The Early Days
Nancy Aitken’s passion for early childhood education started as a child herself when she became the primary caregiver for her younger sister during her mother’s extended hospitalization. Later, dissatisfied with her work as a children’s speech pathologist in the 1960’s, she felt early childhood education was not taken seriously by society and set out to change it. After living in Hawaii and running a school for native Hawaiian children, Nancy and her husband Jan moved back to Sacramento to open a center that would focus on the social and developmental well-being of children and their parents. In 1969 they bought Bea’s Day Nursery which had an enrollment of eleven kids and changed the name to Busy Bee Nursery School. In the coming years they continued to expand and in 1975 added the annex that has become the Honeycomb classroom today.
As the President of the Private Nursery School Association, Nancy was active in legislation and lobbied for new policies in child development and early childhood care and education. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Nancy worked closely with pioneers in the ECE community. She helped build many childcare spaces that still stand today, including the Nuture-Ree (now where Enlightened Play operates) and A Child’s Place which would eventually become Courtyard Elementary School. In the 1990’s, her extensive world travels with partner Victor Wong, would give her a global perspective of childrearing in different cultures. As Sacramento’s population shifted and changed, she was able to practice and refine an acute cultural sensitivity and built closer relationships with those communities.
Guided by the theoretical work of Rudolph Dreikurs and Grace Mitchell, Nancy fought against the growing emphasis on academia in early childhood and the notion that early childhood educators were just babysitters. She believed that the key lessons learned during early childhood defined a child’s well-being and was the major contributor to making healthy, happy and positive members of society. Her philosophy involved quality interactions between children and adults, a reliance on logical consequences, exploration, and self-discovery. Nancy carved out a space to allow children to be children, as she believed that play and socialization were essential in the development of healthy children who would grow to become self-actualized adults.
Busy Bee Today
Today, Busy Bee stands as a pillar in the community, with generations of families returning to the place where they themselves went as children. The original location on 27th Street is currently licensed for 82 children. In 2021, Busy Bee expanded by opening an infant and toddler center on L Street, which is currently licensed for 50 children.
Nancy’s legacy lives on through the relationships she built and the many lives she touched in the 50 years she owned and operated Busy Bee. We remember her as a generous caregiver with a kind heart and a loving soul. Nancy saw the good in everyone, and we are forever grateful for her and the wonderful place she made.