Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spring Cleaning by Mary O'Connell

   In a monastery, there lived a monk who was quite simple-minded and all the menial tasks were given to him, such as washing the dishes, sweeping and scrubbing the floors and so on. He did not mind this, and did all his chores lovingly while always pronouncing little prayers while doing his work. “Dear God, as I wash this dish, please send one of Your angels to wash my heart and make it pure” or “Dear God, as I clean this floor, please send one of Your angels to help me, that every person who walks on this floor may be touched by his presence.” For every chore, he had a prayer, and he continued working in this way for a great many years. Legend says that one morning as he woke up, he was enlightened, and from then on people came from far and wide to listen to his wisdom.*
     Last weekend I was doing the annual spring cleanup in the garden at the farm, removing old plant material and weeds to make room for the new vegetables to grow. Some waste was easy to identify; the crunchy stalks of last year’s sunflowers quickly came down and were added to the compost pile.  Other things required more of a decision. Is this a weed? A perennial?  Some arugula that self-seeded?  I did notice that after three years of gardening in this spot, I am becoming more confident in my knowledge of the plants and the soil. The rich, dark humus that I have been consciously cultivating makes pulling weeds much, much easier than the clay soil that existed before. As I worked, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for the improved soil, all that I have learned about this place, and the bounty of this little plot of land that feeds my family and our LifeWays family.
     Then I moved on to the bee hive.  The honey bees, who survived the long, harsh and insanely cold winter, perished during the very last cold snap.  Carefully and with reverence, I cleaned out all the dead bees, the honey-filled combs and the oldest beeswax destined to become candles. As I worked, I thought about the plight of the honeybee (I heard that 70% of the bees in Wisconsin didn’t make it through this past winter). Cleaning out the hive was a somber experience, but there was also a feeling of making room for something new to happen there...the possibility of life.
     There is something about the springtime that invites us to transform. We feel compelled to clean out the old and make room for new growth, new life. I often wonder why we bother to make New Year’s resolutions that are destined to fail during the coldest time of the year when all we can seem to muster is the will to survive the long, dark winter. Why not make Spring resolutions when we feel exhilarated by the budding trees and the warmer days that fill us with energy and hopefulness? Springtime is naturally the time to examine what is holding us back, so we can shed it and make room for new ideas, new growth, new life.
     Is there something in your life that is holding you back? In your family’s life? Maybe a change is needed. Perhaps you can do some transformation of your own. All it takes is a little spring cleaning.

* Monk story from Linda Thomas, "Chaos in Everyday Life; About Cleaning and Caring”, published in Kindling, 2004. Available on the Online Waldorf Library. Linda Thomas has a new book out that lots of people are excited about: Why Cleaning has Meaning: Bringing Wellbeing Home. I hope to read it soon.

Nurture? Nature? Destiny? By Jaimmie Stugard, Caregiver

   Recently I had the chance to peek at my husband’s kindergarten report card.  Now that LifeWays is delving into the document side of child care, I was interested and encouraged to see how the youngest MPS students were evaluated back in the eighties.  There were no grades, simply a sliding scale assessment based on physical, social and intellectual development.  The scale was very similar to the charts I am familiarizing myself with at LifeWays, acknowledging the range of capacities and the typical progression of the young child.  The most intriguing thing about this report card was, surprisingly, how the teacher’s comments about this five year old boy still seemed to apply to the man I know today.  Furthermore, our son shares many of these traits and they were observed by his kindergarten teacher.
Every parent can attest to the fact that even a newborn has his own characteristics, his own spirit, or self.  Sometimes the birth itself seems to be an expression of the baby’s individuality.  Gradually, as the child grows older these traits reveal themselves more and more.  Some are apparently hereditary while others seem mysteriously distinct.  Parents of multiple children often marvel at how different their children are.   How interesting that one child can be fearless and bold while her brother is so cautious and calculating.  The interplay of heredity and spirit/essence/personal nature has been studied and explored by scientists, spiritualist and laymen for ages.   
                 As LifeWays educators, we have the unique perspective of watching the child grow and develop from a very young age.  We take a holistic approach to “assessment” based on an interest in who the child is, personally.  Long before I look at the child development charts, I document observations about how each child speaks, sleeps, plays, listens, moves, etc. as well as my impressions about his physical and personal characteristics.  I review and update my observations regularly, trying my best to keep up with the children’s rapid growth.

