Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Note from the Sunshine Garden by Belinda Kenwood

A Note from the Sunshine Garden
By Miss Belinda

As I was perusing my Facebook page the other day, I came across an article from Respectful Parent’s page that resonated with me, because it serves as a reminder of why I have chosen to work with young children as my lifelong vocation, and why I do what I do when working with young children.   When taking a continuing education workshop a few years back, the instructor told us that our job as parents, grandparents, caregivers, most grown-ups really, is to teach children what it means to be human.  Children come into this world not only as beautiful, tiny, miracle beings, but also as a bundle of chaos.  They need we grown-ups to serve as guides on how to manage the social pieces and interactions of living in a world inhabited by billions of other people.   It is crucial that children have adults in their lives who show by example what it means to be compassionate toward one’s fellow human beings.  Do they need us to be perfect?  Heavens, no!  There’s no such thing.  We all make mistakes and will continue to do so.  But what will live in the children is our striving to do better and be better next time.  It’s the most important work we can do.  So, on that note, I bring to you the article from Respectful Parenting’s page entitled, Why “Choosing Your Battles” May Not be an Effective Parenting Strategy, by Kelly Meier.  An important way in which children learn how to be “confident, respectful and kind” is by the setting of limits or boundaries by the grown-ups in their lives. And by the way – All of the questions listed by the author in the first paragraph regarding doubt?  I ask those same questions to myself every day when working with your children.  And I continue to ask them when relating to my now 21-year old son and 18-year old daughter.  Parenting, like any journey, is an act of faith and trust that, indeed, the universe does have our backs.

Happy Reading!

All are Welcome by Jaimmie Stugard

All are Welcome

By Jaimmie Stugard

         Today, people all over the country are protesting the travel ban that prohibits people from certain countries from traveling to the United States.  There has been so much talk of building a wall to separate our nation from the “others” that the school age children in my life are expressing fears and asking questions.  The me first, us and them, competitive and divisive rhetoric is pervasive and unnerving.  Understandably, many of us grown folks are not feeling like ourselves.  The sky is grey.  The news is glum.  Some of us are feeling defeated, depleted and exhausted.  Others are feeling fired up and activated. 
              Of course, the little children in our lives hear our conversations and the stories on the news.  Even those who have little exposure to such adult things can sense when we are feeling edgy or off kilter.  Now, more than ever, it is essential that we practice presence.  If we are brooding about the latest executive order or a tiff we’ve had with a relative on social media, the children we are with will feel our anger or distress.  But, they will not understand it.  They may internalize it or mirror it, but they will not understand.
             At this young age, children are developmentally unready to be burdened with the injustices of the world.  They are still learning to love the world.  They gaze in wonder at the snowflakes that land on them.  They delight in catching a glimpse of rabbit prints in the snow.  As their parents and caregivers, we are honored to guide them as they experience the beauty of the world unfolding before them. 
              When they are older, they will have a solid foundation based on their early experiences that the world is good.  They will have learned to love the earth, its creatures and their fellow human beings.  Then, when they are ready, knowledgeable and strong they will have the life experience to empathize and the power to fight injustice and to confront their fears.  Right now, they are (physically) little beings who are looking to us for reassurance and guidance.  They need to know that the grown-ups in their lives are okay and that we will take care of them.  They don’t need us to tell them.  They need to feel it.

            The current cultural climate may compel us to educate our children about social justice, conservationism, diversity and advocacy.  When considering how we might do this, it is essential that we consider the development of the young child.  Very young children respond to rich experiences, to songs and stories.  Lectures and overt instruction rarely resonate with the toddlers and preschoolers.  At LifeWays we “teach” conservationism by letting the children play in nature and, through their play and explorations, develop a love for the outdoors.  A toddler who is learning to navigate the difference between affection and aggression is learning the basics of social justice.  Sharing simple and authentic foods, songs and folk tales offers an introduction into humanity’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.  Children who experience our openness, compassion and empathy toward all humanity trust that all are welcome. 

A Word About Festivals By Belinda Kenwood

A Word About Festivals
By Miss Belinda

Glimmer, lantern, glimmer,

Little stars a-shimmer,

Over meadow, moor and dale,

Flitter, flutter elfin veil.

