PUTNEY -- On a recent visit to The Grammar School in Putney a mother walked into the preschool classroom and found all of the children gathered around a table helping Lead Teacher Ken Brautigam perform a science experiment with baking soda, a bottle, and a rubber glove. The students were in various outfits, some of them having migrated over from the dress-up corner, and they were all fixated on what he was doing.

"The atmosphere was appropriately relaxed, which allowed the students to ask questions and Ken was happy to repeat the experiment over and over so that students could see the glove inflate many times over," said Apple Gifford, mother of one of the preschoolers. "He fielded their questions with patience, and did not demand their attention, but rather earned it with his steady, calm approach to the activity."

Such a scene helps to describe why Brautigam has been named Windham Child Care Association’s Early Childhood Educator of the Year. Brautigan will be recognized at the River Valley Kids Fair on Saturday, Sept. 21, on the Brattleboro Common.

Brautigam has been teaching at The Grammar School for nearly two decades. He began working with children when he was quite young himself. One of his first jobs was working at his local Parks & Recreation Department as a coach’s helper for Little League teams. In high school, after his family moved from Wisconsin to Kentucky, he worked at the local 4-H program. With both parents as teachers, education was all around him growing up -- his father taught at the university while his mother started a preschool program and went on to train other preschool teachers. Two of Brautigam’s three siblings are also now educators.

After getting his degree and certification to teach high school, Brautigam began his job search in Putney just as The Grammar School was starting up a preschool program. Nancy Calicchio was the director at the time.

"Nancy had a vision of what the preschool could look like," said Brautigam. "I was a newcomer and she provided me with all the right direction, encouragement and support to go out and get the training I needed."

The creation of the program borrowed heavily from the Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and Responsive Classroom approaches to education. Over the years, with support from colleagues and parents and inspired by the children themselves, Brautigam worked to fine-tune the program.

"We make a lot of room for play. Children learn deeply and thoroughly when they’re having fun," Brautigam said.

Over the years Brautigam has learned as much from the parents in his program as they have from him.

"Working so closely with different families has taught me a variety of strategies required for working with different learning styles," he said.

Dan Marchetti is the current Head of School. He was thrilled to learn of Brautigam’s recognition

"Brautigam founded our preschool program at The Grammar School and has been the life-blood of the program ever since, serving as the foundation for countless students’ transformational growth, and inspiring them with a sense of wonder. Brautigam cultivates kindness, values, and a truly embodies The Grammar School philosophy of whole child education. We are so happy for Brautigam to receive this formal acknowledgment, and we remain grateful to him for his years of exemplary service."

Brautigam has served on The Putney Library Board and is currently the Assistant Chairman of the Windham Child Care Association Board of Directors where he’s been involved for six years. He’s played a pivotal role in planning their annual Fall Into Art benefit which has grown each year. Executive Director Elizabeth Raposa describes him as "thoughtful and insightful" and extremely supportive of those working on behalf of young children.