It was the summer of 2005. I was 27 years old and a single mother of three beautiful and amazing children. My children were aged 8, 3 and 1 ½ so I’d already spent my short stint in “adulthood” as a caregiver. I had worked in daycare centers, participated in cooperative preschools and I had volunteered in the local elementary school. I was also in my second year of college working on a bachelor’s degree in business/ information systems.
Raising three children on one’s own is no easy feat, especially with no family support and a lifetime of family trauma and hardship that I was personally trying to overcome. I had a fierce determination though – a deep love for my children and a passionate drive to make sure they had the best possible life. I felt the need to prove the stereotypes wrong – how dare society judge me or my children as lower-class citizens just because we were a one parent family. I made it my mission to ensure that my children didn’t ever feel this societal limitation and that they had every opportunity to thrive.
And so, in this summer when I started hearing the buzz about a new little preschool opening up I was intrigued and I sought to learn more. What I learned changed my parenting path forever and set me on the road to where I am today. This little school, it turned out, was a huge effort by a small group of passionate families who wanted something different for their children. And after researching different pedagogies, they collectively decided that Waldorf education was right for them.
My own childhood and parent experience left a lot to be desired so I didn’t have much to draw from there. I spent a lot of time questioning my decisions and wondering if I was doing things right. I second guessed everything, while simultaneously knowing that I had a natural instinct – an inner knowing of how to do this parenting thing – if only I could really see it clearly and actually trust it.
Waldorf education, when I began delving into what it was all about, was like one of those “aha!” moments for me. My research was all in the early childhood realm so that’s what I refer to here. And here’s what really stood out for me.
- Head, heart and hands – looking at the whole child and meeting all of those needs! It’s not just about learning math facts and writing essays, there is so much more than that in this big crazy world. Art, music, drama, nature connection and human connection.
The idea of looking at the whole child and meeting them where they are developmentally and as unique and complex individuals felt like such a vital missing piece. I was lucky enough as a teenager to transfer to an alternative school (you know, one of those schools for troubled teens) and there I was met with a team of adults who really cared about the individuals – that didn’t judge us by test scores and attendance – but sought to learn what we loved and what inspired us. They had the space to bring in creativity and offer alternative ways of learning. This school changed my life and altered what could have been a very unhealthy life trajectory – all because it awoke in me a passion for learning again and because I felt seen and heard as the unique individual I was. All children deserve this!
- The three R’s – Rhythm, repetition and reverence.
These three simple words hold the key to what brought my family life such peace and stability. Children need a predictable framework guiding their days that helps them to feel safe, free from the anxiety of wondering what’s coming next. Parents need this too! There is so much freedom in knowing that every night we have a simple routine we follow and because we follow it every night there is no arguing or protesting – it just flows. While juggling college and kids, developing a rhythm that worked for us and sticking to it alleviated so many struggles. And allowed more space to really be present with my kids and connect with them over shared chores or meals or bedtime rituals.
The reverence piece became a kernel of mindfulness for our family – saying a blessing before a meal, lighting a candle. Honoring full moon days with a wish or solstice days by keeping the power off to really notice the change of the light outside. Helping us to hold space together as we honored the beauty of the world all around us.
In Waldorf pedagogy and later in my LifeWays training, I finally found a way of caregiving that felt like I was listening to my own inner wisdom. It was more of a way of being than doing. And rather than complicating things like so many other parenting books that I’d read, it instead simplified things. It gave me a path that I could ease into in a way that worked for my own family and later for my students. And it helped me to learn the depth and richness each child has as they develop. This understanding of humanness has helped me to see children through a lens of wonder and openness.
So, in the Fall of 2005 my 3-year-old started school at the little startup Waldorf school. And I began the most meaningful journey of my life. The school only lasted a few years but the friendships and community I found there have been part of my world ever since and have created an extended family for my children that they never would have had otherwise.
Over the next years I attended Waldorf conferences, dabbled in homeschooling, and was eventually introduced to LifeWays North America. My children grew older and less dependent and I began to look for meaningful work.
I knew from my time working as an aide at the Waldorf school that this form of education helped the children to be seen, helped them to connect with their own interests and desires and develop a love of learning and an appreciation for the natural world. I knew that my own children were better humans because of their experience with this educational and life philosophy that they grew up in. And I knew that I wanted to be able to provide this to the next generation of families here in our town. And so, I attended the LifeWays early childhood certificate program in Boulder, CO.
I chose LifeWays because it is based on Waldorf pedagogy but it was developed to meet the needs of childcare today – needs that didn’t exist back when Waldorf education was founded. I found LifeWays to be more relevant to today’s world while maintaining the core integrity of Waldorf pedagogy.
Flash forward to today. Mountain Bluebells Preschool & Nursery Center, founded in 2015, is in its 8th school year. Last year we were recognized as a representative program for LifeWays North America and today we are being recognized in the Spring newsletter. Sometimes this whole journey feels surreal but each day actually feels quite real.
I founded Mountain Bluebells with the help of many hands. That same core group of passionate families I met years ago helped me to get things going and continue to be my strongest supporters – serving on my board of directors, volunteering and even working for me when needed. As we’ve grown, that community of support has grown – as a school we have many helpers and I think we’ve helped many families create their own circles of care and support.
These days we care for 15 children at a time, ages 3 months old up to kindergarten age. We have a wonderful collection of teachers that share their time with us each week and dedicated volunteers and community members who come in to share their talents and love with the children.
Our guiding principles are kindness and compassion and authenticity. When we model these things for the children and the families, as a community we are all better off. We aim to meet each child exactly where they are – without preconceived ideas of where they should be.
My personal journey led me to create a space that really sees and honors each child no matter what their family looks like or how they’ve arrived in these bodies. A space that nurtures community and connection. I believe we need all of these things. I know I did.
Thanks for listening. If you’re ever In Montana we’d love to show you around.
Founder & Director, Mountain Bluebells Preschool & Nursery Center in Red Lodge, MT