Richard Cohen Left The Silver Screen For A Golden Opportunity: Teaching Children

It isn’t often that someone bound for the glitter and glamour of the movie industry finds himself immersed instead in the glitter and glue of early childhood education.

But that’s what happened to Chicago metro AEYC member Richard Cohen. While studying film directing at New York University, Cohen dropped out to make movies in L.A. – and found he hated the business of the only career he’d ever considered.

From Movies… to Play

Cohen – who is now an early childhood consultant and trainer emphasizing the importance of play in children’s lives and learning – remembers how things changed. “I just didn’t like the movie business,” says Cohen, “But in every movie there were children, and there were directors who didn’t know how to deal with them. I’d help them out. I’d been a camp counselor and a baby-sitter, so it was easy for me.”

In fact, Cohen explains, for every movie in which a children appear there is actually a position for a “child wrangler” or “baby wrangler,” someone who keeps child actors entertained and “rounds them up” to perform when they’re called. Despite the industry’s poor regard for children, Cohen loved them.

So, at 23, he rewrote his life’s script. He returned home to St. Louis, studied early childhood education at Fontbonne College, received his bachelors degree and then his Masters degree from Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena. He came to Chicago in 1994, and now lives in Oak Park. Since leaving L.A., Cohen has worked with children and teachers in a variety of ways, as a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, associate director of education at the Kohl Children’s Museum, and manager of play programming at Brookfield Zoo. For the past seven years, he has trained and consulted with teachers, administrators, parents and caregivers throughout the country and across the globe about child development issues and approaches to early childhood education.

“Young children are constant reminders of what’s most important in life: playing, laughing, loving, exploring and having a sense of wonder about the world,” says Cohen. In all his work, Cohen has a central theme: celebrating and protecting children’s playful spirits and the value of play in their lives. He is a member of the International Play Association (IPA), which worked to have the “child’s right to play” included in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, and is adjunct professor at Triton College teaching a class on the theory of play.

Hope for the Future

Cohen says he loves working with early childhood educators because they, like the children they teach, know what’s important in life. “They seem more joyous, playful and wise than most everyone else I know,” he says. That’s why he also appreciates his membership in Chicago Metro AEYC. “It’s a wonderful way to be around people with similar interests and passions,” he explains. “It provides an important aspect of my professional development. I learn so much from my colleagues. And I’m proud of the message we send, that children have rights and needs and that by loving and nurturing children there is hope for a better future.”

As a trainer and consultant to teachers and administrators, Cohen has another important message: “Play more, get down on the floor, make a mess and have a heckuva lot of fun!”

Chicago Metro AEYC Connections, Vol. 8 No. 11