Wednesday, September 21, 2011

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.

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