People who know Hanna Perkins describe an approach to helping children and families that is gentle and effective. Part of our culture since 1951, it is often referred to as The HP Way. It means:


We create a safe and comforting environment – based on the science of child development – in which each child’s inner thoughts and emotions can be recognized, understood and respected.

Even ordinary things adults take for granted may be unfamiliar to young children. When confronted with something new, children draw on their limited experience with the world to create an explanation. The results – commonly described as “magical thinking” – can be wildly inaccurate and may result in worries for children that never enter the minds of the adults who care for them.

The HP Way means creating an environment where such inner thoughts can be recognized and discussed without judgment.

It also involves in-depth understanding of the science of child development, providing assurance to parents that their children are developing “normally” – even while they are free to be their most unique selves.

This tangible respect for each child fosters communication and openness you won’t find everywhere else. Children are relieved when someone understands and gives words to their worries before they are willing or able to do so themselves. They respond by acting as if they feel safe and secure – empowering themselves to wonder, learn, explore and inquire.

hp way

A teacher's example from the classroom

Devin had been struggling at another school; he started coming to school at Hanna Perkins and was just getting used to it. To help in the adjustment, his mother would stay at the school – but began taking half-hour walks so he could get used to the idea of being there without her.

One day, after Mrs. K had left for her walk, Devin said he thought she wouldn’t come back. I reminded him that she always came back at his other school. He said, “She never took me to school after my sister was born.”  He missed mom taking him to and from school, and told me that his mom didn’t like him anymore. He also pointed out that he had seen her drive away this time, rather than walking – evidence to him that she was going somewhere much farther than usual. I assured him that she would be back.

Mrs. K did return on time, and Devin smiled as he saw her pull into a parking space. I talked to Mrs. K.about Devin’s feelings. She had never told Devin that she didn’t like him, but she understood how he might have gotten that feeling when she stopped taking him to and from school.

Mrs. K. was able to talk to Devin about these feelings. Over time, he was able to enjoy being at school even when she wasn’t there.


Through observation and dialogue we work with each child, along with the parents, to understand how emotions and concerns are connected to the way he or she feels, and expressed in the way he or she behaves.

Feelings in children are just as intense and varied as in adults. But attaching a feeling to its cause is a skill that needs to be learned; until then, feelings are expressed through the way a person acts.

When a child is attentive, interested and helpful, that behavior communicates comfort in his/her surroundings; it indicates the child isn’t being distracted by angry, worrisome or other disruptive feelings.

A child who is pushing on the playground, forgets to use the bathroom, has trouble sitting still, or is otherwise “misbehaving” (a word you’ll probably never hear us use) is revealing the presence of strong feelings or worries.

Simply punishing disruptive behavior treats these inner thoughts as if they aren’t important – setting up the child to feel ashamed for feeling them so acutely.

The HP Way means working with the child to discover the cause of distress, and to help understand how the worry, the feeling and the behavior are all connected. This capability is a foundation of self-control, and self-control is an essential component of self-esteem.

A teacher's example from the classroom

During the school day, story time is scheduled to happen after outside time. Joshua had managed to never stay for story time.

He had a difficult time keeping himself safe at outside time. He kept playing on the ice, sliding back and forth making himself fall. He climbed on the climber and then jumped down from the top bar. He kept falling off the climber and getting his feet tangled in the bars.

I wondered with him if he was worried about story time. He didn’t disagree, and was eventually able to help me understand that he thought he would have to read – which he couldn’t yet do. I told him that reading was my job, and that if he was interested in staying for story time, his mother could be in the room and he could visit with her if he wanted.

Joshua did stay for story time that day, and every day thereafter. He also began to behave more safely at outside time.


We provide each child with the skills to recognize and express inner thoughts that initially may have been exhibited through his or her behavior. This provides a basis for emotional mastery that is a foundation for success in school and life.

Children have things to say long before they acquire the ability to talk. As children learn to understand their feelings, The HP Way emphasizes the skill of putting these inner thoughts into words.

In an environment where no feeling is deemed insignificant, children are encouraged to ask for help through words, rather than behaving in a way that will make them (and others) unhappy. It creates a foundation for a lifetime of emotional health, constructive problem-solving and satisfying relationships with others.

A teacher's example from the classroom

When Chen was a year old, his parents left him with his grandparents for a year and came to the United States for schooling. Eventually, they brought him here too. Now, at 4 years old, the family was moving again.

At about this time, we were working on the alphabet in school. I did an activity with Chen that involved matching upper- and lower-case letters. After successfully matching much of the alphabet, he moved one of the upper-case letters across the table and said, “The mother has to look for her baby.”  He pushed it to the lower case letter that matched. With each letter match after that, he did the same thing, saying, “The mother has to go very far to find her baby.”

The next day Chen said, “Can we play that game where the mom has to travel very, very far to find her baby.” Then he took the nesting dolls off the shelf and brought them to the table  He took all the small ones out and put them at one end of the table.  He kept the biggest one and said that it was the mommy. He crawled under the table and again said, “This mom has to travel very, very, very far to get her baby.” Then he crawled out from under the table and walked around two tables, finally finding all the babies.

