Tag Archives: Grace Mitchell

The Golden Memory Box

For years now, I have been promising some friends that I would get this story up on my Web site. It’s based on a story told by Grace Mitchell, who wrote a column for many years in Early Education magazine. Mitchell was the founder of Green Acres Day Camp in Waltham, Massachusetts, a camp with a distinctly progressive Deweyan philosophy of education. I have adapted this camp story to church life; as I tell it, this story reflects my feeling that when church looks more like camp, it is more memorable to children. A good story to tell at the end of the church year.

Once upon a time there was a girl named Keilah and a boy named Kyle who lived with their parents in the second floor of an old house that looked out over the harbor. During the week, Kyle and Keilah went to school, and on Sunday they went to church. Kyle liked school, Keilah didn’t like school, but they both liked church. They liked going into the worship service with their parents and singing one of the hymns they knew as loud as they could. They liked listening to the things their minister read, even though they didn’t always understand them. They liked going to Sunday school to see their friends. They liked going to social hour where they drank hot chocolate and, when the weather was nice, went outside to play in the church’s labyrinth.


On the first day of the new church year, Keilah and Kyle went to their new Sunday school class. Keilah was only a year older than Kyle, and this year they would be in the same class together. Kyle did not want to go to the new Sunday school class. “I won’t know any of the kids,” he told his father as they were getting ready to go. “Can’t I go back to my old Sunday school class?” Keilah was not sure that she wanted Kyle to be in her Sunday school class. “Can’t we go to different Sunday school classes?” she said to her mother. But in the end, they wound up going to Sunday school together.

As usual, they stayed in the first part of the worship service for fifteen minutes with their parents. Then they left when all the other children left. They walked more slowly than anyone else, so when they got to their new classroom, ten other children and three grown-ups, their new Sunday school teachers, were already there. A pleasant-looking man welcomed them and said, My name is Joe. You must be Keilah and Kyle. You’re just in time to play a game.”

The way the game worked, Joe told them, was that everyone had to pick something in a grocery store that had the same first letter, or the same first sound, as their name. “So I’m Joe Jumbo Juice,” he said. “That’s my grocery store name.” Keilah decided her grocery store name was “Keilah Cantaloupe,” and Kyle was “Kyle Kale.” Joe stood in the middle with a pillow, and one person started by saying someone else’s grocery store name. Then that person tried to say someone else’s grocery store name before Joe tapped them with the pillow. If you got tapped before you could say someone else’s name, then you went in the middle. It was a really fun game. At one point, everyone was laughing because Hong Hot Chocolate managed to get Sam Salmon with the pillow while he was talking to the person next to him. Keilah turned to Kyle and whispered, “This is a great game!” Kyle said, “Yeah, I wish it would go on forever!” Suddenly they both heard a voice, a mysterious high-pitched echo-y voice, say, “Put it in your Golden Memory Box!” (Except the voice dragged out “golden” so it really sounded like this: “Put it in your Gooolden Memory Box!”)

“Did you say that?” Keilah whispered to Kyle. Continue reading

Voice from the past

Three decades ago, my older sister, Jean, and I had summer jobs at a day camp in Waltham, Massachusetts, called Green Acres Day Camp. When we started working there, Peter Bloom was one of the campers, and when he was older he became a counselor. Now Peter has assembled a collection of photographs of the day camp, on view in Arlington Center until the middle of next week [link to article about the exhibit].

I just spent an hour talking with Peter Bloom, listening to him tell me about what happened after the camp closed in 1986, and about all the former counselors he had managed to contact. But in the back of my mind I was thinking about how much I had learned from Grace Mitchell’s educational philosophy.

Grace Mitchell was the dynamic educator who founded Green Acres Day Camp. Mitchell believed in child-centered learning, where activities and learning situations emerged from the interests and questions of children. Her educational philosophy continues to influence both my sister Jean and me [link to how that educational philosophy has influenced Jean].

From an obituary I discovered on the Web site of Tufts University:

Grace L. Mitchell, a pioneering day care provider who embarked on her career to remain close to her young son, lawyer F. Lee Bailey, died Jan. 27 [2000] in her home in Delray Beach, Fla.

Dr. Mitchell has been recognized as one of the most influential education professionals in the country. She founded Green Acres Day School in her apartment in Waltham in 1933 in order to remain close to her son and continue her career in teaching. “When Lee was only 5 weeks old, I was already missing teaching,” she said in a story published in The Boston Globe on May 17, 1976. “I said OK, that’s it, I’ll start a nursery school….”

…”Children learn more about emotions by experiencing them in a day care setting than they ever could from a textbook,” she said, and described the sound of children running and playing as “good noise” and a positive indication of the health of any day care center.

She owned and operated Green Acres Day School until 1987, when it became the Green Acres Foundation. In 1993, Dr. Mitchell established the Green Acres/Grace Mitchell Endowment at Eliot-Pearson, funding professional development for early childhood educators. Dr. Mitchell earned a bachelor’s degree at Tufts when she was in her mid-40s, a master’s degree at Harvard University when she was 55, and a doctorate at Antioch College when she was 70.

She was the author of The Day Care Book, based on visits to centers across the country at a time when there was not much nationally organized information about them. She served on the governing board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children from 1974 to 1978.

Her message to children, and to the adults who care for them, was always, “I am, I can.” She challenged adults to live up to their highest potential and stretch their awareness. She said, “Life is a process of becoming. My greatest satisfaction is the joy of having been a part in helping other people grow.”

Here’s to you, Grace Mitchell — you certainly helped me grow.