News & Features

Instructor and Alumna Delights in Play — At Every Age

From the Summer 2011 issue of LINK.

Bump into Patty Durkin in the hallway and you just might find yourself telling your life story to this Fontbonne alumna and early childhood instructor. And as she asks you question after question, her curly head nodding, her eyes bright, you can be sure that she’s genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say.

Durkin seems to love all people alike, but her passion for children fuels her drive, ambition and mindset. She believes in childhood and play, in their ability to shape a person’s life and future, and this belief seems to influence her own life to the very core. It has also shaped her latest endeavor — a children’s book, companion sketchbook and overall approach to personal development for children and the parents and teachers who influence their lives.

Durkin explained the quirky, colorful characters she calls the Hexagon Kids, which come to life in the pages of her book, “Can You Find the ABC’s in You?”

“I’ve always been a writer and a drawer,” Durkin said, “The characters speak to us from our own inner child. And the books are sized specifically for adults to hold a child in their laps to read, sit, talk and listen.”

Durkin designed the book and sketchbook more to promote discussion than reading from cover to cover; parents and teachers can open a page and discuss laughter, play, talk and other concepts with their children.

The name for her book’s characters comes from The Hexagon Approach, a concept Durkin developed, pulling from numerous experts in early childhood development — Maria Montessori and Erik Erikson to name two. The approach, as its mission statement says, is “to foster the health, happiness and well-being of children by encouraging balanced, whole-self development for the adults who touch their lives.”

“Hexagon” refers to six equal developmental domains: physical, cognitive, social, emotional, creative and spiritual, but also symbolizes personal potential.

“When my first child went to kindergarten, I began to see the impact of adults in a child’s life,” Durkin said. “It’s so important for parents and teachers to be healthy. What if you’re not well balanced? It affects the child.”

It all began when Durkin graduated from Fontbonne in 1979 with a degree in early childhood education.

“I originally began studying deaf and elementary education, but I fell in love with the early childhood years,” Durkin said. “I just followed what I loved.”

After Fontbonne, she earned a graduate degree from Oklahoma City University, and a certification from the American Montessori Society. She worked in Montessori schools for 10 years, during which time she married, had two children of her own, and moved back to St. Louis. She also worked as a parent educator.

Five years ago, Durkin was working at Maryville University as a professional development consultant for St. Louis Public Schools and early childhood magnet schools when a position opened up at Fontbonne. She jumped at the opportunity, and she’s taught at her alma mater ever since.

“I love college students,” she said, describing the transition from teaching children to working with young adults. “I don’t see age; I see human beings.”

Today, though her own kids are now adults, she stays in touch with children — and her own inner child — through her work with students in the field and her supervision of student teachers. And her office is filled with books and playthings for anyone to pick up and enjoy.

Along with her work at Fontbonne, she offers workshops for parents, families, educators and children. Her next is titled “Joy, Listening and Respect: Responsibilities of Parenting or Teaching.”

Durkin expressed concern that the pressure placed on children by schools and families has the potential to rob children of their childhood, a state of being she fights to protect. And a state of being in which she delights.

“I wish for all of us to value childhood and its importance.”

Learn more about Patty Durkin and the Hexagon Kids.