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.