By Andrea Hansen
Photos by Karee Davidson/Concepts Photography & Design
After a decade of teaching, Christa Folster saw a need for a different education experience, both personally for her children and for other families. Folster had some business experience owning a Kindermusik franchise, but starting a private school was a whole different adventure. In 2012, Monkey Adventures started with preschool and kindergarten and evolved into Wild Spirit Education, an independent school governed by the Province of Saskatchewan.
The school follows the Montessori educational philosophy and offers preschool to Grade 9, with plans to expand to Grade 12. From Folster and just one other employee in the beginning, the business has grown to 10 employees. Folster describes Wild Spirit as “like the modern-day version of the one-room schoolhouse,” which is by design.
Working with kids has always been Folster’s passion and she wanted to make sure she was doing something she loved for the rest of her life. Her natural love of learning was an advantage for a new business owner. Folster intentionally does not have a formal business plan because she does not want to limit herself or the business. She shares a quote from Carol Black’s film Schooling the World that describes her philosophy: “It can’t be classified under one philosophy. School should be constantly changing and evolving based on the population’s needs.” Folster follows what the children are looking for and what they want. Her business is educating children, but the way in which her business continues to grow from a “client-centric” approach provides interesting insights for any business owner.
What influence do the children have on the way you deliver your services?
We provide a holistic environment where there’s lots of hands-on learning and the kids are taking responsibility for their education. When we’re creating classroom rules, different traditions, or special events, the kids always have a say in it. We have classroom meetings if there’s ever an issue or a situation that arises and we go to the kids first. They will take more ownership over their education if they feel like they have a voice in it. We teach them how to do that in a respectful manner and in a team environment. The teacher isn’t leading the classroom, she’s part of the classroom.
We’re all learning together. That’s also why we have multi-age classrooms – the older kids mentor the younger ones. They take that responsibility very seriously because they want to be good role models. Something that simple cuts down on things like bullying and discrimination. By the time kids finish Grade 12, we have no idea what the workforce is going to look like so we need to prepare them, and that includes being able to interact with different people. When we get out into the workforce, we are not all working with people that are all the same age.
What was the need you saw that motivated you to start your business?
I have two young children who are very high-energy and want to be moving all the time. I heard those struggles from a lot of parents. I wanted to provide an educational experience that could help kids to burn energy and become more focused about learning. I completed my Forest and Nature School practitioner training and I’ve incorporated the use of outdoor spaces and nature into the curriculum – 98% of the learning is outside, year-round. The fresh air helps their focus and attention span to grow. The children feel more successful because they’re able to burn that energy.
I also felt that with [standard] class sizes, children’s individual needs were not being met. Their needs are becoming more complex as we get into mental health, online learning, and bullying and all the things that are involved in a student’s life when you’re trying to teach. Teachers don’t have time to get to every student and kids are falling through the cracks, whether they are needing extra support or if they’re excelling, it’s still the same. We need a revolution in how we view the educational system and how it’s being presented and used.
As for the pandemic experience, Wild Spirit was reopening the same as every other restaurant, retail store, and small business and we needed to keep everyone healthy and safe.
What has been one of your biggest challenges?
Up until the covid-19 experience, adding elementary was a big step. I had to write curriculum for grades 1 to 9 and that was a lot of research. The Wild Spirit curriculum meets all the outcomes set out by the provincial curriculum, as well as incorporating the Montessori philosophies and the Forest and Nature School concepts into our learning. That was a huge challenge and milestone to create those curriculums.
As for the pandemic experience, we were shut down the same as the rest of the schools and had to follow the same rules. However, Wild Spirit was reopening the same as every other restaurant, retail store, and small business and we needed to keep everyone healthy and safe. On the positive side as a business owner, I have a say on how everything is implemented in our school, but the downside is the responsibility falls 100% on me. It was extremely stressful that in all this time of uncertainty, every decision I made was for the health and wellbeing of our kids and our families.
What does your day look like now?
I haven’t been the lead teacher in the classroom for a few years now, but that was one of my goals starting Wild Spirit. I wanted to bring in staff who were eager to learn, grow, be passionate about their teaching, and creative in finding different methods to guide the children. I spend more time teaching the teachers and helping to create their classrooms and follow Wild Spirits philosophies. I love the children dearly and I make sure I spend a lot of time with them. I know every single child here, their personalities, what they like, who their parents are. That’s always going to be very important to me – to build those relationships with the kids – but it also helps me to better support my teachers if I know what kind of children are in their classrooms and the dynamics.
What advice would you give other small business owners in this uncertain time?
Somebody told me this years ago: “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.” It has not been easy, but it’s worth it. There’s absolutely nothing like the rewards of owning your own business. Those feelings of accomplishment and pride and just taking ownership over where you want your life to go. Building Wild Spirit is as much about building my career and what I wanted to do in my life as it is about building everybody else’s. I’m still growing and learning, but I get to have a choice in what I’m learning and how I’m learning it, and I am so grateful to have that luxury which is a benefit of working for yourself.
First published in the December 2020 edition of The Business Advisor.