School is Out for Malibu Teacher After 38 Years

Kay Gabbard

Former pupils of Malibu Methodist Nursery School (MMNS) will probably not remember who won the 2016 Academy Award for best actress (Brie Larson), but they will never forget the school’s director: Kay Gabbard.

Gabbard, 72, is retiring this week, but not completely. She will still be keeping the school’s accounts, but there will be no more early morning starts for this educator who has been helping Malibu children find their voice for almost 40 years.

Gabbard won a Malibu Times Dolphin Award in 2005, and helped coordinate the MMNS Malibu Cook’s Tour — the school’s annual fundraiser — for each of its 29 years.

Gabbard shared with The Malibu Times a bit of background information about the school and how it has changed over the years. 

MMNS uses the Reggio Emilia method, developed in Italy. It is based on principles of respect, responsibility and community.

“We believe children learn best when they’re doing things they’re passionate about,” Gabbard said. “Ours is a child-centered program. It’s not a program where the teachers come in with 10 things they are going to teach that day. They sit down and have a meeting with the children and ask what they did yesterday. How did that work for them? What did they bring in today to do and what do they want to do with it? What do they need to fix that didn’t go right yesterday?”

She has accepted that it takes longer to teach children this way, but said it is worth it.

“Once they have a feeling of inner community where their voice can be heard, then they build trust,” Gabbard said.

She said she does not think children have changed much during her 38-year career. She explained that they “need to be respected and trusted, the same way they always did. That’s what will make them confident.”

She offered advice for parents and grandparents: “Take time to listen and respond to what the children are saying, rather than what we think they should have said or what we wish they had said.”

However, she has noticed the rise in the number of families with both parents working. Gabbard explained that she cannot say whether this is a good or bad thing for children, just that it means the school has more time with them to do their job — to help them find their voice. When she first started at MMNS, the day began at 9 a.m. and ended at noon. Now the school is open from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

Not all students are there all day. Some attend from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., others just two days per week. MMNS has always been a fee-paying school, but there is a financial program for lower-income families. There are currently 90 pupils enrolled there aged from three months to six years old. Gabbard’s two sons, Jody and Josh, and her seven grandchildren (aged nine through 24) all went to MMNS.

Gabbard is hopeful about young people’s future.

“The biggest change children have had to deal with in the last 20 years has been technology, but it’s a positive thing. It’s an open palette for them to create what they want,” she said. “They have so many more opportunities. That’s one of the things we’re trying to do here, not to make kids fit into a niche, but to create a job for themselves, something that suits them best.”

Gabbard said that is has been easy to follow her former pupils’ progress once they leave MMNS because they tend to finish their education at schools on the same street (Morning View Drive) and often come back to visit or to be of service to the community.

And not every former pupil is a success story.

“There are children who haven’t made it yet and aren’t secure, confident people,” Gabbard said. “But I’ve seen way more who have gone on to be competent adults and productive members of society.”

This week, Gabbard and her husband Bryan will make their annual trip to Anchorage, Alaska, for dog sled mushing. And Gabbard said that there will be more cycling in their future. The thing Gabbard is looking forward to most, though, is having time to read.

If a film were made about her life, which actress would Gabbard like to portray her? She chuckled, but does not take long to answer. “Meryl Streep. She’s so versatile.”

For more information about Malibu Methodist Nursery School, visit