Saturday, August 14, 2010


Kathy Miller

Reverence for the young child is ever present in a LifeWays program. Our home away from home approach not only sets our environment apart from other childcare centers, but nurtures a deep respect in the caregivers that can be paramount to the child’s development. That is not to say other childcare centers do not demonstrate respect for the young child, however, a deeper level of respect is exemplified in a LifeWays setting.
What lives in a LifeWays caregiver is an appreciation of the world around him or her. When I first visited a LifeWays center, I observed the interactions between a caregiver and the children in her care. I was intrigued by the caregiver’s presence and the way she carried herself. The quality of her movements and gestures were ever so slow, present and respectful. Her speech was clear, gentle and soothing, especially with the younger children. A mutual respect was shown by the children in her care, and the power of imitation became more apparent to me as I watched. The environment was calm and peaceful. The hum humming of her voice was soothing to all in the room. It was a wonderful observation and the beginning of my LifeWays journey.
During my LifeWays training I was asked to reflect on the importance of imitation and its influence on the young child. For the most part, it is through imitation that the child learns how to live and develop relationships. I began to understand that the way I care for and nurture the children will be the same way they will nurture and care for each other. The way I communicate with my peers - with respect, good manners and joyfulness - is how a child will communicate with others. How I approach nature and its beauty is how a child will appreciate nature. As we bless our meals and are grateful for our food, thus the young child becomes grateful.
I’m uncomfortable to admit that before the LifeWays training, this important principle was unfamiliar to me. I came from a traditional background and was inspired by an academic view. In my previous work, I was often asked what curriculum I was going to produce for the children in my care and how it complied to the state standards and other requirements that childcare centers need to conform to. Of course, I had faith that in providing an academic environment we were producing high quality care. This is what most folks perceive to be the key to a bright and successful future for the developing child. During the past four years, I have come to change my view on what makes a child successful. Slowly my focus began to change and this has come from a deeper understanding of myself. I have become more open to meditation. It seems that a spiritual aspect began to emerge, for I could see the brilliance of the young child and his or her own ability to grow into a healthy human being.
LifeWays caregivers are advocates for young children. We as caregivers try to preserve the magic of childhood and provide a natural and stress free environment. The child can naturally “play” and emerge from an egocentric being into one who is part of a larger world around him. Self-growth happens naturally when we get out of the way and offer the child a media free, open-ended play environment.
Reverence is something that is not taught to us in textbooks. It develops with the appreciation and respect of all things. In childcare, it begins by allowing a child to interpret the world as she sees it. We at LifeWays do not merely teach children facts; we help to foster many other attributes such as creativity, imagination, curiosity, good will, and gratitude. I am often in awe of your children and the beauty they naturally bring to us.
Blessings to you all!

Much Love,

Kathy Miller.

Parenting Goals

By Mary O’Connell

The theme of our winter newsletter is “How do children benefit from being at LifeWays?” I have asked each staff member to share her own insights and experiences with regard to that question. For me, the New Year always inspires goal setting. As parents, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to do some goal setting with regard to our children now and then, just as we do for our finances or our careers. We can’t really determine if any childcare program or school benefits our child until we identify what it is that we want for them.
If you ask a parent what his or her long-term goal is for their child, often the parent will say, “I want my child to grow up to be happy.” We all want that for our children, but realistically, we can’t really ensure our children’s happiness. Happiness is a very individual thing…I’m sure we can all think of some adult we know who seemingly has it all, but is very unhappy, and vice versa. Whether or not our children grow up to be happy people isn’t really within our control.
So I challenged myself to identify three goals for our children that are attainable, that will impact their lives in a positive way, and that might actually improve their chances at happiness. Here’s my list:

Let’s raise children who are able to love.
Looking back on your life to this point, I’m sure the things that mean the most to you are your relationships with people, not the grade point average you got in high school or the job promotions you’ve gotten. So while preparing children for school and careers are important, giving them experiences at forming real relationships is crucial.
The only way to help children learn to love others is to provide them with long-lasting relationships with people who love them. To give them the opportunity to be angry with a friend and learn how to work through that tough spot to restore the relationship. To let them experience frustration with someone they don’t always see eye-to-eye with, and learn effective strategies for compromising. To help them through the separation sadness they feel when their parent leaves with the comforting arms of a caregiver that really knows them.
Relationships aren’t always easy. Allowing children to encounter these challenges when they are young while in the presence of a consistent loving caregiver and suite “siblings” allows them to build relationship skills that they will use for a lifetime. I often wonder how these skills are honed in a childcare or preschool environment where numerous staff members come and go frequently and children are moved from room to room as they age. At LifeWays, I see growth in the children’s capacity for love everyday. I am amazed at how these children love their caregivers and each other, how tenderly they care for the babies, and learn to use their words with each other instead of their fists.

