Carol Nursery is still play-full at 85.
By Diana Simeon
My daughter had no interest whatsoever in going to pre-school. In those early weeks, she would cry, wrap her small body around my legs, and refuse to let me leave the classroom.
Luckily, I’d enrolled her at Carol Nursery School, located in the Sussex neighborhood (in the former Sussex Elementary School). It took some time – I sat in a chair just outside the classroom for a few days – but soon enough, my daughter was happy. So happy that when she “graduated” from Carol Nursery three years later, she sobbed for hours.
Turns out that Carol Nursery, which celebrates its 85th anniversary this year, was the perfect place for my daughter, as it has been for the countless other Shaker families who have sent their children to the school over the years. Recently, I was reminded of why, when I caught up with Sara Miller, my daughter’s first teacher and now the director of Carol Nursery.
“My daughter was so shy,” I remind her. “But your separation process worked wonders.”
“And we’re still big believers in that gentle separation process,” says Miller. “Children need to feel safe in their environment before any learning is going to happen. We’re a play-based program. The way children learn is through actively engaging with their environments.”
Those environments include Carol’s big, light-filled classrooms, three indoor gym spaces, a music room, library, two outdoor playgrounds, and the Debra Ann November Learning Garden. The school has a 5-star Step Up to Quality rating from the Ohio Department of Education, and currently enrolls about 110 students.
One thing you won’t find at Carol: rote learning. Kids might learn letters by journaling, making books, or just incorporating writing into their play (like making street signs for a town constructed out of blocks). Or they learn numbers by playing board games, cooking, or just figuring out how many cups to put out at snack time.
“It’s all play, but they are learning numbers, letters, sounds, and so much more,” says Miller.
The more includes social-emotional learning, which numerous studies have shown is key for a preschooler’s future academic success. These are skills such as managing emotions, problem solving, and developing positive relations with others.
“These teachers are so great with these children,” says Jean Spinosi-Rond, a Carol parent and president of the school’s board of directors. “They help them learn to use their words, solve conflicts on their own, and take on responsibilities for themselves. The maturity I’ve seen in my kids is amazing.”
“Classroom routines also help children learn how to be at school successfully,” says Miller.
“Even though we are play-based, there are still expectations,” she says. “They need to know how to line up, how to sit at group times, listen when the teacher is talking, and follow the routines. When they get to kindergarten, they are ready.”
My daughter easily transitioned to kindergarten (no sitting-in-chairs required), as did Spinosi-Rond’s oldest son, who’s now in first grade. “Socially and academically he had the foundation he needed,” she says. Spinosi-Rond’s younger son will graduate from Carol next year and you can hear the wistfulness in her voice as she contemplates that reality. “It’s been wonderful. There is such a community inside and outside the classroom. We have tons of play dates and many of the parents have become my friends,” she says. “I’ve had as much fun going to Carol Nursery School as my children have.”
To learn more about Carol Nursery School, visit carolnurseryschool.org.