Nature Inspired Educators


“A teachers has a unique is not the role of mother or therapist or peer, but that of one who values learner and learning professionally.” ~David Hawkins-


Meet Our Team

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Owner/Executive Director – Suzanne Gabli

In 1999 my husband and I were new parents looking for quality, safe, nurturing childcare for our precious baby to  be.  We decided on a quaint old farmhouse that was warm and nurturing environment for our Son.   Three years later we were blessed with our Daughter and she also attended the center.   In 2004 my housband Joe and I decided to invest in our children’s early childhood education and in the Highland community.  We were presented with the opportunity to purchase this charming farmhouse and business. Thsi was going to b e the place that we could insure that the children who attended would have great nurturing teahcers, a safe and exciting learning environment, creating fond childhood memories and a sense of community for the families we serve.  In conjunction with a great surprise that baby number three was on the way. Although this farmhouse had some rough edges and needed a lot of tender loving care, we knew it was filled with heart. We chose to build on the natural and organic beliefs that children are respected and where children are given the opportunity to experience joy in where great childhood memories are created. For this is what originally attracted us here.  As a mother of three, I have watched my children experience various educational philosophies from private to public schooling. I was inspired to create a new learning environment where children are respected as individuals and are inspired to learn from the heart. I am an advocate for children of all ages. The Reggio Emilia approach to learning falls within my strong belief that all children are filled with joy, competency, power and resourcefulness. I believe in the, 100 languages of a child and that young children need many mediums to express themselves and the world around them.

Being a leader and visionary to develop a strong early childhood learning community is my passion.  I continue as a life long learner to grow in this practice.  I have been making strong connections with like minds in the ECE field.  Following centers who are incorporating best practice standards.  I have been an active part of Michigan Inspirations since 2011 as a steering committee member. 

In 2014, I had the opportunity to visit and study at the Municipal Infant Toddler Centers of Reggio Emilia, Italy with CMU and Michigan Inspirations study group.   For two weeks to study and learn about early childhood from the Italian perspective. The main part of the trip was visiting the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  We visited Loris Malaguzzi International Centre and Guided Tours of Exhibits and Ateliers,  Ray of Light and Atelier of food, Presentation of a Research Project from the School, Sharing Reflections,  and Tour of the Infant/Toddler and Early Childhood Centers of Cavriago.  Reggio Emilia is the birthplace of the Reggio Emilia Approach. This educational philosophy started after World War II and is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery.  Being on this journey for over 10 years at the time was a validation for our school and an inspiration of where we can still go.  We continue to be inspired by this practice and love growing deeper in this context.

I believe that given challenges, support, kindness, and love their accomplishments are vast and outstanding. With guidance, children together, work hard, play hard and care for each other and the community around them while exploring new and varied topics and questions. It is all about the relationships and we cultivate them everyday.   I am so proud of our teaching staff, here at our school. We are on a great journey and making an impact in our community with family’s and young children is a blessing.  They are amazing and wonderful people who care deeply about children and making each day here engaging with wonderful learning opportunities and fun. Today is the present enjoy every minute of it.



Director – Emily Thiel

Hello, my name is Emily Thiel and I am the Director at Building Blocks Preschool. I was born and raised in Jackson, MI and now reside in Highland with my Husband, his two children, and my middle school age daughter.  I am a graduate of Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Family and Community Services/Early Childhood Education. I have lead Building Blocks Preschool since October 2006 in a dual role as Director and Teacher.   

My past work experiences include a Lead Preschool teaching position at a NAEYC accredited child care program in Illinois at one of the nation’s largest child care centers.  I was involved in a Child Care Manager In-Training program and piloted programs for their curriculum including the project approach and the emergent curriculum approach.  I returned back home to Michigan in 2004 and worked at the Oakland County Child Care Council as a Resource and Referral Specialist and Community Liaison. 

I truly love young children!  They constantly inspire me to be more spontaneous, curious, playful, find the sense of humor in situations, forgive easily, express love and smile!  Daily, children remind me that life is too short to hold onto the trivial problems of the moment.

I take pride in leading a quality staff of teachers who are committed to ensuring that all children are provided with a safe, loving, and nurturing environment where they can grow and develop into unique and independent individuals.  Studying and implementing the Reggio Emilia Approach has been an amazing journey for me.  The core of the philosophy is such a natural and organic learning process where children are viewed as capable and competent learners.  I’m very fortunate that my own daughter’s early childhood education was here at Building Blocks and that she is a creative thinker and that her imagination was embraced by her teachers and viewed as part of the learning process.



