“It takes a village.” So the saying goes. Turns out, that aphorism predates Hillary Clinton and her now infamous book tour. In fact, it dates back many generations throughout the African continent. Why has it endured so long? Maybe it has staying power because it expresses an important truth and genuine wisdom.
But in the modern day San Francisco Bay Area, providing children with the village they need to thrive is increasingly difficult. Career pressures, financial constraints and the fast-paced lifestyle conspire against the kinds of close-knit communities that once defined childhood.
How best to get those back? How best to provide our children with the loving communities of friends, parents and other caring adults who will usher them into school and then adulthood?
Parent participation nursery schools are one way. A case in point: The Woodside Parents’ Nursery School (WPNS) recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. In planning a celebration, organizers reached out to the community to find alumni. Within hours of postings on local email lists, we had emails from dozens of parents who had shared their children’s young years together. Whether it was 10, 20 or even 40 years ago, they were still in touch with one another, as were their now-grown offspring. Many of the schools in the San Mateo County Parent Participation Nursery Schools (SMCPPNS), of which WPNS is a member, were founded 40, 50 and even 60 years ago. This highlights the enduring value of parents and teachers coming together with a commitment to creating communities that, through shared sacrifice and love, expand their children’s capacity for learning and nurturing friendships.
What is it about sharing the preschool years that forges lifelong ties?
Perhaps it is because we, as parents, are in some ways as vulnerable and dependent upon others as the children we’re raising. We know our offspring need to learn the most important lessons of their lives: how to learn, how to make friends, how to be a friend, how to take turns and give, and how to trust others around them. But aren’t we also learning these same things all over again—as if for the first time—in this environment that is also new to us? As much as it is for our children, preschool is a training ground for parents. We learn from watching one another’s challenges and successes. We consult with our teachers and preschool directors to solve behavioral issues, and work in tandem with them in the classroom. We enlist other children in the class to solve whatever issues we’re having at home.
In taking part in the extended community of our cooperative nursery school, we also set an example for our children to follow. In a co-op, the expectation is that parents will participate in the community, contribute to work efforts, make new friends, and give as much time and talent as they can while keeping up with other home and work responsibilities. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our children are watching this process and taking notes every minute of the day.
An interesting thing about community is we search actively for ones we can meaningfully give to and which will give back in a special way. As part of this, the time spent with classmates and their families on weekends, summers, nights, holidays, birthdays and play dates organized just because “we just miss each other too much,” demonstrates that the community we give ourselves to is made up of friends who will be there for us for many years to come.
Humanly, there is a strong desire to be part of something larger than ourselves, like a community. We need this as individuals and couples, and we need this for our children very early on, even beginning with the preschool years. All this is to say, it takes a community. For our precious little ones to benefit most from preschool, it takes a skilled and caring director and teachers; a group of loving parents willing to work hard and contribute time, talent and treasure; and it takes staff, parents and children alike embracing the opportunity to build and nurture lifetime relationships. The value of our experiences in the present is only enhanced by the capacity to share and make them sustainable, and a community makes this possible.
Joe Martin is president of the Board of Directors of the Woodside Parents’ Nursery School. He has two boys, ages two and four, and is also a financial advisor for Golub Group, LLC.