Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thoughts on Early Learning, Jaimmie Stugard, LifeWays Caregiver

Thoughts on Early Learning from Miss Jaimmie

Children learn through exploration, imitation and relationships. A very young infant has no sense of himself as an individual. To him, there is no boundary between his own body, his parents and the world around. Gradually, he becomes aware of his ability to impact the world. He learns that he can manipulate objects by swatting and eventually grasping. He learns by his loved ones' response to his coos and cries that he can affect another and indeed that his beloved is another. What begins as observing a parent's response gradually develops into deeper social understanding. A toddler continues to play this call and response exercise to enhance his social skills. For example, when he hits another person, there is a negative response (the other child cries, he is scolded, etc). Each time a child "calls", he is seeking a predictable response to teach him how to properly interact with his world. This is why we strive to be both patient and consistent when helping our little ones develop socially. For a child questions with action and finds his answer in reaction.

When children are permitted to actively engage in their world, they are able to truly learn. Experiential learning leads to an understanding that regurgitating facts cannot provide. Day after day, I observe children exploring nature in the forest, finding slugs and snails and worms. Here I see them identifying and sorting without any overt instruction from myself. They are keenly aware of which sticks are big, bigger and biggest without ever cracking open a workbook. Nor do they need flashcards to teach them that the sun is round. Which is not to say that books and worksheets are necessarily bad. As a child, I loved to fill out the workbooks that my father brought home from the print shop. It was fun to play school and feel accomplished for correctly matching the dog to his bone. Looking back, I think I especially responded to these books because I knew that my father made them. But, I am certain that I would not have enjoyed them nearly as much if they had been homework rather than playwork.

Occasionally I am asked how I teach children their colors, days of the week, numbers and letters. To some, the days of the traditional play-based kindergarten and preschool seem like a fond memory. While parents look back on their own kindergarten fondly, they worry that it is not "enough" for their own child to get ahead in this day and age. Learning through doing is always my answer. Rather than asking a child to count objects in a book, I ask her to help me set the table for snack. We always begin by counting together how many people we will have in attendance that day. As the child sets out 7 chairs, place mats, cups, spoons and bowls she is able to have a real and tangible experience of the number 7.

A child's interest in letters can be nurtured by helping them identify letters that have meaning to them, like their name or the letters on a stop sign. In our suite, each child's drawer, hook and utensils (hairbrush, toothbrush, etc.) is labeled with a symbol as well as their name. This helps the children have a sense of where their things belong before they are able to recognize their name. When the child is ready, she will begin to become more aware of the letters that accompany the symbol and will eventually learn to recognize her name. Oftentimes, an older child will ask me to spell out "Happy Birthday" or "I love you, mom and dad" while coloring. While I am always happy to answer, I am careful not to drill a child or put pressure on him to read. Rather, I strive to foster their early literacy skills through storytelling, puppetry, and clear, articulate speech.

The days of the week are "taught" through living in the rhythm of the week: Monday is set-up day. On Tuesdays we snack on granola and hike in the woods. Wednesday is painting day and on Thursday we bake cowgirl cookies and savor the aroma of Miss Jane's delicious rolls. "Fort Friday" is also clean-up day, a day for working together to wash the furniture, floors and walls. The children delight in spraying and scrubbing with homemade cleaner (water, lavender and a drop of tee tree oil) and crocheted cloths. Then comes everyone's favorite days, Saturday and Sunday - Family Days.

Since young children learn through imitation, it is crucial that the adults closest to them are striving to be worthy of imitation. When a child is learning to speak, he needs to imitate right speech. A child who is struggling to control his impulses or anger needs to see the adults around him displaying this self control. Child rearing can be an emotional experience because our children are our reflections. They are like little mirrors that shine back our beauty and our blemishes. Rather than shrinking from the challenge or allowing ourselves to be racked with parental guilt, let us stand upright and demonstrate our striving, compassionate, curious, humorous and loving humanness.

Learning From Play, by Mary O'Connell, LifeWays Director

I’ll never forget the moment when my two boys were young (1 ½ and 3 years old) and I served them a lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I looked on in horror as my two innocent, beautiful, sheltered little boys each chewed their sandwiches into a shape that looked like a gun and started shooting at each other across the table! Where in the world did this play come from?
This moment was the first time, but definitely not the last, when children’s play has been puzzling to me. Over the years, I’ve encountered many play scenarios that have made me scratch my head, some of which have elicited a reaction in me of wanting to stop the children and make them play something else. Other times, I’ve just watched as a perplexed observer. One time in my home day care, a child attended a funeral of a distant relative. For days after this, all the children played “death”. One of them would be the dead person, and the others would lay him or her out, put flowers around the deceased, sing songs, wail, and sometimes a parade (like a funeral procession, but with performers) would ensue. It felt so morbid to me. I wished they would stop and go back to their usual play scenarios, like mommy, daddy, baby and doggy. And, eventually they did. After about a week, they seemed to be satisfied with the death play and they quite unceremoniously laid it to rest (pun intended!), never to be played again.
What do children get from play like this? As adults, we can never really know. What we do know is that children’s play is like thinking in adults. It’s how they mull things over, process experiences and emotions, and make sense of their world. And as uncomfortable as it can be for some adults to watch their rough-and-tumble little boy go through a pink tutu phase, or walk in on their daughter and a friend playing doctor, or witness their son and his buddy giving birth to their dollies, all of these play scenarios serve a purpose for the child. As adults, we must learn to respect and trust children’s play, guiding when necessary if it becomes obsessive , inappropriate or dangerous, but for the most part becoming observers.
Children are so imitative. Their primary mode of learning is to imitate what they see. This is why a Monday morning after a great Packer game can be a crazy place in an early childhood suite. When our LifeWays center in Hartland was open, we had a number of die-hard Packer families there. The little boys loved to wear their football jerseys to LifeWays, and we noticed that on the day after a game day – with little guys decked out in their Packer gear – it was the perfect storm. They were tackling each other all day! After much discussion, we decided not to outlaw the play all together, because it seemed to be something they really needed to do to process what they had experienced on the weekend. We simply asked parents to refrain from letting their children wear their jerseys to LifeWays, as the sight of the Packer gear seemed to increase the intensity. We also spent even more time outdoors, established clear guidelines about where the football play could happen, and how children needed to respect the space of children who were not interested in their rough-and-tumble play. (We also never actually provided them with a football, but they always came up with something as an imaginary football, or just played without one.) These few intentions on the part of the caregivers were enough to steer the play to a more balanced, healthier and less dangerous level, while still allowing the children to process “Packer Fever.”
Why not just say some types of play are unacceptable? This is sometimes what parents ask about gun play. Guns are violent and the root of much evil in our society, so why not just say, No Gun Play Allowed, Ever. This is a topic that was recently explored in our LifeWays North America facebook group. There were many varied responses of how caregivers deal with gun play, from completely forbidding it to giving it free reign, and everything in between. It became clear that there is no one answer to the question, and our responses are very personal, affected by our own feelings about guns, our life experiences, and the children we work with. Our staff has talked about it quite a bit, and has decided that we do not want to forbid gun play all together. First of all, we feel the “forbidden fruit” syndrome would creep in, with children playing guns behind our backs and lying about it when confronted. Definitely not the sort of thing we want to encourage at LifeWays. Secondly, gun play, just like every other type of play, serves a real need in children, especially boys. I don’t know why. But it’s real. Ask anybody who works with children, and they’ll tell you of an inherent desire for this type of play.
So, as a staff, we have agreed to greet gun play with the following expectations. We will not provide actual gun replicas of any kind for the children here, and if a child brings one from home it will be put away. Children will need to conjure up a gun out of their own imagination, using their hands, sticks, or whatever else they find. We will also not allow children to shoot at each other or any other human beings. This will be enforced less as a rule (once again, the forbidden fruit) but more as a re-direction by the caregivers. A suggestion will be made to shoot at a target instead, or to be hunters. Occasionally, you might overhear a caregiver say directly, “No, you may not shoot me. Guns hurt people.” This is said with as little emotion as possible, for we’ve learned that when we react from an emotional place with children, they can easily absorb these feelings and can become upset or feel insecure.
As adults, we have all kinds of feelings about guns. It’s hard to separate out our feelings about gun violence from a child’s real and innocent need to explore aggressive play. We immediately begin to worry that they will become a violent person, or that they will not grow up to strive for peaceful solutions to their problems. Often, I need to remind myself of my own childhood. Games like cops ‘n robbers and cowboys and Indians were a big part of my experience, as I grew up on a street where all the children my age were boys. And yet, I have not grown up to be a person who feels that violence solves problems. As in any area of life, we serve as healthy role models for our children and they will learn peaceful conflict resolution from us, as we practice it in our daily lives.
With all types of play, I encourage you to become an observer. It’s fascinating to see what play scenarios children come up with, and watch the play as it “morphs” into whatever they need it to be to help them make sense of their world. By limiting their exposure to the media, we can keep their imaginations fresh and their play free. This is important because media images are so powerful. And then, we can simply trust that the children will learn what they need to learn from their play. This is the greatest gift we can give our children.

