September 2015 Archways

The Best Way to Learn

Archways_HenkelmanMarilyn Motto Henkelman ’71, who came to Bryn Mawr’s Phebe Anna Thorne School as a teacher, retired from her 30-year tenure as director in June.

Founded as a laboratory nursery school in 1952, the Thorne School provides play-based, child-centered programs for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners. Priority is given to the children of the faculty and staff of the College, Bi-Co, and Tri-Co, with the balance of children coming from the wider community.

As director, Henkelmen shepherded the growth of the preschool. Among her first acts was to extend morning and afternoon hours and to align programming with the school calendar. She managed the introduction of the language enrichment programs, developed and taught by Bryn Mawr Professor of Psychology Leslie Rescorla, and in 2004 oversaw the opening of the kindergarten center, located on the Haverford campus, and the toddler program.

Back in the day, Henkelman explains, all preschool—and kindergarten, for that matter—was play-centric. “People had an innate sense that this is the best way children learn,” she says. “Kindergarten is really first grade now in so many schools, and to be ready for first-grade kindergarten, you have to be doing kindergarten in preschool.”

But under Henkelman’s leadership, the Thorne School has remained steadfast. “We’ve held fast to the notion of what is developmentally right for children,” she explains, noting that recent research has shown that play helps children develop fully—academically, emotionally, and socially.

Scores of Bryn Mawr undergraduates interested in early-childhood development have worked in Thorne classrooms, side by side with experienced teachers. Henkelman estimates that 15 or more work-study undergraduates work there each year. The demand is high. “We staff both the morning and afternoon programs with one undergraduate per classroom,” she says. And the selection process is rigorous. Students need a demonstrated interest in young children and experience working with them.

In addition, Thorne gets a fair share of students whose interests tend more toward academic research, particularly in developmental psychology and early childhood education. Those disciplines often require students to conduct observational studies of a classroom, a child, or the group. “Kim Cassidy”—a developmental psychologist by training—“always used to send her students over here,” says Henkelman.

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