Getting to Know You: An interview with Little Lambs Director Jada Berg

We hope to offer short conversations between faculty and staff in the Apple Core to introduce new staff and to bridge our three campuses. Here is our first; the interview was conducted by Mary Fettig.

MF: Jada, it's great to have some time to sit down and get to know you. Can you share a bit about yourself and the path that led you to this position?

JB: I hold a degree in Education from Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. I was in a self-directed program and focused on both Progressive Education and Waldorf Philosophy. I have been teaching since 2000, mostly in Early Childhood Education. Before coming to Orchard Valley, I worked at the Green Valley Waldorf School in Putney. I began as the school cook and Kindergarten Assistant, and ended as the Lead Teacher of the infant-toddler class. When that school closed, I moved back to Montpelier and worked for two years as the Lead Teacher in the Apple Blossom class at the Child’s Garden. When Little Lambs was scheduled to open, I transitioned here. I was inspired by the idea of working in a developing program designed for working parents that focused on the very young.

As a child I attended Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz, New York. I went on to study Progressive Education, but I have always been drawn to the Waldorf Philosophy. Currently, I am completing my Waldorf Early Childhood Teacher Certification from Sophia’s Hearth in Keene, NH. I chose that program because it is one of the leading programs in this country focusing on the very young child; those from birth to age 3.

MF: Please say a bit about this Pikler Method and how it informs the child care at Little Lambs.

JB: The Pikler philosophy is focused on building the relationship between the child and their caregiver. One of the main foundations of the philosophy is having reverence and respect for the child, and listening and being aware of their needs. The child is seen as an active participant in their own care. Using the Pikler approach, children are involved in all aspects of their care. By this I mean they are engaged in everyday self care skills such as dressing, eating, cleaning, and even toileting tasks. These all help to build resilience and confidence in the young child starting in infancy. Young children are able to do so many things and they have so many capacities--if we can get out of their way and allow them to explore and learn about themselves and the world around them. 

The founder of this philosophy, Emmi Pikler, said: “As a matter of principle, we refrain from teaching skills and activities which, under suitable conditions, will evolve through the child’s own initiative and independent activity.” 

Emmi Pikler was a Hungarian pediatrician and pediatric surgeon whose specialty was pregnant women and newborns. After World War II, she ran an orphanage for many years and implemented the ideas that she had developed about infant care-giving and child development there. This form of child care is very innovative, and the Pikler Approach is being adopted by most Waldorf Schools that serve the very young child. Magda Gerber, who trained under Pikler and brought this philosophy to the U.S.,  said, “When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know what you intend to do and give him a chance to respond. You assume he is competent and involve him with his care and let him, as much as possible, solve his own problems. You give him plenty of physical freedom and you don’t push development.” That is what we are doing here at Little Lambs.

MF: Tell us a bit about the Center.

JB: Little Lambs is located on Country Club Road in Montpelier. This is right across from Agway, off Route 2. The center opened in September 2016. I took over as Interim Director in April and assumed the full position in July 2017. The center currently serves 30 children and we are licensed to accept children from 6 weeks to 3 ½ years of age. We are open from 7:30am to 5:30pm and run year-round. We have three classrooms; one is for infants and the other two are mixed-age toddler classes with children from approximately 1 ½ to 3 ½ years old. Each room holds eight children with a Lead teacher and an Assistant teacher. We also have a few "floater" teachers on staff to help during the busy times of day.

We place a lot of focus on outside playtime, and really see the outdoors as another classroom for the children. In addition to our play yard outside the center, we are located near a beautiful natural golf course which is closed from November through April and we have free access to the land, which is quite lovely. There is also a wonderful wooded area nearby where the children often go to play and spend time in nature. We recently received a $5,000 grant from Seventh Generation to improve our play yard and used the grant to purchase several climbing structures, a playhouse/shed, and a special Pikler climber that even infants are drawn to explore. During the warmer months the children are outside most of the day, and even the infants are outdoors crawling and exploring. We have plans to double the size of our playground this spring.

MF: Jada, one toddler can be a handful, how do you get eight of them fed, diapered, and down for a nap?

JB: Having the children in a cohesive group is helpful, as they support and entertain each other. Our day is very calm and rhythmical, with ample opportunity to go outside. The center is very peaceful and decorated in a simple way with beautiful natural materials. Part of the Pikler approach is to slow down and be truly present with the children. This helps the children feel noticed and respected, which creates a lovely harmonious environment for everyone. The children are also given a lot of time for free movement and this helps them develop their lower senses, bringing both inner and outer strengths. 

MF: How do you see Little Lambs integrating into the larger Orchard Valley Community?

JB: Little Lambs can be a bridge where young families can learn about Waldorf Education and the Orchard Valley Waldorf School. The new parents that I meet are hungry for high-quality child care. They are seeking support, community, and parent education opportunities. They are inspired by the care their children receive at Little Lambs, and this gently welcomes them into the larger Waldorf community. In the last year, seven students outgrew our center and moved on to the Montpelier Child’s Garden and East Montpelier Main Campus. 

My goal is to build a strong foundation here at Little Lambs that would support the other programs Orchard Valley offers. I am honored to serve in this way. We plan to begin offering workshops, parent education, and other events for young families. There are several workshops that are currently in the planning stages, so please look for information soon.

MF: Jada, thank you for sharing this information. It is a pleasure to know you and to see what you are bringing to the very young here in Central Vermont.