I especially love those moments when you are not sure whether the kids are following you, but then they say something that completely captures what you were trying to teach them and you’re just struck by how much they’ve absorbed!”

Kate Watkins

Literature & Science
VDA Teacher since 2011

Tell me a little about your personal and educational background.

I grew up in Michigan on a small farm with two older brothers and a younger sister. I live in Aliso Viejo with my husband, Don, our daughter, Livi Belle, our son, Landon, and our two cats. I wasn't always interested in education, but I was led there by my interest in psychology. Soon, my focus became development, and I found, as I made my way through college working at day care centers, schools, and privately as a nanny, that children loved me. I imagine they saw me as a big doll they could talk to. I would often meet a child for the first time and within two minutes they would grab my hand and pull me to their toys, saying, “Come here and play!” My original plan was to become a play therapist. Play therapy is often compared to the Montessori method of education, so I looked into what that was. I was sold instantly!

When and why did you decide to become a teacher?

I didn't decide to become a teacher until about three years after college. I had been working with children for so long that I worried I wasn’t exposing myself to a wide enough variety of experiences. I took a few years to do administrative work for a non-profit organization. While I enjoyed the work and the new skills I had acquired, I missed the way the children made me smile every day. I quickly began making plans to get back into education.

What brought you to VanDamme Academy?

I knew Miss VanDamme through mutual friends, and several years ago, when I moved to California, I asked if I could pay the school a visit. I had heard a lot about the Montessori method but I had never been in a Montessori classroom before. I was blown away. I had never known young children could be so quiet, peaceful, and productive. When I later decided to go into teaching myself, my original plan was to become a certified Montessori teacher, with the hope that some day Miss VanDamme would have a place for me. However, just before I planned to move to San Diego for the training (literally one month before; I was already packing), she asked if I would be interested in becoming an administrator and part-time teacher. The answer was, “Um, yes!” It was a no-brainer.

If you specialize in a particular subject area, why did you choose that specialty?

I love children’s literature. I love it just a hair more than I love grown-up literature! I love books in general. I spend about an hour in the kids’ section of Barnes & Noble every time I go there. My home looks a lot like a library, with no less than six full sized IKEA shelves of books. My husband and I are both readers and our kids are following closely in our footsteps. Every room in our home contains books. It’s a problem!

Growing up in rural Michigan, I spent a lot of time in nature. My father is…outdoorsy…to say the least. I spent many days listening to him tell me about the plants and animals in our area, and this time together built a curiosity in me. I love knowing how things work and why the world is the way it is. My first few years working as the administrator at VDA, I always enjoyed talking with Mr. Krieger, our head science teacher. My first year as a full-time teacher, I was given the task of teaching science to the Kindergarteners, and I absolutely loved it! Now I get to work with Mr. Krieger, planing out the science curriculum for the youngest VDA kids!

What do you like to do in your free time?

Free time…I remember that. It’s that the thing I used to have before I had two babies! I spend a lot of time taking my munchkins to the park, the zoo, and someday soon (please let it be soon), Disneyland! I love Disneyland and cannot wait for my babies to be big enough to enjoy it with me. For now, I love carving out time for my husband and me to see our friends and eat delicious food. I love to read, obviously. On days I have to myself, I enjoy going to the movies and writing. I enjoy sketching and hope to learn some graphic design skills soon.

What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

The children always surprise me. I especially love those moments when you are not sure whether the kids are following you, but then they say something that completely captures what you were trying to teach them and you're just struck by how much they’ve absorbed! Working with the smallest VDA kids, I get the honor of watching them become the people they will be.