Preschool Program Mentor Teacher – Ms. Jen

Hello!  My name is Jen Winkel and I am a Preschool Program teacher here at Building Blocks Preschool.  I graduated from Central Michigan with a Bachelor’s degree in Child Development. I joined Building Blocks in the summer of 2008 as the Creative Arts Summer Camp teacher then become the Co-Lead Full-Day Preschool Program teacher that fall then transitioning to the Half-Day Preschool Program Teacher for the 2011/2012 school year.  I have over 13 years of experience including 3 years at a NAEYC Accredited Program in Ann Arbor.  During my time at Building Blocks Preschool I have played an instrumental role in implementing the Reggio Inspired Approach, an emergent curriculum, nature based learning, the Project Approach, and the in-depth documentation of each child’s journey at Building Blocks Preschool along with our Daily Learning Stories.

While growing up, I always enjoyed spending time with children.  I spent many hours baby-sitting and at family parties you could always find me playing with the younger children.  When I went to college I knew I wanted to work with young children but it wasn’t until my third year that I discovered the joy of the preschool age child. I had a class that was specifically based on the preschool age and I had the opportunity to spend some quality time in a preschool classroom.  I fell in love with this age group and knew that this was something I wanted to make a career out of.  Working with children is something that has always come very natural to me and something that I find a lot of joy in.

I love teaching at Building Blocks Preschool because of the small class size, our emergent curriculum approach and the freedom that comes with teaching the Reggio way.  I look forward to continuing the success of our programs by implementing my beliefs of best practice for early childhood education while forming relationships with the children and families at our school.

When I am not in the classroom, I enjoy spending time with my husband Eric, my sons Tucker and Oliver and our dog Baxter.  We enjoy traveling, boating, and spending time with family and friends.


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Preschool Program Mentor Teacher – Ms. Jennifer

Hello, my name is Jennifer Young and I am a Preschool Program Teacher here at Building Blocks Preschool. I have an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Development from Oakland Community College and continue to be a lifelong learner.  I believe that collaboration and relationships are key for learning.  One of my strengths includes providing a classroom environment that coincides with different styles of learning.  I believe strongly in the Hundred Languages poem written by Loris Malaguzzi.  I also work hard to create a classroom culture where children feel connected to the teachers as well as each other.

In 2014, I traveled to Italy as a steering committee member of the Michigan Inspirations Collaborative group.   While there I participated in a study tour at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre in Reggio Emilia, the Early Childhood Centers in Cavriago, Italy, and places that honor children in Florence.  During the study tour, I was able to spend time at the Ray of Light Interactive Exhibit experiencing firsthand about how children use lights, shadows and technology to learn about the world.  Upon my return, I collaborated with Building Blocks teachers to open our own studio space where children can experiment with those elements of light.

One of the reasons I am excited to be working here at Building Blocks Preschool is the importance of our everyday documentation of the children’s growth.   We observe and record their learning daily through photographs and anecdotal notes to create a document called a Learning Story.  We email these Learning Stories daily to help provide a home-school connection for the children and their families.  This approach of recording the children’s work as it progresses provides tools for them to visually reflect on their experiences as well as allows teachers and parents to build upon and share the learning.

I am very passionate about early childhood education and have shared my experiences with other teachers by presenting at local conferences including Community Sharing for Healthy Caring.  I have also presented the value of making learning visible through our Learning Stories to the ECDC teachers at U of M, Flint.

On a personal note, my husband and I live in Milford and I have 3 college aged children.  I enjoy kayaking on the Huron River, as well as just being outdoors.  I also have a love of all kinds of photography, including nature and photo journaling.


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Lead Infant/Young Toddler Mentor Teacher – Ms. Wendy

Hello, my name is Wendy Pugh and I am the Infant and Young Toddler Program Lead Teacher here at Building Blocks Preschool. I have worked at this school before Suzanne and Joe Gabli became the owners in 2004. I have worked as a Preschool Teacher and in 2006 I have been an Infant and Toddler Teacher. My goal in life is to constantly keep expanding my horizons, and one of my favorite ways is spending time with children. They are a continual source of joy to me I have been working with young children for over 20 years, and the wonder of watching a child discover and learn still grows with each year that goes by.

Most days I feel the children teach me more than I could possibly teach them. They have so much to offer the world, and I am honored to be a part of their discovery of this life. ONE of my favorite activities is observing children as they explore new materials. I got a lot of practice with my own two children, who are now young adults. I was born and raised in Michigan. love the Indian River area in Northern Michigan. Being in tune with nature is very important. I am a recycler and I see how things can be recreated and reused. Respecting our environment is very important to me.

I also love living in this area where it is so easy to find fun activities to do outside. Each season is exciting and there is so much to do in and around the Huron Valley area. I have thousands of hours of work experience, hundreds of hours of training and I have been working towards earning an Early Childhood degree. I am currently enrolled at OCC to complete my Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education. I am so excited for this wonderful experience of working with such great staff at an amazing school. Children are vivacious and make life so exciting. Each day is a new experience and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to spend my time here.


