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A Joy to Behold

After 60 years of enriching children’s lives, Joytime Preschool of Lake Forest will close its doors with the graduation of the 2013 class. 

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When the late Joy and Earle Hodgen founded Joytime Preschool in Lake Forest in 1953, people of the community immediately fell in love with the little white school-house, and many could hardly wait to get their children enrolled in the school. “The early years of Joytime had very long waiting lists,” says Kathleen Hodgen, daughter of Joy and Earle. “The joke was that as soon as you found out you were pregnant, you were told to enroll, to ensure a spot at Joytime.”

As the Joytime Director and lead teacher, Kathleen has watched the school thrive first under her parents’ instruction, and now under her own teaching. This year marks the school’s 60th and final year in operation—a monumental occasion that will conclude years of teaching thousands of students, across three generations. “Over the last 60 years, Joytime has had the pleasure and the privilege to have enhanced so many of the North Shore children,” Kathleen says. With her teaching days drawing near to a close, Kathleen knew that the 60th anniversary would be the perfect time to retire the little white schoolhouse. 

Though the students have come and gone over the years, the simple but effective teaching methods have remained. Joy always taught her students, “Rule #1”: “Never hurt anyone on the outside, and never hurt anyone on the inside.” Kathleen continued her mother’s teaching legacy by upholding that rule, and by allowing the students to develop intellectually without the rigorous testing and early “labeling” that is often imposed on young children by schools. “I feel very strongly that most children can develop in very positive ways and will do so at their own pace, if given the opportunity,” Kathleen says. “Our primary goal was always to help each child feel good about himself or herself. Honest praise and TLC can go a long way in helping a young child.”

When Joytime started in 1953, it was a day care; then, in 1960, it became a preschool after Lake Forest discontinued junior kindergarten. Over the years, the school has been known for many memorable activities—such as making rainbow cookies, participating in Pajama Day and Summer and Winter Days, enjoying merry-go-round rides, scrambling up “Joytime Mountain” (for rolling down and using big wheels in the summer, and for tubing in the winter), and eating popcorn that Earle, the “Popcorn Man” made. Yet, most of all, the former students will remember the character-building lessons that helped prepare them for the future.

Though education has changed greatly in the past 60 years, many of the most important traits that define Joytime have remained the same. “Kids’ natures haven’t changed all that much—they still have the same needs as ever: love, support, and positive reinforcement,” Kathleen says. “We always tried to instill a feeling of well-being and respect for others in the children.” Kathleen, and her mother before her, always taught the children ways to be friendly and how to solve conflict. 

As she prepares for her last graduating students to walk out of the classroom, Kathleen has much to be thankful for. “I will miss the apprehensive, trusting eyes of the children who came through our doors,” she says. Though the occasion is bittersweet, she will have a lifetime of happy memories to cherish, knowing that she and her parents positively impacted many children’s lives. In the end, her mother’s example led her well. “Joy taught her own four children that you can make a difference and improve the human condition if you take the time to show you care,” Kathleen says. “She had a belief that everyone has a responsibility to others.”

Celebrate Joytime Preschool’s Diamond Jubilee with an open house grand finale. All alumni and families are invited to enjoy the occasion on Saturday, June 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the little white schoolhouse (50 South Maywood in Lake Forest). Fred and Teddi Koch will give a special musical performance at 1 p.m. Drop by to visit with old friends and to say “good-bye” to one of the community’s most memorable places.

-Jenna Schubert // Photography by Jim Prisching

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