I’ll be the first to admit that sending my daughter to Pre-K this year was a massive undertaking for us. She is my first and only child and selecting the right school for her was something to think about. Most of all I didn’t realize how emotionally taxing it would be to put my faith in another human to nurture and guide my child on the same level as I would. It took me going through this process to realize how blessed we are on the Northshore to have such a top-tier educational system. Our community is full of passionate educators that strive for the very best for our children from their very first milestones to high school graduation. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful. And while teachers in general have always had my love, early childhood educators absolutely astound me. I can honestly say I am not equipped the same way. There is something very specific about a human being that can not only care for, but lead small children, that is a gift.
With its holistic approach that fosters individuality and freedom, Montessori education meets a variety of learning needs. For that reason it has become a way of life for many families. Here on the Northshore, Kinder Haus Montessori has become a household name easily recognized and beloved by many. And while it remains a leader in alternative education in the community, many may not know the face behind the institution. Her name is Bri Steilberg and I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her journey to ownership of Kinder Haus Montessori and the passion for molding little minds that drives her mission.
Introduce yourself and your family! Who are you?
My name is Bri Steilberg and together with my partner Robert we raise three biological children together: Gabrielle (age 9), Noah (age 6), and Alex (age 5). We live in the greatest neighborhood in Mandeville, and I own Kinder Haus Montessori in Mandeville.
How did you become involved with Kinder Haus Montessori? Prior to working at Kinder Haus Montessori, I was a manager at a seafood restaurant, which had long hours that were tough while raising a baby. When my daughter was 6 months old, I stumbled across a job posting for part-time office help at Kinder Haus Montessori. I had never heard of “Montessori” schools, but after some research I found that it resonated with our parenting style. I started as office help, a floater to help in all the classrooms, and working aftercare in our Primary classroom twice a week. Eventually I was promoted to Assistant Director, then Co-Director, and finally the opportunity came for me to buy the business.
Which causes are you passionate about? It might seem obvious, but quality early childhood education. Helping to influence the next generation to be kind, independent, inclusive, and well-rounded human beings. The pedagogy of Montessori rests on understanding children’s individual developmental needs and not a “one size fits all” philosophy. The concept of the Absorbent Mind, which essentially explains how young children are sponges and absorb everything they are surrounded by, is found throughout our school by giving students the tools they need to concentrate, develop gross and fine motor skills, and give them a foundation to love learning that will last a lifetime. My favorite Maria Montessori quote is, “Early Childhood Education is the key to the betterment of society.” I believe this is true with all my soul, and I believe these children are going to change the world in all the best ways.
What advice do you have for parents who struggle to balance being successful in work with being present in their families? As a full-time working parent myself, this has always been a challenge. My cliché best advice is put the phone down! Be present. Start small. Set a timer for five minutes to actively engage with your children. It seems simple, but when my daughter was young I followed this advice and was shocked how long the five minutes seemed at first. It sounds awful, but it’s true. Over the years I have had to set boundaries that after 6:00PM, I won’t respond to the phone calls or texts or emails that still come in unless it’s an emergency. Owning a business and being accessible at all hours only harms my family. It is actually harder than it sounds, and by no means am I perfect in this, but I will always try to be better than I was the day before.
Who is your biggest influence and who is your biggest support? My parents are my biggest influence. My mother loved children, especially toddlers, more than anyone I know. She passed away of cancer three years ago at age 58, but she instilled in me her passion for loving these early magical years. My dad is a successful entrepreneur who taught me the importance of having a strong work ethic. He has always been there to encourage me to reach further, work a little harder, and never turn down a challenge that will help you grow. There is no way I would be where I am today without him. My biggest supporter through everything is my husband. He is hands on in raising our children, chef extraordinaire, and the most supportive and loving human being I know. He is also incredibly handy which is great for any new idea I have; he can help make it come to life! Also my two sisters, who are my best friends since day 1 of life, are my anchor through all the ups and downs of life.
Where did you grow up? What brought you to this area? I grew up on the lake in Slidell and moved to Mandeville after college. It’s a wonderful place to raise our family! We are also extremely close to both of my sisters, which is an extra bonus!
What is your favorite thing about living on the Northshore? The access to the lake, all the wonderful local stores, and again, most of all, being close to our families who are so actively a part of my children’s lives. Growing up on the lake meant I was able to fish, boat, and have access to all the fun that I try to share with my kids. Not to mention that the amazing people that we are surrounded by living on the Northshore. After Hurricane Ida, my school sustained serious damage. Returning at 5 AM to gut my school and being stunned that I wasn’t the first one there, but the owner of another local business, Culinary Kids, was there with all the tools to help support us. As that day went on, members of my synagogue, Northshore Jewish Congregation, showed up to help gut the school. No one was asked. People on the Northshore just show up! It is such an incredible blessing.
What’s your favorite family activity in your parish? Cruising the Tchefuncta River is our favorite outdoor activity during the summer! We love being outdoors and this area has so much to offer. From the Nature Center to walking through Old Mandeville to the lakefront, there is always something to do.
What’s your favorite local small business? I am a big time reader so the Book and the Bean is my personal favorite! For the kids, Culinary Kids is their favorite local place to go on a Friday night for parent’s night out!
How has being a parent changed you and influenced the way you behave in the world outside the home? Being a parent, and working at Kinder Haus, has taught me to importance of being patient, calming down, and letting go of being so uptight. Letting kids be kids, get dirty, and mostly the importance of play. Life is too short to do anything besides have fun and seize each day. Prior to kids, life was all about me. Now I know that all I can control is trying to be the best version of myself each day, and letting my kids have positive childhood memories like I am so fortunate to have.