Bev Bos, a teacher, author and advocate for play-based learning for preschoolers, was a lifelong learner who never tired of sharing her discoveries with others, say family and friends.
Bos, who served nearly 50 years as director of Roseville Community Preschool, died Feb. 4 in her sleep at her Roseville home. Michael Leeman, her son-in-law, said her death was unexpected. At age 81, she still maintained a busy schedule of national and international speaking engagements. She also was finishing a book manuscript and continued to serve as the preschool’s curriculum adviser.
“I don’t think you will find a stronger advocate for child-centered, developmentally appropriate, play-based programs,” said Camille Maben, executive director of First 5 California, who worked with Bos as a teacher at Roseville Community Preschool, a parent-participation preschool established in the 1960s.
Bos believed that, given the proper environment, young children could choose their own learning activities.
“She taught us and gave us the ability to trust our children, that they are capable,” said Dina Miller, the preschool’s business manager, whose children took part in the program.
Leeman, the preschool’s director, said his mother-in-law began as a parent volunteer in the 1960s. She had intended to become a primary school teacher, “but she fell in love with preschool and never left,” he said.
Over the years, what began as a play group of about 10 children evolved into a preschool program that currently serves 108 students from age 2 years, 9 months through kindergarten. The parents own the school, housed on the Placer County Fairgrounds, and work with program volunteers. The school employs a staff of six teachers and a director, Leeman said.
Bos was in demand as a conference and workshop speaker. She wrote her first book, “Don’t Move the Muffin Tins: A Hands-Off Guide to Art for the Young Child” so she wouldn’t have to keep printing handouts for seminars, said Leeman, who spent three decades traveling with her as a co-presenter. “We stopped counting at 6,000,” he said of the number of speaking engagements.
Their appearances, usually sponsored by educational groups, took them throughout the United States, as well as to Canada and Japan.
“We were supposed to go to Singapore in July,” Leeman said. “She was really looking forward to that.”
Bos described her life’s work as expanding horizons for children and their parents, Leeman said. Her philosophy gained popularity after she was featured on ABC’s television show “20/20.” “The basics for young children are wonder, discovery and experience,” she said. “If it hasn’t been in the hand, the body and the heart, it can’t be in the brain.”
Maben said teachers and parent volunteers at the preschool took their cues from the children.
“People used to say there was no structure, but everything placed there was intentional, so kids could explore, develop a sense of self and know how to be with others in the world,” she said.
Beverley Jean Narlock was born, with her twin brother, on Oct. 6, 1934, in Fargo, N.D., to Lawrence and Helen Narlock. She weighed only 3 pounds at birth, said her daughter Carrie Leeman, and the fact that she survived motivated her the rest of her life.
Carrie Leeman said her mother told of the hard times in North Dakota. The family’s migration to California when she was 14 sounded like something out of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” she said. When they finally reached San Francisco, the bridge toll was a quarter. With two vehicles and only one quarter, they all piled into the car, leaving the truck and all their belongings on the side of the road until they got the money to retrieve the truck.
Beverley Narlock married Robert Bos in 1954, and they moved from Berkeley to Roseville after the birth of their first child. Over the next six years, Mrs. Bos gave birth to four more children. In 1965, she was asked to teach a few days a week in the co-op preschool.
“This was the start of her hands-on education, the understanding that young children learn best through play,” Carrie Leeman said.
Bos was always looking to expand her horizons. She grew up singing with her family, Michael Leeman said, noting that there wasn’t a lot to do in Fargo on winter evenings. Later, she taught herself to play the autoharp. She, along with Michael Leeman, who played guitar, and friend Tom Hunter performed community concerts and recorded several albums of children’s music.
Maben said she will miss Bos as a friend and colleague.
“What she taught us was about how children learn and how we can help them develop to be the very best people they can be,” Maben said.
Bos was preceded in death by her husband. She is survived by daughters Carrie Leeman and Robin Leeman, and sons Micheal Bos and Andrew Bos, all of Roseville, and daughter Julie Bos of Chico, as well as 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchidren.
A gathering in Bos’ honor will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday in Johnson Hall at the Placer County Fairgrounds, 800 All America City Blvd., Roseville. Donations in her memory may be made to Roseville Community Preschool via the school’s website, www.RosevilleCP.org, or by calling 916-786-9536.