Our daughter attended MPSPS for two and a half years. She loved every moment. As did we. She referred to her teachers as “teacher mamas,” which is exactly what they were. I can’t imagine another environment for her to learn and grow into the sharing, caring, loving, giving 9 year old she is today. Thank you!
There is a sweet little preschool in Grayslake…a hidden gem. It’s tucked into the unassuming lower level of a church on Lake Street, accessed through The Red Door. It’s filled with amazing warmth, consideration, and respect for the little ones in our midst. It’s a
place filled with caring, sharing, loving, peaceful ‘little people’, where they learn about the world and how they can make a difference in it. It’s Mary’s Peppermint Stick Preschool.
Mary Lillstrom is “Ms. Mary”, who was born in northern Wisconsin but moved to Grayslake with her family when she was 9. She has owned the preschool since 1996 but has been involved with it since 1974 when her mother ran it. That is over 40 years of teaching some of the youngest students in Grayslake about the world and how to be a respectful part of it. (A rough calculation of how many students she has taught in that time is over 20000
Ms. Mary teaches multi-age classes of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds not only your typical preschool skills, but also about the continents and many cultures. There are annual traditions at MPSPS. There is the annual Share Feast before Thanksgiving, which includes students bringing a piece of fruit to make a big salad to share. (The Lesson: Small contributions can do big things!) The Winter Pageant is not only about the music, but the quilt of student-designed squares that is made and given away every year. There are Circle Times and daily projects, growing sunflowers and sharing pictures, and the terrific May culmination after all continents have been explored…the day when everyone takes a spaceship to outer space! Mary makes all of her ‘little people’ feel respected, safe, and loved. That is also how she makes their parents feel, which has helped to build a wonderful community of past and present families who have been affected by her sincere warmth.
The PADS program at First Presbyterian has been boosted by her support. Each fall the students are encouraged to bring items for PADS, which they then walk down to the church and learn about the program. She has also been a contributing member of the Grayslake Historical Society. Ms. Mary is a strong supporter of our local businesses and a positive force in our community.
Mary Lillstrom has proven her commitment to educating our smallest students for decades. She has stayed strong in her belief that what preschoolers need most is positive social experiences and an introduction to our world. We are beyond lucky to have her bright spirit in our community, which is why I’m nominating her for the Tom Meskel Commitment to Education Award for 2015,
Kristin & Dan H.
When you walk into the classrooms at Mary’s Peppermint Stick Preschool you see happy children. They are happy because they are learning and they are loved by Ms. Mary and her wonderful teachers, who embrace the unique qualities that every child brings to the classroom. Ms. Mary and her teachers nurture the whole child and support every aspect of a child’s development. The staff at MPSPS have truly become part of our family, and our children have loved every day of their preschool classes and Mary’s Summer Camp.
“We are caring, sharing, loving, peaceful people.” Imagine if all schools, organizations, institutions, and companies operated under this same philosophy. We possibly would live in a more caring, sharing, loving, and peaceful world.
This mantra is the basic life philosophy that Mary Lillstrom teaches at her preschool here in Grayslake and carries out through her other activities in the community. And it is for this reason, among many others, that I would like to nominate her for Foundation 46’s 2015 Commitment to Education Award.
I wish every child could attend a school like Mary’s Peppermint Stick Pre-School. More importantly, I wish every parent could have the chance to meet her and speak with her, getting the reassurance that “Parenting is not a competition,” and that if we give our
children quality play time and quality time with us, not distracted by our smart phones or other technology, we are doing okay. Many parents who have had their children attend her preschool can repeat these same phrases that she would often repeat, what we like to call her Ms. Mary-isms.
I remember first meeting her and getting to observe her classroom. Afterwards, I asked her about her teaching philosophy. She explained that she had learned a lot from her mother and large family, and found value in pieces of a variety of different early
childhood educational philosophies that she tried to incorporate into her school. As a matter of fact, she has owned the preschool since 1996, but began helping at the school in 1974 when her mother ran it. That’s more than forty years of wisdom and experience to draw upon!
Like many of us, she worries about children today getting enough true play time, especially outdoor time in natural spaces. She loaned me her copy of the documentary Where Will the Children Play? after we had a conversation about the topic. Having a boy
who attended her school, I greatly appreciated her rule that there could be no superhero attire worn by the children, as it detracts from their ability to imagine their own superhero or be themselves. If I were tasked with combining all the best insight I learned from reading books such as Playful Parenting, Simplicity Parenting, Last Child in the Woods and Taking Back Childhood into one school, I would not have to search very far, because Ms. Mary’s is it!
When my firstborn was still under one year old, he was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. A child allergic to wheat, egg, milk, peanuts and tree nuts cannot eat most of the “usual” toddler snacks. When I approached Ms. Mary about my son attending her
preschool, she assured me that he would be fine and safe during snack time there. I was brought to tears when she called me to say that she and the other teachers had discussed options, and they were only going to serve snacks to the children that were all also safe for my son so that he could always feel included at this tender age of socializing.
The toddler and preschool years for a food allergic child are especially difficult because children at that age are so slobbery and still stick their fingers in their mouth a lot. That’s a nightmare for any parent who notices that when her child touches a toy that another child touched after eating cheese, Cheerios, Go-gurt (yogurt), etc., he gets hives. Ms. Mary and her staff didn’t complain; they just faced the challenge and taught everyone the value of eating healthily at the same time. Fruits and vegetables not only provide us with many different tastes, but many different textures.
I also appreciate that Ms. Mary connects families to the community in many ways. We can buy fresh eggs from a local farmer when the Farmers’ Market is not in season and learn about and donate to PADS. She has librarians visit the school often, invites local
musicians and artists, takes the children on walks to notice the outdoors, and has them visit the fire station and Grayslake Heritage Center. They learn about the community she has lived in since she was nine years old. Besides teaching young children, she has
helped with PADS and been a part of the Grayslake Historical Society for many years.
Mary Lillstrom has had and continues to have a profound impact on the children and families in our community, whether they attend her preschool or not. In the words of one friend, “She educates the community just by being who she is!” Please consider her for your Commitment to Education Award.
MPSPS focuses on learning in fun ways. For example, the kids learn songs that teach them the days of the week and the continents. I could not think of a better way to teach 3-5 year olds educational information while having fun. When discussing preschools with friends, neighbors and family I always tell them that Ms. Mary and her school are angels that came into my life. I needed to find a school and teachers that I could feel comfortable enough leaving the most important people in my life with and I could not be happier with my decision in choosing MPSPS. We love you MPSPS!!!