Honoring the Past, Looking to the Future: Progressive Pedagogy in Preschool by Jasmine Star Horan

By Jasmine Star Horan 

As we enter into this new school year, the preschool at Mount Madonna School (MMS) is in a unique position of honoring its rich history and opening to a future of creativity and innovation. The MMS preschool and kindergarten (Pre/K) program was co-founded in 1981 by Sarojani Rohan and her husband Premdas with a Montessori focus. Sarojani served as Pre/K director and taught in the classroom for many years. The program evolved into a hybrid of Waldorf and Montessori, and while it was informed by different pedagogical influences over the years, there was always a focus on creativity and imagination. Kindergarten teacher Hema Walker, who has taught in the Pre/K for the past twenty years, says she learned from her predecessor the possibility that “every day can feel like an adventure.”

Danielle, a certified Montessori teacher, held the preschool program as a lead teacher last year through the challenges of COVID, and brings a deep trust and an invitation for children’s curiosity and love of learning. “There is a beauty in the child wondering and sometimes leaving questions open-ended,” comments Danielle. This fall I have joined the preschool team with a play-based, emergent curriculum, and outdoor education background. Both myself and Danielle are also yoga practitioners.

Our preschool team seeks to offer a balanced and holistic approach to educating young children. Danielle’s Montessori training aspires to “protect the child’s focus and concentration,” and offers routines and rhythms that both respect the child’s interests and challenge their abilities. My teaching mentor from the Gazebo Park School at Esalen Institute taught me about the importance of “protected play” by offering space for social-emotional and outdoor learning and engagement with child development through pure play.

Both Danielle and myself are dedicated to protecting these important elements of children’s learning experience in order to help them learn, grow and thrive. At MMS, the preschool program offers a cooperative balance between free, child-directed outdoor play and consistent routines and cognitive concentration in the classroom.

We, as preschool teachers, honor the depth of the teachings of the past and bring our passions and all of our education and experience to our students. This year we hope to further cultivate a truly special and safe learning environment that fosters community and growth and continues the evolution of Mount Madonna’s nurturing preschool program.

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During the first week of school, preschool students spent time getting to know one another and rekindling friendships, engaging in classroom lessons and exploring outdoor spaces around the MMS campus. 

Jasmine Horan is a lifelong learner and a teacher of various age groups for much of her life. She loves the wonder of childhood and the playfulness and truthfulness children bring to the world. Author of “The Gazebo Learning Project,” Jasmine specializes in early childhood education and the development of a child as a whole being.

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Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing and communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners 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.