The Bond Between Parents and Children, By Jane Danner-Sustar, LifeWays Caregiver

On Friday, June 17th I was interrupted while changing a diaper, when my sister called to tell me our mother had passed. Although it was not entirely unexpected, I still burst into tears and went into a slight state of shock. I got Otto cleaned up and dressed and I wondered around the suite trying to contain my emotion and attend to the children who were coming in as well as those who had already arrived. Both children and adults were incredibly sweet in their caring and concern.
When Sidonie arrived she told me that my mother would always be with me in my heart! I could not have hid my tears if I had wanted to, after that. Thank goodness for the wonderful women I work with and the amazing understanding of the parents in my suite. Miss Jaimmie came in and just said,” Go home, Jane”. And I went home to my mother. I worried as I left what the affect would be on the children who had seen me emote so strongly and I worried about the children who would come and not know why I was not there but I knew deeply and strongly that each one of those children was well cared for by the women whose care I left them in.
I know this sounds entirely too dramatic but now that I have lost both my parents and watched my children deal with the loss of their father, I am speaking from a place of some experience: When you leave your children with us at Lifeways, they feel it on a physical level. Because you are the greatest parents on the planet, the best I can ever hope to be is second best. That is not to say that Ava is not chasing Olivia around the tables two minutes after you walk out the door. Or that Beka isn’t catching fairies for us to sit on our shoulders by the time you get into your car. Or that Amitai isn’t engrossed in the building of his train tracks by the time you reach Humboldt. They laugh and they play and Orion puts his bowl on his head to show off for all of us at lunch time. Second best is as close to excellent as can possible be. However, when Otto or Natalie really falls hard the first person they want is momma or daddy. Sometimes when Gaston or Isabel wake up from their naps all tousle haired with a certain, “where am I?” look in their eyes, I know they are looking for their parents.
The bond between a child and their parents is a wonderful and mysterious thing so when you leave your children with someone else they will react with crying or indifference or anger or a myriad of other emotions. To me, that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong. To me that means something is very right. To me that signals that the bond between you is alive and well. How can it not be? Like I said before, you are the most wonderful parents on the planet! I should know, I had a great pair myself. I miss them every day and I carry them in my heart with me where ever I go.

Interruption, By Emily Hall, LifeWays Forest Kindergarten Teacher

Last week as the Forest Kindergarteners were hiking past Story Rock, four deer ran by. We looked up, called to each other to make sure everyone saw them, and they were gone. "The Wild Hunter was chasing them!" exclaimed a friend. (Each morning we begin by going to Story Rock to hear the story of the Moss People- gnomes who live in hollow stumps, who are hunted by a big red dragon called the Wild Hunter.) For the rest of the day, as moms and dads came, the children would tell the part about the Wild Hunter and I would tell the part about the deer. Interruptions are not always as beautiful as a herd of deer in the midst of a nature hike. The phone rings, the doorbell buzzes, the cup spills, the plate breaks, the wasp stings. Some interruptions, like a butterfly landing in a grandmother's hair as she is taking her grandson home, feel like inspirations.
Life is full of both kinds of interruption. The experience of watching a beloved caregiver answer the phone in the middle of a favorite book, or stop to clean a baby's face before serving more milk, can be irritating for the children. Then the caregiver is treated to a volley of requests- for the story, for the milk. In the forest it is no different. A beeping construction truck echoes through the birdsong, an ambulance drives by, a tree falls across our favorite hiking path. Shoes untie, water bottles leak, zippers get stuck. The children forget a hat or a backpack and play must stop so we can go back and get them. The children, who learn from imitation and observation, become more resilient to life's interruptions by experiencing them.
During the story of the Moss People, a young friend spilled his hot tea on his leg and began to cry from the wet sensation on his leg. I put down my puppets and comforted him, as the children grew restless and talkative. I began to sing as I held the sopping boy on my lap. The mood of the group quieted and story could begin again. Interruption and irritation, waiting for what you want- these are the tools I use to teach. So that when deer run by, chased by characters from a beloved story, wonder can grow in the space tended by patience.

Education for Head, Heart and Hands, By Emily Hall, LifeWays Caregiver

When I first visited Miss Martha's kindergarten class at Tamarack Community School, my impression was of an environment filled with beauty. Large, open windows framed a small tree and a wooden play structure for climbing. It looked to be made of driftwood. The children impressed me as being open and gentle, as they sat near me and held my hands with quiet curiosity. Education for the heart and hands as well as the head was the philosophy I absorbed as part of the LifeWays training here in the Koenen nature preserve. Part of the training was observation of nature without judgement- a training in the ways of life.
Now, I observe daily as a young girl holds the purple thread Miss Monica is making into a skirt with a crochet hook. As the skirt grows toddlers run away with the yarn and Monica wraps it again into a ball. Handwork may be the most practical skill to observe for children learning to tie their shoes and quiet their bodies to focus on a skill. Fingerknitting, simple sewing, and knotting are tasks that engage hands and head. As the children grow they learn these things in the preschool programs. Learning these tasks with a familiar caregiver is an education for the heart.
Sitting on the floor to put her boots on, a girl spills a pile of woodchips and sand from her shoes to the floor. Monica instructs her to sweep it up. She sweeps up the sand with her toddler size broom and dustpan. A baby watches from her highchair as the girl finishes her task. As I observed the sweeping I noticed a similarity in gesture from caregiver to child- Jane and Jaimmie sweep with the same focused serenity! Observation of her caregivers sweeping had given the toddler a memory of what it was to put heart, hands, and head together to finish a task.
Modern life is losing such simplicity. Regulations enforce early academics rather than life skills and written language is given precedence over orally told stories. Local businesses like Loop and Kellner's Greenhouse, that value handwork and gardening, are closing. More and more young children are diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. Yet, studies done comparing children in industrialized nations to their third world counterparts uncover a startling similarity. What doctors and educators once thought was ADD might in fact be PTSD. The tiny stresses and hurry, hurry, hurry pace of modern life add up to a generation of children so stressed that they lose trust, openness, and ability to focus. Luckily, those three attributes are what have always impressed me about children at LifeWays. Education for heart and hands as well as head can help slow the pace and reduce the stress.