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Preschool Program Teacher and School-Age Summer Camp Teacher – Ms. Jamie

Hi! I am Jamie Keller a Preschool Program Teacher and the School-Age Summer Camp Teacher here at Building Blocks Preschool. I joined the Building Blocks family in September of 2011 as the Before and After School Age Care Teacher. I graduated from Oakland Community College with my Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Development and I am pursing my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Oakland University.

Since 2012, I’ve had the opportunity to teach the School Age Creative Arts and Outdoor Summer Camp program. I enjoy working with children of all ages and it gives me the opportunity to share my love of nature, art and performing arts with the children.

I have over twenty years of performing arts and dance experience, while teaching it for thirteen years to kids of all ages. From ages eight to eighteen, I was a member of the Nationally Award Winning “Classy Dancer” Dance troupe. My most memorable experience was being hand- picked by Debbie Allen to perform in a National competition in Hollywood, California, being awarded first place overall in Michigan and third overall Nationally. I have performed in numerous musicals throughout my life starting at age three and have directed and choreographed two children’s musicals. I am a certified Acrobatic Arts instructor, spending hours studying the safest techniques to enhance muscle growth, strength and flexibility in children of all ages.  I am currently teaching dance at Dance City in Birmingham and the Director of the Dance City Performing Arts Team. With performing arts and dance being such an important part of my life, I enjoy sharing it with Building Blocks Preschool.

Ever since I can remember, I have enjoyed teaching and being around children. Starting at age nine I started assisting in younger classes at my dance studio. From there I started teaching my own classes at age eleven. After I graduated high school, I knew that I wanted to work with children for the rest of my life. When I started taking classes at Oakland Community College, I was working at an after school program called “Kids Klub” in West Bloomfield. I realized that working with younger children was where I wanted to be. Children inspire me to continually be creative and optimistic.

I absolutely love working at Building Blocks! While growing up in Michigan I developed a strong love for nature and the environment. I had the special opportunity of having grandparents that owned a farm in the Upper Peninsula, teaching me how to care for, nurture, and respect all aspects of nature. This attitude towards nature has carried over to my daily interactions with the children. Building Blocks allows me to use the outdoors as a second classroom, helping me to share this passion with them.

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Lead Co Teacher Infant/Young Toddler Teacher – Ms. Leah

Hello, my name is Leah Hitter and I am the Older Toddler Program Lead Teacher here at Building Blocks Preschool. I have worked at this school since 2006. I have grown through my first days working here as a senior in high school.  I have worked in the Preschool, Summer Camp, Infant and Toddler Classrooms.  I left Building Blocks in 2013 to further my education and work for the Michigan National Guard.  In 2015 I returned and I am so happy to be back.

In my spare time I enjoy being active and spending as much times as I can with my family and friends.  I am always looking for something new and exciting to do.  I love being outdoors and exploring the natural world we call Earth.

At Building Blocks your can honestly tell the teachers love adn care for every child and take pride in their work.  Being able to take care of our precious children and play and interact with them is my life’s work.  In my job I appreciate being able to allow the child in me to come out and play while caring for children.  I love toddlers.  I get to discover the world around them wiht them.  It is a joy to watch them grow.

Growing up you could alway find me making new friends and playing with little kids and babies.  My family and friends still call me the “kid magnet.”  My passion in life is childrne and helping them grow, develop and learn to be all they were created to be.  I believe children are born bright, vibrant and creative flowers.

I have over 8 years of experience, have 100’s of hours of direct training and am working towards my associates in Early Childhood Education at OCC.

Building Blocks is like family to me.

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Lead Co Teacher Infant/Young Toddler Teacher – Ms. Dana

My path to early childhood education started young, with my parents,  who owned and operated their own Montessori-based preschool and  childcare center in our hometown of Lake Orion. I attended from the
day the center opened and I eventually returned for a High School  Internship, which gave way to a summer job, then a full-time teaching  job as I worked my way through college. I graduated from Oakland
University in 2012 with a Bachelors of Social Work, which has proven  to be an incredible asset to my teaching, providing me with a firm  foundation in communication, child development, observation, and
problem solving.  After college, I worked for one of the largest  centers in LO, where I helped to create a new Montessori program, as  well as assist with NAEYC re-accreditation and implement NAEYC
standards into our new classes.

I’ve gained a tremendous amount of experience through these  opportunities,  but I’m thrilled to get back to the small, privately  owned preschool setting that I grew up in. Working with young children
is always a joy for me, especially toddlers. The chance to watch them  grow, learn, and gain confidence in their ability to interact with the  world around them is a wonderful thing to be a part of.  They’re
always curious, learning, full of surprises, and always keeping me on my toes, even after close to nine years teaching!

I’m currently living in Auburn Hills, where I’m at the constant  beck-and-call of a three-footed bearded dragon lizard named Skywalker and a goofy puppy-at-heart, Lexi. If I’m not busy spoiling the pets
with attention and outside time, I can usually be found working on some sort of art project of my own, or visiting my local Starbucks for  that sweet, sweet coffee goodness.