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From the Hart

Education of tots wasn't always so complicated
Scripps Howard News Service


July 28, 2005

I recently wrote about how I think today's parents are too intense when it comes to kids and pre-school. I just think taking a 4-year-old to a specialist to work on scissor skills (a literal example I've seen in news reports on the subject more than once) is a little excessive.

But in that column I wasn't completely straight with my readers; I sort of forgot to mention that for three straight years I ran my own private nursery school. So here's the full disclosure: I wasn't licensed or accredited or regulated in any way. I hired teachers who didn't have a lot of experience with little kids. I made good money and paid no taxes. And the parents absolutely loved it.

I founded the Busy Bee Nursery School of suburban Chicago - when I was 11.

My two best friends and I had a brilliant idea: We would make money by taking kids off moms' hands for two weeks of mornings during the summer. We didn't teach scissor skills, but the moms couldn't sign up fast enough. I cannot remember what we charged to take in a little one for the morning, but whatever it was we probably could have gotten so much more. I don't remember anybody worrying about educational specialists in those days.

Five mornings a week the two other "teachers" and I would spread out and pick up in coaster wagons the 20 to 25 kids who'd signed up. We headed for my garage on South Stratford where we'd "built" the schoolroom. Of course, the minute the wagons got out of parental sight I'd make the kids get out and walk. Nobody seemed to mind.

We did crafts, had story time and took the kids to the park - no government regulator in sight. My "staff" and I weren't worried whether the kids were learning consonant combinations or early math skills; we were just saving for new bikes.

Being the youngest in each of our respective large families, my friends and I didn't have little sisters or brothers to tease. I confess that occasionally the kids in the nursery school filled that gap. I remember the first year of our school we had one sweet little guy named Christopher. He would often cry when he left his mom. We always got him calmed. But then if one of us was feeling mischievous, we might ask, "Christopher, where's Mommy?" just to see his reaction. Ouch! But he seemed to have a good time anyway.

Being the one who ran the school, I personally bought all the snacks. I made a rational calculation. The cheaper the food, the more money for us. One year there was an inexpensive breakfast cereal that called itself "breakfast cookies" or some such thing. Sure enough, it looked like little chocolate-chip cookies. I remember the kids complaining like crazy about it. "This is cereal!" they would say during their cookie break. "No, it's not. It's cookies!" I would adamantly declare in return.

At the time I wanted to grow up to be a politician.

But look at it this way. The kids stayed safe. They loved it. And, more important, their moms had two weeks of morning freedom. That was true even for my mom. Yes, she was nuts to take on the liability of doing this thing in her garage, but it got me out of her hair, too.

We had a little graduation ceremony at the end of the two-week sessions. The moms always looked kind of sad.

I remember the green Schwinn 10-speed bike I bought with my proceeds one year. It cost $100. I've never been prouder of any acquisition in my life. In those days, we girls bought boy bikes - girl bikes were soooo not cool.

Also in those days, the parents were so not intense. Throughout my high-school years, by about February, they would start calling my folks: "Hey, are Betsy and her friends doing the Busy Bee Nursery School again?"

Alas. It had had its time and then it was over.

I wouldn't recommend kids try such an enterprise today. Too much legal liability and, undoubtedly, too few customers. But I can't help but think those kids had more fun in our Busy Bee Nursery School than any kid has ever had being tutored in scissor skills.


Betsy Hart is the author of the forthcoming book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting Is Hurting Our Kids - and What to Do About It" (Putnam.).
Contact her at

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