OBSERVATIONS AT THE COTTAGE GARDEN
It’s hard for me to tell just what makes the Cottage Garden cake so delicious. It’s a perfect blend of ingredients. Two warm, grounded teachers. A cozy home with numerous child-friendly rooms. The possibility of being out of sight (as a child) but not out of earshot. Delicious home-made snacks that are eagerly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed…Indeed, their food gets five stars from me. For our snack Celia dished us all up from a big pot of oatmeal. On top of this she spooned whole milk maple syrup flavored yogurt from Side Hill Farm, frozen assortment of berries (that had melted), and a dab of applesauce. All children had more than one serving, and asking for “the sticky part” from the bottom of the delicious pot seemed to be a normal request. They wanted every last drop! One child was in a high chair, but the rest sat easily in little demarcated bench cubbies, which did a fine job of defining personal space.
“We are having pizza for lunch,” one child told me at the snack table. I had seen Celia oiling the big muffin tins out of doors in the morning, and I later saw that these were filled by several of the older children with pizza dough, sauce, and cheese: making darling little individual pizzas. The rising dough smelled divine. What fun to fill little muffin tins with multiple ingredients!
It always amazes me to sit down at that table in that tiny room: there must have been 9 or 10 children, is that possible? and three teachers, not including me. But somehow we were all there, so comfortably, with the sun warming the room, rainbows falling across children and bowls from the prism in the window, and a truly lovely, harmonious and peaceful mealtime atmosphere. Everyone was hungry, and everyone knew everyone would get plenty. There were little times of patient waiting while others finished, before seconds were served. The children delighted in mixing the berries and berry juice into the yogurt and oatmeal making it pink. Food was a joy, and it strikes me that this is so very important and so very obvious. Food must be a joy for children, something that makes their eyes gleam, each and every day. How can we achieve this?
The olders and youngers were separated artfully: Celia outside with the olders in the early morning, Barbara out with the youngers after a short rest when the day was warmer.
Everything is clean and organized, and the children know just where to sit and what to do. It is a marvel to me how everything happens so seamlessly and happily in such a small space. I helped a few older children with hand washing before snack, and when I happened to look just outside the bathroom door I was astonished to see Barbara carefully changing a diaper on a table that I had not even noticed was there. Every inch is made use of, but I never felt crowded.
After snack there were warm, lavender scented washcloths, which each child used to wipe their own face. These then became peaceful playthings, which the children folded in a variety of ways and then presented to their teachers as gifts, then refolded and presented again. This was as a lovely way to end the meal, to extend table time when bellies were full and beginning to digest. Then Celia sang something like “Hands Up, Children the cleaner is coming,” and wiped the table while they all happily raised their hands in the air to let the cloth pass by. Fun!
I found myself really appreciating the smallness of the space, somehow. Held in the palm of God’s hand. The children love one another and their teachers. There are lots of hugs, and a few kisses. There was not one tear. There was not one angry shout. And one of the children, known to me in a different context, seemed a different child: peaceful, dreamy. That perhaps got to me the most.
The house is a real home. While Celia read a story to the olders, one of the boys ran his fingers over the shiny brass brads in the arm of her chair. There is so much there for a child to remember fondly, including a little serving tray with a scene on it, pretty bowls, the hanging swing/seat which provides an excellent work-out for one…
I have gone on and on, and I could go on-er and on-er!
