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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Sleepy Hollow Preschool: a happy, playful place

Children at Sleepy Hollow Preschool spend a lot of time outdoors.
Sleepy Hollow Preschool, now its 69th year, invites parents to an open house on Aug. 7 to see how its learning-through-play approach produces happy, resilient children.

The open house will be at the preschool’s location in leased space at John Calvin Presbyterian Church, 6531 Columbia Pike, Annandale at two separate times: 10 a.m.-noon and 5-7 p.m.


At Sleepy Hollow, kids aren’t sitting at tables doing worksheets. “We are moving and grooving and playing and investigating our own activities,” says the director, Debbie Brown. “We place a lot of emphasis on respecting children’s interests.”

The 3 and 4-year-olds spend a third of the day outside regardless of the weather – everyone has rain gear – and there’s a natural playground, a boxed garden, stream, walking trail, and amphitheater on the church grounds. They also spend part of the day in “open centers” where they can choose an activity.

There are two classes for 2-year-olds with 10 children and three adults per class. The center also has a science teacher and music teacher.

A key feature of the center is the “pretend room,” with a theme that changes every six weeks, says Brown, a former teacher at the school. The parent committee comes up with the themes – such as an animal hospital, post office, or space shuttle – and makes it happen.

Sleepy Hollow Preschool is a parent co-op, requiring parents to take part in a training session, then help out in the classroom. If parents can’t participate, they can set a grandparent or nanny, and if that is unworkable, they can pay a higher tuition and be excused from participating.

Through the co-op model, “a sense of community develops,” Brown says. “Former students come back to visit years later. Families stay in touch. All of the camp staff are Sleepy Hollow alumni.”

Activities at the preschool are based on tasks children need to master before kindergarten, such as how to take turns, how to solve a problem, how to ask for help, and how to recover from a disappointment, Brown says. “These are the social and emotional skills that are a prerequisite for academic success.”

They also learn letters and numbers, make birthday books for their classmates, and tell stories that teachers write down for them. When children have a problem, teachers engage in open-ended conversations to help them figure out why something isn’t working. Brown says children learn “if you are sad and mad, you can be comforted, and encouraged to try again.”

Sleepy Hollow Preschool runs 9:10 to noon, and there are afternoon programs available on most days. While the school is mainly for ages 2-4, it will accept some 5-year-olds who aren’t ready for kindergarten.

The school was founded by a group of parents in 1949. Its first location was in someone’s house. It moved to the First Presbyterian church of Annandale, then spent many years at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, and relocated to John Calvin Presbyterian Church in 2013.

“Despite the swings in policy and theory over the years for educating little people, we never strayed from the goal to promote learning through play,” Brown says.

“Over many years, Fairfax county schools are very happy to get Sleepy Hollow children. They are very successful.,” she says. “They know how to negotiate a challenging situation, and they have resilience when things don’t go their way.”

1 comment:

  1. All the Shumate children are Sleepy Hollow Grads. (Now 18, 20 and 24.) And Mrs. Brown was the best!

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