Catching Children Early Makes All The Difference
December 2019 Issue
by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography by Cassidy Dunn
Nancy Fish, the Executive Director of The Sandbox Interactive Children’s Museum, grew up on Hilton Head Island in the 70s, graduating from Sea Pines Academy. She fondly recalls two special teachers who inspired her to enter the field of education: Eddie Ladd, her English teacher, and Mark Flowers, her art teacher. She returned to the Lowcountry full circle 18 months ago to lead the future growth of The Sandbox, which is a nonprofit organization established in 2005. This favorite family destination for both locals and visitors embraces the principles of Maria Montessori, a 19th century Italian physician, educator and founder of the Montessori method of education.
Through the years since Nancy graduated from college, she has had numerous experiences that not only prepared her for her executive role at The Sandbox, but has also made her a leading expert in early childhood development. Nancy earner her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth, and later a master’s degree from Lesley University. She returned to Hilton Head in the late 80s after Dartmouth and taught at Sea Pines Montessori and lead various programs at Hilton Head Preparatory and Island Rec. Center.
One of Nancy’s premier innovative endeavors was to build a model preschool from the ground up in Columbia, SC in conjunction with South Carolina Educational TV (SCETV). The preschool doubled as a studio, where Nancy helped produce instructional videos for child care providers and teachers. The entire project, from start to finish, was filmed by ETV producers, demonstrating the ideal facility, layout, equipment and instruction in a child-centered school.
Nancy has never shrunk back from getting involved. She was very active on the state education level in South Carolina and Georgia with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). She drove many miles throughout Georgia creating partnerships with schools of higher learning, municipalities, and other government groups to improve the training and salaries of childcare workers, as a means to improve a community as a whole. She was the director for the yearly conference, which brought in more than three thousand early childhood educators each year for in-service training and inspiration.
She left this job to care for her father in North Carolina during the last days of his life and treasures those memories. Returning to Atlanta, she was quickly grabbed up to be the Executive Director of the Trinity Early Learning Center, a community preschool and outreach of a large Presbyterian church, incorporating quality childcare, along with financial and parenting support for all members of the community. Later she moved back to New England as the Head of School for Walnut Park Montessori School in Newton, Massachusetts, until she got the chance to move back home to the Island with The Sandbox.
Under her leadership, The Sandbox was able to open a second location in July at the Tanger 2 Outlets after a request from their management to have a child-centered, educationally sound space for children and their parents to enjoy. Both locations are like a breath of fresh air. It is a place where cell phones are not thought of, and children are able to get lost in playing, exploring and learning about nature, art, science and reading at their own pace. “Playing is a child’s work,” Nancy said, when asked of the importance of play. Exhibits are interactive and intuitive, and grownups enjoy them as much as the kids. The Sandbox champions many impactful community outreach programs, too, including kindergarten readiness (Nancy says, “But all children are ready!”), special monthly events that are free or reduced price, weekly and summer programs, and partnerships with local non-profit child care facilities and schools in the area. There are even special free family fun nights on the first Friday night of each month.
Nancy has Oklahoma Native American ancestry, and was adopted by Irish Catholic/ English parents. Her mother, a social worker and family therapist, was a huge influence in her life, modeling the caring spirit for children of every part of society that Nancy shares today. Nancy remembers her mother always bringing home children who needed a place to stay and extra attention.
Nancy has found this new phase of her life rewarding. She has four children of her own: the oldest, Alan, is in a PhD program at Georgetown University in Neuroscience in the field of Alzheimer’s research; Atarah is her dancer, who studied ballet in New York City with the Joffrey Ballet School; a baseball-loving Thomas is majoring in Hospitality Management at USCB, and Tallulah, the youngest, is at Hilton Head Middle.
For her own time, she enjoys reading, doing artsy things, going to the beach and riding her brand new bicycle. Once an avid runner, she hopes to resume running soon, as she says “Running is my solace. But no marathons!”
Honestly, she’s been running a marathon for children for years.
Advice for Parents (or grandparents) of young children: Give them the support and tools that they need and then step back. Failure is OK. Remember they learn to walk by falling down many times first.
For more information about The Sandbox, and how to support it: visit www.thesandbox.org and the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry website www.cf-lowcountry.org
Calendar of Events:
Hilton Head Island Location
18A Pope Avenue (Turn into St. Andrew By-the-Sea U.M.C.)
• 12/06—Free Family Fun Night!
• 12/14—Awe-STEM Saturdays!
• 12/22—Cookies, Cocoa and More…Oh My!
• 12/31—Noon Years Eve Celebration!
Bluffton Location—Tanger 2
1414 Fording Island Rd, Suite E-180; (843) 705-6235
• Every Wednesday is Weaving Wednesday!
• Every Friday is Maker Friday!
• 12/05—Discover, Imagine, Grow (D.I.G.), Empowerment Through Play Program!
• 12/12—Discover, Imagine, Grow (D.I.G.), Empowerment Through Play Program!
• 12/21—Free Family Fun Night!