Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Difference is in the Food by Jeremy Bucher

The smell of onions and garlic simmering in a sea of olive oil or the warm feeling that fills the heart when the smell of fresh baked bread overcomes you on a cool autumn day. These are some of the smells that help define what we do at LifeWays. The children who attend the center are offered a variety of foods in their organically grown and vegetarian meals. Freshly prepared food is a staple of the LifeWays ideology and is integral to the ideals we attempt to instill in the children. 
In many early childhood centers, the food that the children encounter has been prepared in a secluded kitchen far from the eyes and noses of the children. I attended an early childhood center where the only experience of our food occurred when it was plopped down in front of us at the table. At LifeWays, the kitchen is central to the center and the children are able to peek their heads in and see what is happening. With our open kitchen design, the children are able to smell every meal and come to me to question what is cooking. The children can then form a connection to their food that is often lost in our modern fast food culture. 
For many decades now in the United States we have operated under the idea of plentiful and filling food with little to no thought of health. We have given one of our most distinctly human activities, that of cooking, over to giant corporate entities that do not view health and nutrition as vitally important to the food supply. This has led to many early childhood centers providing plastic-wrapped foods high in fat, salt and processed sugar. At LifeWays, we eschew the plastic and the high fat, salt and sugar content for fresh, organic ingredients to produce vegetarian meals for the children. It is immensely important to teach good eating habits to children so that they may carry those habits with them as they grow and live their lives. I produce meals that may seem foreign to some children, but I have their health and the future of their choice of foods in mind as I craft in the kitchen. 
It is very true that at LifeWays the difference is in the food. We work hard to provide healthy meals to the children and instill positive eating habits that will stay with the children throughout their lives. By allowing the children access to the kitchen they are able to see how their meal comes into being, which increases the likelihood that they will eat the sometimes foreign dish placed in front of them. With a knowledge of the kitchen and the food, LifeWays is aiding in laying the groundwork for a healthy diet that will keep the children hearty and well as they grow and discover their world.

Nature is a Wonderland By Amanda Quesnell

Growing up my family had a cabin, we would go up north every weekend and it was something I looked forward to all week. My siblings and I would spend the whole weekend exploring outside. The lake allowed us to explore all the different water creatures and plants. We would spend our time digging for worms to use as bait, have competitions who could catch the most fish, go out on the boat searching for turtles, and walk around the edge of the lake hunting for frogs.    
Besides having the lake we had a few acres of land. We would spend hours in the woods playing. We would make “camps” that contained teepees, we would spend days collecting large sticks to make our shelters, we would find our favorite spots in the trees to hide out and eventually even ended up making a tree house and tire swing. But then every Sunday we would have to leave our forest wonderland and come home and go back to school.
LifeWays is fantastic in many ways but the best thing about LifeWays is it gives all the children a chance to experience what I got to experience as a child every day. The children love searching for worms, slugs, and toads. They sometimes walk through the woods quiet as can be to hear all the animals and hopefully spot a turkey or a deer. They find trees that become their castle, lion den, pirate ship, or automobiles.
LifeWays has taught me that nature isn’t just a place for free play but is also a great learning experience for children. Children learn how to get themselves dressed appropriately for the weather. The zippers, buttons, and laces are all examples of things that help children with their fine motor skills. While outside, children are running around, climbing trees and rocks, going on hikes, and moving logs developing their gross motor skills. Children also get a chance to learn about different bugs, birds, animals, plants, weather, seasons, and where their food comes from. 
The best thing about nature is that children get to learn through play and exploration. I used to think it was the teacher’s job to plan minute by minute what the children would be doing and what they would be learning. But now I know as a teacher it is most important to be good role model, to let the children play and work through their own problems, and chime in when necessary. LifeWays taught me not to take nature for granted and how important the role nature is for children, and that nature acts as a child’s wonderland.