The Whys' to the Wise, By Tamara Treviranus, LifeWays Caregiver

As parents and caregivers, we have all experienced our little ones asking “why?”, which at times leads to a seemingly never ending stream of successive “ but why this…? Or why does that…?” (Has anyone ever tried to answer each one of these queries? Whew! Adults 0, children win!) Oftentimes, we are challenged to sort out the answer ourselves. “Momma, who is god? What will happen to me after I die?” and other thought provoking and soul expanding questions. Both children and adults learn a lot from these precious exchanges. I certainly at times feel quite humbled! For children, this can be a learning opportunity, a “teachable moment”, with regards to how our world works, yes, but also the foundation for the process of seeking and discovery.

When we as adults are asked “why” from a small child, sometimes it may seem challenging to come up with a very good answer. Is the response appropriate to their age and maturity level? Did I give too much or too little information? Was I too rushed to give a carefully thought out and warm response? I found it quite liberating to learn that we don’t in fact have to answer each successive “Why” with an age appropriate intellectual response. It IS important, however, that the quality of our response be given equal consideration as the content of our response.

“ I wonder why that could be?” said with a smile and warm tone gives the child the humanness and warmth they are seeking, and it also leaves open the imagination and heartfelt experience of the “ thing in question”. An information based response is sometimes better suited for an older child, while the younger child may require a response that answers the need for attention, warmth, and an appreciation for the imagination and wonder of the world. This being said, I also suspect that when adults share their passion for a subject with lots of information and facts and figures, that though the facts and figures may be lost, the passion and kindred spirit of a shared interest is retained in the feeling life of the child.

When we as adults find ourselves seeking, what is the response we expect from our partners, our families, our community, our god? Seeking and discovery is a lifelong process that we hope to honor and encourage amongst our youngest members of our community. We hope that our children will both explore ideas on their own and that they also continue to ask us questions!

Learning from Disappointment, by Rhoda Kambandu, KinderHouse Teacher

My 3 older daughters asked me if they could make some lemonade. I gave them a thumbs up and they enthusiastically went about setting up their work area and gathering what they needed. They spent a happy time taking turns squeezing lemons and limes, adding water and sugar and tasting their lemonade. Finally, it was ready. They had used so many lemons that they needed two pitchers for their lemonade. I told them they could put one pitcher in the refrigerator for use the next day and they could leave the other pitcher on the table for use at dinner that night. As my 10 year-old was cleaning off the table, she accidentally knocked the pitcher over, spilling all the lemonade on the table and the floor. She cried, “Oh no! I spilled it!” She had such a look of total disappointment on her face. What happened next was interesting. Neither she nor her sisters asked if they could still have lemonade with dinner. They had decided earlier that the lemonade in the refrigerator was for later, and they were sticking to that. When had they learned to handle disappointment so gracefully?

Disappointment is an unavoidable part of life. It happens to our own children and those in our care far more often than we'd like for them. Instinctively we want to protect them from ever experiencing disappointments, but this is not possible. What we can do for them however, is to teach them how to handle disappointment in a positive way. We can honor and validate their feelings, and comfort them when they experience disappointment. If possible, we can offer an alternative, for example if a much- anticipated trip to the zoo is rained out, we can plan to take the trip on a different day that promises better weather. It is most helpful if the alternative is sure to happen and can be arranged right away; it is not helpful if, for example, in trying to reschedule a play date, you end up having to wait for a call back from the friend's parents, thus prolonging, for the child, the feeling of being disappointed.

Another strategy I've found helpful in working with the children is not only allowing them the space to be sorrowful, but also allowing them the space to move away from the disappointment. I might offer to read a book with the child, ask if s/he would like to assist me in some work I need to do, or if s/he would like to do a project with me. Distraction is a wonderful tool to use with young children. The child soon forgets what had made him/her so sad and immerses him/herself in a new activity. In this way, the children learn to look forward to a better time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Living Arts By Mary O'Connell, Director

“It takes a village to raise a child” is a popular slogan these days, and there is great truth to it. Some interpret this to mean that a child should be raised by a great variety of people and experiences, to surround him with all of the diverse learning encounters he needs. For the older child, this may hold a kernel of truth. But, how should the village support the very young child (and by young child, I mean infant to age six)?

I recently read something about rainforests that struck a chord in me. The tiny tree seedlings growing in the rainforest receive almost no sunlight, as they are covered by such a dense canopy of leaves overhead. They would perish, except for the fallen logs that lay on the forest floor. These “nurse logs” as they are called, provide a home for the seedlings. They provide protection from disease, rich nutrients for growth, and support for each young seedling as it grows.

What an appropriate metaphor for childhood! Our youngest children are not able to survive independently, and they rely on one or a few loving adults to be “nurse logs” for them, protecting them from harm, providing them with rich, nutritious care, and supporting them with loving boundaries as they grow. Unfortunately, in the world of modern childcare, conditions are often present that make this nurturing protection impossible. Large groups of single-age children are often cared for by adults who quickly change due to high turnover and frequent re-grouping of children to maximize profit. Aggressive academic curricula are put into place to meet state standards and impress tuition paying parents, leaving little time for the deep, free play and practical life experiences that stimulate children’s imaginations and strengthen their growing bodies.

Studies, brain research, and common sense wisdom tell us that an endless stream of adult caregivers and a rapidly changing menu of abstract concepts are not optimal for the developing young child. Rather, the village should exist to help parents and caregivers give the child a caring, nurturing, life-giving foundation for all future learning.

So what does the LifeWays village of support look like? The cornerstones of our curriculum here at LifeWays are the Living Arts:

Domestic Activity
Nurturing Care
Creative Exploration
Social Ability

Looking at the list, it doesn’t seem like a radical concept to me that these serve as the best foundation for the young child. We humans must first learn to love and trust each other, care for the places where we live, and learn to express ourselves creatively, right?

Believe me, these Living Arts can cause quite a stir with the modern American childcare establishment! I have had the opportunity to go into several traditional childcare centers recently to share with them our principles based on the Living Arts mentioned above. One director said to me, “Parents would not like it if we had their children fold laundry or wash dishes. They are paying good money for our staff to actually teach their children things!” It saddened me greatly that early childhood educators have succumbed to the modern societal delusion that caring for each other and our surroundings are superfluous activities, a waste of time, and not valid learning experiences.

