Kate Sandefur: "We wanted to start getting together again with kids, other children, and we felt like the safest place to do it was outside.”
Kate Sandefur spoke with the Missouri on Mic team at the Adair County Public Library in May. She’s a librarian and a former pre-school teacher and spoke about how the pandemic led to her and some other local parents starting Prairie Song Academy, a Kirksville area Montessori-based school.
Missouri on Mic is an oral history and journalism project documenting stories from around the state in its 200th year.
Kate Sandefur: I have six children, and the school shut down in March of 2020. So, I had six kids at home. I was a preschool teacher, before we shut down, and so, I just kind of the first Monday, I just started teaching – well, not teaching them at home, but reading books at home and doing math projects.
Unfortunately, my husband's factory actually shut down. So, he was actually home with us, as well, but the good part about it was that he was able to help do a lot of projects that he wasn't able to do while he was working 80 hours a week beforehand.
So, he built a tree house with the kids, we built a garden, he built me a chicken mansion, basically for my chickens. So, there was a lot of fun projects that the kids got to do with their dad while he was at home.
And we still have the tree house and the chicken mansion and all that fun stuff. So, that was a – I look at those things in the yard, and just like, “Yeah, remember when we had all those hours where we weren't busy and we weren't running from activity to activity, and we really focused on things that we wanted to get done as a family.”
So, in – I believe we started it in – we started a co-op in June of 2020. We wanted to start getting together again with kids, other children, and we felt like the safest place to do it was outside.
And so, we just kind of started a – I don't want to call it like a formal forest school, but we met outside and did activities out in nature. Any age could really come, ut we mostly had age four to 12 and 13. So, we had parents help run the lower ages and then a former teacher ran the older group.
The parents decided that we kind of wanted to do something more with that. So, we began – it's called a cottage school. So, it's a private school, basically, it's nonprofit, its equity based. So, depending on your income, that's how much tuition you pay. That was one of the pillars that the founder and I wanted – that everybody could join our school if they wanted. That their income didn't matter.
We wanted the children to feel respected and listened to, and we also wanted them to find what their passions were.
That's actually kind of how we got our name “Prairie Song.” Because in a prairie, there's a diverse community of plants and animals and flowers that have very strong roots into the soil so that they can withstand then the winds of the prairie.
And so, that's kind of what we wanted the children to have – very strong roots and a sense of self and who they were and how they can be a part of the community, not only the school community, but also our local community and our global community.
And to give them strong roots so that no matter what happens in their life – because we can't guarantee that everything's going to be calm and not have stress or anything or pandemics or things that throw you off course of what you're going to do – but to be able to kind of bend with the wind and withstand those winds because your roots are so strong.