Connect. Create. Grow.
learning through relationships
"What a child can do in cooperation today, he/she can do alone tomorrow" Lev Vygotsky
Children are ready to learn when they feel connected, safe and respected.
Through our inquiry process children develop a love of learning (not an accumulation of facts) and value process over product.
wonder (inquiry) > experiment (discover & fail) > reflect (express) > repeat
our classroom & teacher
Earth, the original sensory-rich classroom, allows infinite sources of wonder and discovery. Each day, our students venture out into nature to observe nature, inquire how the world works, and think like scientists ready to become the leaders our planet needs.
Who: Ages 3- 6 years old
When: July to June Monday - Friday 9am - 1pm
What: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 day options
Where: Nature spots in Mill Valley, Tiburon
Cohort: Small cohort with about 1:5 ratio
July to August (3 week minimum)
Preschool Camp 3yo - 6 years old
School Closures mirror Mill Valley Schools calendar except for summer break.
Martin Luther King Day
Lunar New Year
Mid-Winter Break (M-F)
Spring Break (last week of March M-F)
Memorial Day (observed on Monday)
Summer Break (1 month ~6/9 - 7/9 yearly)
Indigenous Peoples Day
Thanksgiving Break (M – F)
Winter Break (2 weeks)
Arrival with provocations and free play. Arrive between 9:00-9:15am
Snack and Calendar/Letter Time followed by Morning Circle
Explorations, hike, project time, gardening
Explore and play! Materials will be provided to further discovery, nature journaling and revisiting projects
Picnic lunch & Story Time
Hike back to pick up location
Closing Circle, pick up at 1pm
"Teach a (wo)man to fish and you feed him(her) for a lifetime." Italian Proverb
Parent Education is integral to the Mighty Bambinis experience. Through our monthly parent series for enrolled parents only, connect and build community while you learn about brain & child development; positive, respectful discipline; unpacking and taming your triggers; creating routines and traditions; creating family mission and values, and more.
Who: At least one parent per family
What: 8-week parenting session offered yearly (virtual until end of pandemic)
When: Second Tuesday of the Month 7:30-9:00pm October to May
Community events like camping trips and seasonal celebrations give us a chance to deepen our community.
A balanced approach, using intrinsically motivating projects and routines to build skills
Our program does a fantastic job preparing children for Kindergarten. Nearly all the kids stay until Kindergarten and don't leave for a special pre-k program. Generally, TK aged children opt to stay with us instead of attending public TK as well. Children from our SF program went to and thrived at public schools and prestigious progressive programs in San Francisco such as Presidio Knolls, Children's Day School, Katherine Michiels School, Golden Bridges, Chinese American International School, Alta Vista School to name a few. This year we will have our first graduates from our Marin program entering elementary.
In addition to my Masters in Education and Early Childhood training, I have a CA Multiple Subject credential (elementary) and started off teaching in public and charter elementary schools as a 1st grade teacher. Teachers Mia and Teresa bring a lot of pre-k teaching experience. Mia taught pre-k kids for 2 years in addition to teaching 3s. Teresa was an art and garden teacher at La Scoula teaching 3s, 4s and pre-k children and Waldorf inspired forest preschool teachers for 4-6 year olds. We've weaved our combined experiences into thoughtful kindergarten readiness that the children don't even feel is "learning" academic skills.
While there is a lot of play and exploration in our program, we do pay careful attention and assess children for academic skills and kindergarten readiness behaviors informally and formally (we call it a guessing game).
Social Emotional Development in our Mixed-Age Class
Kindergarten teachers have always said that Mighty Bambinis graduates are very kindergarten ready. My program in SF had about 75% go to public school and 25% go to a variety of private schools either Reggio/Project Based, Progressive or Waldorf programs.
I find that the biggest feedback parents have told me their kindergarten teachers have commented on specifically is how kind/great social skills the kids at our program have and how ready and eager to learn they are. The Mill Valley schools website said kids are Kinder ready when "Children who can already take turns, share with others, delay gratification, cooperate, and sit and listen for 10 to 15 minutes are usually developmentally ready for kindergarten." According to that metric, our graduates are extremely prepared. Our graduates are often the kindest and most patient with kids with learning or physical differences in their elementary classes. They have the social academic behaviors down such as raising hands, waiting to be called on, sharing in a group, and listening to other students/teachers share, and self-help.