Let’s raise children who are free.
Rudolf Steiner, founder Waldorf education, said, "Perceive the child in reverence, Educate the child in love, Let the child go in freedom.” It’s our American birthright to be free, right? And yet so many children grow up “un-free” in their thinking. They sit by passively while their heads are crammed with facts and figures in school, learning what they need to know just to get through the next test, not really taking charge of their own learning. These children often become teens and adults who follow their peers in an unquestioning way, not asking themselves if the behavior they are choosing is really in line with the values they want to live by. They don’t seem “free” to choose a different path.

Michaela Glockler, M.D., in her book, A Guide to Child Health says,
“Raising a child to be free means taking appropriate timing into account. Anything
we introduce too early catches a child unprepared, unready, and unable to handle
the new element independently. In this case, we “train” the child instead of
empowering her. Conversely, any skill or subject that we introduce too late
no longer catches her interest; as a result, she cannot fully appreciate its value.
The consequences are dependency in the first instance and indifference in the second
–two different ways of being “un-free”.

How do we raise children who are independent, engaged, and who think for themselves? At LifeWays, we take Glocker’s advice about timing seriously. Everything has its season, and the season of early childhood belongs to learning how the world works, where our food comes from, exploring movement and language, learning how to dress yourself, how to take care of your belongings, how to treat your friends, how to respectfully ask for what you need…I could go on and on with the lessons learned every minute at LifeWays.
Of course, young children can be “trained” to do academic drills with flashcards, but at what cost to the child?

Let’s raise children who are ready to learn.
The child psychologists call this “executive function”. Good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. While it has a number of different elements, a big part of executive function is a child’s ability to self-regulate. Children with self-regulation skills are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.
Researchers have identified a single, powerful tool for children to develop self-regulation…unstructured play… a LOT of it. In fact, according to a recent study, sustained imaginative play that lasts for hours is best. Why? During make-believe children engage in what’s called private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. They evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. When researchers compared preschoolers’ activities, they found that this self-regulating language was highest during make-believe play.
Conversely, they found that the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declined. Today’s children spend much of their time doing things that do nothing to improve self-regulation: watching TV, playing video or computer games, and taking part in structured activities. This change in how children spend their time over the years has actually had an impact on their ability to self-regulate. A recent study compared the self-regulation skills of children today to those studied in the 1940’s – today’s 5-year olds are acting at the level of 3-year olds 60 years ago with regard to self-regulation!
At LifeWays, the children do have hours devoted to unstructured imaginative play, both indoors and out. We have heard from parents and grade school teachers of LifeWays “alumni” that these children were well prepared for school as a result.

Margaret Michele Arney testimonial

Thanks for inviting me to write to you about our family's experience having Antonia complete the LifeWays cycle from infancy to young childhood.
Firstly, I am grateful for the consistent, loving homelike environment LifeWays gave to Antonia. LifeWays caregivers were Antonia's second-mothers. She often called me "Miss Jaimmie" and her teacher "Mama." This made me know how well loved she was, and that she perceived LifeWays as a safe and happy home.
As Antonia grew from the suite baby to a big girl helper, I saw her complete her first journey through stages of maturity. She gently and gradually gave up her babyish ways, replacing old behaviors with new ones. There were no startling jolts so often imposed on children going from one year of schooling to the next.
At LifeWays, Antonia learned to get along with other children in a confident, positive and constructive way. She had gone from one who received the lion's share of attention as an infant, to one who gave her attention to caring for little ones around her. One who shared her toys, who cleaned up willingly, who worked out conflict and who gladly obeyed the rules and routines of LifeWays.
And, when the time was right, she was ready to give up the comforting routines of LifeWays and take on the exciting new challenge of five-year-old kindergarten. When Antonia entered public school kindergarten, her behavior stood out from her peers. Her teacher often remarked that Antonia was a joy to have in the classroom.
I credit the media-free environment, storytelling and structured routines of LifeWays for giving Antonia such a good foundation for kindergarten. When she got to school, Antonia knew that listening to grown-ups was a good thing for her to do. She was good at paying attention to the natural human pace of the teacher, rather than being accustomed to the faster pace of electronic media.
Antonia's academic progress has remained very good. She recently received her first formal assessment as a first grader. Her highest mark was in "working cooperatively in groups." LifeWays taught her to value her peers and teachers, and to have confidence in dealing with others. I feel these lessons will be with her for a lifetime.

How Does LifeWays Prepare Children For School?

How Does LifeWays Prepare Children For School?

