Michelle Joni Lapidos is the girl who would not grow up.
At least, not in the conventional sense of being bogged down by anxiety and an unloved job. Pretty, with red hair and an incessant desire to play, Lapidos is a part-hippie, part-four-year-old devoted to seeing adults break out of their routines and rediscover the “magic” of childhood.
It is one of the reasons that Lapidos, 30, is starting a preschool. For adults. That’s right. Anyone 18 or older can enroll in Lapidos’s Preschool Mastermind, a month-long course where adults can relive their pre-K days with activities like finger-painting, show-and-tell, nap time, and even a class picture day that prompts you to “dress your 4-year-old best.”
Lapidos, who in 2013 started a skipping club in Brooklyn, says she’s always looking for new ways to get people in touch with the freedom of childhood. She was encouraged by a friend to start a mastermind course, and later — while giving a foot massage to another acquaintance who happened to teach preschool — divined just what kind of project to tackle.
“His preschool-teacher-ness came through me,” says Lapidos of her eureka moment. What she characterizes as her impulsive self proceeded to bring the concept to fruition, at which point she invited a blogger friend, Candice Kilpatrick, to be her teaching assistant.
“Adults are in this routine, this stagnation, and by tapping into the ‘play’ part of our brains by skipping or doing the things that we did in preschool, we’re bringing ourselves back to another place, another time with ourselves, maybe when we were more believing of ourselves, when we were more confident and ready to take on the world. And I want to nourish that in people,” Lapidos says.
Kilpatrick — or “Ms. CanCan,” as prospective students will call her — used to teach preschool when she lived overseas in Asia. She also has a master’s degree in teaching.
Adults can relearn and master things that they failed to understand as children, Kilpatrick explains, offering the example of “bilateral integration skills” (being able to fluidly perform tasks with both sides of your body simultaneously). She cites an activity from one of her preschool classes wherein kids had to master drawing the figure “8” with both hands and in such a way that the center of the numeral crossed the middle of the page.
“The children who [couldn’t] do that [had] poor reading skills and difficulty coordinating growth motor patterns,” Kilpatrick reveals. “Using both sides of the body at the same time is like stair steps; you master this level, then you go to the next level.
“Maybe your life would be more enhanced if you did go back,” she says, expounding on the possibilities of their novel program.
If Lapidos is the dreamer in this project, Kilpatrick is the grounded realist. But their outlook on life is determinedly rooted in optimism.
The two women met online three years ago when Lapidos worked as an editor for Spa Week, a site that provides spa treatment deals. Kilpatrick ran a travel blog and was one of the “hot mums” to whom Lapidos would recommend treatments.
So are the two just in denial about the fears, disappointments, responsibilities, and other realities of adulthood? “We do have responsibilities in our lives,” Kilpatrick says. “But that is not to say that you can’t integrate things that make you feel good and make you think about things in a happier way and still get your responsibilities done.”
The thirty-something-year-old has had her fair share of grown-up disappointments. Since moving to the city three years ago, she’s been laid off twice. She is also a mother of two.
“It’s not like I’m high in the sky, dancing in the clouds,” she says. “I am in touch with reality. But I just really believe that the negative and stressful circumstances in my life are not who I am.”
Speaking of adult responsibilities, the price of the course ranges from $333 to $999, excluding art-supply, snack-day, and class-trip expenses. Installments are also welcome. Classes will be held at night once every week in Lapidos’s home-office “play space” in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The first class is scheduled for March 3.
Beyond getting adults to reconnect with their cherubic four-year-old selves, Lapidos and Kilpatrick want Preschool Mastermind applicants to be “stuck” people who are seeking a new way of approaching life. “Maybe they are a little rough around the edges, but they do want to invite in a softening [element],” Lapidos says.
“Maintaining a sense of playfulness into adulthood is highly conducive to creativity,” says Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, a scientific director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. “Creativity sometimes requires deactivating the prefrontal cortex [a part of the brain that helps regulate complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions] and letting ideas wander freely.”
Kaufman, who has himself waxed nostalgic about the magic of preschool, says introducing that childhood ritual to adults could actually be valuable. “Allowing adults to break free of their critical thinking and ordinary experience can jolt them into a new awareness that changes their perspective and allows for greater insights.”
With their brains and a lot of optimism, the two women are ready to spark creativity in an inaugural class of ten students. The application deadline is February 19.
“It’s New York. You take any type of adventure you want in New York, and now you can go back to preschool!” Lapidos declares. “It’s going to be magical!”