Teach Your Children Well

Barbara Bowman’s Passion

Stories have always filled Barbara Bowman’s life. And in her 92 years — the majority of them spent as a passionate child development expert in Chicago — Bowman has heard and told myriad stories.

There are stories she has told young children as a mother and grandmother; stories she has shared with her students; stories caregivers have told her and her late husband about their own lives; and the broader stories we tell each other, to preserve our histories.

“We can make the world seem more understandable by telling our stories,” she says.

A pioneer in early childhood education, Bowman, in 1966, co-founded the Erikson Institute, a graduate school for child development in downtown Chicago. She still works as a professor and says, “It never occurred to me that I wanted to retire. It’s hard giving up a sense of accomplishment and having an opinion that’s worth tapping into.”

Bowman, who grew up in the Grand Boulevard neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, has worked to strengthen early education programs nationally and train future educators.

“I love it. [Preschoolers] ask questions: ‘Where’s God?’ and ‘Is God Black too?’” Bowman says. “Kids are very open about their lives. It’s fascinating business.”

It’s serious business, too. Bowman has long fought for access to quality preschools, regardless of a child’s race or socioeconomic status. She sees this as crucial for nurturing intellectual curiosities that will carry children the rest of their lives.

When not working, Bowman cares for her garden at her home in Kenwood and enjoys the company of her dog. Her mind, though, never travels far from her passions: work, family — including her daughter Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama — and the children in her life.

“Children forgive you for all the inadequacies you show. If you spend time with them, care about them, and do the things they need done for them, they’ll love you dearly,” Bowman says. “And that’s really money in the bank.”

Above photo by Jim Vondruska