— Meg Fisher, Early Childhood Teacher at The Hartsbrook School, June 18, 2015
We feel so lucky to have found the Cottage Garden! Choosing the right daycare was hard and we knew we wanted a place that felt as close to being at home as possible. We also really wanted caretakers that had a clear model they used to guide their work. We found all of this and more in Celia and Barbara. They are both deeply dedicated to the Waldorf philosophy and bring it to life in their intentional and loving interactions with our son. The space is beautiful with furniture fit to the children, handmade toys made from natural materials, and organic food lovingly prepared every day. My son looks forward to going every morning and will often talk about Celia and Barbara and his other friends when he's at home. They prioritize imaginative play and time outdoors and our son will often come home with new games he likes to play or aspects of nature he wants to point out to us. Our favorite moment was when he pointed to the "quiet old lady whispering hush" in Good Night Moon and said "Barbara" because he is so used to her sitting quietly beside his crib when he goes to sleep for his nap. They have gone above and beyond to develop this trusting and loving relationship with our son. The Cottage Garden really is one of a kind and I think you would be hard pressed to find a daycare with greater intentionality, love and beauty put into its curriculum. We are forever grateful that this has been his first experience away from home and that he has developed such sturdy and safe relationships with his caregivers and peers.
— Becky Tew, 4/27/18, Cottage Garden parent
I am a Speech Language Pathologist who has worked for 16 years with 2 ½ to 8-year olds in public school. I have visited and observed countless early childhood programs. I can honestly say that no other early childhood program compares to the quality of The Cottage Garden.
Barbara and Celia were attentive to my child’s emotional and physical development and allowed me to be a witness to her early years, in ways that were unknown to me, even with all my experience. They understand the big picture of where the child is, and where they need to grow. Celia and Barbara make themselves accessible, so that parents have the possibility to learn about their children in different ways.
On a daily basis, Celia and Barbara provide an environment in which there are routines rich in oral language, meaning, and expectation. At The Cottage Garden, the children seamlessly learn concepts, executive functioning, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. There is a way in which Celia and Barbara really listen to the children and respond to their communication individually. Their attention to the community and togetherness cannot be underestimated.
My daughter attended The Cottage Garden for 3 years because of the quality of the program. Barbara and Celia are exceptional at what they do. It is not their “job,” it is who they are.
— Andrea Allees-Berge, Licensed Certified Speech Language Pathologist (MA, CCC/SLP), February 2014, Cottage Garden parent
I have known Celia as my child's beloved teacher, as a colleague, as class parents at the Rudolf Steiner School and member of a Study Group. Celia's warmth, dedication to learning and understanding of child development is extraordinary. My children have many tender memories of time spent with Celia.
Liz Baring, Rudolf Steiner School Parent
Celia was my son's first teacher, both in a parent-toddler program as an infant, where she charmed him with songs, delicious bread (his first), warmth and love; Celia was his teacher when he began school as a kindergartener. He loves Celia and we do too. Celia is a wonderful, caring, conscientious teacher who cares deeply about the children and understands their interests and needs. She will forever be held in our hearts for the gifts she has given in caring for Jono, supporting his growth and unfolding, as all wonderful teachers are.
— Amanda Crutcher, Hartsbrook School parent
Celia was our first encounter with the Waldorf School and our daughter's first teacher there at four years old. It was such an enriching experience both for our daughter and ourselves. Celia spent time educating the parents on the Waldorf philosophy and parenting so well that we became dedicated "lifers" who are now graduating our daughter at 18 from the Waldorf High School. For many reasons we wish we had started raising our daughter with this philosophy from age 2 or earlier and are delighted that parents will have a chance to start their children off with more mindfulness, from the foods they eat to the toys they touch to the rhythms of work and play and an appreciation and spiritual relationship with the natural world. Celia is incredibly warm, loving and highly creative, and is the perfect person to be your child's first introduction to the world beyond your home. What you as parents will learn from her is invaluable and you and your child will be forever grateful.
— Lauren Mills and Dennis Nolan, Hartsbrook School parents
Celia Riahi was our daughter's kindergarten teacher for two wonderful years. Through Celia's sensitive observations, my husband and I came to know aspects of our child's character and inner life that we would have missed. What a gift!
Celia is terrifically well organized, has an incredible store of knowledge and experience, and best of all, she is great fun.
YOU WANT this woman to teach and care for your child(ren).
Don't miss the chance.
— Christine Olson & Jim Levey, Hartsbrook School parents