But, I also had a glimmer of hope, as caregivers – the ones who are actually spending time with the children – were secretly finding me in the hallways and the parking lot after my presentation to tell me that they have been thinking these “radical” thoughts for awhile now. They were grateful someone is finally giving children what they really need.

I hope you enjoy the LifeWays staff’s articles on the Living Arts, as they explore the rich learning children and their adult caregivers share when Life is the curriculum.

With Warm Thoughts of Spring!


Thoughts on Materialism, Humanism and the Value of Work By Jaimmie Stugard, Caregiver

Recently, a plumber came to LifeWays to repair the garbage disposal (aka the dragon). At the time, we were getting dressed to go outdoors. As soon as they caught sight of the plumber with his toolbox, a group of little boys in hastily assembled outdoor gear were in the kitchen doorway watching the “worker guy.” One by one, I coaxed the intent observers back to their hooks to finish dressing. We fixed backwards snow pants and adjusted an upside-down jacket, put on a missing boot and a discarded mitten. Throughout the entire process, the little fellas kept inching toward the kitchen and stealing glances at the plumber (the girls were in preschool on this particular day).

When we finally made it outside and into the woods, the children immediately gathered up their “tools” to do their own work. Elijah filled a favorite hollow stump with leaves and bramble and then the children proceeded to unclog the stump with their sticks. The play evolved and the sticks turned into saws and hammers and shovels. The little plumbers became builders, mechanics, construction workers and gardeners. The entire morning was spent imitating purposeful work and playing peacefully.

While the children played, I sat nearby crocheting a washcloth. Little Otto came over and asked “Doing?” When I told him that I was making a cloth, his eyes lit up and he watched as the ball of yarn slowly became a cloth. Face-washing is a favorite activity in our suite. Each day when we come in from the woods, I fill a bowl with warm water and put in a drop of lavender oil and a special cloth for each child. The children wash their faces while we sing “Two little eyes to look around. Two little ears to hear each sound. One little nose to smell what's sweet. One little mouth that loves to eat.” When they are done washing, they come to me with a smile on their shining faces and ask if they are all clean. I help them finish if they've missed a spot and then they hang their cloth on the line to dry... As I finished crocheting the washcloth , I could hear the wonder in Otto's voice when he said, “Cloth?”

American children are surrounded with all sorts of things. Yet, there is a cultural disconnect between our possessions and their source. This materialism is quite understandable in a world where most goods are shipped from across the sea, purchased at a big-box store and tossed into the garbage as soon as they break or become a nuisance (and then shipped back over the sea as exported trash). When adults tend to our things (sewing, knitting, building, fixing, etc.) we cultivate the child's natural interest in how things are made and how things work. To observe and assist an adult in making or repairing an item brings a sense true value to the item. Moreover, it brings a sense of what it is to be human. People make washcloths. People make garbage disposals and pipes. People build houses and roads. People make gardens and farms. People make a wide world of things. And when something is broken, people can fix it.

Wonder, The Spiritual World and the Nature House By Emily Hall, Caregiver

At the end of the day, after the floor has been swept for the twentieth time, the wet clothes laid on the table or drying rack, the baby dolls have been dressed, the missing socks, slippers, shoes and hats have been found (or not found), I turn to our nature house- a dollhouse that I fill with seasonal items the children have gathered and story puppets.

One tired afternoon, as the anxious children anticipated the transition to home with the joy of seeing Mommy and Daddy, or the Mommies, or Grandma, and the sadness of saying goodbye, we tended to our nature house. It was in a sad state- piled rocks gathered from the floor of the room, disintegrating pinecones, winter gnomes, autumn tree, wool everywhere! I took it down and laid it on the floor. First, we gave all the pinecones back to the forest. Then, Maya, Aidan and Isaac chose a spring colored silk from the silk basket and I laid it on the ground of the house. Then, I opened our pressed flower book and the children chose flowers that our suite picked to sprinkle on the silk. Maya tucked the baby puppet into a birdsnest and gave her a blanket of spring flowers. We arranged Lady Spring, Father, and Mother Earth, then sprinkled the ribbons from last year's Spring Festival Tree on top of the house. We arranged Eliza Mae's rock collection and my shell collection on the ground. Isaac helped to felt a little woolen ball and cover it with sky blue silk. Wow! what a calm, happy feeling came through the room. Maya told me that she never wanted to leave.

At stressful times like the end of the day, or beginning of the meal, I turn to the Living Arts. Particularly the art of simple courtesy. We say "Thank you for our meal", and a moment of calm, of outbreath comes over the table of hungry children. That feeling is similar to the one that came over Maya, Isaac, and Aidan and I that afternoon. It was as though by tending the nature table, we thanked the spiritual world as well as tending to the physical world of our classroom. Sometimes, if Analisse is feeling upset, I see her climb on a chair and stand by the window gazing at our classroom garden of Easter grass. She doesn't try to pull the gardens down. Before, when the little nature house was in the window she would gaze at the rocks and gently pick them up. Ian was having a difficult transition before lunch and Miss Tammy brought him to me to make his Easter garden. He calmed instantly as he sprinkled seeds and dirt. If the children are tattling and whining, I will sometimes open the door and let the Tattle Bird fly out. The idea of the Tattle Bird and what he looks like and what he eats distracts the children from their tattling. The moment of acknowledging the invisible world and letting the negativity go calms the children and me.

Did you leave milk for the brownie outside your back door as a child? Do you have a little space where you and your child can create beauty together? Do you take a moment to say "thank you for our meal"? Then you have been practicing my favorite living/contemplative art- that of acknowledging the invisible helper spirits, of creating shrines and telling stories of the creatures of folktale and fable. You might be a skeptic and wonder at the value of talking to something no one can see. Then, think of it as a moment to tell a story that always stays the same and will develop your child's brain nerves through repetition. "Once upon a time, there was a tattle bird. He was always telling everyone exactly what they were doing. One day, everyone was annoyed and opened the door to let him fly out! Fly away, tattle bird! (then, the door opens)" Or, instead of a shrine, a moment to bond with your child and make something together. In our society's modern skepticism and value of paper based academics, we sometimes forget that there was wisdom in old fashioned storytelling, myths and fables, in gardens for children and in magic spaces that child and adult can share.

The children will sometimes tell me- but Miss Emily, faeries don't exist! Then I just say "I wonder....". Isn't wonder the realm of the scientist, the teacher, the next generation? In our modern culture, as humanity increasingly values technology, children are forgetting a sense of wonder vital to their play. Having a nature house full of magical found objects brings their reverence back. Later, in science class, when they are ready for academics, the children will bring the sense of wonder that limits boredom and focuses attention. Mary recently told me that the new ratings system assesor had never seen a daycare that had only live singing instead of recorded music. We value live singing because hearing a real person sing instead of a machine helps the children understand that music comes first from people. The ability to engage in and focus on an orally told story, even if it is of the mythical beings that modern people are skeptical about, helps a child to develop an attention span. I have never been more grateful for the LifeWays training and my knowledge of the Living Arts than when a child tells me she heard a mermaid sing, or that he glimpsed a gnome. I know then that the sense of wonder is still alive.

