New center focuses on holistic intelligence

Creative learning

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Oliva Walter, center, stretchs her arms up as Sara Walburg-Owens, right, leads yoga exercises for a group of 2- and 3-year-olds Wednesday morning at Firefly Children's Center and Healing Arts in Kalispell. 

Kalispell counselor Julie Kiewatt is looking to nourish the emotional and creative intelligence of children in addition to their physical and academic needs.

She taking this holistic approach through the Firefly Children’s Center childcare and preschool at 536 W. Reserve Drive.

“I searched the valley and didn’t find anything that had the whole-care approach,” Kiewatt said.

Kiewatt, owner and director of Firefly, holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Education and a master’s degree in mental health counseling. Kiewatt has years of experience as a preschool lead teacher and high school Spanish teacher.

In addition to the children’s center, she has a private counseling practice.

Firefly Children’s Center draws from the Waldorf education philosophy where an emphasis is placed on cultivating imagination and social development in addition to academics.

Kiewatt maintains that learning comes naturally in an environment of free expression without pressure to learn a particular curriculum based on age.

“The Waldorf philosophy is based on the idea that kids have no problem learning at any age. If you don’t put the pressure on them to learn it, they learn it very fast. It’s the pressure that creates the push-back,” Kiewatt said.

Song, music, movement, yoga, meditation, art, Spanish and sign language are part of the program. Activities such as sign language are used during conversation and song. Kiewatt said children pick it up through repeated observation rather than direct instruction.

Conversation and open-ended questions encourage children to find their own solution to problems, Kiewatt said.

“If it doesn’t work, try another way,” Kiewatt said. “Most places explain to kids, ‘This is how it’s done.’ We say, ‘Wow do we do this?’ and kids can come up with five different ways to do something and not one way is the right way as long as the end result is accomplished.”

Kiewatt doesn’t plan to have the center Waldorf-certified.

“My concern is with using 100 percent Waldorf is that they don’t do any formal instruction whatsoever. If we expect these kids to go to [traditional] kindergarten, then they’re going to have to have some idea of structure for school. I like to say we have flexible structure. We try to meet kids where they’re at,” Kiewatt said.

That flexible structure is having a routine, but also accommodating children’s needs. For example, some may need to take a nap earlier in the day than others.

Creativity and fantasy were the themes from the start Tuesday morning at the center.

Several boys and girls don tulle skirts and fairy wings. Teacher Sara Wallburg-Owens sits in a small chair next to her son, 3-year-old Max, and Kiewatt’s daughter, 2-year-old, Araya. Wallburg-Owens sets down pipe cleaners and Cheerio-style cereal. Kiewatt’s daughter strings some of the cereal on the pipe cleaner and wraps it around her wrist as a bracelet, while Wallburg-Owens’ son wraps a pipe cleaner around his finger. He wiggles it and proclaims it’s a snake.

Many of the toys in Firefly Children’s Center are made of natural materials such as wood or cloth. Few toys have clues to their use: a tool table, kitchenette, cradle, miniature cars and puzzles. Other objects are ambiguous, such as containers of small wavy blocks of wood or squares of cloth. These are meant to inspire creative play.

“A curved piece of wood can be bridge, boat, cradle, car or basket,” Kiewatt said. “By having toys that are less defined, it makes the child use them in more unique ways. Sometimes child-care centers are so focused on the education piece, you lose the creative play.”

Kiewatt’s ultimate goal is to help children develop interpersonal, emotional and creative skills so they are confident when they enter kindergarten.

Firefly Children’s Center is not affiliated with any religion, but promotes a belief of connectedness to each other and the Earth.

The center accepts children ages 3 months through 5 years old. Currently the center is licensed to accept up to 12 children. The center has a waiting list and is in the process of being licensed to expand to up to 50 children in February.

An open house is planned at the center from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 9.

The center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information, call 471-6508 or visit

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at

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