Pee-wit, pee-wit, tick-a-tick-a-tick,

Rou-cou, rou-cou, rou-cou.

Glimmer, lantern, glimmer,

Little stars a-shimmer,

Over rock and stock and stone,

Wander tripping little gnome.

Pee-wit, pee-wit, tick-a-tick-a-tick,

Rou-cou, rou-cou, rou-cou.

As I reflect upon our lovely and magical community gathering in celebration of our annual Lantern Walk and Festival, I thought I’d “shed a little light” on why we celebrate festivals here at LifeWays.

Throughout the year, we at LifeWays celebrate festivals in order to help us celebrate the rhythms of the earth which can, in turn, help us to be in harmony with ourselves and find a greater sense of wholeness and balance in our lives.  Our “festival life” also helps establish a yearly rhythm for the children.  Children love their lives to be orderly and predictable as it gives them a feeling of safety and security, and whether we celebrate a festival with the whole community or during the day with the children (think of our Birthday celebrations), the rhythm of the festivals provides them with feelings of safety and security within the endless passage of time.  Our festival life also provides us with the opportunity to reconnect with one another and strengthen our community.  They help to nourish our souls through the sharing of stories, food, songs and activities that celebrate the seasons, and we seek to express them with beauty and with reverence.  Festivals remind us again and again that beauty, wonder, anticipation and reverence are worth making space for in our lives.

Thus, every year around the end of October or early November, we, along with other LifeWays centers and homes as well as Waldorf schools, celebrate a Lantern Walk to celebrate Martinmas, a festival of inner light in the outer darkness of the approaching winter.  St. Martin, for whom the festival honors, became known as friend of the children and patron of the poor.  He is remembered for his good deeds and acts of kindness.  The festival originated in France and then spread through Germany, the rest of Europe and Scandinavia.  Because it is held in November, in this part of the world it occurs as autumn is ending and winter is coming on, marking a time of full barns and completed harvest in preparation for winter.  As St. Martin spread warmth and light to his fellow human beings, this festival of light serves as a reminder that within each one of us lives a divine spark, and that we may spread our own warmth and light out into the world as we enter into the darkest time of the year.

Over the month of October, the children hear stories, create their lanterns and learn the songs in preparation and anticipation of the festival.

Each year, we look forward to sharing this festival of light with you as we see how our own little flickering lantern becomes a shared light, and we experience the full circle from the solitary individual to the fullness of community.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summer Festival Reflections by Jaimmie Stugard

Summer is coming to an end and many families are trying to squeeze in a few last outings before autumn, and the changes it brings, begins.  Between trips to the beach and the zoo, we prepare for new classrooms, new schools, new schedules, new clothes and new friends. 
Sometimes the excitement of activity and change in our lives can be quite draining.  Consider how many of us feel after a holiday, party or a family vacation.  We may say, "Whew! That was a lot of work. I am glad that it's over and things are back to normal!"  It is easy to enjoy our lives when they are rhythmical and steady.  We have time to just relax and soak it in, rather than always planning and wondering "What's next?"  As adults, we value our daily rhythms even as our children depend on them.  Usually, it isn't until our routine is disrupted that we realize how we thrive as humans when our daily tasks are a matter of course, leaving us to bask in the deeper essence of our existence.  To contemplate bigger questions than "Where is the next meal coming from?" and "What will the next moment bring."  The structure we place in our lives allows us to experience peaceful presence.   
Yet, there are things in our lives that are intended to nudge us out of the ease of our existence, to bring us together as a community and to transform us as individuals. Holidays, festivals, community events and rites of passage elevate us from our daily physical life into a spirit of joy, celebration and wonder.  While the elaborate preparations are often exhausting, we find that when we muster enough resources to be truly present during the celebration, we are lifted.  The act of coming together, of passing into the next phase of life, draws in unknown forces and replenishes us. Anthropologists call it collective effervescence.  Spiritualists refer to it as the cosmic consciousness, the life force or the Holy Ghost. When children experience this coming together, they carry the feeling with them for some time.  Christmas carols are sung well into spring and wedding ceremonies are reenacted again and again in their play. 

