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3 Things To Know About Overlee Preschool, Voted One of Arlington’s Favorite Preschools

Budding engineers: Students explore floating, sinking and bridge engineering through play-based activity.

Voted one of Arlington’s favorite preschools in the Arlies community awards, Overlee Preschool is a local fixture.

The school was founded back in 1945, making it one of the oldest preschools in Arlington. Overlee offers half-day programs for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds.

If you’re not yet familiar with Overlee, here’s what makes it a standout preschool.

1. Overlee Preschool is Run by Parent Volunteers

Overlee has been a cooperative preschool since its founding more than 75 years ago. That means it’s run by parent volunteers. There are full-time teachers and staff, but the parents help both inside and outside the classroom.

The time commitment from parents varies by class, but there’s flexibility.

Kristen Tyagi is Overlee’s incoming president of the board and a parent. She also has a full-time job but said her responsibilities have been manageable.

“I really enjoy witnessing my child’s growth,” she said. “It’s something as a working parent I didn’t get to see a lot of at her previous preschool.”

On days she volunteers, she reads the kids stories, supervises them on the playground and helps clean up.

Louisa Stetekluh, who has been a teacher at Overlee for more than 22 years, loves building relationships with families.

“We’re building a community in our class,” she said. “I’m not just that lady who’s taking care of their kids. I have a special relationship with them.”

2. Overlee Preschool Practices Play-Based Learning

Overlee focuses on play-based learning, which is grounded in research. Rebecca Morrissey, the school’s director, explains the benefits simply: “Things that can’t be taught are learned in play.”

“We often think of education as something an adult has to give to the child,” she said. “But the reality is children learn countless things when we’re not looking. In fact, I think some of the most important things children learn in their early years can’t be observed, measured or quantified.”

In this child-centered approach, the teacher acts as the guide and provides support, but the child leads. There’s still structure to the day and the kids are learning skills, but it’s more organic.

Morrissey’s kids — now in fifth and seventh grades — are Overlee alums, so she has the perspective of both an educator and a parent.

“When they entered kindergarten, they knew how to self-advocate, speak their truth, negotiate, communicate with other children, express their feelings,” she said. “When you treat a kid like a normal kid, you really just get great things.”

3. Overlee Preschool is Rooted in Nature

Overlee has been operating entirely outdoors, a shift made last year at the onset of COVID. This is something that’s worked well for the students and the preschool.

Overlee operates out of the Church of the Covenant in Donaldson Run, though it’s a secular school, unaffiliated with the church. It offers the perfect setting for an outdoor preschool with a huge wooden play structure, shade trees for circle time and plenty of trails for adventures.

The outdoor model gives the children the opportunity to have a more normal preschool experience during this time.

“The kids are able to play together, share together and have a normal — and even better — experience than your typical preschool program,” Tyagi said.

Her daughter, who was once afraid to get mud on her hands, is now thrilled to be covered head to toe after an adventure through the woods.

Stetekluh says she’s always enjoyed using nature as the kids’ classroom.

“We’re not doing worksheets, drilling them on letters, any of those traditional academic activities, so we have the opportunity to develop all those other skills in nature,” she said.

Want to learn more about Overlee Preschool?

Visit the Overlee website, send them an email or give them a call at 703-522-2960. The school’s FAQ page is also full of information.

Overlee currently has openings for this coming school year. You can apply online.

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