Back to the Garden School

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After a year and a half with its doors closed, Marin Art and Garden Center’s on-site preschool reopened on September 8, welcoming students to the Garden School once again.

Director Emma Norris has brought together an enthusiastic and experienced team of teachers who spend their days mostly outdoors with the children, exploring the 11 acres of grounds and all that is growing here. Emma has also broadened the age range of children in the school, which now accepts students as young as two, diapers and all. The students enjoy some activities in small groups organized by age, while at other times the whole school is together, building community and giving the children an opportunity to learn from one another.

The Garden School has adopted an Emergent curriculum; this means that the teachers take note of what the children are curious about, and then design their curriculum to follow what they have observed. Approaching curriculum this way allows the children to take the lead in their own learning pathways. Teachers weave the development of early reading, writing and math skills into each activity, in a way that follows the children’s interests. 

Karen Payne, lead teacher

Karen is a Montessori-credentialed early childhood educator and has been teaching in preschools for over 25 years. She was born and raised in England and completed her Montessori training in London. She holds an Associate’s degree in both Child Development and Social and Behavioral Sciences, as well as a BA in Early Childhood Studies and an MA in Education from Sonoma State University. She is currently lecturing at SSU, while pursuing a Doctorate degree with a thesis focusing on teachers’ perspectives and strategies on integrating a digital citizenship curriculum in technology-infused early childhood environments. Outside of work, she enjoys gardening, hiking, art, and photography, as well as spending time with her two adult children.

Here at The Garden School, we are so very fortunate to be surrounded by incredible beauty and potential for learning. I truly believe that an outdoor nature environment helps develop the foundation for a life-long love of learning and inquiry in young children and establishes a deeper understanding of the world that we live in.

—Karen Payne

Vera Jarocki, teacher

Vera is an avid explorer of all things outdoors and a mother to three beautiful children.

Her passion for outdoor education and forest school recently inspired her to obtain a certificate in Tinkergarten, and she taught and assisted outdoor classes with a group of wonderful families in southern Marin. Previously, she worked in various different schools in Hawaii teaching and guiding children in and out of the classroom. She is a longtime yoga practitioner and loves to love to surf whenever there are waves, and snowboard in the winter.

I am a strong proponent of encouraging children to lead healthy and active lifestyles and to learn in an environment where they feel safe and most of all very loved. I look forward to the community and experiences that Marin Art and Garden will create. The space here has so much to offer for the children in this program, so they can grow to love, admire and take care of mother earth and all her beauty she has to share.

—Vera Jarocki

Katie Nelson, teacher

Katie has worked with young children in many different aspects. Recently, she has been working as a primary teacher in a larger preschool and has been responsible for planning and implementing curriculum. She is great at taking a “whole child” approach and likes to form deep, meaningful relationships with the children in her care.

Rachael Ellis, teachers’ aide

Rachael has worked in child care for almost 20 year, with children from infant to school age and from teacher to director. She has experience developing preschool and pre-K programs. After a stint running her own business, Rachael found herself missing the children and families of her teaching days, and is excited to join the staff at the Garden School. With a natural preference to be of service to people, she is a great support to the teachers and program here.

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