Faces of the J

Hands-On Learning at ECS Truck Day

Ask any of the kids in the J’s Early Childhood School—and even some of the parents—what their favorite day is, and chances are good they’ll say Truck Day. This annual event is pure joy. Vehicles from around the region fill the J’s parking lot for kids to explore.

They spend the morning honking the horn on the cement truck, peeking through the window of the police SWAT vehicle, marveling at the shiny chrome on the fire engine, running through the empty delivery truck, pulling the levers on the bulldozer, and visiting the adoptable cats in the Humane Society truck. Rivka Klaff, an ECS parent and one of the 2019 event chairs, always looks forward to Truck Day. “It’s one of the most fun days of the year,” she says. “Some of the parents have as much fun as the kids.”

Marty Duitch has been bringing his Mercer Island School District bus to Truck Day for the past 18 years, and enjoys being part of this longstanding tradition. “There’s a Disneyland-type excitement for the kids,” he says. “It’s nice to see all the smiling faces in the windows of my bus.” Marty also enjoys giving back to a community he’s been part of for so long: his two sons went to preschool at the J in the late ‘70s, and over the past several years, all four of his grandkids have attended ECS too.

Truck Day started in the late ‘80s, spearheaded by then-ECS teacher Fran Spring. Her young kids were always intrigued by trucks and she thought it would be a fun and educational experience if they could actually have the chance to sit inside one, talk to the drivers, and learn how they work. So she started calling around and was able to recruit about seven or eight cars and trucks for the inaugural event. “It all evolved from my kids’ curiosity,” she says.

Empowering kids to follow their curiosity is an important tenant of the J’s Early Childhood School, and hands-on, experiential learning is key to that. In the days before Truck Day, the kids learn about different types of trucks and the different jobs the drivers do. When the day comes, the kids get to touch the wheels, feel the smoothness of the sides of the truck, smell the exhaust, honk the horn, and ask the drivers questions. “That holistic experience is how kids learn,” Fran says. “They use all their senses to understand the world.”

Fran is happy that an event she created more than 20 years ago is still part of preschool life at the J. “It thrills me to know that the event is continuing,” she says. “I’m honored to have a small legacy, especially one that brings joy to kids.” Judging by the smiling faces of both the kids and their parents every spring, she’s helped families make a whole truckload of happy memories over the years.