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The Backyard School

The summer I turned twelve, I started a preschool in my backyard.

At 50 cents per child for a 3-hour morning of childcare, The Backyard School was a great deal for parents of 2–5 year olds in my neighborhood. Once parents were assured my mother would be home to provide back-up, I was able to enroll 25 little ones. My sister and best friend agreed to be co-teachers.

This entrepreneurial venture required us to interact with a number of adults in addition to the children’s parents. We elicited picture book recommendations from the town librarian. We asked neighbors to save coffee cans we could use to make drums. We persuaded the guys building houses nearby to give us the cut ends of 2 X 4 boards, which we sanded and varnished to create a wheelbarrow full of building blocks. We had a blast, but our business model had flaws. We spent some of our earnings on popsicles for ourselves, but most of the profit went for craft supplies and snacks (in those days, that meant Kool-Aid and animal crackers).

Though it was not a financial success, The Backyard School was a powerful learning experience. Because it was a self-initiated project, I was motivated to learn what I needed to know to make it happen. I made big mistakes—the field trip to the pond was not a great idea, for example—but I gained confidence that stayed with me when school started that fall.

I am reminded of this childhood experience every time Newton Montessori students tell me about their ideas. When I’m listening to a Primary student describe a new scooter design (spoiler: it has wings!) or talking to an Elementary student about her plan to raise money for refugees, I remember how great it felt not just to have a big idea, but to have absolute confidence that it would be possible to make that dream a reality. At NMS, we start building that confidence in Beginners, where children learn to express themselves and become independent.

NMS teachers and I come to work every day because we’re committed to creating a safe space for children to dream big, make mistakes, and surprise themselves with what they can do. We know that our partnership with parents is essential to that effort.

This new blog is another way we will be sharing with parents what happens at school and how parents can support learning at home. We welcome your feedback and suggestions for blog post topics you’d find helpful or interesting.

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