Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Finding Community in an Unexpected Place

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Finding Community in an Unexpected Place

Article excerpt

Our son Noah was still in diapers when we enrolled him in a little preschool on the first floor of a row house in Washington, D.C. There were at most 20 families at the school, a parents' cooperative with the '60s-sounding name of Amazing Life Games, or ALG.

For months, Noah played mostly by himself at his new school, making up imaginary scenarios that involved miniature cars, plastic animals, and an occasional train. I felt like an outsider. I was a little put off by rules we hadn't yet mastered, and by Pickett, the director and a teacher of more than 20 years, who was from the South and had a manner more distant than that to which I was accustomed.

But, slowly, the school drew us in. For me, the first real connection was other parents, whom I met in classes required of parents who wanted to be "co-op teachers" in the mixed-age classroom. Here, we learned parenting skills, creative play and movement, progressive discipline, and conflict resolution a la toddlers. Discovering that the other parents were struggling with the same issues - toilet training, sleeping habits, balancing family and work, and finding time for ourselves - was something of a revelation to me. It all started rather innocently - a question to a mom or dad dropping off a child at school - but we began to use each other as sounding boards. A lot of parent- and teacher-gabbing was squeezed into drop-offs and pickups, and it wasn't uncommon for an engrossed parent to look at his or her watch and realize that an hour had passed. Parents - and teachers, too - shared baby sitters, clothes, car seats, rides, toys, information, dinners, plumbers, camping trips, beach houses, and vacations. And, when necessary, these parents and teachers leapt into action as an informal network for jobs, family problems of all sorts, and general life support. My own life at the time was hard - my son's father and I were in and out of court in the midst of a horrible divorce - and I'm not sure I would have made it through were it not for some of these kind souls. They invited us for dinner at crucial times and listened patiently as I tried to navigate my way out of difficult circumstances. Noah is a cautious child, but Pickett and the other teachers worked hard to lure him out of his shyness at school. He grew to adore Jose, who has been a teacher at ALG for more than two decades. Jose is a big, gentle man who captivated the children with his humor and dramatic storytelling. By our third year, Noah had made many friends, and our days were crowded with play dates, parties, and dinners. The school's forte is creative play, and Noah shined at this, leading the play, particularly when it had anything to do with a dog. For the first time, he sat down at the art table and revealed his love of colors and design. He also loved to make up games and sing along with the folk singer who came in every week. …

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