The Art of Falling By Sandra Schmidt

Last Wednesday, my older friend Clayton climbed to the fork on the vine that hangs from the large tree in the play yard. He called down to me with a huge smile on his face and after I offered congratulations. He slid down the vine and ran off to play with other friends. Clayton had spent the last year watching the older children climb this vine (they are now in kindergarten). He had spent the last year attempting the climb -- climbing, falling off and most importantly picking himself up off the ground so he could try again. This is not to say there weren't tears (there were) and that I didn't intervene (I did by offering hugs and encouragement when needed). But I truly believe that without Clayton having the chance to pick himself up after falling off the vine, he would not have had the self-confidence to climb to the top. A true self confidence that now lives in Clayton.  
The tendency to pad and protect our children from every harm both big and small is a mistake (I know I've done it).  The tendency to want to intervene thinking we are going to spare them hurt (I've done that too) is misplaced.  If we are never given the chance to pick ourselves up after we fall how do we know that we can -- that we have the resilience to overcome life's obstacles.  I am fortunate that in my work with children at LifeWays I get to witness not only the pleasurable satisfaction that children have when they have mastered a skill but all the work that leads up to that moment too.        

Relationship-Based Care By Jaimmie Stugard

As some of you may know, I have been pursuing my child care administration credential through UWM. Over the last few months, I have had plenty of opportunities to reflect on the similarities and differences between the mainstream approach to early childhood education and LifeWays model of child care.  I have had lively discussions with other administrators, students, professors and early childhood professionals about our work.  I have compared tuition, pay scales, programs, regulations and policies across the country.
 I have also read a lot of mainstream articles, studies and academic journals on the subject.  The thing that keeps coming back to me is how LifeWays is completely aligned with what the academics and researchers define as best practices for early childhood education.  Yet, our practice is entirely different from the mainstream modalities.  Over the course of my continuing education, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of early childhood professionals are in agreement about what children need, but something is lost in the application of this knowledge.
For example, experts agree that children need consistent, warm, nurturing care.  Yet, traditional centers are modeled after primary schools. Children are separated by age and move to a new classroom every six months or year.  From the mainstream point of view, the main barrier to providing continuity of care is high turnover. But, looking at the bigger picture, it is apparent that constantly moving children from teacher to teacher and class to class deprives them of the consistency that they need. 
LifeWays is completely unique in our approach to continuity of care.  The Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards guiding principles state that “positive relationships are essential for the development of personal responsibility, capacity for self-regulation, for constructive interactions with others, and for fostering academic functioning and mastery. Warm, sensitive, and responsive interactions help children develop a secure, positive sense of self and encourage them to respect and cooperate with others.”  Voices for America’s Children takes this a step further with the assertion that “stable, consistent relationships with a limited number of caregivers” is a defining characteristic of quality care. 
 LifeWays practices reflect our firm belief that having consistent caregivers, especially from birth to three years old and, preferably, up to primary school age, is essential for establishing a sense of trust and well-being.  Not only do children thrive in the presence of consistent, nurturing caregivers, but they also benefit from forming relationships with people of all ages.  Blended-age groupings give children the opportunity to learn and grow together, helping others with varied capacities while forming meaningful relationships with one another.  The children can clearly see their place in the continuum of growing up when they are surrounded by people of all ages throughout their days.  Children, families and caregivers thrive in an environment where they are continually building relationships that foster healthy growth and development.  It is not enough to simply have positive interactions. Continuity of care is essential and it is the foundation of LifeWays approach to early childhood education.

Benefits of Mixed-Age Care

Healthy Attachment - Having consistent caregivers is essential for establishing a sense of trust and well-being.
Parents and caregivers establish long-term, trusting partnerships.
Fosters bonding and individualized care.
Older children have the opportunity to lead, instruct, assume responsibility, and nurture others. They strengthen their existing skills and knowledge through the process of tutoring others.
Younger children are exposed to more complex play, advanced language, and educational activities by observing and imitating the older children. They often learn better from other children than from adults.

