Birdsall House was brought about by the collaboration of myself — Birdsall House Director, Kelly Raines — my friend Nik Huffman and the Cole and Tankard families.
For many years, Nik and I had talked about opening a center, but the right place and time just didn’t happen until the fall of 2014.
For 20 years, I had been working in early childhood education while pursuing my degree in Early Childhood Education and Leadership and Social Psychology. I usually taught in preschool and pre-K classes and loved working with that age group. I found that the education I was receiving often contradicted what I had learned about child development. I soon understood why so many centers were abandoning play for academics, but I didn’t think it was best practice. I incorporated the Reggio Emilia philosophy into my classrooms as much as possible within the curriculum of the centers I worked.
In 2014, I was working at a traditional child care center as a lead infant teacher. It was a new challenge for me, and I found that the teaching of Magda Gerber really resonated with me. Like with Reggio Emilia, I started incorporating her teachings within the restrictions of my current center. While I loved what was happening in my classroom, I did not always love the classrooms my students moved on to. The families did not always like them either, and this is where the Cole and Tankard families came into play.
During the time when I had their infants in my classroom, I developed a strong bond with many of my families. This was especially true for the Coles and Tankards. With their encouragement, I started thinking again about opening my own place. This happened to coincide with the announcement of a $200/month raise in my rent.
Knowing that I needed to find a new place to live and that I wanted to start a center, I decided to combine them. I just needed to find the right house. It took some searching, but eventually we found it. It was an old house, it needed a lot of work and it smelled horribly of smoke, but there is a large green space, and at the time it was down the street from the Mesner Puppet Theater. We purchased the house in the fall of 2014 and immediately set to work ridding it of the smoke smell and preparing it for the children.
In March of 2015, we opened as a small center with only 3 children and worked on licensing. We were licensed in August of 2015 and granted non-profit status in March of 2016. We soon filled up with children, and in 2021 became licensed as a group home.
Our curriculum pulls from the Reggio Approach, the teachings of Magda Gerber, Jean Piaget and many other theorist who support play, and the wisdom of my grandma Birdsall, who said “a dirty child is a happy child.” With their wisdom and my obsession with brain development, we created a curriculum that focuses on positive interactions, the arts and science. We created an environment in which the children are free to learn and explore what they are interested in and to develop at their own pace.
I am thrilled everyday by the interactions within our mixed aged group and amazed by the learning that happens naturally, when we step back and stop trying to teach.