Meet Bev Bos
“If it hasn’t been in the hand and the body… it can’t be in the brain.” ~Bev Bos (1934-2016)
For many years one of my best friends and college classmates has raved about Bev Bos, an incredible early childhood expert whom my friend had the privilege to know personally. Despite earning two degrees in early childhood development, I recently realized I did not actually know much about Bev’s work and contributions. Mid-way through the master’s class I am currently taking on play and learning, I now find myself diving head-first into Bev’s beliefs and practices, all of which fully support and validate what Woods and Wetlands is all about, and which also offer enrichment to the preschool age program I teach at our local zoo.
Bev Bos was a passionate teacher, author, singer, and mentor to countless early childhood educators. All that Bev declared about how young children learn has been proven to be best practice all these decades later. She spent more than 40 years as an advocate for children learning through play, and she published multiple, wonderful books in which she offers her philosophy, examples, methods, and supporting evidence.
Bev began as a parent volunteer in 1965 and later served as director of Roseville Community Preschool in Roseville California. She attended and spoke at over 6,000 conferences and workshops both nationally and internationally. Her published books include the following: Don’t Move the Muffin Tins: A Hands-Off Guide to Art for the Young Child, Tumbling Over the Edge: A Rant for Children’s Play, Before the Basics, and Chants, Fingerplays & Stories. She was adored by all who met, read, or listened to her as she spoke clear truths about the critical role of PLAY in children’s learning.
It is incredible that this 1991 video, of Bev Bos, made the year I graduated from high school, contains her unapologetic philosophy which has been 100% confirmed by recent research into early childhood learning. Put aside the (now) hilarious hair, clothing, and accessory styles and you will find yourself nodding and thinking, “Yes! Yes; kids need to be allowed to be kids! THIS is RIGHT! We NEED this! Schools must change!” Bev Bos had a favorite quote: Our challenge is not to prepare children for school, but to prepare schools for children. ~Docia Zavitskovsky
“All Learning Involves Risk.”
In Bev’s preschool, (and my dream preschool!) children had access to real tools- hammers and nails- and they learned to use them safely. Rather than providing experiences that were, “as safe as possible,” she provided opportunities for age-appropriate risk-taking that were, “as safe as necessary.” Bev was committed to children having access to mess and repetition because children learn through their bodies and whatever interests them will naturally be repeated until the child has truly learned it. We will know when it is time to move on because the child will decide when they are ready!
Bev firmly and unflinchingly spoke out about her belief that young children should not be treated, nor thought of, as little adults. She promoted age-appropriate learning and her preschool featured the most joyous, child-centered FUN learning activities I have ever seen. I am humbled by her deep understanding of what children need. Preschoolers in her program were free to BE CHILDREN. Children were painting on the walls, floor, and even furniture. Messy play was allowed and encouraged. Outdoor learning and nature-play happened every day. There was some structure in that the preschool day offered free choice time, snack time, read aloud,
“We made a mistake calling it preschool.”
As for “early readers,” just because children CAN learn something doesn’t mean we should be teaching it. Bev knew they needed to move, be loud, interrupt read-alouds with questions and stories and connections, and that “learning doesn’t happen when they are sitting on their bottoms!” Letters and numbers were available in her preschool, but only used if the children initiated the learning. Rather than pushing early readers, Bev insisted on reading TO them frequently, and she bravely STOPPED reading and cast aside a book if the children weren’t all that into it. She said, “Today, this is not the book they need.” Bev Bos understood that we should be waiting to teach reading to children only when they are ready for it. When their brains, their eyes, and their experiences in life converged to create a child who WANTS to read. The country with the highest literacy rate (by far outranking the U.S.) doesn’t even begin teaching reading until children are around 7 or 8 years of age! Bev knew that adults reading TO children was the literacy and “school readiness” they needed most if they were to become readers who go on to become adults who read more than just a newspaper or magazine. Adults who read for joy, for knowledge, for life!