"In a large class of 29 first grade students, I could see immediately that I had a solid group of children, leaders, who were interested in learning and who excelled in every subject. In my previous class, I had an occasional scattering of such children but in this new class many students seemed to be not only eager to engage but also balanced and flexible, despite their various temperaments and personalities. They were cooperative, kind and forgiving, and helpful to others. Because of their ability to receive, digest, and transform the information I presented, we were able to cover an unusually broad range of skills during class time. The entire situation was quite extraordinary.
Upon further inquiry, it came to my attention that most of the children in this core group had all attended the Lifeways early childhood program before entering Kindergarten. But it was not only the children who were well educated prior to their arrival in first grade, I also found the parents of these students to be well versed in the philosophy behind our education, forming a trusting and supportive circle around the class and its teacher! I credit both our own school's Kindergarten as well as the Lifeways program with helping parents to understand, early on, the importance of a healthy and whole foods diet, low media exposure, creative play, and the healing qualities of time spent outdoors surrounded by nature. The Lifeways Children and their families are indeed on an early road to a life of academic, emotional, physical, and social success."

Nancy Price, Waldorf teacher

Goodness, Beauty and Truth

Goodness, Beauty and Truth
Jaimmie Stugard, LifeWays Caregiver

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men marvel and adore...." Ralph Waldo Emerson

A wholesome childhood is filled with beauty and wonder as the world reveals itself to the little one's budding senses. Consider the newborn babe cradled in his mother's arms, as he leaves his birthplace and experiences the Wide World for the very first time. Though he can't see clearly beyond his mother's loving face, surely he begins to have an inkling of the vastness of this new world. The fresh air flows into his lungs as the luminous sun welcomes him to the Wide World. The trees, the shadows, the birds singing, the scent of the lilacs... All new, all beautiful and perfect.
This first outing made quite an impression on me as a new mother. It became quite clear that I would be seeing the world through my child's eyes throughout this new phase in my life. The car exhaust, the big, barking dogs, the fluorescent lights, the smell of the cleaning aisle at the grocer and the neighbor's profane shouting all seemed more offensive than I remembered. Yet, I knew that the baby in my arms could only accept these "offenses" as What Is.
As a parent and caregiver it is of utmost importance to me to show them What Is beauty and truth first. When our children behold the beauty of the world around them and the graciousness of those who care for them, they will come to love their world and humanity itself. They will revere life. As they grow older, they will naturally become more aware of injustices of the world and they will have the capacity and strength to have a positive impact. This strength is rooted in their love of the world that they have experienced as beautiful and good.
The warmth of the blossoming forest after a long winter... Blessing every delicious meal that Miss Monica places upon our beautifully arranged tables... Snoozing in the cozy shelter of our suites as lullabies weave through the sound of the rain falling on the windowpanes... Witnessing the compassion of a toddler (who has struggled to climb up the hill) go back to help a friend and struggle together to conquer "the mountain"... Families coming together for a seasonal festival... These are a few of the experiences of Goodness, Beauty and Truth that nourish us day after day at LifeWays.

With Gratitude,
Miss Jaimmie

Back to the Garden: Reverence Sown with Each Seed

Back to the Garden:
Reverence Sown with Each Seed
Monica Stone, LifeWays Cook

Earth who gives to us this food
Sun who makes it ripe and good
Sun above and earth below
To you our loving thanks we show
Blessings on our meal
And peace on earth.

At LifeWays, we sing these words to give thanks for the nourishment we receive at each meal. It not only teaches children to appreciate the delicious array of food before them, but to show reverence for their relationship to the natural world. This song of grace draws an important connection from the dinner plate to the earth, a connection that often goes unrecognized in today’s society. With the ever increasing bombardment of over-processed, unnatural foods, it is easy to lose sight of where such things derive. I believe that it is important for every child to understand that fruits and vegetables do not sprout from cans, or even magically appear in the aisles of a grocery store, but begins its life in the soil.
The LifeWays garden plays an integral part in allowing children to see and experience first hand the wonderful process of growing food. After afternoon snack, the children are always excited to take the day’s food scraps out to the heaping compost pile. It lets them witness the full cycle of the garden and instills a sense of environmental stewardship. This year they will each have the opportunity to plant their own seeds, observe the garden as it grows into a bountiful harvest, and of course eat the fresh, organic produce that they have sown.
When we come together at the table and sing our song of grace, my hope is for each child to feel a deeper connection to the food they are about to enjoy. When the children sing “Earth who gives to us this food”, I hope they picture the beautiful garden they helped to grow. And lastly, I hope each child feels reverence for the relationship they hold with the natural environment.