Thoughts on Reverence by Belinda Kenwood

From my head to my feet,
I am the image of God.
From my heart to my hands,
I feel the breath of God.
When I speak with my mouth,
I follow God’s will.
When I see God everywhere,
In Mother, Father, in all dear people,
In beast and flower, tree and stone,
Then nothing brings fear
But love to all that is around me.
--Rudolf Steiner

Reverence - The honoring and respecting of the divine in all things.  When we speak of reverence in our work with young children, it’s that we are recognizing the divine in each child and are “introducing him or her to earthly life through the sacred qualities of rhythm, beauty and love.”  In the words of Rahima Baldwin Dancy (You are Your Child’s First Teacher), parents, childcare providers and early childhood teachers are like “caretakers of the divine.”  Thus, in knowing that, we can begin to develop an attitude or a mood in being with young children that one would call “priestly.”  Reverence, as well as Gratitude, is important to foster in early childhood.  However, they cannot be taught to young children through doctrine or words.  Rather, those attitudes must live within the adults who are caring for them.

So, what does that look like?  How can we strive to foster reverence in our living with young children? 
At LifeWays, when caring for infants as well as children up to six years of age, I have come to understand the need to be personally centered.  Getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, fitting in some exercise, enjoying personal hobbies and interests and having my own meditative practice all help me to be as clear as possible when I’m with the children.  I strive to be totally in the present moment and not thinking about other things…just present with and for the children.  Thus, when I arrive at the center, I want to remember to “check my baggage” at the door and immerse myself in what needs to be done at the center.  This can be a huge challenge for me, some days more than others, but I have found that when I am able to be in the present, I become my authentic self which, can be such a gift to the children as well as to myself.
 When caring for infants and toddlers, I resonate with the teachings of Magda Gerber, founder of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), introduced to me in the LifeWays Training course.  Magda studied and worked with researcher and pediatrician, Dr. Emmi Pikler, in Budapest, Hungary.  When she came to the United States, she introduced the revolutionary concept of respect for the infant as a complete, if immature, human being with a self-initiating agenda to discover the world (and us) with an almost scientific approach.  Thus, when caring for infants and toddlers, I strive to be attentive and attuned to his or her needs by taking a step back to observe.  Observation can help me understand his/her needs, discover her personality, abilities, likes and dislikes, etc.  I strive to create a peaceful, predictable environment that, helps babies adjust to their new lives outside the womb, prevents overstimulation and builds confidence.  During diaper changes, I practice talking gently and soothingly to the baby/toddler, perhaps humming quietly while taking care to use gentle movements when removing diapers, clothing, etc.  I practice awareness of the way I move, slowing down my movements vs. rushing around or making sudden, quick movements.  I strive to give the baby or toddler my undivided attention when feeding, diapering, and preparing him for sleep.   Also, I try to remember to either ask or tell the baby or toddler what I’m going to do with him/her before I do it.  For example, I either let them know that I’m going to pick them up to feed/diaper them, or I ask, “Are you ready for me to pick you up now to eat/diaper,” instead of swooping them up from their play or activity without any communication.
When working with the children, one of the most important things I can do to help foster reverence is to be a worthy model of imitation.  Young children learn through imitation.  They “drink us in” (we grown-ups) …the good and the not so good.  Children absorb it all.  I strive to pay special attention to the quality of my movements and the tone of my voice.  I strive to bring warmth and a joyful attitude to the activities I’m doing like sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, folding the laundry, setting the table, etc.  I also strive to be aware of my interactions with the other adults in the environment…are they respectful, am I using kind manners and words? 
We strive to create a reverent mood at naptime by providing a calm, quiet, peaceful atmosphere where the children can drift off to sleep and gently awaken.  We work to surround the children with beauty.  Meal tables are set with real dishes and silverware and centerpieces are created with colorful cotton cloths and items from nature.  Soft lighting, silks, and cotton cloths are used in various places, and when we prepare a foot bath for the children by gently massaging their feet in a big bowl of warm water scented with lavender essential oil and then gently drying their feet with a towel, we are planting the seeds of how we care for our bodies.  The children also have the opportunity to be out in and with nature for extended periods of time each day, experiencing the wonders of each season. 
The foundation of spiritual awakening is gratitude, and we can foster gratitude by cultivating an attitude of gratitude within ourselves and hence in the child for all that the world gives us.  Rudolf Steiner said, “If he sees that everyone who stands in some kind of relationship to him in the outer world shows gratitude for what he receives from this world; if, in confronting the outer world and wanting to imitate it the child sees the kind of gestures that express gratitude, then a great deal is done towards establishing in him the right moral attitude.  Gratitude belongs to the first seven years of life.”
Simple ways of showing gratitude are through meal blessings and bedtime verses or prayers.  At LifeWays, we sing a blessing before the meal, and after the meal, we bless the good food that filled our bellies, we bless the hands that prepared our delicious meal, we are thankful for the cool water and milk, and we are grateful for our good friends to share it with.  We then sing, “Thank you for our meal…thank you for our meal.”  We show gratitude by acknowledging and thanking someone for a good deed done or when we receive a gift.  Offering a lap, a hug, a hand to hold, a tissue, or the time, space and quiet presence to allow a little one to cry because they miss their mommy or daddy or offering comfort, an apology and a Band-Aid or Boo-Boo Bunny when a child gets hurt are gifts and are ways of planting seeds of compassion and kindness within him/her.
When we are reverent, when we honor and respect the divine in all things by being generous, forgiving, full of wonder and awe, and providing simple, meaningful rituals, we are nourishing our children’s souls as well as our own.  Rabbi Harold Kushner (Why Bad Things Happen to Good People) wrote,
“It was said of the last quarter of the 20th century, and will likely be said of the first decade of the 21st, that it was a wonderful time to build computers, but a challenging time to write poetry.  Our children will grow up comfortable with technology and mechanical things.  They will probably grow up with a consumer mentality, thanks to all the advertising to which they are exposed.  But they may grow up with an important part of their souls undeveloped.
It will take extra effort on our part to raise children fluent in the language of spirituality-children who will be comfortable praying when they are anxious or grateful, capable of forgiving when they have been hurt, generous in the face of need, aware of the beauty of nature and of poetry.  We cannot depend on society to teach them those graces, but there are things we can do to nourish our children’s souls.  The effort will be worth it.  We can give our children no greater gift.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Coming Home by Belinda Kenwood