If you are wondering about the location of our nature table to revive you at the end of the day, it is on top of the white dresser in our suite. Feel free to leave some magical rocks or treasures there for us to wonder about.
Miss Emily

Living Arts in the KinderHouse By Rhoda Kambandu, KinderHouse Teacher

Ahh, spring in Wisconsin!
Every year I forget how slow spring is in coming. I let myself hope for an early one and I’m disappointed every year. Having grown up in sunny southern Africa, the idea of spring is still foreign to me, even though I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 21 years! Warmth is still so important for the children at this time of year. With the weather being as unpredictable as it is, the importance of being adequately dressed cannot be over-stressed.

In Kinderhouse, we try to offer the children as many warming and nurturing activities as we can. The living arts curriculum can warm our inner lives as our clothing warms our physical bodies. Living arts bring us a sense of homeliness. Folding laundry; brushing hair; creating gifts and playing to our hearts’ content are all activities reminiscent of home life. On Thursday mornings, we shape bread rolls from the dough that Ms. Jane makes with her children. The Kinderhouse children sit at the table and roll the warm dough between their hands. They do this over and over, roll after roll until all the dough is used up. They usually work quietly and the movement of their hands is meditative. When we’ve finished, they “wake up” and are ready to jump back into their play. I feel that this sort of focused activity does so much for the development of the children’s ability to see a task to completion. This ability is something that needs to slowly take shape within the child, not something that should be forced before the child is ready. Children come into their abilities at their own pace. Some children are able to turn out roll after roll. Others sit with the same piece of dough and knead it over and over again, and then hand me a misshapen mass which I gladly accept. In time, they too will produce a roll.

Creating gifts with the children for their families has been such a joy this year. Most recently, we wet-felted eggs to put into nests. The children were a bit unsure about the process of manipulating wool between their hands until it felted into eggs, but they persevered and the results were amazing. Elliot took such pleasure in this that he said happily, “Ms. Rhoda, why do we always do such fun things?” Isaac was an enthusiastic felter and produced 10 eggs! Antonia was unsure about the texture of the wool in her hand, but she continued to explore with it and finally became comfortable in her task. The process of making a gift for loved ones is so heart-warming for both the giver and the recipient. The children take such pride in their work. For me, the process of creating is so much more important than the end-product. There is a lot to be learned in sitting down to work through a task, figuring out how to do it and enjoying oneself. While they worked, the children talked to one another, telling each other about past and present injuries, and creating impossible scenarios in which these injuries took place! It struck me how well these 3 and 4 year-olds can hold themselves and complete their work without having to touch their neighbors or fall out of their chairs. This is something that the play-based learning curriculum found at LifeWays gives to the children. In their work and play, they are learning to manage themselves as they interact with their peers.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the Kinderhouse children at LifeWays. We’ve had a terrific year and I have been the better for it. I have enjoyed my time with the children immensely, and as our time together draws to a close, I would like to thank you all the Kinderhouse parents for allowing me this time to spend with your children.

In warmth,
Ms. Rhoda

Thoughts on the Living Arts By Tamara Treviranus, Caregiver

The domestic arts are an essential part of life at home and a significant part of our lives with the children at Lifeways We rhythmically navigate through our days, punctuated by the practical tasks at hand such as baking, cooking, laundry and cleaning. When asked what it is that children learn and gain from this type of environment, there are many answers. Of course they learn some of the things that are categorized in mainstream childcare and educational systems, such as counting, sequencing, small and large motor skills. Children learn to count their friends to set the table, they develop small motor skills in folding laundry and helping chop fruits and veggies for snack, have a science lesson in planting a garden.

What intrigues me most about providing a home like environment which invites the children into a larger communal effort, is something that goes deeper than anything that can be measured or quantified. What it gives to the children is an opportunity to be not only part of, but a contributing part of the community. This speaks to the children, not only in their development of mind and body, but in their developing sense of personhood. If offers the sense of satisfaction it gives us as humans to be a part of something, to have something to contribute, to be of value. When the children in our suite help with folding the laundry, their experience is much more than folding corner to corner, stacking likes with likes. The experience for the children, in their heart I believe, is that of being a helper, of pride and appreciation.

Thanks to all of our families for being a part of this wonderful community.


Ms. Tammy

The Living Arts By Jane Danner-Sustar, Caregiver

I will not write about brain research in this article, I promise. This month we are writing about the “living arts”. The living arts are a core principle of any Lifeways Center. It is the idea that children need to be surrounded by and participate in the work that makes a place a home. This means that on any given day you might find Anjuli and Maya mixing muffin batter or Gaston kneading bread. At lunch you might find Natalie and Orion sweeping or at least swinging their brooms and dustpans around in sweeping like gestures. You may find Otto and Amitai washing and washing and washing their dishes—hence the bags and bags of wet clothes. Isabel spends her morning caring for the baby dolls. She swaddles them and feeds them and carries them around on her back. Even the big kids love to help, though Eden and Sidonie like to punctuate their chair stacking with an eye roll and a heavy sigh. Chaim punctuates his help with a mischievous but radiant smile. He likes to stack his chair and everyone elses before I have the chance to ask.

Helping doesn't stop with my leaving. All the children will quickly put their cots away and wash their hands given the chance to be Miss Erika's helper. Together Eden and Isabel and Miss Erika chop vegetables, set tables and make popcorn. Miss Erika will be greatly missed when she leaves for a new job this summer.

Of course the living arts is primarily about the care of the children. How we diaper a child is as important as doing it. Everything is about building connections. Nap time and lunch time are precious times to hear all about Isabel's dog Princess Beauty or how Anjuli's cat Peppercorn scratched her until the blood came pouring out or the lovely dress that Sidonie's teacher gave her. (We hear much and listen to everything with a grain of salt.) I love that I have this time just to talk to the children while we fold laundry together or brush hair after nap or while we eat our lunch.

Last week we started our garden! After much frustration trying to get Orion out of the garden and work next to me I had him stand right in the middle of the garden and stamp the ground after I planted the seeds. Seeing me work in the garden has awakened renew interest in it. Nothing is so intriguing to a two year old than to be told not to touch or walk on or jump on something. I was showing Isaac and Zhi the little hosta buds peeking up through the dirt and six littles one were immediately stepping all over them to see what we were talking about. (Miss Jaimmie suggested growing creeping charlie in the garden!)

I see the children thrive here at Lifeways. I see the sparkle in their eyes. But I am curious...I asked Annalis' dad yesterday, in jest but also quire seriously “when other adults are talking about their children reading at two, do you feel the same pride in saying 'Annalis has learned how to unload the dishwasher!'” We are doing something real and tangible by caring for each other and the place that we borrow from The Quakers. We are building deep strong rich roots.

