Director’s Column: 40th Anniversary of Bing Nursery School
By Jeanne W. Lepper, Director
Mark your calendars, invite your friends, and plan to spend the day on Saturday, June 3, 2006, celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Bing Nursery School. We will have a research symposium from 9 a.m. to noon in the Department of Psychology in Jordan Hall. Then, in the afternoon, there will be a garden party reunion and open house at Bing from 2 to 4 p.m. During the morning session, faculty members who have conducted research at Bing will give an over-view of their work. This is an opportunity for parents, teachers and students to hear about many of the now-famous studies the children have participated in throughout the years. In the afternoon, we invite children and families currently enrolled at Bing, as well as those who are “graduates” of Bing, prospective enrollees and former Stanford students and researchers to join us as we acknowledge our appreciation for our beautiful nursery school and research setting.
As we prepare for this event, we reminisce about the day in January, 1966, when J. E. Wallace Sterling, then president of Stanford University, and esteemed visitors gathered for the dedication of Bing Nursery School. Construction of the school had begun a year earlier with the founding director Dr. Edith M. Dowley outlining for the architects the plans for the building and grounds. She wanted to “give back to the children some of the things modern living had taken away from them.”
Dowley planned three spacious playrooms with a half-acre outdoor play area for each room. In working with the landscape architects, she made plans to bring in the earth to make the hills that have become so important to the children through the years. Trees, shrubs and vines that would bloom or drop pods or petals throughout the year were carefully planted in each room. A linear arbor was constructed for East Room and planted with wisteria to provide beauty, shade and a natural setting for swings. A redwood grove was planted in Center Room. A circular pergola and bridge were placed in West Room.
Attention was given to the windows and doors and the amount of light that came in. High ceilings in combination with spacious rooms were considered important because young children are always looking up at adults. Edith Dowley asked the designers and visitors to kneel on the floor and view the space the way children would experience it. There are windows that span from just above the floor to nearly the ceiling. High windows that display the changing sky at either end of the room also allow for cross-ventilation.
Emphasis was placed on the importance of the indoor-outdoor environment. Bing was designed to be a place that says to children, “Come on in, this is a place built just for you.” When children enter the building, the atrium welcomes them. The outside beckons children as they enter the classrooms. From the time the school was built, emphasis has been placed on providing children the oppor-tunity to learn social skills and enhance their cognitive abilities by exploring the natural environment and interacting with each other under the guidance of skilled teachers.
Bing Nursery School was constructed with a grant from the National Science Foundation and a matching gift from Peter Bing and his mother, Anna Bing Arnold. It was designed as a laboratory for quantitative research in child development, a place for qualitative child study and a base for psychology classes, speci-fically Psychology 146, Observation of Children, and 147, Development in Early Childhood. Students from other psychology classes, including Developmental Psychology and Research Methods, also work in the school. Observers, researchers, and interns from linguistics, communication, education, product design, pediatrics, psychiatry, human biology and other university departments and programs have benefited from the opportunity to participate in the school, as well.
It is a long-honored tradition to maintain a child study laboratory at colleges and universities. Stanford’s schools began in 1949 at Stanford Village, where graduate students lived at that time. Edith Dowley directed that school for nearly 20 years, from the time she came from the University of Michigan to Stanford as a graduate student. A second site was established in the late 1950s in a cottage across from Bing and was called the Escondido Village Nursery School. Dowley’s dream of designing a school that would truly be a haven for children became a reality when Bing opened in 1966, combining the two original schools in one setting. Dowley continued to direct the school and maintained her work as professor of psychology and education and as coordinator of the Master’s Program in Early Childhood Education until her retirement in 1975.
It was my privilege to know Dr. Dowley as my mentor when she recruited me in l965, also from graduate school at Michigan, to be one of the first head teachers at Bing. Since my return to Bing as director in l989, it has been a priority and a joy for me to continue the tradition of hiring and supporting a group of outstanding teachers who can meet the needs of hundreds of happy children each year.
During the past three years, Helen and Peter Bing have generously funded a beautiful renovation of our well-loved building and grounds. (See page 9.) This work brings back memories of the thrill of seeing the newly constructed Bing for the first time in l965. We are grateful to Helen and Peter for this restoration, which ensures the continuous, effective use of our physical plant and grounds for years to come.
A laboratory school is a dynamic setting. It brings together teachers of young children, researchers and students who are training to work with children. Being a laboratory for child study means providing an outstanding nursery school where parents, teachers, students and researchers alike strive to discover and to employ the best ways to promote children’s learning and development. It encompasses an approach to curriculum that is open and experimental. Teachers think about how children learn and how to make sure children are thinking and solving problems as they play and explore. It is exciting to be involved in a laboratory setting and a challenge always to be looking at things afresh. The importance of teaching, and the integration of teaching and research, are at the heart of our mission. Our celebration allows us to rededicate Bing Nursery School to the spirit of scholarship for which it is so well known. Please join us on June 3.