Name: Kevin Ewing
Hometown: Whitehall, Wisconsin
Family: Wife, Janet; children Lydia, Julia and Ben
Job: Director, Aldrich Memorial Nursery School
PAM: What lessons did you teach your kids about relationships?
KEVIN: When our children were younger, my practice was to take one of them out for coffee before school. I spent some one-on-one time with each child, individually, each week. The message was, “You’re important enough for me to get up a bit earlier and not go to work right away. You are more important to me than work.”
Their mom and I also encouraged all of our children to spend time in social groups and get to know lots of different peers. They went on mission trips and traveled the globe, and we supported them financially to have that experience because we wanted them to have a world context. Now, they are grown and all involved in serving people in some capacity or field.
PAM: What happens in the pre-Kindergarten world to teach children about relationships?
KEVIN: I bristle a bit at the term “K-prep” because it really is life prep. Concepts learned well, with loving people around you, are going to be your core values later in life.
Most of life’s major lessons start very young: to make friends, be kind, be empathetic. In addition to academics, we help children learn to understand others and be compassionate. Playtime is structured and intentional, designed to teach them to understand and read other children. We have a buddy bench. If a child feels like they don’t have a friend, they can use that bench. Students are taught that if you see someone there, you should go sit down and talk with them.
PAM: Adults might benefit from buddy benches.
KEVIN: I think it would be good for adults to have a greater mindfulness for when someone seems to be isolated or alone, to reach out to that person. How great would it be if we could take the first step, cross all barriers of race-, age-, class-, every-ism, sit down and just listen?
PAM: What is it like working in a field dominated by women?
KEVIN: I think that’s an old stereotype. I would love to see men make up half of early childhood teachers. This isn’t about gender; it’s about the need to focus on the future. Many men are equally concerned about children getting a good start in life.
We need better wages in early childhood education to bring in highly qualified people. We need smart people interacting with young children—people who can provide a rich environment and direct their learning during this crucial time period. Science now tells us that by age 3, 80 percent of the brain has been created in terms of neurons and mass. After those early years, the brain prunes away the areas not being used. What happens in those early years affects the child’s capacity for learning for their entire lives.
PAM: How do you balance career and home life?
KEVIN: My wife and I give enormous energy to our work lives. Because our children are grown, we have the flexibility to do that, but we try to shut work off when we get home. We know we need to provide, take and make time for each other and our marriage.
PAM: What’s one thing that marriage has taught you?
KEVIN: It works best when you put other people’s needs first. It’s best to ask how her day went first, to pick up supper on the way home if she’s working late, to reach out and touch base, even if it’s just with a text message.
Another good tool for a successful marriage is to learn more about how the other person is wired. Janet and I have gone to couple’s seminars and workshops. We used the StrengthsFinder materials by Gallup to learn about each other’s strengths and how we can complement each other. We talk about what we are really good at and how to support each other.
PAM: What’s your secret weapon in the marriage?
KEVIN: Time that’s not divided with my phone or other distractions. This means sitting out on the deck, working on our garden or enjoying the fire. We’re in this transition phase. We’re redefining how we spend our time when we’re not at work. We spent years investing in our children. Now we can refocus on each other.
Pam Whitfield is a teacher, writer, horse show judge and spoken word artist. In 2011, she won the Minnesota professor of the year award from the Carnegie Foundation.