While each school year brings changes, this year feels especially different. That’s because Liza Wolfe, a Kalamazoo icon, has retired. Since 1976, Liza Wolfe has launched the success of over 1,000 children by offering high quality preschool through Mrs. Wolfe’s Preschool. She transformed the basement of her Westnedge Hill home into a preschooler’s dream, complete with books, a slide, huge building blocks, dolls, art materials, and more. For 43 years she prepared kids to be the best future students and citizens they could be by teaching them how to listen and share, how to be patient and how to participate.
Mrs. Wolfe’s Preschool has been such a part of the beautiful and whimsical fabric of Kalamazoo. Even if you don’t have a child, grandchild, niece, or nephew who attended her school, you probably know of her. Each June, you might have seen Mrs. Wolfe and her friends marching through the streets of downtown.
Since the Do Dah Parade’s inception in 1985, Mrs. Wolfe, her students, parents, and on occasion, alumni, have joined in the fun, parading through the streets in zany outfits they’ve made. When the Kalamazoo Gazette asked Mrs. Wolfe why Do Dah? she said, “We do the parade because when I was little, I never got the chance to be in one but I could play in the street,” she said. “Now, kids can’t play in the street anymore but they sure can do a parade.”
Through the years, Liza Wolfe has also taught parents important lessons. For instance, she’s helped helicopter parents set down their hovering tendencies. Parents have always been welcome to visit during their child’s morning or afternoon session under one condition. “You must be a fly on the wall,” Mrs. Wolfe instructs parents at the start of the school year. She explains that when conflict arises it’s important to give children space to solve their own problems. Rush into solving the conflict or intervening for any reason, and you rob kids of the opportunity to learn.
While early childhood is “hot” right now, Liza Wolfe embraced it long before it was “a thing.” She’s been around long enough to see trends come and go. When it comes to ideas about how preschool should be taught, the importance of play in early childhood education programming has, at times, been undervalued in favor of direct instruction. Ever the champion for children and what they truly need, Mrs. Wolfe has protected and reinforced the role of play in her students’ early childhood development.
Fred Rogers pointed out that, “Play is really the work of childhood.” Mrs. Wolfe knows this and because she recognizes that play is the foundation of learning, she takes play seriously.
As with all high-quality preschool programs, she helps students answer their own questions through exploring different options, experimenting and engaging in conversation. She focused on basic building blocks, growing young people’s social and emotional skills, language and vocabulary, imagination and creativity. Her graduates, numbering in the thousands, have learned much from her. The behaviors they practiced over and over during their preschool years (repetitive practice has a tendency to instill habits), served them well in their elementary school years and beyond. From her, they have learned:
Hang up your coat.
Wait until everyone is served before you start eating.
Take only what you need.
Learn to wait your turn.
Co-operate with others.
Listen to stories.