Miss Jane

Back to the Garden: A Living Art By Monica Stone, LifeWays Cook

With the sweet scent of spring in the air and flowers just peaking out of the soil, my thoughts turn toward the garden as I contemplate the living arts. I pause and think about how growing one’s own food used to be such an integral part of daily domestic life. Before the rise of industrialized agriculture, sprawling supermarkets, and prepackaged meals, the majority of the population not only prepared and cooked their own food, but cultivated it on the very same fields on which they lived. It was undoubtedly very hard work, but it was meaningful work that reflected a relationship between the land and domestic living. I think of the Lifeways garden in these terms. It restores the relationship between land and home, engaging children in the meaningful work of planting, harvesting, and preparing foods as part of their living arts practice.
Gathering soil, water, and recycled egg cartons, Lifeways children began this year’s gardening season by planting heirloom sweet pea and tomato seeds. Tending to them each day, children can watch their tomatoes perched by the window sprout to tiny seedlings. When ready, we will plant them together in the garden along with a diverse array of flowers and vegetable seeds. During the spring, summer, and fall children have the opportunity to care for the garden, observe as it grows to a bountiful harvest, and eat the fresh, organic produce they have sown. We continue our purposeful work by adding the day’s food scraps to the heaping compost pile where children are able to witness the full cycle of a sustainable food system. During the upcoming May festival, I welcome parents alongside their little ones to help prepare the garden for this year’s growing season, and furthermore learn first hand how this enriching living arts practice lays an important foundation for the children at Lifeways.

The Living Arts: On Art as Imitation, Contemplation, and Honoring By Emily Hall, Caregiver

When I was three, until when I was eight, my mother ran a calligraphy business from our home. For my fourth birthday, she made invitations to the party in calligraphy adorned with my favorite story character. My sister and I would watch as she carefully laid out the pens, inks, and paper for us and then for her. She had a big book from which she would choose the fonts for the birth announcement or wedding certificate that she was making. The book was filled with unicorns, butterflies, and little people that hid in the letters of the alphabet. We would imitate her as she drew out the lines in pencil with a ruler, then began to form words. Sometimes she would write the alphabet for us to copy. Sometimes she would give us her scratch paper to fill in. Sometimes we would get paper and markers for our work. I adored the quiet time with my sister and mother while my baby brother was napping. A meditative, quiet mood came over my mother when she was drawing. I longed to draw like she did and would sometimes be upset that I couldn't. Then, she would tell me that my drawings were beautiful and to please make more for her. So I did. I remember watching my mother draw as my sister and I made paper dolls to represent the characters from our favorite movie, Camelot. Then we would put on paper doll plays about the story for her. After I give a puppet play with silks for the children, they often will imitate me as they play with the puppets, inventing their own versions of the stories. My mother herself was my focus of imitation, as she her created celebratory art. My sister and I then brought our art to our family as an honor to her. I strive to imitate my patient, artistic mother as I bring the Living Arts to your kindergartener.
To honor Spring's birthday this year, we at LifeWays are having a festival on Saturday, May 15th. One of the ways I bring the Living Arts to the children is by honoring the seasons with art for our festivals. A forest full of flowers is being harvested each day to make decorations for the trees at our festival. Everyone will have a beautiful environment in which to work on the play yard! The children would also like me to tell you that the flowers are for their parents as well as for decorations. The children made gardens with wheatgrass in Kinderforest for the Easter egg hunt next Monday. Working together to plant a garden is a quiet way to honor spring, with some eggs to collect in the clearing. Then the children will have a picnic in the fresh air. The Kinderforest children will also have a egg hunt on Tuesday. Then they may take their baskets home. The children have also been stirring the soil in the garden to prepare for planting. All of these projects, and all the care that we do for our gardens and the LifeWays garden are ways that we attend to beauty, and show reverence to the environment.
Another Living Art project we have been working on is our stick house. Near the path is a fallen tree, and near the tree is a shelter someone built from sticks. A storm tore it apart, and the children and I have been gathering sticks and patching the walls and roof. Anyone who chooses to hike in the forest can see that we have been there attending to a gnome-home in need of some care. As I begin to build often Rapunzel, Snow White, The Wolf and The Aliens will mysteriously appear by my side with a stick or two to help. Sometimes, if Rapunzel and The Wolf are arguing, one or the other can go to the house to get a little needed quiet. Or, The Aliens can point out trash that someone left in the woods and help me to beautify the forest in that way.
The most important way that I work on life as art, and the most under attack in our society right now, is non-interruption of a child's play. My mother would not interrupt me as I was drawing near her, because she was busy working herself. I tidy litter and build the stick house as the children play. This is not because I am ignoring them, but because I respect that their play is as important and multi layered a work as my adult tidying and building. Positive guidance of course is needed. A child who is told "Don't hurt so-and-so!" will hear " and so." A child who is told "Be gentle to your friend." will hear "Gentle...friend."
In conclusion, thank you. Thank you for valuing life as an art. Thank you for dressing and caring for your child's warmth and comfort so well this year. Thank you to the children who are crossing the rainbow bridge into other kindergartens or first grade. I am excited to see you all at the festival! Below, as a P.S., are the songs we have been practicing for our circle to perform with you at our celebration of Spring's Birthday.
Miss Emily
A farmer once planted some little brown seeds
With a pitter patter pitter patter pitter pat pat.
He watered them often and he pulled out the weeds
With a tug, and a tug, and a tug, tug, tug.
The plants grew tall and strong in the sun
With a push push here and a push push there
And a lovely plant grew from each one.
Sunflower, Sunflower, turn your face to the sun
Sunflower, Sunflower, bringing happiness to everyone
You follow the sun, the whole day through
And when the sun sleeps, then you sleep too
Here is a snowy branch of May, a branch the fairies gave me
Would you like to dance today, a branch the fairies gave me
Dance away, Dance away, holding high the branch of May.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Do Children Need? By Mary O'Connell

How do we know what is really best for our children? Some of it comes down to gathering the best information, but that can be tricky * you can find an expert to support every viewpoint. In the end, much of it is intuitive, knowing as a mom or dad what makes the most sense for your particular child.

For me, as a parent and childcare provider, I was so happy when I found out about LifeWays, for it seemed to be a path that not only resonated with the way I intuitively parented already, but was also supported by lots of research as well as common sense wisdom. Thirteen years later, it is remarkable to find that these principles and practices of caring for and educating the young child are now supported by even more research, as the fields of brain development and child development become more advanced.

One interesting thing I have been reading more about lately is the life force that is present in every one of us. The Chinese refer to it as the chi (Qi), the Japanese the Ki, the ancient Hindus called it the Pranamaya-kosha (*sheath of vital energy*.) This life force is the focus of acupuncture, reiki, and other forms of Eastern medicine. Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher and social thinker who is known as the father of Waldorf education, called this life force the etheric body, which supports the health and vitality of our physical body.

As parents and educators, we can help our children by supporting their etheric (or life-force) body, so it can do what it needs to do to keep them healthy and strong throughout their lives. The interesting thing about the etheric body is that it has different purposes at different points in our life. Steiner taught that the etheric body*s primary function in the first seven years of the child*s life is to support the rapid growth and development of the child*s physical body. Steiner tells us that once the child is around age seven (usually first grade), the etheric body is not needed as much by the physical body, and it is freed to support activities like thinking and memory. This is the basis behind the practice of Waldorf educators to hold off on academic instruction like reading and math until the first grade. It is why we do not teach academics at LifeWays. However, this isn*t just a Waldorf construct. The practice in many countries outside of the U.S is to save academic learning for first grade and beyond.
At a lecture I recently attended at a large mainstream childcare conference, I learned that this view is supported by the latest brain research as well. The research shows that, before age seven, the right and left hemispheres of the brain are not fully integrated, or working well together, and the left (analytical) side of the brain is not well developed at all. Both of these developments are important for activities like reading, and teaching a child to read before the brain is ready is not only challenging, but can be detrimental.

