Missy Horrow: “I Feel Like I Have Come Home”

Missy Horrow, Director of Early Childhood Education

Last Wednesday, the teaching staff of Nature Preschool at the Schuylkill Center gathered to begin preparing for the post-Labor Day opening of the school. Starting its ninth year, our staff will again immerse three-, four- and five-year-olds in the natural world in all seasons. And once again, for the third school year, our staff will try to steer their students through pandemic whitewater– but that’s a story for another day.

That evening, Missy Horrow, the school’s new director, wrote in her Facebook feed, “today was the first day of prep week– I feel like I have come home.”

A veteran early childhood educator with more than 20 years experience leading preschools, she has long championed nature-based learning, pioneering the use of the outdoors with her students elsewhere, building, for example, the first outdoor nature playground while she directed a prestigious Main Line preschool. 

As such, she took training courses at the Schuylkill Center, and when she came here, loved the use of wood and natural materials in our classrooms. 

Dreams really do come true: she is now the preschool’s director, looking forward to, as she told me, “building community with the students and parents, supporting our teachers so they can do their best work, helping everyone spend as much time outside as possible, and keeping everyone safe.” 

I asked her what was it about nature that compelled her to bring it into traditional classroom settings? She went back to her childhood, where she went every summer to a camp with a strong outdoor component. 

“Aunt Blanche and Uncle Mel were this couple from Florida,” she reminisced, “and all the teachers were ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle.’ But these two drove up every summer to work in the outdoor program, setting up a campsite where we’d walk to for our overnight camping experiences. Aunt Blanche led nature walks, and something about those experiences stuck with me this entire time. My love of nature comes from them.” (Summer camp is huge in her family, by the way. Not only did she meet her husband at camp, but her parents did too– and so did her daughter. That’s crazy!)

She also remembered back to the first preschool she directed, where the school had 100 mostly unused acres. She took the kids sledding, and “seeing how they behaved outside, seeing how engaged they were, changed me.” Turns out that sledding is now a treasured and embedded part of that school’s curriculum.

In a way, I feel like I’ve been working towards this my whole life.

“This school is on the cutting edge of early childhood education, where it lets children explore the outdoors, engages them in an emergent curriculum where they choose what to study, where they get to roam and play. This is just the ultimate.”

She’s also working to connect the school to other programs at the Schuylkill Center, something we cut back on last year to keep the COVID bubbles tight around each class. This year, for example, the Wildlife Clinic’s staff visited the teachers last week to share with them how to raise mealworms, grubby beetle larvae that become the food of so many of the clinic’s rehabilitating animals. Three of the school’s classes immediately signed on to raising mealworms in class as an activity that teaches students about animal life cycles while providing our patients with food. 

Raised in Lafayette Hill, Missy still lives there today; both she and her two children are proud graduates of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School– go Colonials! The close commute gives her a smaller carbon footprint, another net benefit.

“Every step you take gets you closer,” Aunt Blanche would remind her campers on their long walks. The same might be said of careers– every step gets you closer to where you need to be, and in Missy’s case, that was the Schuylkill Center all along.

And a p.s.: The Schuylkill Center received grants from the state to rebuild our DIY down-homey play area, our nature playscape. With its mud kitchen, sandbox, climbing logs, log seesaw, the Maple Monster (come see it), and more, it’s a play area comprised of natural materials like wood and rock. And it’s getting kicked up a notch or two this year. This week, landscape architects will unveil their proposal for the site, to be used not only by Nature Preschool, but by the Roxborough community when you visit on weekends and afternoons. I look forward to sharing this new feature with you in the near future.

Until then, please join me in welcoming Missy Horrow home to the Schuylkill Center.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

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