Director’s Column: Our History Informs Our Future

By Jennifer Winters, Director

We welcome you back to the 2022–23 school year and look forward to building a vibrant Bing community. After two years of pandemic restrictions that prevented parents from entering our building, we were so thrilled to be able to open to parents fully before the end of the last school year. The atrium was once again filled with the sights and sounds of children playing and parents and teachers connecting on a more personal level. This year our Harvest Moon Auction will be an in-person event, and we encourage parents and teachers to participate in helping make it a success.

In this period of renewal, we also received reaccreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The five-year certification recognizes that Bing Nursery School has maintained the highest quality and professionalism. In the months leading up to the review, teachers and our administrative team prepared extensive digital portfolios and examined all aspects of the program. For our staff, it was an opportunity to look deeply at our practice and mission and how they translate into our day-to-day work with children, families, Stanford undergraduates, researchers and educators.

For the past 57 years, Bing has provided an outstanding early childhood educational experience that is play-based and child-centered. We have been and always will be deeply committed to supporting children’s growing sense of self as they explore and discover the world around them. We are also dedicated to serving as a living laboratory for research and teaching Stanford University undergraduate classes onsite by Bing administrators and head teachers. 

Research and education have been part of Bing’s mission since its founding. “Unless a nursery school is truly a good place for children, it cannot be a good place for student- or parent-learning or research,” said founding director Edith Dowley. More importantly, a high-quality, play-based program; research; Stanford undergraduates and Bing parents all contribute to our understanding of child development. They also illustrate that young children learn best through play. For young children, play and learning are interchangeable; this has been a fundamental truth since our inception.

Three Founding Principles

As we look ahead, a look back at the school’s original philosophy shows us the way forward.

The goal of treating the child as an honored guest has always been an integral part of our practice. At Bing, there is a deep respect for children and their ideas. We believe that it is imperative that teachers see things from a child’s perspective and view every child as capable and competent. In the example below, teachers thoughtfully prepared a variety of tools and supplies, providing children with the freedom to create.

At the woodworking table one day, Charlize announced, “I’m going to make a snowflake! They are different.” She gathered eight diamond-shaped pieces of wood and arranged them to create her snowflake. She had discovered the design in previous weeks while deliberately making symmetrical configurations with the wood. After hammering her nails into the connectors, she admired her project. “There. … Now I need white paint.” A teacher helped her get the paint. Charlize returned to the woodworking table several times over three weeks to recreate and master her snowflake. She proudly assisted other children who wanted to make their own wooden snowflakes.

Dowley believed that children need uninterrupted time to fully immerse and engage in play. She fondly called this the gift of time because she believed that life had become hectic and wanted to give back to children what modern living had taken away. This founding principle remains a core part of Bing’s philosophy, which is witnessed daily in children’s deep sustained engagement in their chosen activities. Last spring, West AM teachers offered time and space for children to investigate eggs as a classroom project:

Imaginative play involving eggs was one of Johnny’s favorite activities, and he soon became an expert on making his own eggs out of crumpled paper towels wrapped in several strips of masking tape. One spring morning, Johnny pretended to be a duck and jumped, flapped and quacked all around the sand. Teacher Lauren asked if he needed to make a nest. After pausing to think, he raised his eyebrows and nodded. He looked around and decided upon the “tallest tire” for the best protected nest. He knew where to get paper towels and tape inside, then quickly returned to begin his family. 

“I don’t know if I should make four or 100 eggs. … I think I’ll just make four today. Maybe I’ll save them and make more every day and eventually I’ll have 100.” As he carefully made his eggs, Kristina arrived, and Johnny updated Kristina on his game.  “I’ll help you make some eggs, Johnny,” she said. “How many do you want?” Johnny adjusted his plan. “I think I want 10,” he said. “So that means we have a lot of work to do.” 

Child going into a tire, which he pretended to be nest, surrounded by animals as "guards."

They tracked their progress, updating each other on how many more eggs they needed, and Johnny carefully placed each egg into a divot in the nest. Johnny looked at Kristina, concerned. “Kristina, since you’re the mama and I’m the daddy, we might want to go on vacation. We need some guards for this nest if we ever go away.” 

