Toddler program added to lower school

Notre Dame's lower school introduces a toddler program for children 18 months to three years old. 

Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician by training and the wife of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, noted recently that learning cognition occurs much earlier in a child than when most of them are first introduced to school.

"The majority of brain development happens in the first five years of life," said Chan in a recent op-ed piece published by a number of news outlets. "And still, most children start school at age 5. By then, much of the wiring that enables learning and socio-emotional management is in place." 

Chan founded The Primary School in East Palo Alto, Calif., which recently announced it was adding a toddler program to its existing pre-K-through-8 curriculum.

Like Chan's school, Notre Dame's lower school also will be introducing a toddler component for children 18 months to age 3 to its current pre-K-through-5 program when the new school year begins in late August. It will be based on a developmentally-focused, play-based model in which children play, explore, learn and grow.   

"Over the past few years, more and more parents have been coming forward and asking if we offer a toddler or infant program," said Diana Atkins, principal of Notre Dame's lower school. "The idea of having all children in a family at one school location, on the same schedule, is very appealing to many parents. Additionally, having the benefits of introducing our Marist philosophy and values to children at an earlier age in such a nurturing and caring environment fits perfectly with our goal of educating the 'whole child.'" 

Atkins also said that since the school already holds a license to provide child care through the State of Michigan due to its existing pre-K 3 and 4 classes as well as an extended day program, the only changes to be made were in facilities and equipment.

"We are installing a changing area and we've recently purchased new furniture, indoor classroom equipment and outdoor equipment designed especially for toddlers," she said. "As far as staffing in the new program, our child-to-staff ratio will be 4 to 1 and each has a bachelor's degree in child development. Additionally, the toddler staff members are trained in CPR, first aid and have undergone the Archdiocese of Detroit's Protecting God's Children program." 

Those enrolled in the Notre Dame toddler program will follow the same schedule as the other students in the lower school, according to Atkins, and also will have available the lower school's extended-care option, which is available before and after the regular school schedule at 7-7:45 a.m. and 3:05-6 p.m.

Atkins noted that because the lower school is an authorized International Baccalaureate World School, those enrolled in the toddler program also will benefit from the renowned curriculum.

"IB characteristics will be implemented throughout the year," she said. "The toddler teachers will focus on three areas as the young children begin navigating their learning process." 

(1) August-September – Who We Are: Focusing on what we look like, our individual families, our friends, similarities and differences of all the people around us 

(2) January-March – How We Express Ourselves: Focusing on feelings and emotions, how to work through them, why and when we feel them

(3) April-June – How the World Works: Focusing on nature and animals, where they live, what they eat

"Another huge advantage to having a toddler program at Notre Dame is that there will be a seamless transition from toddler into our pre-K 3 program," Atkins said. "Parents will find the move to be very smooth, as the children already will be acclimated to our safe and secure school environment, which means they will be that much more confident of what lies ahead and likely not experience the traditional anxiety many go through when beginning pre-kindergarten in a new school."

More information on Notre Dame's toddler program is available by contacting Diana Atkins, principal of the lower school, at 248-373-2573,; or Corey Porterfield, associate dean of admissions, at 248-373-1061, The Notre Dame Lower School is located at 1425 Giddings Road at E. Walton Blvd.

Comments or questions?

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.
About Notre Dame 
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named Michigan's best 50 Catholic high school three of the last four years ( Notre Dame's lower and middle schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All Notre Dame schools have been authorized by International Baccalaureate as "World Schools" and the entire institution is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame, visit the school's home page at