At 84, Windsor County preschool teacher Judith Adams insists she is still playing
On a recent morning in Judith Adams’ classroom, she called her preschool students together into a circle. They held hands and sang a good morning song, greeting each of their classmates.
Judith is well-dressed, with bobbed blonde hair and a warm smile. Her eyes are alert and encouraging and playful. She’s short, but still towers above her students, who are 4 and 5 years old.
Judith and her husband came to Vermont in 1973. The two of them ran an automotive supply store in Ludlow for 15 years. Then her husband had a stroke, and Judith couldn’t run the business by herself. But they had kids to take care of, and someone needed to work. So, in her 50s, she decided to go back to preschool. And she's been teaching at The Little School in Weston for the past 31 years.
But 31 years is a long time to spend with 4- and 5-year-olds. Judith turned 84 in January, and it’s getting difficult to join students on the floor, or be outside during recess in the wintertime. Judith knows that soon, she’ll have to pull back — but she tears up just thinking about it.
The thing that keeps her coming back year after year, class after class, is how much she loves seeing children start to become people. Which Judith does by letting them play.
“When I see the children when they first come in, they don't have these skills — the language, the social-emotional piece, the cognitive, the physical, the large motor and small motor,” she said.
They don’t know how to hold scissors, or what to do when they’re angry, or how two people working together can do things no one can do alone.
“And then to see them progress is wonderful,” Judith said.
She and her students have a mutual understanding. She listens — truly listens — to their stories, their ideas, their conflicts. And in turn, they listen to her when she tells them to get their coats or suggests they wait their turn to play with a toy.
“They want to be respected," she said. "And I respect them, and they respect we teachers.”
Judith says what she respects is their creativity, and that play is a skill.
“[Play is] where the children are getting these skills, to be resilient, to be curious, to be confident, to be capable, creative," she said. "To be able to ask the questions, to be able to stand up for themselves if they don't like something, to be able to cooperate, to be able to understand society in itself and to be a part of society.”
Even though there are 80 years between Judith and her students, they have a lot in common. Because when you’re 4 and 84, you know things that some of us forget in the middle.
When this reporter began to say, “At some point, we stop playing as we grow up,” Judith interrupted. “No,” she said. “We never stop playing. We never stop playing!”
And that's why Judith Adams is still in preschool.