Meet a Mom: Carly Andrews and the True Spirit of Play! | Chicago North Shore Moms

Hello friendly faces! It’s that time of the week! We’re back with a new CNSM spotlight brought to you in part by Mary Gifford of Gifford Law.

If your child has attended or currently attends a preschool here on the North Shore, chances are you’ve heard of The Alliance for Early Childhood, a local nonprofit with the mission to support the healthy, well-rounded development of young children through the spirit of play. Chicago North Shore Moms is pleased to introduce The Alliance’s new executive director and Evanston mom, Carly Andrews! Carly, who moved to Evanston from New Mexico in 2017, is keeping the mission going strong with great programming to help keep kids engaged in the true art of play, while combatting the rising demands and stressors that children and parents feel every day. Get to know Carly, a few great podcast and local hang out recs, why she absolutely loves being a part of The Alliance and why your family will love the programming they offer, too. Welcome, Carly!

Hi Carly! Please introduce yourself. Where are you from originally? What city do you live in now and what brought you here?

Hi, I’m Carly Andrews! I’m originally from the west coast – and my aunts and uncles still live in southern California. My family and I have lived in different parts of the country, as our family grew and my husband and I pursued educational and career opportunities. Our daughter was born while we lived in Iowa City and spent her early childhood in the midwest and in New Mexico. We’ve lived in Evanston since 2017 when I began work as Head of School for 5 years. I started as the new executive director of Alliance for Early Childhood.


You’re a mom, tell us about your daughter!

My daughter is a junior at ETHS. She is an amazing songwriter and musician. I love it when teenagers find great joy in their pursuits, and it is wonderful as a mom to watch her love for this artform develop. And she has an album of her work coming out in November!


How cool, please keep us posted about the album!

What are one or two fun facts to know about you?

I have taught 4th graders through university students, and I am fascinated by each developmental stage. In fact, I’m in a PhD program at Loyola University & The Erikson Institute studying Child Development.


What are your favorite North Shore places, spaces and eats to frequent?

At 7am on Saturday, it’s Hewn. At 7pm, it’s Graeter’s. A book lover recommended The Book Stall to me when we first moved here, and I could spend hours there. I also love spending time in the region’s public and university libraries. But I most LOVE being in schools. The Alliance serves over 40 schools in Chicago and The North Shore, and I’m constantly inspired by the unique ways that schools create belonging for children and families and support children’s developmental needs with creativity and care.


What gets you through a tough day?

Lots of black tea with oat milk, walks with my two dogs, a stack of books, and a few favorite podcasts – Science of Reading, We Can Do Hard Things, and Everything Happens are high on my queue.


Those are fabulous suggestions! I personally love We Can Do Hard Things also!

You mentioned that are the new executive director for Alliance for Early Childhood, congratulations! Tell us about this local nonprofit. How and why was this formed?

The mission of The Alliance is to support the healthy, well-rounded development of young children. Interestingly the Alliance for Early Childhood was born out of a time of challenge. Low birthrates of the 1980s were impacting enrollment and income at several North Shore schools. Winnetka School’s superintendent, the beloved Don Monroe, worked with Catherine Reichelderfer, a long-time board member at Winnetka Public School Nursery, as well as other early childhood leaders, to consider how they could support the early childhood community.

After a seed gift from Kenneth Montgomery, The Alliance was formed in 1989. I follow a group of inspiring and dedicated leaders from founder and Executive Director Emeritus, Blakely Bundy, to Liza Sullivan and Stefanie Mariuri. True to its name, our work is to establish alliances between families, schools, partner organizations, and early childhood educators as we support the healthy, well rounded development of young children.


What types of community events do we see from The Alliance?

People have a lot of fond memories of Alliance programs over the years. TV Tune-Out Week, beginning in the mid-1990s was a favorite. During the week community organizations and local businesses created a variety of activities for families as they took a week off of television. Then nine-years ago, under Liza Sullivan’s leadership, The Preschool-Kindergarten Summit was born. This conference for early childhood and primary educators held at The Chicago Botanic Gardens has grown and evolved and attracts educators both regionally and nationally.


Alliance for Early Childhood Let’s Play! Fort Building.

How has the childhood landscape changed since the nonprofit’s inception?

While children’s developmental needs have remained unchanged, they still need responsive caregivers and opportunities to engage in high quality learning environments, our culture has ramped up pressure on families. Parents’ work hours and economic pressures have increased without commensurate support for parents and families. We are also, generally, less connected to wider familial and cultural communities that can provide community and support. And there are so many demands on our attention. It’s one of the reasons why we advocate for taking time out to play together. Even a few minutes of play together decreases stress and increases connection. Caregiving is all about nurturing relationships. There is a lot that we can’t control, but we can always take a few minutes for focused play time.


Board and Liaison Council volunteers, 33rd Annual Networking Dinner for Educators.

Tell us about your role as the executive director for The Alliance for Early Childhood?

My main work is visioning and supporting the programs we develop for three groups that are closest to young children – parents, educators, and families. And I love meeting with people invested in this work across our region.


Carly and Denise Matthews, Alliance Liaison Council member and District 36 Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Equity and Inclusion, at 33rd Annual Networking Dinner for Educators.

Tell us about a time as ED where you were super proud of being a part of this nonprofit?

Bringing together hundreds of teachers and school leaders at the Chicago Botanic Gardens this past February was pretty exhilarating. It was the first in-person Summit since the pandemic, and the collective joy of being together and deepening our practice was palpable.

What’s on the horizon for Alliance for Early Childhood?

We have an incredible lineup of programs for families, parents, and educators this year, which can all be found on our website. This year we have some amazing community partners from park districts, libraries, and schools, to places like The Peggy Notebaert Museum, whose team is working with us on a few programs for families and educators.


Let’s Play! Cardboard Design Challenge.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about yourself or Alliance for Early Childhood?

Let’s Play! works with community partners to host large-scale, pop-up play events around Chicago and the North Shore. This year we’ve added 3 additional programs as far north as Highland Park and as far south as Lincoln Park. No matter your neighborhood, we hope you will find a Let’s Play! Event near you and join in the fun.


How can our readers get involved in your programming?

Families can find a Let’s Play! Event near them and register. They are so joyful, and all our parent and family programs are free and open to the public. Our parent virtual programs hit a lot of points along the parenting journey. You can register on our website, and if you can’t make the particular time, you can view the recording at a time that works for you.


Let’s keep in touch. What are your contact dets?

You can visit our website at, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and see past events on YouTube.

About our Meet of Mom Sponsor

A very heartfelt thank you to CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom sponsor, Lake Forest mom of three and owner of Gifford Law, a solo Estate Planning Firm (wills and trusts). Mary, we appreciate your support of local moms in our North Shore communities! Learn more about Mary by visiting her Meet a Mom spotlight here! Contact Mary directly here: [email protected].

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