Lauren supplied them with a variety of toy animals, and Johnny selected a combination of nocturnal and diurnal animals so that the eggs would be guarded day and night, spacing them evenly around the nest. “There can’t be any gaps,” he explained.

Johnny and Kristina dutifully baked a cake in the sand kitchen for them. When Johnny realized it was too heavy to carry, he used a wheelbarrow to deliver the food for the babies, which were expected to hatch any minute. 

Johnny then wondered how he could make ducklings for the next installment of his play. Lauren reminded him of the small origami creations he had already made, and Johnny confidently marched indoors. He returned several minutes later with exactly 10 tiny origami ducks, which he carefully placed beneath each egg. 

By the morning’s end, the ducklings had thoroughly enjoyed the food that he and Kristina had prepared, and several other children pitched in to protect the hatchlings. Afi generously dug a moat surrounding the guards, creating an additional obstacle for any potential threats.

Finally, supporting the child’s freedom of movement allows children to move between indoor and outdoor environments and explore at their own pace. Dowley’s original plan included ample space and a variety of terrains. Emerita Head Teacher Bonnie Chandler often said, “A child learns geography with his feet.” Freedom of movement also benefits a young child’s physical and cardiovascular development. Children’s ability and motivation to run to the top of the hill, swing across the monkey bars or climb to the peak of a structure to view their world not only increases and supports their physical selves, it also helps strengthen children’s brain development by engaging multiple senses and making synaptic connections. There is nothing quite so gratifying as hearing a child say, “I did it all by myself!” Bing’s indoor and outdoor spaces allow children to move freely, as in the following examples:   

In the neighborhood, there was a play invitation with gutters and whiffle balls. The following conversation occurred between Niko, Larkin and teacher Melissa.

Larkin: How much is that?
Niko: What do you mean?
Larkin: Like the balls. How many balls is that?
Niko: I don’t know. Maybe you can count them. But maybe 12. Or 10. It’s definitely 10.
Larkin: Which one is 10? The balls on the grass or the balls in the bucket?
Niko: I don’t know but you can count them.

Larkin then proceeded to count the balls on the grass. She would grab one ball, count it, then throw it to a different area, creating a new pile for Niko to count. Niko pointed and counted each ball as it was thrown and stopped counting when he correctly counted 20, calling to Teacher Melissa at the end, “There’s actually definitely more than 20.”

*  *  *

Can naturally extended his own learning through play. After some children discovered a crab apple tree in the yard and began referring to the fruit as cherries, Can decided to create a poll and survey the class about their ideas. With some support from teacher Jessica, Can created a survey sheet and then went around the classroom asking children to state whether they believed the fruit was crab apple or not. Can was very invested in this project for the duration of the afternoon, delighted in his peers’ participation and was eager to document his findings. Six children thought they were crab apples and five thought they were cherries. Four children said they didn’t know. Some children commented:

Sloane: “It’s red like an apple.”
Sloane: “Who do they get eaten by?”
Cody: “Birds, of course!”

Today, Bing continues to be a center for leading-edge research, which informs our teaching practice and contributes to the understanding of child development. Our play-based program encourages children to pursue activities that they find intrinsically motivating. Teachers provide feedback to children daily, which fosters a growth mindset. They consider children’s developing perspective-taking when supporting peer interactions. 

Our teachers are caring, compassionate, imaginative and patient, which enables them to listen, model and plan curriculum to support children’s language development. They are well versed in child development theory and practice and share a passion for teaching. These skills are integral to our professional development and essential to maintaining a high-quality program.

Dowley’s three fundamental principles provided the framework for Bing’s founding 57 years ago. They continue to guide how we prepare young children for our rapidly changing world. We hold firm to children’s right to play, because it is how young children make sense of their world. Through play, Bing’s program enables children to be inquisitive, confident, creative, flexible, collaborative and to develop a love of learning. This supports our goal of giving young children the best possible start to their educational journey and to prepare them for the life that lies ahead.