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Play Mountain Place, founded in 1949, is one of the oldest humanistic alternative schools in the United States. The school’s founder, the late child development specialist Phyllis Fleishman, created a preschool that is respectful of each child’s individuality. She encouraged self-motivation, expression of feelings, helping children to create strong bonds of friendship, cooperation, and development of self-confidence.

Ten years after Play Mountain was founded, in the post-Sputnik era of academic rigidity, parents requested that the school extend its revolutionary child development methods to kindergarten and elementary school. In expanding the school to accommodate older children, the beliefs of the school also grew. Specifically, Play Mountain’s philosophy was influenced by the humanistic psychology work of Carl Rogers. Play Mountain Place adapted his humanistic and student-centered approaches to learning and being by putting children at the center of their learning process, allowing space and time for feelings, as well as treating children with unconditional positive regard. Play Mountain also adopted some of the democratic and non-compulsory theories of education from A.S. Neill, founder of Great Britain’s famous Summerhill School (Neill was Phyllis Fleishman’s contemporary).

Phyllis, along with her husband Manny, lived their days playing a very active role in the school. These years since, children have enjoyed the same principles of schooling that Phyllis set up so many years ago. In fact, many alumni who visit often comment on how things are exactly the same except that the space just feels smaller to them!

Today, the school continues in the safe hands of Joe Ringlehan, who was a teacher at the school in the 1980’s, a teacher of our Communication Skills workshop, a parent, and now as the Director. Under his stewardship, Play Mountain Place continues to offer children and families a radical alternative to traditional schooling.

Play Mountain Place isn’t associated with any other school, it is it’s own unique, independent and private school.


1949  Modern Playschool, the first humanistic alternative preschool in California is established by Phyllis Fleishman.

1953  Fleishman begins training college student interns in the methods of humanistic education.

1959  Construction begins on house and yards for elementary school, and school years expand to include elementary school.

1960  Children rename the school “Play Mountain Place.”

1960  A.S. Neill, founder of England’s Summerhill school and a friend of Phyllis’, publishes Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, inspiring the founding of dozens of Play Mountain-type “free schools” across the United States. Play Mountain Place becomes the West Coast headquarters of the Summerhill Society, an alliance of these schools.

1962  Play Mountain Place helps establish the National Coalition for Alternative Community Schools (NCAS).

1963  Herb Snitzer publishes Summerhill: A Loving World, a photographic essay on how children learn and live at Summerhill; people in Southern California begin to refer to Play Mountain Place as “the Summerhill of the West.”

1968  The IRS designates Play Mountain Place exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3).

1969  The campus and program expand to include Junior High classes in the newly constructed Gillman Hall.

1969  Carl Rogers’ Freedom to Learn is published and adopted as teacher training text at Play Mountain Place.

1970  Play Mountain Place publishes Interviews with Phyllis, a booklet to guide parents in humanistic approaches to child rearing and schooling.

1971 Summerhill USA by Richard E. Bull, is published. A photographic essay on seven free schools, including Play Mountain Place, brings us to the attention of a national audience.

1971  “Alternatives in Education,” a weekly Los Angeles radio program, is produced for three years by Gladys Barnett Falken, assisted by Play Mountain Place staff.

1972  Jonathan Kozol publishes Free Schools, an influential guide to establishing alternative schools in inner cities. Public school districts begin to emulate the alternative school model on an experimental basis. Play Mountain Place assists the Los Angeles and Pasadena public schools set up their own alternatives schools. These schools are in operation to this day.

1973  Play Mountain Place staff begins teacher training for Los Angeles and Orange County school districts in methods of respectful, open classroom communication and conflict resolution.

1976  Play Mountain Place leads Conflict Resolution and Peaceful Parenting workshops for public agencies and private companies throughout Los Angeles.

1977  Phyllis Fleishman, Play Mountain Place’s founder, dies.

1980  School staff leads mediation skills workshops for Southern California divorce attorneys.

1981  City of Los Angeles honors Play Mountain Place for its contributions to bettering the community’s human relations.

1983  Mizuho Fukuda publishes School is Fun in Japan, providing Japanese readers with a first-hand account of Play Mountain Place’s educational philosophy and method.

1987  Play Mountain Place children petition the City of Los Angeles to honor Rosa Parks annually with “Rosa Parks Day” every February 4.

1988  Play Mountain Place teachers travel through Japan conducting seminars and workshops on humanistic education and parenting.

1988 Our “Institute for Humanistic Education and Parenting” is founded.

1990  Play Mountain Place staff offers training in school self-government for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

1997  Play Mountain Place is named as one of Los Angeles’ best schools in Los Angeles Magazine.

1999  Play Mountain Place celebrates it’s 50th anniversary.

2004  The school republishes Interviews with Phyllis.

2006  Manny Fleishman, Phyllis Fleishman’s husband, dies.

2007  The Legacy Campaign, a capital campaign to raise funds to purchase the school property, begins.

2009  Play Mountain Place celebrates it 60th anniversary.

2010 Play Mountain Place purchases the school property from funds raised from The Legacy Campaign.

2010-2019  The Annual Giving Campaign achieves 100% participation from all our families for ten years in a row!

July 2020 The Board of Trustees issues a statement in support of the Black Community.” We want you to know that we stand firmly in support of the Black community. Black Lives Matter.” Read the full statement here.

August 2021  Judy Accardi, the school’s longtime Director, retires and Joe Ringlehan assumes the Director role for the school.

October 2022 Play Mountain Place pays off the mortgage! In 2010, we asked our community to support us in buying the school property in a capital campaign called  “Preserve A Legacy.” Because of the support of our community at that time, and also through the years of continued support, we are very pleased to announce that we have been able to complete payment on Play Mountain Place’s mortgage. Owning the property gives us much security in our future and helps make every donation count for more of where we want our dollars to directly fund. 

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