CTAEYC mourns the loss of long time NAEYC champion and early childhood advocate Sandra Malmquist

Sandra “Sandy” Malmquist, 73
The New Haven Independent
Posted: Aug 11, 2021 2:23 pm

Sandy Malmquist, at right, at the Children’s Museum.

Photo credit: THOMAS MACMILLAN PHOTO

Sandra “Sandy” Malmquist, 73,  founder and director of the Connecticut Children’s Museum and Creating Kids Child Care Center,  passed away on August 9 in her New Haven home after nearly 50 years of loving work nurturing hundreds of children, their families, and their providers.  The cause of death was ovarian cancer.

Sandy grew up in Wallingford.  As a child she enjoyed working behind the counter at her grandfather and father’s bakery, Heilman’s Bakery, riding her bike as fast as she could down Grantham Road to get the fresh-picked corn from Grandma Beaumont’s farm, and playing behind her house in the woods and swamp that later became I-91.  In her teens, she enjoyed serving meals to “the old people” at the Masonic Home, learning to be mindful of each of their dietary needs and likes.

After an unhappy one semester at UConn, Sandy began a series of temporary clerical jobs in Greater New Haven.  In 1969 she was placed at the Legal Aid Bureau in New Haven.  A “flower child,” according to one of the lawyers, Sandy was amazed to discover that people could be evicted from their apartments.  Sandy embraced the work, among the fastest and most precise on the typewriter, including typing briefs for the Black Panther wiretap suit, which ultimately included 2,000 plaintiffs including her future father-in-law (Morris Wessel), who was the pediatrician for some of the Black Panther babies.  A number of legal aid lawyers offered to pay to send her to law school, but Sandy was destined for greater things.

With the birth of her son, Max, in 1971, Sandy discovered the world of group child care that was to become her life’s calling.  While providing care at a parent cooperative on State Street and later at a center she started at then Quinnipiac College, Sandy immersed herself in the study of child-rearing in cultures across the world.  Always with a focus on understanding children and their socialization, Sandy ultimately earned a BA at Goddard College, a Master’s in anthropology at Wesleyan University, and began graduate anthropology work at New York’s The New School.

According to a 2013 Yale Daily News story, Sandy “refused to think of daycare as simply a space where the children of working women went during the day. Sandy wanted to question the traditional ways of caring for children—to reimagine child care from the child’s perspective. ‘Our goal,’ she wrote in 1979, ‘is to work with kids to help them create themselves.’”

The Quinnipiac College site was a lab site for the psychology department’s Day Care and Child Development concentration, where Sandy taught in collaboration with her then partner, Bert Garskof.  Started in 1980 in a Quinnipiac dorm,the day care center grew in the early 1900s into a a 90-child self-supporting center in leased space a Mishkan Israel in Hamden. 

Valuing the benefits of children growing along with other children, Sandy offered “baby daycare” starting at the age of 6 months up to children 5 years of age, which she continued throughout her career.  In recognition of the strength of Sandy’s program, the center was selected in the 1980’s as one of eight national sites for the Infant Health and Development Program (IHDP), a Robert Wood Johnson-funded longitudinal study of the impact of high-quality center-based child care on low-birth weight, premature babies.  The study made high-quality child care available to families regardless of income.  Sandy was pleased that researchers mining the IHDP data found what she always knew:  if you increase someone’s standard of living, especially in their early years, their chances of blossoming are much improved.

In 1994, Quinnipiac sold the child care center to a for-profit chain. Understanding that the only way to generate profit in child care was to take resources away from the staff and children, Sandy opposed the deal; then-day care parent and later Superior Court Judge Ted Baldwin convinced Quinnipiac to buy out Sandy’s contract.

Six months later Sandy formed a non-profit with parents and staff, and in late 1994 opened Creating Kids, a 28-child center on Audubon Street. That original Creating Kids opened fully enrolled based on Sandy’s reputation, her passion, and a foam-core model built by some Yale architecture students.

