Dorothea Nordstrand Remembers the Do-It-Yourself Kindergarten at Green Lake, 1959

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 10/27/2003
  • Essay 4257

In this People's History, Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011) relates the history of a kindergarten started by Moms in 1959, after the Seattle School System cut the kindergarten program. Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand has lived in Seattle since the family moved here from Pend Oreille County about 1920. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including's People's History library.

The Do-It-Yourself Kindergarten

The year was 1959. Seattle School District was, as usual, short of funding, so they cut out the kindergarten program. This was a real shock to those of us with five-year-olds who had been waiting impatiently for the day. Our youngest son, Paul, had heard about the joys of kindergarten from his older brothers and sister, and could hardly wait. This was long before the days of day-care and pre-school, so kindergarten was that first step into the big world away from home and Mother.

There was only one thing to do. We would start our own kindergarten. Six Moms with disappointed five-year-olds organized The Green Lake Emergency Kindergarten Association. Besides myself, there were the Mesdames R. C. Johnson, H. E. Bradshaw, T. E. Tinkler, F. E. Woodiwiss, and T. A. Spangler.

We hand-wrote flyers offering our program and personally delivered them to the houses in our neighborhood where we knew there were children of the proper age. The response was immediate and positive. Our idea was marketable. Not one of us had the foggiest notion of what would be entailed, but we boldly set about finding out.

There were certain guidelines set up by the School Board. We were allowed to enroll up to 20 children, each family paying $l2.50 a month into the fund that had to cover all expenses. Thus, the most we could expect to take in was $250.00. The teacher must be fully accredited and be paid $150.00 a month, if we could find one that would work for that.

We found a large room in the local VFW Hall on 5th NE and NE 71st at the edge of the Green Lake shopping district for $50.00 a month, including electricity, heat, and the use of the kitchen and bathroom down the hall. All other expenses had to come out of the remaining $50.00. A pretty tight budget, we soon discovered.

Supplies: paper, pencils, crayons, chalk, scissors, paste, etc., were purchased from Crone's ten-cent store a couple of blocks from our schoolroom. The School District lent us picture books and a few story books. The children's fathers were drafted to apply black paint to large rectangles of plywood for our chalkboards.

A member of the Kindergarten Association must be in the classroom every day to act as the teacher's aide. We had to do our own janitorial work and any decorating was our own responsibility. What we got for our rental money was a large, bare room with six bare windows, five or six long, Formica-topped tables and a rack of folding chairs.

My first project was to make yellow organdy curtains, which we hung on string tied to nails which stuck out, one on each side, above the bare windows. Because my job before marriage had been at the local bank, they entrusted me with the financial side of the enterprise, collecting fees, keeping records, and writing checks with the important-looking name of our organization printed in the corner. One artistic mother made us bright posters for the empty wall spaces. Another came once a week to play her guitar for class singing. I can still see her daughter's eyes, shining with pride in her Mom, as the music lesson was presented. One mother had some experience in watercolor and another was a weaver. Both were put to use.

We made up a schedule for our days of voluntary service and one for which of us was responsible for cookies and milk. Whoever was the teacher's aide stayed after school that day to fold up the chairs, sweep the oiled-wood floor, and empty the wastebaskets. Whenever someone took the notion, the windows got washed. The owner of the building was responsible for cleaning the bathroom and the kitchen, for which we were enormously thankful.

In spite of our poor salary offer, there was no trouble locating a teacher as the public schools weren't hiring kindergarten teachers that year, but the first one lasted only a few days. She couldn't adapt to our primitive conditions, calling them "backwoods." The second one was a treasure by our standards, taking up the challenge with zest and all the enthusiasm we could wish. She had a flair for innovation and a lovely sense of humor, both essential in the circumstances. Due to her and with a lot of luck, we were a success.

Word of our endeavor got around. We were interviewed by newspapers and invited by Kiwanas and Commercial Clubs to tell about our project. One very special day, we were asked to attend the dedication of a new housing development called Horizon Homes in Bellevue's Lake Hills, including luncheon at the new Samena Club. Two surprises awaited us there.

First, our little group of Moms was this year's winner of the Community Club Award for our effort. Second, the award was presented to us by guest speaker at the luncheon, the then star of the General Electric Theater TV program, handsome and charming Ronald Reagan.

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