My youngest child recently graduated from preschool. I have grappled with sadness at this rite of passage; not only for her, but for me as well. As we close the preschool chapter in our lives, we also say goodbye to family. You see, when your child attends Mary’s Peppermint Stick Preschool in downtown Grayslake, you become part of the family too.
I have put two children through Mary’s Peppermint Stick Preschool (MPSPS) who will both attend grade school in the fall. While friendly and capable, my children’s new teachers don’t greet me with a hug when they see me. I don’t have their home and mobile phone numbers. I don’t expect them to know if a family member has been sick. I would probably be taken aback if one of them said, “I love you and your family.” Yet, most any parent who has put a child through MPSPS will tell you that this is par for the course.
When I began looking for a preschool in 2012, I had a short-list of criteria in mind (okay, maybe not that short):
- Play-based and developmentally-appropriate learning (no worksheets or rigorous academics)
- Multi-age classes
- Time spent outdoors
- Gentle discipline
- Inclusive environment
- Open Door Policy
- Warm fuzzies mandatory
After posting an inquiry in my local attachment parenting group, I learned about Mary’s Peppermint Stick Preschool, located on the lower level of St. Andrew Episcopal Church (no affiliation) in Grayslake.
When I first met Mary Lillstrom, the eponymous director and owner, she won me over almost immediately. To be completely honest, I was initially smitten by this soft-spoken woman because she was wearing oxblood Doc Martens boots. I am not so shallow that a bit of 90’s era fashion was all it took, but let’s just say it was a nice start.
She quickly assured me that her school could fulfill all the items on my wish list. I felt like I had met my own Mary Poppins (rosy cheeks and all!) But words are meaningless unless put it into practice…
Free Hugs – No extra charge
If you want to understand the school’s philosophy, look no further than the MPSPS motto,
We are Caring, Sharing, Loving, Peaceful, People.
This philosophy covers everything they do at MPSPS, not only in the way they care for your child, but in the respect they give parents along with the school’s involvement in the community.
Children collect donated items for PADS in the winter, and deliver the items as a group to a local PADS shelter. There they learn about homelessness and need in our area. In the spring, your child will hop, hop, hop to help, help, help in the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association Hop-a-Thon.
Your child will not only graduate knowing their ABC’s and 1-2-3’s, but they will know the name and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They will learn about Diwali and Hanukkah and how different societies seek and celebrate light. Be it the twinkle of Christmas trees or the flames of the menorah, your child will be encouraged to let their own light shine! All traditions are welcome and valued. Children leave knowing they are part of a global community and what their responsibilities are within it.
Both of my children remember their favorite times at MPSPS were when they went outdoors. Expect that if the weather allows, your child will spend at least part of their day outside as much as possible. My daughter’s favorite preschool activity was going on nature walks with bags to collect the “gifts that nature gives us.” There are many well-loved pine cones and acorns squirreled away in the recesses of my home.
My children were both given the freedom to pursue activities that were meaningful to them. They weren’t forced to do worksheets or participate in crafts if they did not want to.
His first year of preschool, my son didn’t bring home one art project, but instead came home with stories about the adventures he had playing cars or tales about the new friends he was making. By his second year he gained focus and was bringing home elaborate creations on a daily basis. He treasured his projects and was excited to share them. This is the beauty of developmentally-appropriate education–it allows children to develop at their own pace and provides them with pride and ownership of their work.
The classrooms are multi-age, serving children ages 3-6. My experience has been that kids learn best from each other, and having different age groups was a big plus for my daughter.
With a late summer birthday, my daughter just wasn’t ready on a social or emotional level for kindergarten. Her second year at MPSPS gave her the opportunity to assume a leadership role. She relished serving as a role model for the younger children, and it provided a clear boost to her confidence. At home, she is the youngest, but the multi-age classroom gave her an outlet where she could be the “big kid” and express her nurturing side towards the younger preschoolers.
Gentle Guidance and Accessibility
I’m forever indebted to all the staff at MPSPS. Their gentle but consistent discipline has inspired me to be a better parent. Their loving and compassionate way helped my daughter overcome separation anxiety. And no matter how often my son would turn his finger or any pointy object into a gun, they never shamed him. They would only remind him that this was a safe place, so he didn’t need weapons at school. But most of all, for their patience with me, an anxiety-ridden mom, and how Mary always, always took time to sit and talk with me about my children.
There are no daily reports or scheduled conferences at MPSPS. Instead there is an open-door policy. It’s stressed from day one that you can call, email or visit at any time. Mary has set aside many hours with me over the years to talk about my concerns. Not once has she ever made me feel rushed, or that my concerns were invalid. She’s hugged me when I’ve cried (did I mention there’s lots of hugging?) and always offered sage advice about my kids, both in and out of school.
She and her staff are on top of it. If your child is having trouble with another child, chances are they already know about it and are monitoring the situation. There is no herd mentality when it comes to the kids. They intimately know their likes, dislikes, personality quirks and triggers. And they just love those kids. You can tell. Each year Mary addresses the parents and thanks them for allowing her staff to be a part of your child’s life. It’s not marketing or pandering. She really, really means it down to her Doc-Martens-clad toes.
MPSPS operates with real-world common sense. If you get stuck in a check-out line at the grocery store and you’re running late for a pick-up, just give them a call. You’ll never be issued a fine for arriving late because they understand life happens (Just be courteous and call ahead.)
If your child is unable to attend school for any medical, personal or financial reason, talk to Mary. If you need to change class schedules or drop-off early because of any difficulties, they will work with you. Your child’s welfare and development is paramount.
Suffice it to say, Mary “Poppins” Lillstrom delivered on all she promised me and more. Like Mary Poppins, now that my children have aged out, we have had to bid a sorrowful farewell. I’m still holding out hope she will expand her program up until eighth grade. I think I can be emotionally prepared to leave the nest by then. Until that fateful day, I’ll just make sure to pop in now and again to say “Hi,” and collect a few more free hugs.
Mary’s Peppermint Stick Preschool
31 Park Avenue, Grayslake (inside St. Andrew Episcopal Church) |(847) 223-6151
Enrollment is ongoing.
Mary’s Peppermint Stick Preschool is an independently-owned and operated preschool and is not affiliated with St. Andrew Episcopal Church or Peppermint Stick Children’s Center.