It’s a beautiful, early spring morning.  Father Sun shines brightly overhead and the sky is a lovely shade of robin’s egg blue.  The air is fresh and crisp following on the heels of a very rainy, stormy day experienced the day before.  I am sitting outside in the play yard, quietly observing three children at play…a 4-1/2 yr. old boy, a 3-1/2 year old boy, and a 2-1/2 year old girl.  They’ve each chosen a favorite container and are industriously scooping rainwater out of the sandbox.  Conversation ensues among them as they carry on with their good work.  I hear the eldest boy remark, “We need “access”…we need more “access”, as he uses his strong arms to move wheelbarrows, shovels and other outdoor toys out of the way, clearing a path in which to reach other rain puddles to scoop out of the sandbox.  He uses this newly discovered word several more times throughout the rest of outdoor playtime.   As I continue to observe, I hear a lone bird in the distance, singing his morning song. All is calm and peaceful.   After scooping most of the water out of the sandbox, each child picks up a shovel and begins digging in the cool, moist earth.  One of them gleefully calls out to me, “We’re making mud!”  They are reveling in pouring water onto the earth and creating mud puddles in which to exuberantly stomp in, happy to be allowed to participate in such an activity because they are wearing all of their rain gear.  Another child makes his way closer to where I’m sitting, where he spies a small log.  He begins pouring his newly made “mud” over it.  I take note that I have not had to interrupt their play to help settle any disagreements or redirect play, as they are intent on the “work” at hand.  Soon, other caregivers and children begin to join us.  All promptly get busy with different tasks.   One little guy finds a log and drapes himself over it and with his stomach and legs gently rolls the log back and forth.  As the play yard hums with purposeful activity and conversations, I think to myself, “Ahhh…just another typical day at LifeWays.”  And then I think to myself, “We are so very blessed.”

