works but not others. Instead, Ms. Ela and her staff create an atmosphere of unconditional support, every work of art by every student celebrated for what it is, all students encouraged to explore and learn free from the limitations of expectations. The walls of the school are beautifully decorated with a rotating exhibit of the children's most recent art projects, hung as carefully and conscientiously as artwork in a gallery, sometimes  framed with a mat, sometimes hung from wires. Giving the children that kind of respect and support helps them grow more self assured and deepens their interest in art and, as a bonus, the parents also learn from the school's example.


Jemima Kirke


When I drop my daughter off at school in the morning, I leave feeling confident and secure in the knowledge that she is respected, loved and well cared for. Every day I am moved by the level of mental and emotional nurture being given to the children at Choo Choo. It is nothing short of exceptional. And often beyond even my own limitations as a parent. Its a fantastic feeling as a mother, to know that you have done right by your child.

Beth & Rafael


(parents of Charlotte, age 4)

If every child had the chance to go to Choo ChooTrain, what a wonderful world it would be! I can’t think of a more important job than growing the minds, bodies, and spirits of our little children, and I believe no one takes the job more seriously than Ela and her fellow teachers at Choo Choo.

Choo Choo gives our daughter what we cannot – the space to grow and learn with other children, in the most ideal environment possible. Here she has learned not only the importance of sharing, but the value of collaborating with her peers. The teachers at Choo Choo empower the kids to use their imagination and come up with their own ideas, by fostering a creative environment and then giving the kids the tools they need to tell their story, sing their song, create their play, etc… We also appreciate what a diverse melting pot is Choo Choo, with families coming from so many different countries. A big part of our daughter’s experience at Choo Choo has been in learning about other places and cultures directly from her international peers and their families.

But Choo Choo is not just a pretty place – thoughtfully organized, fresh flowers everywhere, jazz playing in the background, a grassy backyard – it is a serious minded learning lab. From the first week of summer camp, I noticed the kids were doing things that a 6th grader might do. Using a magnifying glass, they looked closely at the leaves of various plants in the back yard, and then proceeded to paint their observations with watercolors. Maybe someone forgot to tell the teachers they are only dealing with toddlers! But no, that is how they operate, always respecting the children’s intelligence. Naturally, the kids respond by rising to the occasion, meeting whatever challenge is given enthusiastically.

Indeed, the teachers at Choo Choo bring out the best in each individual child, nurturing their unique personalities, and showing them how a community is made of lots of individuals working with and helping one another. As important as becoming a better thinker, our daughter has become a better person, as evidenced in her sensitivity to those around her, and her awareness of other cultures.

I like to think of Choo Choo Train as a kind of “miracle-gro” for kids. If you give kids a wonderful, organic place to grow, and then nurture them along with all the love and gentle guidance they need, it is amazing to see how they develop into well rounded people and thoughtful conversationalists, assured of their place in the world, with a sense of purpose. We will forever be grateful to Ela and all the teachers for giving our daughter such a great start in life.

Cyntha Roy     & Willa

Choo choo train. It's a simple toy. Choo Choo Train Daycare is a simple preschool too. It knows what to do. It doesn't do what children don't need. It just does what children need to thrive before they enter the so called formal education. Choo Choo Train Daycare introduces them to Beauty.

I had read some books on Waldorf education and Reggio Emilia before Willa was born. One thing that has stuck in my mind because it rings so true and makes sense to me from either of them I'm not sure which is something like this: what babies need between 0-2 years old is Kindness from the world around them. When they are 2-5 years old, they should be acquainted with Beauty of the world. Then when they are over 5, they can start seeking for Truth. It is what is developmentally correct according children's physical, mental, aesthetic, social and intellectual growth.