Each development reveals something of the child’s own inner nature.  It seems appropriate that the tentative, observant baby takes her first steps ever so carefully and intentionally.  I am constantly inspired by their personal triumphs.  The child who was once finicky at meal time now asks for seconds of elaborate, vegetable saturated meals.  The tidy, meticulous child discovers the joy of digging and the dirt and proudly displays his mud-covered hands.  Whether it’s learning to walk or coping with frustration, each individual takes it on in their own, unique way.  I think our role is to embrace who they are, support who they are becoming and watch in awe as they fulfill their destinies. 

The Transformational Nature of Becoming by Jane Danner Sustar

Rudolf Steiner describes faithfulness in this way:
Let this be your faithfulness: You will experience moments, fleeting moments, with the other person. The human being will appear to you then as if filled, irradiated, with the archetype of his/her spirit. And then there may be, indeed will be, other moments, long periods of time when human beings are darkened. At such times, you will learn to say to yourself, ‘the spirit makes me strong. I remember the archetype. I saw it once. No illusion, no deception shall rob me of it.’ Always struggle for the image that you saw. This struggle is faithfulness. Striving thus for faithfulness you shall be close to one another as if endowed with the protective powers of angels.
It was not long in to being a mother that I realized that children live this. MY children were faithful to me in all my failings! Every day they expected the best of me no matter the short comings of the day before. The very least I could do for them was strive to be…me!
 I live in the presence of the miraculous every day of my life. As I stand witness to these little ones who are in my care I am constantly stuck by the profound mystery of becoming human. They demand it of me, continually, to become more and more human. It is an amazing task to stand before each and every one of them and struggle to remain faithful to them, to stand witness day by day to the amazing work of becoming.

Thank you.   

Seasonal Transformation by Beret Isaacson

As a Tucsonan, the distinctness of the seasons here in Milwaukee is very striking to me. I had the feeling once of wondering if anything would ever be green again. It isn't that I find any of the seasons unpleasant- I love winter and snow so much that snow in April doesn't bother me one bit. It's more that the amount of change and fluctuation is somewhat shocking to me. I remember one time being outside in the dramatically frozen, snowy world and wondering if winter would ever really end, of just having this feeling of amazement that so much change could happen so reliably. There I was, standing there with ice and snow all around in the very spot that not too long ago we'd all been running around in our bathing suits. It's just crazy! In winter I stand at my bedroom window and imagine my window open with the gigantic lilac underneath filling the whole room with its scent. Will it really happen? Yes. 

I think it's the same with children. How fast they grow and change is incredible. Can we trust the process? I think so. As adults, we provide the basics- food, water, shelter, warmth, safety and a loving, benevolent presence. And they thrive. In our overactive culture where we think nature needs so much assistance we can easily be misguided to think children need such interference, as well. At LifeWays we provide the basics and work on doing it really well. There aren't a lot of fancy bells and whistles here. Just organic food, nature and trees, safety and rhythm​, and loving adults providing joyful and attentive care. And the children blossom. Happy Spring!

"Hey, Who are You?" By Jeremy Bucher, Cook and Afternoon Caregiver

                Continuity is very important for young children, and any changes to their routine can become quite an obstacle that will need to be overcome. I recently "transformed" my image by getting my hair cut and trimming my beard. To some of the children at LifeWays, especially the very young ones, I became a totally different person. Young children are very perceptive about physical appearance and immediately notice these transformations, which can lead some to become upset and wary of this "new" character in their life. In order to make the adjustment to my transformation into a man with short hair and a shorter beard, I maintained my same disposition towards the children and utilized the clothing that they are accustomed to.
                I had first transformed my appearance just days before I was set to babysit one of our LifeWays children. The day before while at school I had noticed a difference in the behavior in some of the children when I was not wearing my classic red hat that I wear while I cook. My transformation was quite radical in that my hair was close to shoulder-length and I had gotten it trimmed much shorter than many of the children had ever seen. The specific child that I was to babysit had undergone her own transformation as we had gotten to know each other better. When she first arrived at LifeWays she would not speak to me, rather she would just stare at me, trying to figure me out. As time passed she began to answer the questions I would ask and that built into the relationship we have today which involves many questions and comments from her and no reticence to speak to me. As she became more comfortable with me she realized she could let her guard down and open up to me, leaving her reservations behind.
                The day that I was set to babysit I went over to the house for dinner and was not wearing my red hat that all the children know me best for. The child was in a very silly mood and the chatting that we had grown into had given way to short outbursts of sound and a very silly attitude, behaviors children may exhibit in the presence of a new person. As we sat down to dinner, the usual conversations that we had grown into were absent and the table talk was again dominated by silly behavior and sounds instead of words. As mom and dad began to leave for their evening the child became very upset, both screaming and crying as they drove away. This was radically different from the behavior at LifeWays and the phrase "I don't want you to be here" kept being hurled at me. This was all very strange due to the positive relationship we had cultivated at LifeWays. I suddenly had the stunning realization that for almost the entire time that this young girl had known me I had been wearing my red hat, and when that was not on my head I had very long hair that I could put over my face to make the children laugh (I did look quite silly with my hair covering my face). I immediately rushed to my bag and grabbed my hat and went back to find a confused yet some-what subdued child as I asked her, "is there something different about Mr. Jeremy?" She responded with "you have your hat on." With that the fear vanished and the conversation began again almost immediately. She got into her pajamas and we read a story or two (full of questions about why characters behaved in certain ways and why certain situations occurred) and she drifted off to sleep.

                Because our young children have been with us on our beautiful planet for such a short time they are not used to the transformations that people go through in their lives. My transformation was a complete change in my appearance leading even some parents to not be able to recognize me at first glance. I have since been trying to wear my hat only when cooking meals at LifeWays and introducing the "new" Mr. Jeremy little by little to ease the change for the children. The red hat is an important marker for the children and helps to remind them that though my appearance has transformed, I am still the same Mr. Jeremy underneath that hat. It is therefore highly important to ease into any transformations in the young child's life slowly and always having "memory markers" (such as the red hat) present to have a base upon which to build any transformation.

Transformation at LifeWays by Emily Hall, Forest Kindergarten Teacher and Caregiver

   After the brutal winter we had, the transformation of the forest to springtime is even more lovely and evident. We had quite a few brief hikes through the forest, listening to the cracking of the trees this winter both in the Woodland Suite and in Forest Kindergarten. Many transformations in the children have also been evident in the observations we at LifeWays have been writing about the children. I will share some general and specific observations I have made.
      Tree climbing skills have improved immensely among the three and four and five year olds. Children who once needed help getting back down are now much more self sufficient and quick at returning from their favorite branches. Forest Kindergarten Circle has expanded from ten minutes to twenty with an extended rest time and story at the end, and the children have learned to focus for longer periods of time. The Forest Kindergarten children can now hold hands and sing while moving at a quick pace in a circle without breaking the ring or getting too silly. 
     Children from the suites who join me on the couch for story time are able to focus on an entire book at a time now, who at the beginning of the year were just ready to play on the rug while they waited for lunch. (Nothing wrong with that, but listening to story when you are ready to is a good thing).  Table setting  has progressed from a highly managed event to children who know to put their outdoor gear away while I get the silverware, cups, and plates out. Some older two year olds have recently started helping, and they are doing a great job.
      Our stamina on hikes has improved too. Forest Kindergarten made it all the way to Kern Park with a whole half hour to play on the playground, in time for circle last week. At the beginning of the year, it took us much longer to hike so we didn't have as much time to play. ( Long hikes can be lovely when you stop to look at "troll homes" (fallen trees with the roots exposed) , hunt for rocks at  Rock Spot, and to bang sticks on Troll Bridge, and often we have slow hikes on purpose). Last Friday, everyone in the suite was such a good listener that we picked flowers in the forest. 
     Baby Ben has started joining the suite for nap.  Soon, a new baby will join us, we hear. Just like the new springtime baby in Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow, last month's naptime story. Right now at nap I am reading The Boy Who Spoke the Language of the Birds, a tale about a boy who understands the stories the birds tell and becomes the king's storyteller. He is changed into a dog by the princess' foolish wish on a magical stick, and rescues her stolen brothers from the Fairy Queen. In May I will start reading Flowers Festival by Elsa Beskow. In June I will be reading Flossie and the Fox, a story about a southern girl who meets a fox in the woods in the summertime who tries to steal her basket of eggs.  The stories I tell at naptime are different  depending on the childrens' needs for longer or shorter stories, and also with the changes in nature.
     The two year olds who at the beginning of the year didn't notice a change in story are starting to notice when the stories change, and tell me which ones are their favorites. Certain friends have favorite parts of stories, and woe be to the one who reads it wrong! One sits on his bed and tells an entire book by heart before nap. Another likes the part when the children of the forest pick up the dead snake. A few have particular requests for some special books to take to their cots.
   Something else I have observed is the two, three and four year olds developing their memories. They remember clearly when we found the first baby snake of the season and I put it under the rock wall. Now they point to that spot and say "there are snakes under there". When I finish the observations I am working on, I would gladly share them with you! Come and see me if you would like to read what your child has been doing, and how he or she has been changing and blossoming.

Have a happy Spring! - Miss Emily