In 1999, the founding director of the Connecticut Children’s Museum at 22 Wall Street in New Haven retired and turned that building and its child care center over to Sandy. The Creating Kids board became the board of non-profit Connecticut Children’s Museum, Creating Kids shifted to that location,  and Sandy began working to reopen the then-shuttered museum to the community.

A series of visioning sessions culminated in the reopening of the Museum in January of 2001 as a multiple intelligences-inspired, arts and literacy-based, inclusive children’s museum.  An Americans with Disabilities Act Coalition reviewer describes it as “the most exceptionally disability-aware [children’s] arts institution this evaluator has ever surveyed.  In all areas – structural access, effective communication and general non-discrimination – the Museum excels in making accessibility a routine part of its operation.”

Over the next 20 years, Sandy built the Children’s Museum and Creating Kids as a center for children, who need a place of their own where they can experience the magic and wisdom of learning at their own pace by interacting with exhibits that are full of whimsy and wisdom, in spaces built to their size and specifications: for early childhood educators, working in a myriad of programs throughout the city and its suburbs, needing a place to bring their children and a place where they can find support and inspiration; and for families needing a place of full of color, joy and community where they can play and learn together.

Described by more than one colleague as “force of nature,” Sandy created or supported countless projects celebrating families as their child’s first and best teachers, including the PACK projectWeek of the Young Child, The Family Childcare Toolkit Project (in collaboration with All Our Kin), Dual Language & Literacy Program (in collaboration with LULAC Head Start), TEXTured Literacy Story Kit Program (a tactile book project for children who are blind or visually disabled for Board of Education Services for the Blind.), the Children’s Leadership Training Institute (CLTI) curriculum (a supplement to PLTI), Creating Classrooms (where she helped teachers make the physical environment more kid-friendly) and so many more.

Sandy thought it criminal that children grew up in homes without high-quality picture books.  She made her mission to correct that by raising funds (and raising funds and raising funds) to correct that.  She developed relationships with leading publishers, getting them on the phone and convincing them to give her 50% or greater discounts, insisted that they provide free shipping, and through a variety of programs distributed thousands of books to families, family child care providers, and centers throughout New Haven.

Sandy prioritized many of the Museum’s programs for low-income children and their families and, sadly, low-income child care providers.  The Museum is reserved for field trips from New Haven and area child care centers, family child cares, and schools during most of the week, open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays.  The Early Childhood Resource Center professional development sessions are held weekly on Thursday evenings, with food for the attendees who had been caring for children all day, and are conducted with simultaneous Spanish translation.  The Resource Center has made the transition to Zoom, regularly drawing 50 or more participants from across the state, again bilingually.

The Board of Connecticut Children’s Museum and the staff of Creating Kids and the Museum are committed to continuing and building upon Sandy’s work.  See the Museum’s Facebook page for the latest.  Because she wasn’t busy enough, Sandy took up running in her 60’s, completing half-marathons in Washington Depot (2009) and Hartford (2010 and 2011).  When that got to be too much for her, she started training with her sisters at Tuff Girl in Hamden, where she inspired many with her determination, support, spirit, and achievement.

Sandy is survived by her partner, Paul Wessel, their two children, Max and Molly, two grandchildren, Liam and Agi, and her brother, Thomas Heilman.  The family is grateful for the loving care from the team at Smilow Cancer Hospital (especially the chemo nurses!), Connecticut Hospice, and Linda Bamfo-Adu.

 

Contributions in Sandy’s memory can be made to The Connecticut Children’s Museum Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven or by mail to CFGNH, 70 Audubon Street, New Haven, CT 06510.

A Celebration of Sandy’s Life and Work is planned for Saturday, September 18.  See SandyMalmquist.com for details.

 

Friends wishing to spend time with the family are invited to the backyard of 142 Nicoll Street, on Sunday or Monday, August 15- 16, between the hours of 4 pm and 7 pm.