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Phebe Anna Thorne School: Foundations for the Future

When the Preisser family moved to the area more than a decade ago, their search for a preschool yielded more than just a facility; it brought them a whole community.

boy on a playground with a telescope

Meaningful Beginnings

Having taught Kindergarten in the Philadelphia Public Schools, stay-at-home mom Alison Preisser knew what she was looking for in an early education program. “Children using their innate curiosity and instincts to play to navigate their social, emotional, and physical world is where I wanted my children’s learning to launch off of,” she says. So she and her husband, Joe, who works at a financial services firm, sought out a play-based school for the three youngest of their children, Jackson (14), Isabella (11), Luke (8), and Lyla (5). “We really wanted a school that understood that play is really how children learn. It’s not this superfluous thing that children do to pass the time,” says Joe. Alison agrees, pointing out that age-appropriate tasks and activities keep children engaged. It wasn’t long before they found what they needed at the Phebe Anna Thorne School, located on the campuses of Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College. 

“Thorne” as it’s affectionately called, is a small, boutique school that focuses on play-based learning and developmentally appropriate activities for children from toddler to kindergarten age. Learning through play is more than just an ideology, however; it’s the cornerstone to a foundation of kindness, respect, and a love of learning that Thorne students carry forward into life. “It’s such a warm, caring community,” says Joe. “You could feel that the minute you walked through the door.”

four siblings sitting on a rock in the woods

Working As a Team

“It’s a whole experience when you come to Thorne,” says Director, Amanda Ulrich, whose own children attended years ago. “It’s not just dropping your kid off at school.” Instead, Thorne fosters a community of learners, educators, and parents who work as partners in the young students’ introduction to schooling. “That partnership,” says Alison,  “that understanding that we are in this together, that parents have valuable information to share, and that the teachers are incredible resources…Thorne not only knows that, but values that.” 

To strengthen this partnership and sense of community, communication and collaboration are paramount at Thorne. Teachers and administrators are approachable and receptive. Monthly coffee meetings allow parents to gather for informal conversation. Psychoeducational Consultant Jan Linowitz hosts meetings where parents can discuss any issues they or their child may be facing. Fundraisers and festivals bring out volunteers from all corners. “When we have an event, the community comes out for it,” Alison says. “It’s kind of like this little world that you really want to expand into the larger world. And it feels really good to be a part of.” 

Beyond the Philosophy

With small class sizes, enviable teacher-to-student ratios, and highly educated instructors, Thorne offers an exceptionally high caliber of education. “All of our teachers are experts in early childhood,” says Amanda. “Most of them have their Masters and have been in the field for a long time.” It’s one of the reasons the Preissers chose the school. “There is a level of expertise and education of these teachers that I could not find anywhere else,” Alison says. “They are true experts.”

The mastery of play-based learning is evident in the classroom. “The teachers really are the fabric of the play environment there. When you walk into a classroom, they’re on the floor, they’re involved in the play,” says Alison. With developmentally appropriate activities introduced in each program, Thorne avoids the long periods of sitting found in traditional schools. “Thorne just understands what children are able to do, what they want to do, their innate curiosity, and allows them to use that in order to then engage them very successfully in meaningful learning opportunities,” she adds.

For example, Math lessons don’t start with counting, they start with play. Alison explains. “At Thorne when kids are initially given manipulatives to work with, they are told, ‘You can play with them and experiment with them, touch them’…before they’re asked to sit for more traditional lessons.”

The Whole Child

Academics are only part of the equation, however. The social and emotional development of the children holds equal importance. At weekly meetings, the staff discusses each child in every program to identify any needs. For Alison, “the thoughtfulness that they can put into talking about your child, and the care and the depth of knowledge about your child coupled with their depth of knowledge about children in general at this age specifically, just ensures that children are being supported, that they’re understood.” Growth and development doesn’t stop at the classroom door, either. “Thorne has very much impacted who my children are socially and emotionally,” says Alison. “It is literally the foundation of who they are. It never ceases to amaze me how they continue to look back at that to navigate situations that they encounter today…This is going to be something that they bring with them their entire lives. I’m seeing it. I’m watching it unfold daily, weekly, from year to year when my children continue to go back to Thorne as they get older.” 

For parents considering Thorne for their child, Alison doesn’t equivocate in her thoughts. “It would be the best decision you’ll ever make,” she says. “There’s no other school like it…This will be the foundation for them to be a wonderfully creative, thoughtful, kind, empathetic, curious person. They’re going to love learning. They’re really going to know that school is a place that is full of new discoveries…that school is a positive place where they can express themselves as an individual…They’re always going to feel supported and they’re going to be met where they are.”

Programs and More

The Phebe Anna Thorne School offers a Toddler Program for 2-3-year-olds, two levels of a Preschool Program (a 3-4-year-old class and a 4-5-year-old Pre-K), and a Kindergarten Program for 5-6-year-olds. In addition, they offer a Language Enrichment Preschool Program for children with speech and language difficulties, and an Early Intervention Program designed for more intensive and focused instruction. More information on the programs can be found here.

With only one class per program, the Thorne school itself may be cozy and unpretentious, but being located on a college campus provides a wealth of opportunities to explore. “We use the campus,” says Amanda. “The Kindergarten especially will go on the nature trail or the orchard at Haverford College. We go to the maze on Bryn Mawr’s campus, and we go to the soccer field sometimes to play…We actually have the whole campus at our disposal.”

You’re invited!

There is a Kindergarten Open House on Wednesday Oct 26, 2022 at 9:30 am. Please email to mleithause@brynmawr.edu to register to attend! You can learn more about the Phebe Anna Thorne School on their Profile Page and their Facebook Page. Contact Amanda Ulrich for enrollment information at 610-526-7913. 

This story supports the Main Line Parent Community and was written by Kristin Walker with photos courtesy of the Preisser Family.

Learning to Play, Playing to Learn: The mission of the Thorne School is to provide play-based, developmentally appropriate child-centered programs for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners.