Monday, April 30, 2012

Protection, by Mary O'Connell, Director

Protect (verb): to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult, etc.; cover or shield from injury or danger.
Our Spring newsletter theme is “protection.”  As parents, it seems we spend a great deal of time and energy protecting our children….from all of the things listed above and more.  My 75-year-old father-in-law recently said to me that he thinks parents are getting better at raising their children with each generation.  I asked him what he meant by this, and he said that today’s parents are more involved in their children’s lives, better at protecting them from danger, and more educated about parenting. I suppose this is true….we are a hovering, helicoptering, obsessive bunch, aren’t we? Does this make us better parents than the ones who came before us? I wonder.
The other day at Outpost, I noticed a preschool aged child sucking pureed fruits and veggies out of a pouch (have you seen these?), presumably so he wouldn’t have to be bothered with chewing his healthy, organic food. In the next aisle, I noticed a two-year old watching a movie on her I-pad, to keep her happily distracted from the mundane experience of helping her father obtain food for the family. And, as I approached the checkout, I heard a mother chastise her child for wandering around a corner while they waited in line, saying, “I have to always be able to see you, or a stranger will come and snatch you!”
As anxiety disorders and socio-emotional disorders all become more common in children than ever before, I have to ask myself whether we really are doing a better job than our predecessors. Are we protecting our offspring so much from every germ, disappointment, moment of boredom, and chance encounter with a stranger that we are making our children anxious, unable to deal with frustration, distrustful of people they don’t know, and incapable of creatively solving their own problems?
One of the things we hold dear at LifeWays is the power of learning through frustration.  We will often observe and encourage a child who cries and screams as she tries to put on her boots or her snow pants, while she loudly protests our cruelty for not just doing it for her. We will calmly smile and tell the boy who demands that we lift him up into the apple tree in the front yard that we are sure he will climb it himself when he is ready. And when those snow pants are put on without help and the tree is climbed independently, we share in the child’s joy of accomplishment.  The mastery is so sweet, it is well worth the wait and frustration.
It is hard as a parent to always correctly identify the genuine threats to our children’s health and well-being and still allow them to experience the bumps, scrapes and disappointments that will help them become robust and resourceful people. Believe me, I’ve been walking that balance beam for twenty years with my own children, and I continue to find it challenging, especially when my teenagers remind me that everybody else’s parents are so much more cool, lenient, helpful, generous and reasonable than my husband and me! It is a topic that is truly food for thought, and I so enjoyed reading through our staff members’ thoughts about this idea of protection.  I hope you do, too.
Wishing you insight and creativity as you travel on this parenting journey with your children!

You Can't Say You Can't Play, by Emily Hall, KinderForest Teacher

Let us form a circle, a circle round the sun
Let us form a circle that includes everyone- Tamarack circle song

    "No Boys Allowed!" chants a group of children of mixed ages, colors, and genders. Standing by the back door, while waiting for outside time to begin, it seems that everyday someone is not allowed, whether the children understand what they are chanting or not. Ms. Jane steps in, singing "Everyone's Allowed!". We are. We are all allowed here.  A question many parents ask me, however, is what happens when the children start to experiment with exclusion in earnest around preschool age?
    LifeWays is a diverse place. Children from traditional and non traditional families alike play together here. We're proud of our rainbow, and the dolls and books reflect that pride. Children can be very blunt about difference, however, and pride is not always the first emotion that someone feels about being different.
    I won't go into any stories about who includes/ disincludes who, or share anything politically incorrect that anyone said. I know that at the age of 3-5, children are coming into a sense of self as separate from others. It can be a lonely age. I remember feeling so alone at 4-5, when I realized that my mommy didn't hurt every time I scraped my knee, and that boys didn't play with girls at school. I was used to running with a pack of cousins who didn't see me as different because we were related. I could act like a boy and no one would care. I was included.
    School was different, but there were no playground rules to reflect that difference. We just played alone, or in a pack, and exclusion happened. Teachers didn't step in unless there was a fight. Boys and girls, black and white- play was segregated, unless it was boys against girls in tag. And so elementary school remained in my memory, as it does in many of our memories. Until a mother, at the beginning of this year, quietly gave me a book.
   You Can't Say You Can't Play, by Vivian Gussin- Paley. I read this book in 2 days and swiftly made the title my rule. The children made faces, dragged their feet, and cried, even. Inclusion is a hard lesson, and they are still learning it to this day. Some of those who are most different have the hardest time with this rule. Internalized shame at being different, and repeated exclusion for being different hurts, and takes a long time to heal.
    I was proud of my Forest Kindergarteners when Ms. Mary stepped in for a month, though. I knew that the new rule had truly taken effect when she told me that the children told each other,  "Hey! Ms. Emily says you can't do that! Everyone can play!".
  Sometimes the simplest form of protection makes the biggest difference. If my teachers had enforced 'You Can't Say You Can't Play', the world would be a more cooperative, loving place today. That is all anyone could wish for their child. Thank you.
- Ms. Em

Learning Through Frustration, by Amanda Quesnell, Caregiver

Every parent wants to be assured that their child is protected.  However, every parent knows that they cannot be there with their kids at all times.  They cannot constantly be watching over them.  When a parent isn’t with their child there is always a feeling of worry.  You wonder what s/he is doing, who they are with, and most importantly, whether or not they are safe.  It is no doubt that being a parent is stressful, terrifying, and even unbearable, to an extreme.  The degree of worry varies depending on each situation, but every parent worries about their child.  In order to ease parents’ worries, however, many parents make the mistake of over protecting.  They try to make everything as simple as possible for their kids because they don’t want them to struggle.  While it may seem that parents are being helpful, they are often harming the child’s development, and their ability to complete simple tasks.
My brother and his wife have two boys; Brady is four and Jack just recently turned two.  I spend a great deal of time with both of my nephews.  I see them every Wednesday for family dinner night and they spend the night almost every weekend.  It is amazing to see the difference in their actions when they are with others, versus when they are with their parents.  They are easily frustrated whenever their Mom and Dad are around.  If something isn’t going their way, they’ll throw a fit.  Just last weekend Brady tried setting up his car track, and when one piece wasn’t fitting correctly, he hit the entire thing and started whining.  Immediately, my brother ran over to help him with the track.  My initial reaction was to suggest Brady calm down, and ask for help.  My brother’s initial reaction was to run to his side and fix whatever it was that was making Brady upset.  Sometimes, we don’t want our kids to be frustrated, so we try to help them as much as possible.
When we started to get cold weather I noticed children getting a lot more frustrated with putting on their outside clothes.  They wanted me to put on their snow pants, coat, hat, gloves, scarfs, and boots.  Many of them wouldn’t even try to put it on by themselves; they would just wait for my help, and if I didn’t do it for them they would start to cry.  Although it would have been faster for me to put everything on for them there was no way I was going to do that for every child.  There were days when it took us forever to get outside because the children refused to try putting their winter clothing on.  It was hard at first for them to get all their winter gear on by themselves. Towards the end of winter they had no problem with this.  If I saw them struggling I would try to help and they would refuse because they wanted to do it all by themselves.
A child needs to get frustrated sometimes.  The frustration that children experience early in life helps the child to develop essential problem solving and communication skills.  We adults won’t always be around to help, so children need to learn to do things independently. 

Creating Spaces for Nourishment and Wellbeing, by Monica Stone, LifeWays Cook and Caregiver

When I look out at the children each day, gathered at the table, enjoying an organic, homemade meal, I think how so very lucky they are to be a part of such a nourishing environment. For many children who reside in the same community, sharing a home cooked meal and having access to healthful foods is rare. Processed, unnatural foods are heavily advertised, dominate the shelves in local supermarkets, and remain the only viable option for most families; all the while diabetes and obesity are on the rise among our youth. As I contemplate protection, I think how imperative it is to foster nourishing environments that allow our children to grow into strong, motivated, healthful beings. Whole grains, protein rich legumes, leafy green vegetables, and fresh fruits lay the foundation for a healthy mind, body, and soul. Organic foods devoid of pesticides, herbicides, and modified genes, shield our bodies from harmful toxins that have shown links to certain cancers and food allergies. Not to mention organically grown foods are healthy for the earth too! This, however, is not the conventional wisdom, as Mary knows firsthand. When seeking advice on how to best uproot a field of goldenrod to make way for planting vegetables at our new Lifeways farm, she received one answer loud and clear from fellow farmers: ‘Spray everything with Roundup’. Conventional wisdom is not always wise! Luckily Mary did not take their advice and has been busily working the land herbicide free. Soon families will have the opportunity to help out at the farm, planting and harvesting organic produce that will make its way into the Lifeways kitchen and into the mouths of our little ones. What a wonderful way to broaden our connection to wholesome, soulfully cultivated foods and create a space for children to thrive.  As I wipe my hands on my apron and bring the last dish out to the table, I feel a sense of wellbeing for I know how truly fortunate we are.

                                                                                                                        Happy Spring!
                                                                                                                        Miss Monica

Confessions of a Waldorf Parent, by Tammy Treviranus, LifeWays Caregiver

Waldorf institutions tend to talk a lot about protection; protecting childhood in general, protecting children from media influence, protecting children from the cold, chemicals, too much clutter in their environment, permissiveness, early academics,… the list goes on.  These things are important considerations in the life of a child because of the benefits this protection can offer as a foundation for the rest of their lives.  However, some of these things, if pursued dogmatically and absolutely, may not always serve the child in the short or long term, nor work optimally in every family situation.
In my home, we have experimented with varying levels of media usage.  One request from Tamarack Waldorf School is that children, if possible, have no exposure to media and at least none on school nights.  This is to protect children from media imagery and leave their minds fresh for learning at school. This also gives their minds an opportunity to “digest” this learning while at home and at rest.  When I began only allowing TV on weekends, there were some beautiful things that happened in my household: My two children, who most often are complaining, “She looked at me” or, “He’s making those humming noises again,” started to do things like look at beautifully illustrated vegetarian cookbooks and plan our next meals, together. Elijah would chop carrots while Halea stirred the stir fry.  It seemed idyllic. However, there was another thing that happened as a result of banning the TV, which I will call the forbidden fruit phenomenon. They would incessantly ask how many days until Friday when we can watch TV again (kind of like,” are we there yet?”) The only days that they looked forward to were those which held the possibility of viewing the telly.  I’m not a big fan of television and I considered throwing it out altogether.  In the end, what I decided on was that they would be allowed to watch it within reason, even on some school nights.  I even allowed a video game system in my house (I know, the horrors.)  What has happened is that they play for about an hour or two a week or every other week with the agreement that if it becomes a problem it will go away for awhile.  We also go for a family bike rides or hikes, play board games in the evenings or weekends, scooter up and down the block, do chores together, listen to music, eat meals together, sing blessings together, read stories and many other activities.
You may be wondering, what is the point here? The point is BALANCE.  And, well, another point is that just as no two individuals are alike, so too are the needs of each family and child unique.
I hear so many stories from parents, caregivers, and teachers about their personal experiences with children.  And what is striking me recently is that although there are always common threads to stories about the challenges and blessings with children, what really rings true in each of these scenarios is the UNIQUE, individual nature of each story.  The best method of protection may vary from family to family, child to child. What type of life will our children face? What will they be exposed to? What will they need to be prepared for? We as parents must do our best to simultaneously protect our children yet offer them those experiences that will best prepare them for a balanced approach to the lives that they will encounter on the rest of their journey.