A Welcoming Preschool Environment Inspires Students’ Growth and Curiosity By Danielle Barr

By Danielle Barr

The Mount Madonna School (MMS) preschool is a thoughtfully curated environment where each child feels right at home to explore and discover. When a new child arrives in the classroom, the very first thing teachers do is have conversations with them, helping to orient the child to their new environment. We introduce the physical environment, showing them where the restrooms are, where their cubby is and where they can hang their jacket and put away their lunch. The child notices right away that everything is child-sized. They quickly discover that this environment is created for them, which supports an easeful transition into school.

We introduce each child to compassionate “elder” classmates who take pride in supporting new students, remembering when they were new. New children witness older children focused on their work and this inspires the new children to participate right away. Teachers are there to guide them.

When teachers offer lessons to the children — whether it is a puzzle map that inspires curiosity and awareness through conversations about different cultures or hammering work that allows the child to practice focus and eye coordination — children feel they are participating in their own education. They are trusted and respected. In the MMS preschool classroom, children feel comfortable engaging in a dialogue where they share their own experiences and ask questions that lead to more conversations and learning.

Teachers inspire conversations with and among the children and are present to support each child in being heard and actively listening within these conversations. We practice compassionate communication throughout the classroom all year. The teachers are present to protect the children when they go into a state of focus and concentration. Before long, the children start to protect one another’s focus and concentration on their lessons or “work.” We sometimes hear children say things like, “Koa is doing his work and we don’t want to distract him.” This is the goal and we are all learning together in the classroom and beyond.

One area new children are introduced to is the Practical Life lessons. These can serve as a link from their previous environment to our classroom. Teachers offer the children interesting activities that feel purposeful and familiar, including pouring water, carrying a tray, rolling out a mat, folding or sweeping and painting. Often this results in the child going home and craving more independence, and over time, teachers notice the child’s pride and confidence evolve.

We also teach the child how to move furniture, so if the child is motivated to work near a window or at a different desk, they are free to do this. The children don’t need to ask once they learn how. These activities support the child to feel more independent at home as well, with the ability to help with the duties that happen in the home. You may start noticing your child trying to get their own beverage or tuck in their chair. We suggest allowing children to try doing more things themselves. If they make a mess, simply teach them what they can do to clean it up and ask if they need help. One helpful resource is this article about children packing their own lunch with parents.

In the MMS preschool, teachers make eye contact when they speak with each child and use enriching language. Teachers introduce songs, finger plays, literature, poems and books and communicate with proper grammar. We explain how it is nice to offer courtesy words, such as ”please,” ”thank you,” and “you’re welcome,” when speaking with others. When we give lessons, we offer new vocabulary and answer all questions the child has. Each of these actions helps to develop a child’s vocabulary. This growth in children’s vocabulary allows the child to speak their needs and understand others, which can eliminate much of a child’s frustrations and invites them to feel empowered.

Over time this can lead to a child finding their voice and more clearly speaking their needs, ideas and views. Teachers encourage children to speak freely with their ideas. We have many discussions and encourage compassionate listening and speaking from the heart. Our goal is for each child to discover their own voice and freely express themselves, but also listen to others with curiosity. MMS preschool teachers believe that if children can participate in conversations with compassion, curiosity and truth, the future may be filled with healthier communication, stronger communities and a more compassionate existence.


Danielle Barr is a preschool teacher at Mount Madonna School. She holds an American Montessori International credential and has been working with children in a variety of ways for 30 years. A life-long student, Danielle holds a 500-hour plus E-RYT Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance and offers classes in Watsonville. She has two children and lives in Santa Cruz County.



Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing @ communication, mms

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.