Before heading inside to prepare for lunchtime activities, I take my little ones on a short hike.  As we descend the big hill, they ask, “Where are we going?”  “What are we doing?”  “Hmmmm,” I thoughtfully respond, “you shall see.”  I stay quiet on our hike, observing Mother Earth as she begins to awaken from her deep slumber.  I take note that the grasses are once again turning a bright shade of green and many tiny flowers with purple petals have emerged, gracing the forest floor and hillside.  These changes do not go unnoticed by my young charges.  As they follow me along the nature path, I can hear one say, “These flowers are making me want to pick one.”  He says this again, more in a questioning manner, and I realize that he is asking permission before going ahead and picking one.  I gently reply that they are, indeed, lovely to look at, but we must not pick them, as they do not belong to us but to Mother Earth. He seems to accept this answer as he bends down to take a closer look at the tiny flowers with the purple petals.

As we continue winding along the path, climbing the hill to return to the building to prepare for our lunchtime activities, my heart fills with gratitude, and I breathe a deep sigh, thinking to myself, “Ahhh…after all of the journeying and learning I’ve experienced since leaving LifeWays the first time, I’ve come home.”

I have heard a mother bird,
singing in the rain.
Telling all her little ones,
Spring has come again.
I have seen a wave of green,
down a lovely lane.
Making all the hedges glad,
Spring has come again.
I have seen a patch of brown,
golden in the sun.
Crocuses are calling out,
Spring has just begun!”

Storytelling for Times of Change by Jaimmie Stugard

           In a recent newsletter article, I wrote of the value of the pedagogical tale.  Throughout time stories have had immeasurable cultural value that moved beyond simple entertainment.  Human history has been chronicled through the oral tradition.  The archetypes found in ancient tales are an expression of our inner life as well as an articulation of our worldly experiences.  It is no wonder that psychologists and anthropologists take a special interest in storytelling and the oral tradition.  It makes sense that humans have used stories to teach each other about the joys and perils that lay beyond the village gates. 
            At LifeWays, story time is a time for bonding and sharing in the artistry and wisdom of this ancient tradition.  Pedagogically, we can use stories and verses to promote language development, guide behavior, offer an explanation and mark a transition.  As I was preparing to move from the suite and introduce Miss Belinda to the children, I told a rendition of the story Queen Mary and the Children of the Cedar Castle at nap time for many days. This story is similar to the one I tell in August in anticipation of some children leaving LifeWays to begin school.  It is full of familiar landmarks and scenery to spark their imaginations and set the scene for this tale of imminent change.

