Philosophy & History


Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School (RWCNS) is a nonprofit preschool dedicated to educating and nurturing children in an enriching play-based environment and engaging families in a supportive community.

Core Values

At RWCNS we value:

  • The nursery school years as unique and important;
  • A “whole child” approach to early childhood education wherein emotional, physical, social, and cognitive needs are equally significant;
  • Equitable learning opportunities that are tailored to each child’s needs;
  • An inclusive school environment that embraces diversity;
  • Child-directed learning that happens organically in enriched environments;
  • Our role as leaders in early childhood education; and
  • Families and their contributions to classrooms and the school community.

We embody these values by:

  • Trusting the nursery school model, knowing that developmentally-appropriate play is the best preparation for future schooling;
  • Encouraging children to choose and direct their own work by providing engaging materials, open-ended opportunities, outdoor exploration, and interactions with peers;
  • Attending to emotional, physical, social, and cognitive needs with equal care and attention;
  • Modeling caring interactions that teach children to identify and meet their own needs;
  • Hosting professional development and sharing best practices with the early education community;
  • Embracing the cooperative community model to provide the richest, most caring environment possible for children and their families; and
  • Providing ongoing opportunities for family education and support.

Why are we called Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School?

  • Ruth Washburn: Dr. Washburn was an acclaimed child psychologist and the aunt of our school’s founder.
  • ​Cooperative: Including families as part of the school benefits everyone.​
  • ​Nursery: We honor the child’s stage at this moment in time.​
  • ​School: Incredible learning takes place every day through play.


This documentary was created in celebration of our 50 year anniversary celebration… and a celebration it is. A celebration of our rich history, our caring staff, and of the amazing place that is Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School.

Ruth Washburn History

Special thanks to Wendy McPhee, daughter of Minnow Howbert and niece of Ruth Washburn, for writing the following biographies.

Ruth Wendell Washburn Ruth Wendell Washburn 1890-1975

Dr. Washburn was born in 1890 in Northampton, Massachusetts to Philip and Miriam Washburn. In 1893 the family moved to Colorado Springs where her father became Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Her father died when she was eight and her mother died when she was thirteen. She and her two sisters lived with relatives in Brooklyn for six months, and then returned on their own to Colorado Springs. She later moved back East, but she retained a lifelong love of the West and especially Colorado Springs.

Below is a detailed chronology of her life and a partial list of her publications. The complete list can be found on the Colorado College Tutt Library website. Her books can be viewed at the Tutt Library and they are available on Amazon.

  • 1913 BA from Vassar.
  • 1915 Began work as visitor with Associated Charities of Colorado Springs
  • 1918 Went to LeHavre with American Red Cross as Director of Social Services unit in dispensary
  • 1919 Studied at London School of Economics
  • 1922 MA from Radcliffe. Research Associate with Child Welfare Research Bureau, Iowa University
  • 1923 Assistant Professor at Yale Clinic of Child Development. Worked with Dr.Gesell
  • 1929 Ph.D. from Yale
  • 1929-34 Research Associate, Clinic of Child Development, Institute of Human Relations, Yale University. Worked with Erik Erikson
  • 1934-38 Assistant Professor of Child Development at Yale
  • 1938 Taught at Sarah Lawrence College
  • 1938-71 Consultant in Child Development at Milton Prep School and New Hampshire Children’s Aid Society
  • 1943-62 Consultant at Shady Hill School, Cambridge
  • 1972 Returned to Colorado Springs
  • 1975 Died in Colorado Springs in July


  • The Smiling and Laughing of Infants, 1929.
  • Children Have Their Reasons, 1942.
  • Re-education in a Nursery Group: A Study in Clinical Psychology, 1944.
  • Children Know Their Friends, 1949.
  • Wisdom Begins at Birth, 1967.

Miriam Emery Howbert Miriam Emery Howbert 1923-1989

Miriam Emery Howbert founded the Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School in 1961. She was remarkable; a dynamic leader, an imaginative educator and a warm, gentle, loving person. Minnow (her childhood nickname which stayed with her for life) not only started the school, but led its expansion from its beginnings in Jean and Gerry Jones’ home to its present location on 19th Street.

Minnow Emery was born October 25, 1923 in Denver. There she attended Dora Moore Elementary School and the Kent School for Girls. She earned her professional certificate from the Boston Nursery Training school, now the Eliot-Pearson Child Study Center at Tufts University. She was inspired and guided in her studies by her aunt, her mother’s sister, Ruth Washburn, a child psychologist. When she started her own school, she chose to name it after her aunt whose philosophy of child rearing and education had helped to form her own. She felt that children learn best when given a choice of activities which allow for self-directed play in an atmosphere of respect for their ideas and feelings. Dr. Washburn often came to Colorado Springs from Boston while she was still alive and able to work to offer her guidance and help to both parents and teachers.

Minnow married William McPhee in 1945 and had three children. She taught nursery school in Denver, and later, in Dobbs Ferry, after the family moved to New York in 1950. The family returned to Colorado in 1961 where she decided to start her own school with the help of parents eager to have their children benefit from her wisdom and experience. From that time forward until her retirement in 1977, she worked diligently to make Ruth Washburn Cooperative Nursery School a model for child development. Her insistence on the involvement of the parents was of course critical to the success of the school, since their dedication and hard work have helped make it what it is today.

Minnow divorced William McPhee in 1970 and married Irving Howbert in 1976. She first became a grandmother in 1972, and now has grandchildren and great grandchildren. In 1986 she published Praise and Patience which gives advice to new parents emphasizing the importance of an understanding and nurturing environment in creating self-confident and happy adults. Unfortunately, Minnow died young at age 65 in 1989, but she left a legacy of successful child rearing that continues to this day.