I thought this should be true because even before I had Willa, I had seen so many preschool aged children who are pushed by their parents and teachers (we know how ambitious and competitive Asian parents can be!) to excel in reading, writing, even math when their souls and minds are so thirsty for colors, textures and feelings that this world and its people are made of. These preschoolers do not want to know the hard facts of the world. It's boring. They want to know how gorgeous and mysterious the world they are born into is. How soft, how dark, how colorful, how uncertain, how surprising, how sad, how yucky, how sublime, and so many other countless emotions and observations that can elicit and stimulate a child's sense of awe and imagination.

Choo Choo Train and its teachers have provided Willa with just that world in their school through art. It's art in everything they do. Ms. Ela and the teachers have created a world where beauty can be seen, touched, made, felt and enjoyed together and also is found and understood in unlikely places like anger, fear, sadness, shyness and even in confusion. The hardest of heart would be immediately softened when it entered 593 Court St. Nobody wants to leave.


Lotta Jansdotter

Choo Choo is simply a most magical and creative place; where learning happens through making clay sculptures, dancing tango or to the drums, story circles, planting the garden and singing, among so many other joyous activities. We are so happy that our boy was part of this wonderful place, and that he received that solid foundation and celebrations of good friendships and inspiration.

Jennifer Jones, Ph.D.


Founder and CEO of LearnGarden, Inc.

Author of book The Three P’s of Parenting

I remember well the day that I walked into Choo Choo Train because it took my breath away. In 20 years of educational practice, I have visited hundreds of preschools, and with each school, I grow more skeptical and concerned about the quality of the learning environments we are building for our little ones. But when I entered Choo Choo, I felt my faith restored. Immediately I was struck by its simple, natural beauty and by how comforted I felt in the space. The architecture, reminiscent of an elegant Scandinavian loft, boasted warm wood tones. All throughout shone sunlight (an oasis in an otherwise thickly urban neighborhood), bringing the space a warmth and nurturing feeling. Even the bathroom was beautiful, decorated with fine tile and in pristine condition. I was struck by the cleanliness of the space, too. Every inch of floor, every nook and cranny of this space, absolutely spotless. And all around, evidence of the children.

Their work carefully hung in artful ways to honor the integrity of their genius, their pictures displayed proudly as you would expect to see in a family's home. But above all else, what impressed me with Choo Choo Train was the integrity of the educational design. Those familiar with the international model of Reggio Emilia, in Italy, will understand what it means to see children's art displayed as the works of art that they are, and to see images of the children at work, to give context to what they have produced. I rarely see these days a preschool that arranges the children's materials so that they are accessible (shelved low) and organized visually to enable young children to find them and return them to their proper places. Choo Choo Train had followed all of the practices of the world's greatest preschools by investing in an intellectual design that supported the independent use of small children.

Combining the child-friendly independent use design of Montessori with the richness of materials used in Reggio Emilia, Choo Choo had achieved what no other New York area preschool has...a world class learning environment. While I was there, several children put the space to the test, entering with glee (clearly as happy to be in that space as I was), storing away their things in the cubbies that were designed specifically for them, and running off to work stations, accessing and managing their materials with ease and without adult support. Those of us who understand child development know what extreme benefits there are to supporting a child's independent decision-making and self-management early in life. The ability to control one's movements, choices and behaviors sets the stage for self-confidence, self-awareness, and healthy communication.

Before I left, I stepped out into Choo Choo Train's backyard -- yes! a big full grassy green backyard right in the heart of Brooklyn! -- and took a deep breath of fresh air while I watched the children run through the grass, play in the garden, and enjoy their snacks in the sunshine. It was nirvana. Tucked away at the end of a main Brooklyn street, almost under an interstate overpass, Choo Choo Train is a pearl buried in an oyster. Lucky is the parent who ventures far enough to find it, though, because there they will find a warm community of international families, all who clearly appreciate the fortune they share in having their children attend this incredible little school.

You will, no doubt, like me, feel compelled to urge Ela, Choo Choo's proud owner, to branch out and create more of these wondrous schools in an area that clearly needs them, but she will shake her head and explain that she has no ambitions to do so, and that she is content offering excellence in a small package. Run, don't walk, to Choo Choo Train, to find paradise for you and your little one, and hope that there is a spot left.