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Merry Hearts Play Circle: Nature Based Early Childhood Exploration

208 S. Santa Fe Drive
Billings, MT 59102

(406) 670-8654


Philosophy & Approach

School Philosophy

General Approach to Learning: Play-Based, Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio-Emilia

From the Director:

Merry Hearts incorporates some aspects of Montessori (practical lessons), Reggio-Emilia (importance on family involvement & sensory experience) while being predominantly Waldorf-Inspired through our focus on the seasons and nature play as well as storytelling & puppetry.

Curriculum & Teaching Approach

Learning Philosophy & Tools

  Play- based mostly teacher led not formally in curriculum conducive environment
Language       more

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  • Children always have access to beeswax crayons and drawing paper and are encouraged, as they show interest, to write letters and numbers though formal literacy training is not part of the Waldorf-based curriculum
Oral language  
Nursery rhymes, poems, songs  
Storybook reading  
Emerging literacy skills  
Cognitive development
Math & number sense more

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  • Math concepts are taught with movement games, using the whole body and is applied in many activities including cooking and gardening
Time & space more

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  • Building blocks
  • Children observe the passing of the day through regular daily rhythms while spatial development happens daily through music and movement- we are always drawing children's attention to their bodies and the present moment
Sci. reasoning/physical world more

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  • A place for science activities such as growing plants
  • As we draw most of our sources for learning from the natural world, scientific concepts are easily incorporate though our focus, at this stage of the child's development, is on imaginative development first and foremost. Thus, we are more apt to allow the child to dream up how and why and what he thinks might be the source for the wonderful things he sees in the physical world
Music more

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  • Musical instruments
  • Children are primarily encouraged to sing though we do incorporate the recorder and other rhythm instruments
Visual arts more

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  • Art work on the walls
  • Children's art is displayed in a hallway but because our emphasis is primarily on the process, vs. the product, displaying children's artwork prominently is not something you will typically see. Children's works of art and crafts may often be seen being incorporated into the play materials available for all children to use, giving the child a sense of having given something of value to her community of friends- becoming an exercise of both artistic and moral value.
Physical activity more

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  • A playground with climbing equipment
  • Bean bags, balls, and other objects that children can throw, kick, and play
  • Tricycles
  • Enough room for children to move around and play and a suitable indoor alternative to the outdoor playground on rainy days
  • Sandboxes and/or water stations for play
Other subjects taught wet on wet watercolor technique, beeswax modeling, woodworking (toymaking), sewing, gardening, cooking & baking

Quality of Teaching

Individualized Teaching: From the Director

The teacher's role at Merry Hearts is to lead with grace and serenity, taking very seriously the active role of modeling kindness, honesty and loving care.

When not leading circle time or a specific activity, the teacher can be found sitting a little bit out of the way, so as not to disturb the imaginative free play in which the children are engaged. She will typically have a project of some sort, perhaps handwork in creating a new toy or repairing a torn or broken toy which allows the children to express interest and become involved in that activity as they are ready, rather than making it a formal lesson.

Many activities such as watercoloring, gardening & cooking may be done with just a few students at a time to allow for more individualized attention.

Day in the Life

General School Mission

A sense of wonder, discovery, and whole-hearted participation in the world are the special gifts of the young child. Our goal at Merry Hearts is to nurture these natural capacities, giving children the freedom to learn primarily through their own rich and rewarding world of self-directed play. By allowing this stage of development to be unrushed, children are genuinely prepared for what formal schooling will ask of them later as they develop an approach to learning that will be fresh and alive for a lifetime.

A Typical Day

Daily activities provide a comforting and reliable rhythm. Songs, nature walks and stories honor the natural world and changing seasons as well as enhance the natural flow between active and quiet times throughout each day and throughout the year.

Children at Merry Hearts delight in:
*abundant field days & nature play
*storytelling & puppetry
*imaginative development through creative play
*singing & movement
*organic gardening
*watercolor & beeswax modeling
*cooking & baking
*wooden toy making
*weaving & sewing
*construction with natural materials

Children learn practical skills, responsibility and the joy of working when they participate in washing their dishes and napkins, planting seeds in spring or harvesting the garden in autumn.

Frequently, we will spend an entire morning in a safe, natural space outside of town, enjoying a picnic lunch before returning for our afternoon rest time.

Home-School Connection

Home-School Connection: From the Director

As our class size is very small, communication between teachers and parents about the child's social, moral and imaginative development is ongoing. There are no formal evaluations at this time but each child's development is closely watched and nurtured by the teacher(s) and parents are given resources to support their work at home with their child(ren) so that everyone is working toward a safe, consistent environment for the child.

Activities updates, including schedules for up-coming events and festivals will be emailed to parents. Additionally, the teacher will update the websites blog to reflect current activities and songs so that parents can share their child(ren)'s experiences with extended families and other caregivers.


Separation is Handled through:

  • Home visits by teachers
  • Pre-entry meetings with parents at school
  • Parents in classroom early on
  • Abbreviated schedule at start of school year

Handling Separation: From the Director

Every parent and child has different needs in terms of transitioning from one form of care to another. Due to the nature of our program and its home setting, transitioning to Merry Hearts is often a much easier process than going from home or a home daycare to a daycare center or larger preschool facility.

Our daily rhythms are natural and predictable. The children love them and anticipate the stories, songs, movements, and opportunities to play special roles in the day such as lighting the candle before mealtime and bringing out the voice in the Tibetan singing bowl before circle and rest times.

The best way for a child to transition is very individual, so parents and the teacher work together to determine an initial approach that will work best for the child.