I talked to Ms. Q about this game that he wanted  to play. I suggested that the family’s impending move might have reminded Chen of an earlier move that his parents had made, and wondered if Chen was worried about being left behind.  Mrs. Q said she could talk to Chen about that earlier move, and worked with her therapist on words she could use that would help Chen with his strong feelings.


We don’t rush the process. We allow whatever time is needed for a child to achieve this foundation of emotional intelligence, which helps in developing relationships, acquiring new skills and achieving self-fulfillment.

Working with children to develop awareness, mastery and ability to talk about their feelings is a time-consuming process that simply cannot be hurried. The HP Way  allows whatever time is needed to help a struggling child to understand and express inner thoughts.

If a child is crying, this means providing comfort, working to understand the feeling, and offering appropriate reassurance until he or she again feels safe and comfortable.

In everything we do at Hanna Perkins, we build in time for when a child needs this help – as they all occasionally do. Even if it means changing the day’s lesson plan.

Such patience is often at odds with the hurry-up world of today, but it is at the core of The HP Way.

A teacher's example from the classroom

When a new child starts school, other children can have jealous feelings and begin behaving in a way that draws extra attention for themselves.

So before Richard was scheduled to arrive at school for the first time, we talked to the children about this and let them know we have enough liking feelings for everyone at our table and that no one will be left out.

But when Richard came into the classroom, Brad went to the waiting room and would not come back to class. Brad said he hated Richard. He threw his shoes at me, crawled behind a chair, and screamed and cried. He started to walk on the furniture.

I reminded him that I had enough liking feelings for all the children at my table. I told him it was just time to be in the classroom and that we could go in together.  I took his hand and we walked to the classroom. He saw Richard and asked, “What’s the kid’s name?”

Brad worked hard to accept the new student, even if he had feelings of not wanting to do so, and they were soon able to get along as classmates.


We work with a child on an ongoing basis to gain mastery of feelings and worries – rather than trying to suppress them – to support fruitful development and a lifetime of emotional well-being.

Sometimes this work is straightforward – like when a child experiences a sudden feeling of missing mommy during the school day.

Other times it’s more complex, such as when a child’s parents are getting divorced, or someone in the family has a long-term or life-threatening illness.

The HP Way finds the right approach for each individual. This often means working with the child and parents together. It also recognizes that some problems can’t be “solved” – instead focusing on helping each family member to understand the many ways he or she may be affected.

When people face challenges they would prefer to ignore, The HP Way  addresses these directly, allowing children to integrate them to support fruitful development and a lifetime of emotional wellbeing.

A teacher's example from the classroom

Brian was a student in our preschool. The first time he tried to draw a picture of a himeself, there was a lot of screaming and yelling. He cried and said, “I can’t breathe!  I can’t breathe!” I told him that I could sit next to him and help him with my words, but that I would not draw for him. I talked to him about how he could make a circle for the face and two smaller circles for the eyes. He used his own ideas for the nose and mouth. When he struggled to draw a shirt, he threw himself on the floor and cried, begging me to do it. But then he picked himself up and I suggested making a square for the shirt. He did that, and then drew two lines for arms and two lines for legs. He was satisfied with the picture he had made all by himself.

Then he was able to use his new drawing skill to help his mother understand his feelings. He drew a picture of himself and his younger sister. In the picture, his sister completely covered him. “She is covering my face,” he said.

When I showed the picture to Mrs. L., she said, “I guess he could mean she blocks him out.” Mrs. L was then able to talk with Brian about his feelings about his sister.  Mrs. L. had worked hard to help Brian with his feelings, but this opened a new door for them. Now he could say to her: “I had angry feelings about you and I drew a picture.” Then they would talk about it.

At times it was hard for her to acknowledge how Brian felt. Sometimes she cried. Sometimes they both cried.


We support parents in the hard work they do by providing information, knowledge, understanding and empathy – in recognition that members of a family are all interdependent.

Nothing is more important to a child than his or her family. But children don’t come with a manual, and many parents experience periods of doubt: Am I doing a good job? Am I giving my child everything he or she needs?

The HP Way recognizes the central role of family in a child’s successful development, and seeks to support parents in the hard work they do. Rather than blame or judge, it offers empathy, communication, developmental expertise and more than 60 years experience working with children and families.

A teacher's example from the classroom

Carl was a 5-year-old in preschool. The teachers at his previous school felt that he was not ready for kindergarten.

When Carl came to Hanna Perkins, he had few skills. His mom did everything for him. She hung up his coat, poured his juice, zipped his coat and put on his boots. He could not grip the pencil;  he would lay the pencil between his thumb and forefinger and move his whole hand along the paper. His mom would build for him in the block area and put the train set together for him.

One day while she was hanging up her coat, Carl got the train set out and started to put it together himself.  This gave me the opportunity to talk to Mrs. H about letting Carl do things on his own. I told her that I thought Carl would feel like a bigger boy if she let him do some things for himself.

She told me that this was something that she was working on. She said that she had to sit on her hands so she would stop herself from doing so much for Carl.

For some families, The HP Way provides a helpful resource. For others it’s a lifeline. At Hanna Perkins, it is the heartbeat of everything we do.