“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:
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!