Seasonal festivals are one of the ways that we embrace life’s cycles and celebrate our community at LifeWays.  In autumn, we illuminate the long night with our home-made lanterns and our radiant inner light.  Our summer festival is a beloved tradition, an honored rite of passage and a time of joyful reflection and fond farewells. As summer draws to a close and we begin to anticipate all the changes that the new school year brings, we celebrate one another and the transitions ahead.  Families and caregivers come together for a story, songs, a pot-luck lunch and a special bringing ceremony to honor the children who are beginning kindergarten.  The children help prepare for the festival by making food with their caregivers and parents, gathering props for the puppet play and polishing the bridge.  Before the festival, the bridge is decorated with rainbow silks and fresh flowers.  When all has been prepared, we came together for our story.  The story is full of familiar landmarks and scenery to spark their imaginations and set the scene for this tale of imminent change….

The Children of the Cedar Castle
By Miss Jaimmie

Once upon a time, there was a Cedar Castle at the edge of an Enchanted Wood.  The castle was a magical place, especially for children.  It was filled with young friends who spent their days playing, working and living together.  They ate together and they rested together.  Many stories were told and many songs were sung.  Many, many hours were spent exploring the Enchanted Wood.  Butterflies and snakes, birds and squirrels, fairies and spiders, deer and turkeys were among the children’s forest friends.  The seasons brought many new and interesting things for the children to explore.  From snowflakes to scilla, the enchanted forest was full of beauty and wonder.  And so, the weeks and months and years passed, and the Cedar Castle and enchanted forest were filled with joy and love.
    One fine day, a few young friends went for a stroll in the Enchanted Wood.  They walked further into the wood than they had ever walked before.  They walked through the Clearing and beyond the Story Rock.  They walked down the Crookedy stairs and along the riverside.  On and on they walked, beyond the Troll Bridge and the Jasper House.  They walked and walked until they came to place they had never seen before.  There in the heart of the enchanted forest was a magnificent crystal mountain made all out of rose quartz.  At the foot of the mountain lay many shining quartz crystals.  The friends each took one crystal to remember their magical journey and continued on their way.
The children walked on until they saw a most unusual sight.  A beautiful rainbow arced across the blue sky and landed at their feet. 

A lovely rainbow, see it span.
So brightly shining, o’er the land.
It is so red, gold, green and blue.
I want to climb it now with you.

The friends climbed the rainbow and when they reached the top, they were amazed at all they saw.  They could see the wide Enchanted Wood, the Flowing River and the Quartz Mountain. They could see the Jasper House and the Troll Bridge, the Crookedy stairs, Story Rock and the Clearing.  They could see the Cedar Castle and the village beyond.  And when they looked even further… they saw other castles.  The friends longed to explore the other castles.  Perhaps, they too, were filled with happy, playful children.  

And so, with their hearts filled with love and eager for adventure, the friends went, one by one, across the rainbow bridge to explore the castles beyond.  They spent their days laughing, playing and learning with their new friends. And so it was, that all of the children of the Cedar Castle, lived happily ever after.

       We celebrated our summer festival earlier today.  The children who were heading off to school gathered near their caregivers at the foot of the Rainbow Bridge.  They were given a piece of rose quartz and a hug before they crossed the bridge, where their parents were waiting with open arms.  As the children crossed, their caregivers and families sang:

Circle of friends I love,
Let me tell you how I feel.
You have given me such treasures,
Circle round again.

          After all of the kindergartners crossed the Rainbow Bridge, we sang our blessing, mingled, took a few snapshots and shared a meal.  As the families said farewell, a handful of people stayed back to tidy up after the festivities.  It was a full morning and by the end of it all, I was ready to go home and lounge with a good book...
A few hours later, my daughter and I happened to run into some LifeWays alumni at the public library.  The school-aged children reflected on their journey across the Rainbow Bridge and my little one eagerly chimed in that it will be her turn to cross next summer.  Their mother told me about the LifeWays friends that they still keep in touch with after all these years (my how they’ve grown!).  After visiting with our old friends for a few minutes, it was time for us to go home to bake a cake for grandma’s upcoming 75th birthday celebration. Circle round again….      