The most current research also shows that the brain of the young child develops optimally when:
the child has freedom of movement and plenty of exercise,
the child feels safe and is cared for by consistent, loving adults,
the child is fed healthy, nutritious foods
and the child experiences daily routines that are rhythmic and predictable.

Sound familiar? These revolutionary brain research conclusions are also the foundations behind the principles and practices of LifeWays. And when you layer this modern scientific brain research with Steiner*s view of the etheric body, you see that the recent push to get young children into academic learning environments is a dangerous thing. If we call upon these life forces to engage in the work of thinking and memory before they are ready, we pull them away from their work in supporting the development of the physical body. Perhaps the extreme increase in children experiencing ADHD and anxiety disorders can be partly explained by American society*s rush to educate our youngest children in academic pursuits.

*The next time our society causes you to question your decision not to purchase the *Teach Your Baby to Read* video or makes you feel pressured to enroll your child in an academic K3 program, know that you are doing your child a wonderful service by resisting this academic push. You are strengthening your child*s life forces, allowing his brain and body to develop naturally at its intended pace, and you are giving him the best possible foundation for future learning.

*There are many varied answers to the question, *What does a child need?* But, I*m sure of one answer. Every child needs and deserves a childhood.

Childhood: Risk Needed, By Emily Hall

One day, I looked back into the suite a minute after beginning to set the table. Amari was standing on the table, stretching up to throw blocks out of the open window. He could not have fallen out- he is too wide to fit and too short to reach. Amari and the open window could have been hazardous for the blocks- as anyone who has seen a toddler experimenting with gravity can attest. But the table was the real danger in the situation. The Child Development Center reports that: *Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries for all children ages zero to nineteen. Every day approximately 8,000 children are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries.* Despite the logical risk of the table, for some reason it was the open window and its proximity to outside that disturbed me the most in the moment. The everyday risk of climbing onto and falling from a table- that was an indoor risk. Not as dangerous as outside. Despite the fact that every day, children visit the emergency room for fall related injuries, it was a window too high to fall out of and its proximity to the nature preserve that scared me.

I am not alone in my miscalculation. As a child, I fell from a piece of playground equipment and broke my back on the concrete. At the same school, I was given a time out for rinsing my hands in a puddle of rain. The playground equipment was seen as *safe*-man made. The puddle? Dangerous! Messy!

Parents and caregivers worry, worry, worry. We are constantly assessing risk, sometimes wrongly. We are human. Children have the difficult job of learning to navigate gravity. Caregivers and parents have the difficult job of letting them. Unfortunately, sometimes a scrape or bump is the only way to learn. The outdoors is seen as the greatest risk, with its dogs, strangers, rivers, and roads. Indoors is viewed as less risky. If you read through a childcare center medical log, you will see that children fall, pinch their fingers, and bump their heads as much inside as they do outside. In fact, bumping your head on soft dirt is much more comfortable than on a hard floor. And instead of a plain old white ceiling, outside you can see the sky.

Venturing outside the fenced in yard takes a brave caregiver. It is not a risk to be taken lightly. Some children just aren*t ready to come when they are called. When everyone is ready to listen, the plants grow fast in a wet year, hiding children from view. Tots change their minds at a moment*s notice about whether they are willing to listen. The trails erode quickly if there is a big storm. Dogs run loose in the woods. People have parties and break their glass bottles. Bees sting. Being in nature requires extra vigilance from the caregiver.

I have never seen a medical log entry at LifeWays about a child cut by broken glass. I have never experienced it. We turn around if we see glass. I ask dog owners to keep their animals away. If I am alone with the children, our group stays near the center. I have a cell phone. It stays within a heartbeat*s reach. Yes, there have been bee stings. Sometimes feet go in the river. Knees get scraped. Twigs scratch. But then, we see a hawk, deer, cardinal, mouse, snake, squirrel, kitten, rabbit, or the occasional coyote. We build houses from sticks, climb trees, write our names with sticks in the dirt, pick wild salad and paint in the rain. We sled and make snow angels, drink cocoa and share fairy tales about Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and the gnomes. Life is risky. Bad things happen sometimes. And then you learn how to assess risk better, you find a different place to play. You climb a tree instead of playground equipment. You decide that falling down outside is better because despite your skinned knees, the air is just better in the woods.

The Basic Needs of Children, by Rhoda Kambandu

What do children need? As I sat down thinking about what ideas to share on this topic, I found myself quickly overwhelmed by the broadness of this question. As a parent, what I perceive as my children*s needs may differ greatly from other parents* perceptions of their children*s needs. However, I think that there are basic things that all children need in order to thrive, and these include nutritious food, adequate shelter, love and affection, adequate sleep, a safe environment, as well as structure and form to their lives, and discipline. For me, the question becomes how can I best meet the needs of all the children entrusted to my care? Children thrive when their lives are well-ordered, with predictable routines and rhythms. They thrive when they are served nutritious meals, are allowed enough sleep and active, free playtime outdoors. At LifeWays we strive everyday to provide these things to the children in our care. Children have a need to feel connected to the adults in their lives. Having consistent, long-term caregivers who they can imitate as they grow is important. When I was in college, I nannied for a family with three children. I was one of several nannies who had lived with them in a short period of time, and it was evident that having so many different caregivers had taken its toll on the children.
Figuring out what children need requires trusting your instincts and having the patience to wait for answers. It*s not always immediately clear what these needs are, because the needs change as the children move from one stage of development to another. There are many opinions from many quarters about what children need. It becomes difficult to sort through all this and find what works best for our own children and the children in our care. Having a clear understanding of child development and knowing what we can reasonably expect from children in all their stages of development can help us to better understand not only the needs, but also how best to serve those needs. The mixed-age concept at LifeWays gives us an opportunity to obverse children at different stages, and this allows us to better meet the needs of the children.
I am grateful to LifeWays parents who trust us with their children. It*s honor to do this work.

Health, Wellness, and the Importance of Childhood Illness, by Jaimmie Stugard

There are many times that parents must strike a balance between what they know is best for their child, what is most convenient for the family and societal demands. When our children are ill, this balancing act can feel like tightrope walking in roller skates. Having an ill child can be an
emotional ordeal, an inconvenience or a bonding experience. Most often it is all of these and more at the same time. While we may seek to protect our children with preventive medicine such as vaccines and vitamins and medicine that is intended to treat their illness (fever-reducers, cough medicine), we may never eradicate childhood illness altogether. Why must our little ones become ill, we wonder?

While each illness serves its own function, it can be noted that mild and moderate childhood illnesses seem to strengthen the body. I have known some children who seemed to catch every virus that was going around when they were very young, but were rarely sick as they got older. I once knew a little girl who got whooping-cough around the age of 3. The cough seemed to drag on forever, but when she recovered she seemed more vibrant and healthy than before she got sick. For the next seven years, she rarely caught even a minor cold. Many parents have noted that a childhood illness is the precursor to a developmental milestone. A fever or flu may be followed by a baby's first steps or a language boom.