Queen Mary and the Children of the Cedar Castle
By Miss Jaimmie
Once upon a time, there lived a wise and benevolent queen.  Her name was Queen Mary.  Queen Mary was known throughout the kingdom for her kindness and compassion and her love of little children.  Children adored her and followed her wherever she roamed.  The Queen thought it would be lovely to have a castle to share with the children she cared for so dearly.  So, she went on a quest, in search of the perfect castle for children.  She walked through the village to the edge of the Enchanted Wood.  And there she saw a beautiful castle made all out of cedar.  In front of the castle lay the village and just beyond the castle stood the Enchanted Wood.  Queen Mary’s heart filled with joy.  The Cedar Castle was the perfect place for children to play and grow together.
                So the Queen invited the children of the village to join her in the Cedar Castle.  She also invited Lords and Ladies to come and help her care for the children.  They all spent many days and weeks together in the Cedar Castle.  They played together and they worked together.  They ate together and they rested together.  Many stories were told and many songs were sung.  Many hours were spent exploring the Enchanted Wood.  Butterflies and snakes, birds and squirrels, fairies and spiders, deer and turkeys were among the children’s forest friends.  The seasons brought many new and interesting things for the children to explore.  From snowflakes to scilla, the enchanted forest was full of beauty and wonder.  And so, the weeks and months and years passed, and the Cedar Castle and enchanted forest were filled with joy and love.
            One fine day, Queen Mary went for a stroll in the Enchanted Wood.  She walked further into the wood than she had ever walked before.  She walked through the Clearing and beyond the Story Rock.  She walked down the crookedy stairs and along the riverside.  On and on she walked, beyond the Troll Bridge and the Jasper House.  On and on and on she walked.  Beyond the Quartz Mountain that is the heart of the Enchanted Wood.  She walked and she walked until she came to place she had never seen before.  It was a beautiful meadow full of colorful butterflies and fragrant flowers.  Queen Mary stood in the meadow and closed her eyes.  She smelled the sweet, fragrant flowers and heard the bees buzzing all around her.  She heard the river flowing. She felt the wind blowing and the warm sun shining on her face. 
             When the Queen opened her eyes, she saw a most unusual sight.  A beautiful rainbow arced across the blue sky and landed at her feet.  Mary felt compelled to climb the rainbow, and so she did.  And when she reached the top, she was amazed at all she saw.  She could see the wide Enchanted Wood, the Flowing River and the Quartz Mountain. She could see the Jasper House and the Troll Bridge, the crookedy stairs, Story Rock and the Clearing.  She could see the Cedar Castle and the village beyond.  And when she looked even further, she saw other villages, other forests and rivers, and other castles.  The castles had golden silk flags blowing in the wind that seemed to be waving to her.  Suddenly, Queen Mary was taken with a great longing to explore the world beyond her kingdom and visit the other castles.  Perhaps, they too, were filled with happy, playful children.  
                With her heart eager for adventure, the Queen slid back down the rainbow and landed in the soft grasses and flowers in the meadow.  She walked back through the Enchanted Wood, past the Quartz Mountain, the Jasper House and the Troll Bridge.  She walked along the riverside and climbed the crookedy stairs.  She walked past the Story Rock and into the Clearing where she saw her dear friends, the Lord and Ladies of the Cedar Castle sitting together among the scilla chatting and singing.  Queen Mary told them all about her adventure and the castles that lay beyond their kingdom.  She asked the Lord and Ladies to care for the Cedar Castle and the children while she explored the world beyond. And, of course, they agreed.

                The Lords and Ladies and the children of the village continued to spend their days happily together in the Cedar Castle and the Enchanted Wood, while Queen Mary went on to explore the world beyond.  She met many new friends, and all who came to know her were touched by her presence.  She was known throughout the land as a helper for humanity and a kind and wise teacher.  And so it was, that Queen Mary, the Lords and Ladies and all of the Children of the Cedar Castle lived happily ever after.    

Allowing Independence and Change by Emily Hall

As children grow, they are able to do more day to day tasks around LifeWays. The older 2, 3, 4, and 5 year olds often assist me in setting tables, and then have a short circle and story on the rug by the couch. The older two year olds need a bit more management in knowing where the plates, cups, spoons, and bowls go, but they are often my most excited participants.  As they get older, the tables are set more tidily and need less management, but the children are less enthusiastic about helping rather than playing. Having chores for the older children is important, however, and their contributions to the community are valued and necessary.  I try to allow as much independence as possible in doing these important chores. It may look like just setting a table, but look below the surface and there is quite a bit to be learned about a child from the way they do this task! 