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Experience with Potty Training by Sandra Schmidt

       My room this year is filled to the brim with two-year olds. Over the next year they will be transitioning from diapers to underwear and parents have begun asking about the right time to begin potty-training and how to do it.
       While it might not immediately seem related to potty training, the ability to dress and undress is one of the first steps towards this endeavor. When I first started at LifeWays I had a young friend who could never quite make it to the bathroom in time. Accidents were frequent and Miss Emily and I had frequent conversations about whether our young friend was ready for this transition. One morning in the play yard “Grace” said she needed to use the potty. We both scurried inside because I wanted to avoid sending home a bag of wet clothes (normally I let children in the building use the bathroom by themselves and Miss Jaimmie lets them back outside). Grace was able to remove her coat, hat, and mittens without a problem, but when we got to the bathroom Grace was not able to remove her pants. They were too tight! Between the snap and zipper and the Lycra in her skinny jeans she was not able to pull her pants down far enough to avoid an accident. I thought back to what she’d been wearing the other times she had accidents to consider if it was her clothing that had inhibited her success.
       Learning to use the toilet is one of the most complex and developmental tasks of early childhood. Potty training (or toilet learning) requires specific abilities and both neurological and physical maturity. After a discussion with parents on the readiness of their child, a plan is put together to help the child with this next step in development. The ability for the child to recognize that he or she has a soiled diaper is one of the first steps toward this goal. I frequently have 2-1/2 or 3-year-old children who come to me saying they need a new diaper before I’ve made my morning check of diapers in the play yard. When this awareness of wet and dry occurs, the child has usually been able to stay dry in their diapers for several hours at a time. This tells me that in the next six months or so they will be transitioning to underwear. 
       Many of our bodily functions - eating, sleeping, or toileting - are ruled by habit. At 9:00 am my body tells me it is hungry and one reason this occurs is because I’ve been having snack at 9:00am for the last three years. Toileting is similar and by offering the children in my suite the opportunity to use the bathroom at the same time every day (9:30 am, 11:45 am, 12:45 pm, 3:00 pm),  the children’s bodies adapt to the rhythm, resulting in greater success. 
       I often hear how great the child is doing at home, only to have accidents at LifeWays and, in my experience, the childcare center is one the last places that children will be accident free. Children also sometimes “regress,” often because of changes in their lives – a new baby in the home or weaning are two common examples. While it is more advantageous for the child to train in underwear (diapers and pull-ups can delay potty-training), there are times when I request a child wear a diaper at nap because they are a deep sleeper or wear a diaper late in the day because they have tried to hold in a bowel movement during the day. 
       It can often take up to a year to be consistently accident free. The process can frequently challenge a parent’s patience. I’ve experienced this with my own children, and having a sense of humor helps. Using the toilet is one of the first steps to our children’s independence that we can help facilitate, but over which we have limited control. By looking for signs of readiness, and working in partnership with parents, I am able to help the children in my suite make this important transition.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Into the Woods by Amanda Quesnall

Into the Woods
By Miss Amanda

Lately I have been taking the children out into the forest for some of the morning play.  It is interesting to note the changes in play as we move from the play yard out into the woods.  In the play yard I noticed that I have to do a lot more interjecting telling the children not to rough house, snatch or fight over toys.  Most of the play I see is media based pretending to be transformers, characters from frozen, ninja turtles, or some other show.  But this all changes when we step into the forest.  Things become calmer and I can remove myself from the children’s play observing them instead or redirecting them.  There are no longer toys to fight over or snatch from one another.  I have noticed that the play itself is less media based and more imaginative and creative.  The children welcome the play to everyone instead of just one or two friends.  Depending on where we play in the woods the children pretend they are a family, they pretend to eat breakfast together then depart to their job.  Some gather/prepare for their next meal, others take care of their sick child, or make a fire to stay warm.  Sometimes the children like to pretend a log is their ice cream store, the children search around finding different rocks, plants, acorns, and sticks to be different flavors of ice cream.  Other times they are lost dogs in the woods trying to find their owners.  Even the younger children join in the play imitating what their friends are doing and adding their own twist.  I usually only interject to tell the children that there are getting too far and need to keep the play at a closer distance.  We are very lucky to have such a great outdoor environment for the children to play and explore.

“There's no way that we can help children to learn to love and preserve this planet, if we don't give them direct experiences with the miracles and blessings of nature.”     - Anita Olds

Spring Cleaning by Jaimmie Stugard

Spring Cleaning
by Miss Jaimmie
It’s the time of year when the fresh spring air inspires us to refresh our homes and gardens and spend more time out in nature.    After spending a lovely day outdoors in the amazingly orderly wilderness, I am compelled to follow Nature’s lead when sprucing up the indoor living spaces, both at home and at our home away from home, LifeWays.