Yet, one of the most pressing matters for modern parents is sick child care. Many of us feel that we cannot miss work to care for our sick children. For some, there is a very real risk of disciplinary action. Some employers may even refer you to a local hospital's sick child day care. Many "baby guides" for expecting parents put sick child care at the top of the list for what they should be looking for in a day care. I can't imagine how putting a sick baby in a room filled with many other sick children and exposing his already weakened system to a wide variety of illnesses would define "quality care."

Recently, my son got a stomach bug and I knew that he really needed a day of R and R. Our family is fortunate to have a grandparent nearby who is a nurse and has a very strong relationship with her grandchildren. Since grandma was available and mama and papa needed to go to work, I brought him to granny's first thing in the morning. "But, you are my mom and it is your job to take care of me when I am sick," he protested. While I knew that a day at home with mom would be the best remedy, I felt blessed to be able to leave him in good care trusting that he would spend his day sipping tea, eating toast and reading books with grandma.

It seems that our hurried, money-minded culture allows no room for illness or recovery. During cold and flu season, the television is ambushed with ads for medicines that will get you back on your feet, skipping all the way back to your cubicle. While it is one thing for an adult to wear down their body this way, it is another matter altogether when we inflict this attitude upon our children and their growing bodies. Shouldn't we allow our children to be sick and nurture and care for them until they are well? Don't we all have tender memories or our parents nursing us to health with compresses, baths, ointments and affection?

One inclination is to medicate the child to make him (and us) more comfortable. For example, well meaning parents sometimes give their children a fever-reducer out of fear that the fever may damage their child's organism. Yet, the fever in itself is a healthy immune response to illness. The elevated body temperature is nature's mechanism for fighting off illness and infection. A feverish person may appear lethargic externally, because their biological forces are focused on internal healing. If the fever is artificially reduced, the child will have a false sense of wellness and will no longer be in the restful state that allows his body to focus his energy internally. The illness may be drawn out or become more severe because the fever was not allowed to do its job, so to speak.

One helpful piece of advice that our pediatrician gave was to use a fever reducer when the temperature was alarmingly high (at least 103 degrees). The medicine should reduce the fever temporarily. When the medicine wears off, the temperature will most likely begin to rise again. If the medicine does not reduce the fever, it could be a sign of something more severe and medical attention should be sought immediately. A fever can be a reaction to many types of illness. In every case, the child's behavior and appearance is the strongest indicator of how to treat the underlying illness. If we mask a fever with antipyretics (fever reducers), we may not be able to accurate assess the situation. Fear and anxiety are never helpful in these situations, so always call your pediatrician if you have questions about your child's illness. A feverish child ought to rest at home until their fever has subsided (unmedicated) for 24 hours. Too much stimulation without adequate rest may result in relapse.

While we may not be able to completely avert sickness, there are some simple things we can do to maintain health. A strong daily rhythm that revolves around eating nutritious food, sleeping and waking supports growing bodies. As does ample free play and movement, outdoor play, fresh air and connection to nature. Warm clothing and bedding made of natural, breathable materials protects the child from illness and is as essential as proper hygiene. Further protection is offered when we prevent over stimulation by reducing television, video games, loud noises, harsh lights, sugary, processed foods and overwhelming activities (there's a reason the carnival only comes once a year) . Of course, loving, consistent, nurturing relationships are the cornerstone of a sense of well-being.

What We Learned From Our Parents, by Jane Danner Sustar

Sometimes Nonie will call me mama. Then, very thoughtfully, she corrects herself and says "Miss Jane" or "LifeWays Mama." All the children have done this at one time or another. I do not take it very seriously. But I remind the children that Mama is a very special name for a very special person in their lives. Then I smile. It always brings a warm smile to my lips when they slip up. I feel like I am doing my job.
*My father died two years ago and my mother is slowly following him. They were good people. Our house was a very tradtional home. My mom was a math teacher but gave up her teaching to become a stay at home mom. My father was a university professor. I used to think that it was very odd how little I learned from my parents considering they were both teachers. Now that I am at LifeWays, I think differently. My mom woke up every morning, and we had oatmeal, two pieces of toast, two eggs, two pieces of bacon and a glass of orange juice, unless it was Saturday or Sunday. On Saturday, we had waffles or pancakes. On Sunday we had donuts, and what my father called "sugar sh-tties", or Captain Crunch to the rest of the world. I spent most of my young life in our backyard or downstairs in our basement where our playroom was. We spent days down there putting on plays, building forts, fighting, laughing until *******our mom called us up for lunch. We then rested for an hour, then went *******downstairs to the basement for the rest of the afternoon. When
*****Dad got home, I would go with him to take the dog for a walk adn then I set the
*****table for dinner. When I got older, I had to make dessert. According to my dad,
*****a meal wasn't worth eating if there wasn't dessert. At nine o'clock, we all went
*****up to bed. Dad read us a story and tucked us in.
******Thursday was the day we went to Treasure Island, a huge grocery store
*****on HIghway 100. My mom would leae us in the toy section while did all of her
*****grocery shopping for the week. Friday was bread baking day. She would bake
*****seven loaves of bread, one for each day of the week, but we could not eat it hot ******out of the oven because "warm bread causes cancer!" my mom would say.
*****Lately, Anjuli has been quoting my mother because, of course, I tell her the same thing my mother told me, "You must knead the bread until it is as soft as a baby's butt." Saturday was always cleaning day. The big kids, my four older brothers and sisters, cleaned the bedrooms. The three little kids, myself and my younger brother and sister, cleaned the basement. Sunday was church and yard work day. Late in the afternoon, my father would pack up all the kids and the dog in the station wagon while mom prepared dinner. We would drive out to some little secluded area of wilderness and go for a walk. We would gather flowers or mushrooms or tree leaves in our pockets and when we got home my dad would look them all up in his little pocket field guides. He had at least of dozen of them.
*One of my favorite memories of my father is when he stopped us during one of our wintery Sunday walks. It was dusk and it had just started to snow. Whispering, he said, "Do you hear that?" We all shook our heads solemnly for there wasn't a sound in the woods: no birds, no squirrels, no chipmunks. A soft smile spread over his lips, "snow," he said. Sure enough, it was so quiet you could hear the snow hitting the ground. I was reminded of that last week one morning when it was snowing. The Robin's Nest Suite were the first ones out into the play yard and Anjuli stopped us, Otto, Isabel, Orion and I, and whispered, "It's beautiful!" We all smiled and nodded.
*What did you learn from your parents in your first six years of life? I doubt there is any brain research that can quantify it all. My parents gave me a daily rhythm and a weekly rhythm, good food, plenty of outside play, warmth, and regular bedtimes. I learned how to bake, to cook, to clean, ot set the table, to rake and shovel, to care for our animals, to grow and prepare food, to get along with my brothers and sisters, to be repsectful of others, and to be grateful for what we had. Those are the things I can point to. Somehoe I also learned that the world was a good place and that when I fell, someone whould help me up and kiss my boo-boos, that I was a good person. My parents never formally sat down to teach me anything, except maybe math in eighth grade -- but that is another story completely. And yet I have learned small subtle things that I have carried with me all of my life. I was somehow ready for school but perhaps more importantly, I was ready for the adventure of life.
*Everything I do at LifeWays is a tribute to my parents, in a way. My task as a caregiver to your children is to partner with you and try to create a home away from home. Whenever your children slip up and call me Mama, I think maybe I am close.

Miss Jane