February 18, 2016 7:00 am Singing Bev Bos Home
On February 4th, Bev Bos died in her sleep at her home in California. She was a giant in the field of Early Childhood Education, a mentor and inspiration to 40 years of nursery school teachers, and a gift to children everywhere.
Bev gained national notice when she was featured in a segment of ABC’s 20/20 in 1991. It was an eye-opening twenty minutes in an era when the “push down curriculum” was subjecting young children to academic activities long before they were ready to benefit from them. In scenes filmed at Bev’s school, we saw children painting themselves, each other, and the fence, stomping in mud, taking off their clothes, wearing dress up clothes outside, climbing from loft to loft on cargo nets, full of exuberance and joy. Her play yard had a real boat with mast, ropes and pulleys, gardens, gutters for sand and water play, barrels of nuts, bolts and spare parts for the children to explore. The scene was chaotic and wonderful. Bev believed that children need above all to play and to have lots of hands-on experiences without being constantly directed by adults. Her catchphrases, “Experience isn’t the best teacher, it’s the only teacher,” and “If it hasn’t been in the hand, it can’t be in the brain,” were in perfect harmony with child development philosophy. She always said, “The number one basic on the planet is wonder. Children are born with it. And the second basic is to discover everything on your own.”
At the Putnam Indian Field School, our staff was inspired by what we had seen. Bev gave Saturday workshops around the country, and we went to hear her whenever she came near Connecticut. Attending one of those workshops was the inspiration for our sensory art room, where children explore water, sand, cornstarch, snow, bubbles… to their heart’s content and also paint on giant easels or on themselves.
Eventually we sponsored Bev to speak at Central Middle School and afterwards to come to our school to look and talk and critique. Bev was so warm and friendly that it was easy to accept her “suggestions.” At the annual NAEYC Conventions, we always flocked to her presentation, three hours long and standing room only. Nursery school teachers clapped and sang with her, and nodded agreement with her insights about childhood and what children need. Bev remembered and greeted everyone as a dear friend. To be with Bev was always to receive a jolt of energy and inspiration and a new commitment to do right by children.
Bev stressed the importance of memories and traditions in children’s lives. Music was one of her ways of creating memories. She played the auto-harp and sang, both in her presentations for teachers, and with the children every day. She sang old songs full of feelings like love and sadness, and she encouraged everyone to sing them with children. Bev believed that memories and traditions from childhood are sustaining when hard times come, and that teachers and parents have a responsibility to create environments in which children can form happy memories… of family vacations, working with parents and grandparents at gardening or cooking, passing along family recipes, decorating for holidays, singing together, sharing meals, being at school together. She said that by passing on our own traditions and memories to children, we let them know us in a new way; they feel included and understand their place in the family continuum. I remember one song about a grandfather who died and family members of all ages gathered on the porch to “sing him home.” Bev’s song, “Memories” concluded with these lines:
“May the memories wrap their arms around you,
May your childhood take you by the hand,
And may what you remember find healing when it hurts
So the memories will protect you when they can.”
Bev Bos wrote four books, recorded CDs of her songs for children and DVDs for teachers, did thousands of presentations all over the country and ran her incredible school for over 40 years. She was a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She made the world a better place for children and the people who care about them. We have many warm memories of Bev to sustain us as we carry on her work. We will miss her.
See the original interview ABC interview with Bev below…
Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.