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.