Silver Spring Nursery School (SSNS) grew out of a League of Women Voters Study Group in 1941. A cooperative school reflected the spirit of the times. The school opened at Takoma Park Elementary School with 20 children divided in classes for 3- and 4-year-olds. Tuition was $4.50 a month. Fathers built tables, stools, and easels from a truckload of old packing crates. Mothers formed “driving units” and “walking units” to get children to school. Charter members included Ruth Seeger, (1901-1953) whose book, American Folk Songs for Children, was an outgrowth of her experience at SSNS and dedication to the school.
In the early years, the school operated under wartime constraints. When juice was unavailable in 1943, tomato juice was canned in the summer to provide for the following year. At other times, the school moved locations or took long breaks because of fuel shortages and lack of heat. A manual was first compiled in 1945 after two-and-a-half years of work, written “by committee,” and headed by Ruth Holstein. After an article in Parents Magazine in October 1945, requests for copies came from across the country. The manual reached its greatest circulation after it was the subject of an article in the New York Times Magazine of April 17, 1949.
Housing problems plagued SSNS for the first 25 years. In 1945, 38 members signed up despite the lack of facilities. The 2s, 3s, and 4s met that year at three private homes provided by parents. In subsequent years, the school convened at the Baptist church on Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring, at the Fairway Center, and at the Hillandale Recreation Center. In 1966 it settled at the Unitarian Universalist Church where it remains to this day. The playground was built on church grounds with SSNS funds and oversight.
Through all the travails, an ever-changing group of parents provided financial and administrative support for SSNS, and a wonderful roster of teachers maintained the professional standing. A tradition of members returning as outstanding teachers began with Ruth Holstein continued with Alma Lewis, Naomi Selbst and Marian Fischell, and continues today with Janise Allyn-Smith, Rebecca Brunson, and Scott Mitchell.
Parent education has always been a major part of SSNS. Membership meetings, held monthly, often include guest speakers. If difficult situations arise, teachers are available and provide guidance for parents both in and out of the classroom. Parent discussion groups were held as early as 1941 on subjects such as “Shall we teach our children to hit back?” Parenting workshops were begun in 1988, using the program by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish “How to talk so kids will listen.” These and supplementary workshops on sibling rivalry are led now by Janise Allyn-Smith.
Since 1941 the classroom program has had the flexibility to change and grow depending on family needs and parent contributions. At various times, SSNS has included an extended day program, a weekly supplemental theme class, a summer program, kindergarten enrichment, a licensed kindergarten program, early morning drop-off, extended year, and a 5 day school week. The diverse backgrounds of our community are reflected in the preschool, and parent involvement has lead to spontaneous cultural sharing in the classroom as well as enrichment classes in yoga, movement/dance, karate, music, art, baking, science, and more.
Over the past seven decades, SSNS has maintained a consistent child-focused philosophy, letting children learn through play in a setting that is supportive and stimulating. Our co-op is a place where children can grow in independence, parents grow in understanding, and teachers, parents, and children learn from one another.