Our School

Bower Tree is an in-home Montessori/Waldorf hybrid program in NE Portland that focuses on storytelling, the domestic arts, abundant outdoor play, and reverence for the natural world. We currently welcome up to 7 independently toileting children between ages 2  and 5 each year to share the daily rhythms of communal life within a warm family-like group. At times, because Bower Tree is in a family home, our school is graced with the presence of younger and older children, from infant to pre-adolescent, who all participate in the vibrant life of the home. We believe in the power of the mixed age group, and that all ages of children have much to offer one another. The program is carefully designed to be a soul-nourishing sanctuary for early childhood, respecting the pace at which young children naturally develop and explore their surroundings. We believe in using the power of story, music, daily ritual, and relationship to help children and families connect with their environment and with each other.

Our schoolyard is home to rabbits, quail, vegetable gardens, a large sycamore maple, fruit trees, and native plants for the children to befriend and care for, as well as plenty of climbing and building opportunities, plus guided exploration with child-size tools. During indoor time, Montessori lessons are offered at a relaxed pace, based on interest, (alongside free play and creative activities) to help build a rich sensorial foundation for future academic learning. Throughout the week the children are guided through a nurturing rhythm involving baking, painting, care of the body and the home, preparation of home-cooked meals, and song circles that celebrate the natural phenomena of each season.

Aside from its blend of pedagogical approaches, part of what makes the Bower Tree program unique is its high creative standard for the content offered to the children, including artistically performed stories, handmade woolen table puppets, original poems and songs, and original musical settings of traditional children’s poems. Our teaching style prioritizes the value of surrounding the children with beauty and richness of expression rather than just entertainment. Bower Tree draws from a large repertoire of material to honor and celebrate every season, every occasion, and every part of our day.

Communal enjoyment of food is another important aspect of our program. Not only do the children help to prepare our meals and snacks (by chopping vegetables and fruit, grinding spices and salt, setting the table, and more), they are also offered opportunities to try many new foods and flavors. All of our meals begin with a candle-lighting verse and a blessing in thanks to the earth, and we often discuss where the food came from and how it made its way to our table. As much as possible, children are invited to experience the full process of food production: backyard greens and herbs in our meals, hard-boiled quail eggs for snack, hand-ground dried flowers and herbs for making tea, homemade pickled vegetables, homegrown wheat to grind into flour, and bread that the children help make by kneading the dough and forming it into buns every Tuesday.

The curriculum is designed to draw as many connections as possible between the children’s sensory experiences at school and the songs, stories, and poems that surround them. Each month is an artistic effort to weave together strands of felt experience, language, music, story, and real-world context to create an immersive experience for the children that helps them to thrive in meaningful connection with the world, and with their own beautiful Willamette Valley.

Our Philosophy

In blending Waldorf and Montessori, we seek to blur the line between work and play by offering clear options and then allowing children to freely choose their own activities. The rhythm of our day is strongly informed by the Waldorf approach, and within that rhythm we offer Montessori activities for supporting healthy development, independence, and love of learning. Common elements from both Waldorf and Montessori classrooms are woven into our school days. Though the complete forms of both approaches cannot be combined, as they do contradict each other in some ways, Bower Tree finds a middle path by selecting important aspects of each approach and emphasizing the many ways in which they overlap.

Like the founders of both Waldorf and Montessori education, we honor the spirit of the child and seek to gently guide its unfolding. Also like both founders, we believe in the therapeutic and developmental value of focused activity done with the hands using natural materials– as well as a beautiful, thoughtfully prepared environment, practical life activities such as sewing, and gardening, and cleaning, and abundant opportunity for outdoor exploration and gross motor exercise.

Waldorf education is characterized by a focus on the child’s imagination, free play, theatrical storytelling, natural materials, gentle sung transitions to move from one part of the day to the next, and collective activities such as baking, painting, circle time, and story time. Waldorf preschools and kindergartens do not teach early literacy or numeracy, instead putting emphasis on the creation of a dreamy, magical atmosphere to protect the child from overstimulation as they integrate into their world.

Montessori education is characterized by respect for the child’s  inner promptings to develop themselves based on hands-on sensory engagement with their environment. The role of the teacher is to prepare the environment and guide children through it, so that they can independently meet their own developmental needs, mostly by working with prepared activities taken from the classroom shelves. Montessori is reality-based, placing emphasis on real work with real materials rather than on pretend play. Children are introduced to prepared activities by means of clear demonstrations (lessons), and supported as they move through the materials at their own pace toward improved coordination, refinement of the senses, literacy, numeracy, and a basic understanding of geography, geometry, botany, and more.

At Bower Tree, we draw on techniques from both Montessori and Waldorf to craft a well-rounded and nourishing nature-based curriculum for early childhood. We offer collective activities such as baking, painting, and circle time, though the children do not have to join if they are deeply engaged in another activity. Our school offers a variety of ways for the children to work with their hands, and also invites them to relax in comfortable, beautiful surroundings. We strongly believe in supporting the development of concentration, social-emotional literacy, imagination, coordination, and the senses, all of which are key foundations for future academic learning and personal thriving.  Based on our observations of each child’s interests and readiness, we offer Montessori lessons to help refine the senses and support the development of functional independence. However, free play is always an option, and our days are permeated by seasonally based Waldorf-style singing, verses, and stories that hold all of our activities within the sweet, magical atmosphere of a Waldorf preschool.

About Caitlyn

Caitlyn is trained in both Waldorf and Montessori early childhood education, with an emphasis on the spoken word and singing. Her Montessori training was acquired through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), and her Waldorf training was acquired through LifeWays North America, which educates early childhood caregivers to provide holistic play-based and relationship-based care in a home setting.

Over the past seven years she has worked in a variety of school settings and with a wide range of ages, from infant to adolescent, and also with adults in the context of parent-child classes and parent workshops. Building on a literature degree and a lifelong love of poetry, she works from the belief that artful language is a powerful vehicle for the spirit, facilitating our connection to one another and to our natural environment. She enjoys writing poetry, stories, and songs for children, adapting folktales, setting poetry to music, and, most of all, celebrating life through storytelling and singing with others. Her approach to education and family care has been strongly influenced by her study of permaculture and human ecology, as well as her experience working in Zen Buddhist and Franciscan schools.

In addition to her work with children, Caitlyn is a certified spiritual director who specializes in companioning the “spiritual but not religious” on their inward journeys. She holds a permaculture design certificate as well as a masters degree in early childhood education, and she is currently studying interfaith chaplaincy in order to better serve families of all faiths, including non-religious belief systems. She believes strongly in the power of everyday ceremony and seasonal festival to create meaning in our lives and to draw people together.


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444 NE Tillamook St, Portland, OR 97212


Please get in touch via email (caitlyn@bowertreepreschool.com) if you are interested in learning more about the program or putting your little one on our wait list. We look forward to hearing from you!