I love knowing there are thousands of teachers who have had the benefit of hearing one of Bev’s keynote speeches, attending one of her workshops, reading her books, watching her interviews, singing her songs, observing her ideal preschool, or having any contact at all with one of the most tremendously influential and important women ever to grace the world of early childhood education. I wish I had seen her in person when I had the chance.
As I typed Bev’s name into Google I was astonished by how many early childhood educators, even now, follow her practices and continue to be inspired and guided by Bev’s example and leadership. In fact, there are so many current blogs and articles featuring her methods and philosophy as well as accounting of her work and contributions, I find myself hard-pressed to write this post with originality! Countless teachers before me have already shared their adoration of and commitment to her early childhood learning philosophy. No wonder my friend spoke her name with hero-worship on her face and in her voice!
I could use this opportunity to kick myself for all of the times I didn’t do everything right as a teacher, but, instead, I am going to use Bev’s inspiration to validate all I have been doing right, and to inform and change how I go forward from this moment. I can’t do it all at once, and I can’t do it all just right. I am human. I don’t always have all of the control over every situation. There are the unfortunate realities of time limits, but I’m working on pushing those boundaries a little farther wherever I can.
There are so many Bev Bos quotes I would love to memorize, but this one really stands out as I think about my Woods and Wetlands programs: “If you go home from school without dirt under your nails, I haven’t done my job.” For two years now I have encouraged my explorers to intentionally get their hands as dirty or muddy as possible, ostensibly for handling small creatures such as frogs, toads, or salamanders. But I also did it because I want them to know it is okay to get dirty. Not only is it okay, it is actually healthy for them! Exposure to soil microbes is proving to positively impact our physical and mental health! Watching one of Bev’s videos just reinforced and validated what I have been promoting. Children should be focused on playful learning without worrying about dirty hands or wet clothing! Last week a fourth grade boy happily splashed into the little creek at Townsend Park where we were having a Woods and Wetlands adventure, and a few minutes later he stood before me with worried eyes and said, “My mom is gonna kill me. She told me not to get these boots wet.” This made me so very sad. Boots shouldn’t matter more than fun learning. (Not to mention I made certain the parents were told their children should wear clothes that can get muddy and wet!)
Just yesterday I read aloud from two different books to my ZOOLittles and when a few of my Littles inevitably interrupted when I hadn’t invited them to say something, I found myself shutting that down so I could finish the book. I see this was unnecessary and even damaging! Today Bev Bos has put an end to that for me. She trusted and respected children enough to know that they process out-loud, and if they are asking questions, sharing connections and stories, then they are engaged with the book and I must honor that by allowing those interruptions and using them as opportunities to engage in conversation. She said, “Life is a conversation.” Sometimes I doggedly keep reading aloud, even when it is clear the kids aren’t into it or they are ready to be done. Why do I do that? Bev validates the times I have wisely abandoned a book when I see the kids aren’t engaged. She said, “Today, this is not the book they need.” After all, I don’t force myself to keep reading a book I don’t like or I’m not into!
Going forward, I am committed to the following:
- I will be more flexible.
- I will refuse to worry about what other adults may think of my teaching choices, but will happily share my reasons when I can.
- I will post Bev Bos quotes near my desk and around my ZooLittles classroom so as to remind myself and possibly educate other adults in the area.
- I will abandon books when kids aren’t engaged. (Get my ego and need for control out of the picture!)
- I will refer to the kind of learning I promote as, “age-appropriate learning.”
- I will remember that life should be fun for children!
- I will be firm and unapologetic with other adults when I am called to explain why free exploration and play is such a huge part of what I offer to my students.
- I will try to remember that I am not doing what I do, neither at the zoo nor in Woods and Wetlands, for the benefit of adults. Yet the children I work with will one day become adults, and I know they will need all of the creative thinking, problem solving, confidence-building, real-life experiences they can get while they are still young, in order to become our future inventors, leaders, and thinkers.