I think mixed age is really great at developing social skills in a way that same age schools can't. Children in a mixed age setting learn to be around children that are different than them. 3s are less predictable and developmentally very different than 5s. So when a 5 year old spends time with a 3 they have the chance to learn to be more flexible, patient, and a leader. When 3s hang out with 4s and 5s they learn what is just next for them on the developmental ladder, they are "teachers" through their modeling of the zone of proximal development. Motivating the younger children in a way an adult showing you what to do can never be as inspiring. Some of our 4s are even becoming super kind, patient teachers in a more explicit way. One boy for instance is amazing at coaching the other kids on how to climb and get down from trees. He shows them how he does it and talk them through all the things he thinks about and does and then he lets them try and gives them suggestions.
We see the kids who once received help from teachers with climbing trees and doing crafts/teacher-directed activities - are now mentor "teachers" to their peers. We see this shift in the middle of the year often for 4 and 5 year olds. Children learn to treat other people the way they have been treated. When we support them we model, and teach skills. Today a boy who just turned 4 after making a cranberry, orange slice and cheerio garland with thread and a bundt needle took the initiative to teach the other children who joined after he had been doing it about 20 minutes. He showed them all the materials and how to do it step by step. He even explained his pattern and what a pattern is. Pattern was a pretty new vocabulary word and concept for him. This is not a child who did this at all before attending our school. It was so exciting to see him take on this leadership, kindly, clearly and patiently supporting his friends.
High level Play / Conflict Skills
Our teachers are all really skilled and teach both in the moment and in planned lessons (such as during read aloud or small or whole group time). We all are aligned on positive discipline and the children at our school are constantly working on very sophisticated social interactions from figuring out how to play together in the absence of toys. Crafting whole worlds in their imagination, deciding together on what each stick or rock is, and what they can build together to make our environment into whatever they dream it to be. We can see them using the language and skills we have taught them in lessons or during support, on their own. In December, I heard some kids talking and saying, "I want the stick to be a saw. And you want it to be a spoon. We can both have different ideas at the same time."
Or "We both want to be Anna. It's ok, families have lots of sisters and brothers. We can have two Annas." Or when they have a conflict they are saying, "I'm not done yet. You can have it when I'm done. I'll tell you." And then later telling their friend when they are done.
Kinder Behavior and Expectations
We are sure to train them on kindergarten expectations such as raising their hand to speak. If they don't remember, we ask them to try it again. We have them sit for over 20 minutes at snack and lunch to build their ability to sit and listen for 15 minutes and engage in a whole group lesson productively. And we teach calendar, counting to 31, and letter names and sound (phonics) daily. We also have a read aloud daily so they get print concepts, comprehension, and again listening and raising hands to participate.
We practice speaking aloud one on one at closing circle with our sharing sticks, reflecting on the day with a specific prompt that we do for about 1 month each.
Academics at Mighty Bambinis
The Importance of Awe
You have chosen our program because it is one of the only opportunities to give your child the gift of nature immersion. I believe this is an amazing foundational experience because we experience the transformative emotion of awe daily! This article explains it better than I ever could.
For a play-based program we have a good balance of academics, play and STEM focus through the natural environment and the topics we discuss with the kids.
Whole Group times
(Circle, Snack Calendar, Story Lunch, and Closing Circle)
Children thrive with predictable routines and expectations. We capitalize on the times they need to sit at meals to make use them as "academic" times. That way we have less transitions and more free play and project time, while still having opportunities to practice important academic & academic behavior skills.
We structure the day to have the calendar time and letter every day at snack to expose them to counting to 31 on a regular basis. The also have to show us with their hands to get to number 7, which works on one to one correspondence and early addition as there seems a few different ways to make 7. We throw in math conversations a lot identifying tracks or leaves, or how to estimate numbers of birds or other things we find.
We focus on phonics for the letter of the week and play word games to get them thinking of what words or names start with that letter. Often we have magnetic letters and have them sort with that. And pass around sand paper letters to practice making the shape as well as on the ground daily.
At lunch we always read a story and teach literacy skills and comprehension. Teachers explain how books work, we talked about chapters and table of contents, page numbers, authors, genres, have them make predictions, or answer other comprehension questions. All in a way that engaging but also teaches print concepts. We point out special punctuation or how authors use font size or speech bubbles such as when reading elephant and piggie books. We read fiction and non-fiction that lead us in the exploration of our projects, big ideas and how to use non-fiction sources to gather more information on topics we are learning about.
