Freedom is what pre-schoolers at Berkeley’s oldest nursery will inherit on their first day of class—freedom to learn and grow through play, by getting their hands wet and their feet muddy and by letting their imaginations soar.
When preschoolers—both past and present—and their parents and teachers come together Saturday to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Children’s Community Center (CCC), memories will be exchanged and stories told about this unique facility tucked away in one of the greenest corners of North Berkeley.
“Berkeley had no pre-school before the CCC was founded in 1927,” said Andrea Lampros, who has sent her three children there. Lampros’ husband John Fike is also a proud alumnus of CCC. “Original records indicate that it’s not only the oldest preschool in the city, but also the oldest co-operative preschool west of the Mississippi.”
The first thing that hits you about CCC is the space. Massive airy classrooms open onto an undulating and lush green playground.
What makes CCC even more special is the fact that it is directed and managed by parents, in cooperation with a professional teaching staff.
“There is no hired administration,” Lampros said, as she volunteered at the school Wednesday. “The co-op owns the land. Teachers do the curriculum and parents do everything from cleaning the grounds to creating a budget. We have volunteers who are on the board of directors, but they are made up of parents and teachers as well.”
Twenty-seven mothers—mostly wives of UC Berkeley professors—garnered financial support from the university’s Institute of Child Welfare and founded CCC 80 years ago. They brought in the institute’s premier early childhood educator Katharine Whiteside Taylor, who was named the school’s founding director.
“Katherine believed that parents and children learn together through shared life in both home and school. We still believe in that today.” said Lampros. “The mothers wanted their children to have the freedom to play in a natural environment. They felt the need to be involved in their children’s education and to create a community of mothers.”
If it’s the “dressing up” or the morning cooking project that makes CCC parent Shirley Brewin send her daughter Alden to the frontyard program in the morning, it’s the painting and the music lessons that attract others.
Allyssa Lamb, who teaches the Front Yard younger kids and is an alumna herself, spoke of bonds she made in 1971 at the center that still exist today.
“I remember my mother and my grandmother volunteering and making connections with other families. My mother still remembers all the names,” she said, taking part in an obstacle course with 3-year-old Delia Falliers. The program helps kids transition from one stage to the other by letting them eat pretend meals before joining the older group in the Back Yard.
“Back then it was more moms participating,” she said. “It was all about women. We have quite a few dads now, which is great.”
Lamb, who studied Early Childhood Education at Contra Costa College, said her best training came from watching the children.
“I want them to have a voice, to put words to feelings,” she said. “This is where kids form their base before they go into formal education. Simple stuff such as what happens to water when you pour it or to you when you jump into a mud hole is basic to adults but not to 3- and 4-year-olds. At CCC we stress communication and conflict-resolution and value diversity and creativity.”
As 3-year-old Devin—Lampros’s son—worked on a race track, his friends Lilah and Solomon splashed about in the water table.
“Your bridge is going all hokey pokey,” Brian Fitch, a backyard teacher, told Devin. Fitch, a San Francisco resident, who fell in love with CCC 17 years ago.
“It’s such a magical age,” he said. “They are vocal but still innocent in so many ways. It’s difficult not to be drawn into their world or to satisfy their curiosity. In this age of technological invasion, kids still remain pretty much the same. Toys and TV shows have changed, but the thing that hasn’t changed is a child’s need to play.”
Water, Fitch said, was an essential play component for kids at CCC. “It’s an incredible curriculum, a teaching tool all by itself,” he said. “A child who is not aware of the physical world is moody and sleepy.”
Lilah and Devin are perfect opposites of that child. As they struggled to create a Lego tower taller than Brian, their effort was a fine example of what CCC stands for—competence, self-confidence and co-operation.
CCC 80th Anniversary Gala
Includes silent auction, food, libations and music. 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda. $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
CCC party and reunion
June 10 at 114O Walnut St., Berkeley. 528-6975. www.cccpreschool.org.