An Interview with Evan Brooks
By Jennifer Winters, Assistant Director
Since 1999, Bing Nursery School has been offering Parent Seminars. These seminars have focused on topics and issues in early childhood. This past spring the topics included, “How to Talk to Children” and “The Value of Basic Materials.” The aim of these seminars has been to help our parents and families better understand and support their children’s development by sharing with them the knowledge and expertise of the Bing staff.
Our Parent Seminar program is a result of the vision and sponsorship of Evan and Violet Brooks. The Brooks family came to Bing in 1995 when their oldest child, Lennon, was three years old. Since then, Lennon’s sisters, McKenzie and Peri, have also graduated from Bing. This year their youngest child, Mia, will begin in the Twos Program. They have spent many hours observing and participating in their children’s classrooms. Their experience led them to ask questions and explore early childhood issues and enhanced their parenting skills and knowledge of child development.
Recently Evan Brooks sat down with Chia-wa Yeh and myself to discuss what led him to sponsor these Parent Seminars and why he feels they are so important.
How did you initially get involved at Bing?
This school changed my son’s life; it was so eye opening. Lennon had been at another preschool whose teachers were not well prepared to handle a range of children’s personalities and behaviors. In an attempt to resolve the conflicts, the school administration concluded that their teachers were having difficulties because we were ineffective or even “bad” at parenting. While we were no experts, the label was inappropriate at best, and we started searching for another alternative.
When we came to Bing, we felt like this school saved Lennon’s life; it turned everything around for him 180 degrees. Lennon had a teacher named Allison in West PM who took him by the hand and almost adopted him. (Allison Thompson Esenkova now lives in Houston, Texas with her husband Oleg.) She made it her personal crusade to make Lennon feel safe, wanted and comfortable with who he is, while also teaching him appropriate behaviors, skills and responses. It was totally amazing what she was able to accomplish, and watching her was the beginning of our education as parents.
Our son was always a very active child and he could get easily frustrated. Allison had this way of immediately getting down to his level (which was hard because she was so tall and he was so small) and talked to him so calmly, logically and repeatedly; nothing would ruffle her. Lennon thrived in the consistency, and it taught us so much about how to deal with our child and children in general. So, that was our introduction to it all. We were able to see someone relate to our child like we’ve never seen anyone else do, and with such amazing success. Having never had anyone model such behavior before, we had never considered interacting with our child in this way. Seeing Allison do it really empowered us to try it ourselves. Prior to this, our experience was that adults stood over the child and talked to him. We had no idea of the positive impact of getting down to the child’s level and talking to them in a calm, respectful and reasonable voice.
So, was this the impetus for beginning the parent seminars?
The first thing we noticed when we adopted interacting with our child in this “face-to-face manner” was that other people weren’t doing it. You see parents talking to their children and you see absolutely nothing happening. Parents are doing the same thing that we used to do and it was not working. Sometimes we felt like going over to them and saying, “have you ever thought about getting down to your child’s level when you talk to them?” But you can’t really do that with grown-ups — adults don’t like to be told how to interact with their child by another parent — so we thought that hearing it from the teachers might be the best course. Really what the teachers do so well is model appropriate behavior. It occurred to us that teachers here are modeling behavior for us, so maybe they could model for others. Not every parent has the time to be in their child’s classroom and even if they are there, they are often worrying about things like having a successful separation with their child.
We felt parents could benefit if the teachers presented these little jewels of child development in a more obvious fashion, like a seminar series. We felt that if childcare was available, it would remove a big barrier for a lot of parents to attend. The idea was to have the teachers share gems with the parents and hopefully a few of the gems would stick. We’ve learned so many things here and about six of them have really stuck with us. We use them all the time and they are really important. It is our hope that everyone will have their own six that they would pick.
Parents really respect what the teachers at Bing have to say and there is a great deal to be learned from them. Each year, there has been a lot of interest in these presentations. That’s a good sign in itself and it really says that the families that come here are really truly interested in learning how to relate to their children and how to be the best parents they can be. That is really encouraging.
Could you give us other examples of what you found useful from observing the teachers at Bing?
Another gem is the way you talk to a child about their work. For instance, if a child is painting, instead of asking, “What’s that?” you might say “I see that you are making lots of straight lines or lots of red circles.” It’s a way of talking that lets the child know that you are interested and you value and respect their work.
Also, conflict mediation… you see the teachers here doing this all day and you don’t realize how special and important it is until you go home and try it and it works. For instance, there is a conflict and you bring the two children together. The adult or teacher might start the mediation by stating simply, “Sammy is trying to tell you that it hurts his body when you hit him on the head with the shovel” or the child may be able to verbalize his feelings himself. The teacher comforts and supports both children by creating a forum where they can both say what is on their minds. Both children can hear what each other has to say.
What do you see for the future of the Parent Seminars?
Over time the seminars have really improved the focus and delivery of the message. The problem is that it’s easy to succumb to information overload. That’s one reason why we have retained and used on a daily basis only a handful of the great things we have learned here. The challenge is to present these gems simply and succinctly, and in sufficient quantity to give parents a choice of what’s relevant or important to them, but not so many that none can be remembered. Since we tend to remember something the more we use it, some form of modeling or active participation at the seminars might really be helpful as well.
An unexpected side benefit of the seminars is that it has become a forum for improving the presentation skills of the Bing staff. Given the amount of presentation and participation in national and international conferences that the Bing staff is involved in, honing both presentations and skills has been highly beneficial to the staff. The result is that we all benefit from better communication with a more highly trained staff.
In the end, as long as there are new parents who can benefit from the collective wisdom of Bing’s teachers, the Parent Seminars, or something similar, will always have a place in Bing’s philosophy of sharing the responsibility of educating our children.
*Allison Thompson Esenkova now lives in Houston, Texas with her husband Oleg.