Early Childhood Education in Santa Monica: The Mulberry Tree

May 30, 2023 8:12 AM
by Ivy Chang

The first years of life are the best time to ensure a strong future for all Santa Monica children. Early education advances equity and is essential for thriving families and communities. Whether children begin care as infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, Santa Monica is home to a wide range of early learning programs, with varying curriculums, hours, and costs.

Enriching and safe care should be available to all children, regardless of their family’s income, needs, race or ethnicity, or the languages they speak. Connections for Children, our local Child Care Resource and Referral agency, can help you find a program that meets your needs and determine if you qualify for funding to help pay for it (connectionsforchildren.org or (310) 452-3325).

Our communities are stronger when every child is healthy, safe, and engaged in early learning. Read on to learn about the passionate and diverse professionals doing this important work in Santa Monica. This is part 12 of a series.

Program Name: The Mulberry Tree

Program Director: Gigi deMarraise

Ages of children served: 2 to 6 years old; After-School: 5 to 7 years old

Operating Hours: Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. or 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. with Friday and additional hours available; school year with summer option

Brief History: After more than two decades as a teacher in Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio-inspired schools, Gigi deMarrais created an environmentally friendly, home-based program that allows children to spend most of the day exploring outdoors. The Mulberry Tree combines the credentialed teachers and professional standards of a center with the warmth of home-based care. The indoor space, constructed in 2019 from salvaged materials, allows children to do the kinds of music and art exploration that can be more challenging in a Forest School model.

What is unique about your program's approach to early care and education (ECE)?

Sustainability, environmental friendliness, and an understanding of food as curriculum are all cornerstones of the program. The Mulberry Tree also has a research-based Music and Movement program that happens every day. A young child's musical experiences have the same impact on that child’s future musicianship as language experiences have on the child’s capacity to speak and understand. Music-making children evolve this beautiful dance of cooperation and improvisation. It is one of the most joyful, playful ways to promote every type of learning: physical, intellectual, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

Can you share more about the interdisciplinary nature of an ECE career?

ECE is a surprisingly good career for someone who likes doing many different things and can work with many kinds of people. Before teaching, I worked in world dance and multi-disciplinary arts, so I spent a lot of artistic time working on shared creative projects with many viewpoints. In ECE, children are beginning to have their own voices and learning to hear the voices of others. They are learning to have an idea about something and to see how it connects to a world of ideas. The child’s science project becomes an art installation, becomes the inspiration for a song. As a teacher working alongside a child, how do I support the unique insights of that child? How do I support the child in learning to work with others, do extended projects, deal with others’ gifts and limitations and interpersonal feelings? When we see them grow as themselves in a way that also leaves space for the growth and input of others, that’s beautiful!

What is the most important element of a great program?

The teachers. That is always the most important part. Teacher training, teacher commitment, a culture of deep respect for the child. Finding people with all of that and giving them support so that they can live up to their promise gives a child the best possible start. Those are the teachers who find a way to let every child shine. That kind of teacher knows how to create an environment full of adventure, possibility, and discovery and then step back to see and support what the child will bring — the everyday magic of childhood.

Please contact The Mulberry Tree directly at mulberrysantamonica@gmail.com or (310) 396-3322 for more information.

Past blog posts:

How Early Childhood is an Investment in the Future

3 Reasons Why Early Childhood Matters in Santa Monica

Homepage for ECE Blog Post Series

Authored By

Ivy Chang
Senior Administrative Analyst


Programs, Youth And Seniors