At closing circle, we home children's public speaking and reflection skills. We pass around a sharing stick and children answer a prompt for about a month developing more clarity and confidence in answering big questions such as "what are you grateful for today?, "What is something you did or someone else did that was kind today?" and "what is your favorite part of the day?" Children can always pass, and when they do teachers share an observation they witnessed involving the child. By around November and December, all children feel comfortable sharing something at the end of the day most days.
Centers in Our "Classroom"
Given that we are a nature immersion program, not housed in a classroom, our "centers" do not look like a typical classroom. We do have construction materials galore - sticks, rocks, sand, water, bricks, logs, driftwood, and items we bring like tools, string, scissors and more. We do have dramatic play when children use the loose part in the forest as anything they can imagine together it is in that moment. We bring pots, pans, buckets and scoops. They create shelters and "Miwok kotchas" in their forest "home" as they call it. They learn to use tools to make "furniture," "rafts," boats, fishing pols, etc. We do practical life when we leave no trace and clean up trash caring for the woods, and care for our bodies and belongings by dressing and undressing, packing up after lunch, and helping teachers. We of course have gross motor everywhere from the playground, swing to the trees to climb and "obstacle courses" we build. We have sensory play all day from being in the elements in all weather to playing in dirt, sand, water that is sensory rich and alive! We have an alive classroom! Where the tide comes in and out, deer and squirrels visit, tracks and scat are found leaving clues of what happened in the night, mushrooms and seedlings grow bigger each day, birds feast and call, oysters, mussels, crabs, anemone and sand fleas live on the shore, and we find bones of bat rays, deer and coyotes, to name a few of our incredible findings!
Since we don't set the classroom and leave it, we are very strategic and well-planned about what activities/projects and materials we focus the children's attention (provocation) on daily. We plan out our small group activities and projects to offer in depth time working on writing, math concepts, art/crafts, and fine motor skills.
We model and explicitly teach the children correct pencil grip whenever we have nature journals or write their name on artwork. We have the older children write their own name by tracing our highlighter writing of their names as we sound it out as we write, moving to showing them a smaller example and having write on their own looking at the model, moving to sounding our or writing it without a model.
We believe starting with learning how to spell and write their name is the most motivating and important entry into writing and spelling. The get more practice with drawing and writing with the intrinsically motivating "birthday book" pages that are often available daily as a free choice activity in addition to their in their nature journals.
We utilize their interest in Valentines Day to have them practice at home and in school a variety of fine motor skills from painting, cutting, pasting, sewing and of course name writing. We find "real world" meaningful ways to weave in practicing skills and learning academics. When it is in a context that is highly intrinsically motivating we see children love to practice and learn these skills.
In the Spring, we teaching line, shapes, color theory, and stick figures for more fine motor development with more emphasis on using their nature journals. Learning shape names, types of lines, colors and how to draw stick people is empowering. Children enjoy progressing in mastery. We have age appropriate expectations, and find again using nature journals as a vehicle for their expression children want to capture their observations and dictate stories for the teachers to write down. Then when we revisit the nature journal the next time they can feel the power of words, when we are able to read the story they told us about their photo.
For pre-k aged children in Spring and the summer before kinder, we take calendar a step further by creating calendars and tracking days on a graph of the number of each kind of weather.
We try to keep an overall focus on what they will need for kindergarten, sprinkling it in where it fits naturally with the work we are doing and the flow of the day. We’re definitely not trying to avoid teaching letters, numbers and literacy skills as some other early childhood philosophies do.
Math & STEAM
Math is all around us in nature. Children want to sort, organize, and count. They want to tell the difference between different kinds of leaves or flowers, which involves counting. They want to figure out what kind of animal left a track by counting the paw prints and comparing it to our life-size track guide. They want to guess how many birds are in the bay, which involves number senses and estimation. They want to know what day of the month it is, and how many days are left until our big celebrations. They want to build and figure out how to make the bridges to walk on in the obstacle course more stable, or what materials are better for making boats float. They want to devise a contraption to return the washed up jelly fish back to sea without hurting. They want to find the best home for the moth that landed on their jacket, trying to learn what it likes to eat and what it likes to do. They want to figure out how to climb higher into the trees. They are constantly involved in experimentation.
We teach counting and math during calendar time, while playing games like high and seek, we teach patterns while drumming to get their attention and while making art, and make math connections and build number sense through out play. Our goal is for children to have one-ton-one correspondence up to 10, recognize numbers up to 20, count up to 31 (ideally 100), and write numbers up to 5 by the summer before kindergarten.