When I was a very young girl, we had a mature lilac bush in our back yard.  The branches arched nearly to the ground, creating a little fortress between its trunk and its blooming branches.  I spent many spring days playing under its blossoms with my dolls and little bits of stones, leaves, grass and dandelions – whatever was handy.  It was a fragrant, beautiful place of solitude to play while my brothers and their band of boys ran amok in the yard.  I was on the perimeter of their rowdy games, yet completely sheltered and serene.
            Though we lived in the working- class suburbs just outside the city limits, I had very little access to truly natural environments growing up.  The nearby playgrounds were covered with pavement and the parks were heavily landscaped.  Looking back, I find it interesting that I gravitated toward the lilac tree and immersed myself in this piece of nature.  As an adult, I treasure the experience that working and playing on a nature preserve provides for the children in my care as well as myself. 
          Early childhood education expert, Anita Olds encourages us to provide children with experiences in nature.  She asserts that, “The basic elements of nature - air, fire, earth, and water - are in motion. Whereas the built environment is rigid and immovable, the natural environment is always in flux. And it is nature’s rhythmic patterns of change, akin to our own physiological rhythms, which account for the sense of calm we experience in natural settings.”  The subtle and gradual changes that nature undergoes creates a rich, balanced learning environment full of opportunities for movement and stillness, for quiet and noise, for exuberance and concentration. 
            Indoors, I like to take my cues from nature when arranging spaces for working, playing and living.  At LifeWays, we favor subtle colors and materials that are inspired by nature and strive for simplicity and beauty when choosing toys and decorations.  It is easy to become overstimulated when you are living, working and playing in a full, vivacious community or home.  Natural materials such as silk, wool, wood, stone, cotton and living plants nourish the senses.  The secluded cozy corner of the suite is reminiscent of the lilac bush in the yard- a sanctuary veiled in silks where a child be in their own little world even while the outer world buzzes with activity around them. The daily rhythm mimics nature’s balance and rhythms, allowing times and places for quiet solitude and joyful togetherness.  We balance spending time outdoors playing in nature and participating in more domestic activities such as baking bread, sweeping, eating and resting. 
            Of course, a well-loved living space can accumulate clutter and cobwebs even when we tidy throughout the day.  It is refreshing to open the windows on those first spring days, clear the cobwebs, dust the neglected corners and remove some of the excess stuff from our space.  Ill-fitting clothes and forgotten toys are sorted into boxes labeled Hand Me Downs, Yard Sale and Donate.  Mattresses are flipped and the little ones crawl under their beds to dig out lone socks, books and stuffed animals that are hiding under the dust bunnies.  At LifeWays, the remnants of the lost and found basket are donated, books are mended and muddy, extra mittens are washed.  The play yard becomes more inviting and the children are inspired by the good work that we do together at our Spring Festival.  And, I see the wisdom in the words of Shea Darian, “Order our lives to make room for the largeness of our love."

Young children love to help with housework, so why not let them pitch in!  Here’s some ideas for including your little ones in Spring Cleaning:

*Let them spot wash the floor with a sponge and some natural, non-toxic cleaner. This is a favorite activity in my home and at LifeWays. I must confess, I haven’t washed a floor in years!
*Washing tables, counters and chairs
*Watering plants
*Washing the stones and shells from the nature table (a favorite in our house!)
*Really anything involving soapy water will have them mesmerized!
*Sorting through their things.  I like to keep a box handy when we clean the kids’ rooms so they can help choose things to give away or sell in a yard sale. Of course, I override some of their choices. (Sometimes the loud superhero toy from Christmas needs to go into the box and the hand-made lovey needs to come back out!)
*Laundry. Even 2 year olds can help load the washer and dryer. By 3 or 4, they are pretty good at folding, too! Toddlers love to help hang the clothes to dry by handing me clothes pins.
*Weeding.  Pulling garlic mustard is a favorite in KinderHouse. I just start my work and they join in, I never even have to ask!

“In an age when there are so many untruths for young children to sort through, work provides them with a connection to the world around them based on truth and service.”
Louise deForest