The Joys of Change by Jeremy Bucher

               LifeWays is a magical place full of ever-changing and growing children. Seemingly every day the children change their preferences and tastes as they grow and learn more about themselves and their environment. We of course witness the physical changes that the children go through, but we also experience the changes that occur as the children become more adventurous with their diet.
                Just as the long, cold winter has given way to brightly-colored flowers and rainy afternoons, some of the infants have begun blooming into lively toddlers. We are beginning to see teeth where once a smile revealed only pink gums. Words such as "hi" have replaced the inscrutable sounds that let us know some of the youngest children wish to have our attention. As these young ones are growing their new teeth and learning how to say actual words, they are also defining their preferences by rebuffing foods once deemed palatable in favor of new textures and tastes. This was recently evidenced by an entire serving of broccoli having been discarded to the floor while a bean quesadilla was enthusiastically devoured.
                Changes of the palate are not just present in the lives of the youngest children, some of the older children have been making strides in expanding and changing their diet. Some of the children often make requests for meals containing plain white rice or plain pasta. These have been the desired foods for some of the children for as long as I have been cooking at LifeWays. The requests for certain plain foods have not decreased, but instead of untouched meals being scraped into the compost bin, I am seeing nibbles of meals being taken and am met with triumphant, "I tried the red rice today!"

                Change is a necessary and wonderful part of the human experience. Some changes occur without any effort on our part, while others occur only when we are brave and make the decision to try new things. One of the great joys of working at LifeWays is having the ability to watch these changes occur as the children develop and grow into the amazing human beings that they are.

Children at Play by Amanda Quesnell

Transformation is huge among children, they are consistently changing, growing, and learning new things every day. One of the great things about working at LifeWays is that the children get to stay with the same teacher, children, and in the same suite until they are ready for their next school. As a teacher it is exciting getting to spend time with the children throughout their stay at LifeWays. We get to see the child grow developmentally, physically, and emotionally. We get to celebrate all the exciting challenges the children overcome that are big and small.

At the start of winter many children struggle getting ready for the outdoors, but by the end of the season they have learned which shoes go on the right feet, how to zip their coats, and how to put there mittens on by themselves. Once they are able to get ready without any help they are so proud and happy, they run over to me showing and telling me that they did it all without help. In my suite the children like to celebrate this by giving me two high-fives then helping the other children around them get ready, showing off their new skills.

We get to see babies learn to sit-up, crawl, walk, and talk and as they turn into toddlers we get to help and see them become more and more independent. 

Another great thing about observing the children throughout the years is watching them form friendships. Children that once fought become friends, learn to play together, take turns, and let others join in. They figure out how to solve their own problems that arise during play and figure out how to entertain each other without toys.

Going into the woods is one of the children’s favorite and most popular things to do. They find things in nature to make part of their play. The children love to play with sticks and rocks, make lunch out of mud, leaves, grass and flowers, and climb trees. It’s really exciting to observe the fun and creative things that children play with in the woods by only using nature. The children like to use a log as a fishing boat catching big fish to eat, flying an airplane or riding a motorcycle- the log has many possibilities of what kinds of fun the children will have that day. With all the technology around today it is nice getting to see children enjoy nature.

A New Room by Sandra Schmidt

As I wait for my new suite to be completed, I have had the time to think about how well I do with transitions and change. Just when I think the move is imminent and I start to prepare myself for the new rhythm we will have in our new surroundings, a delay occurs that sets back our move-in date. It can be frazzling even for a grown-up. It has also made me examine how I am supporting the children in my care when there is a change. Songs help transitions -- from washing our hands to getting to the table for meals. A strong daily and weekly rhythm helps too.  With the new suite we talk about our future in the room. We've made visits to the room in various points during the construction and we have talked about how some things will remain the same -- yes, we will be taking our toys with us.

Recently two of the older girls in my suite were talking about kindergarten and how they would go to different schools. They wondered if they would they still continue to be friends and see each other now that their time at LifeWays was ending (yes we have serious talks like this over lunch).  After some pondering and discussion between the girls, I pointed out that they live in the same neighborhood and there would be opportunities to see one another after they left LifeWays. The meal ended with the girls being able to see a possible future that was different, yet it was a future where they could remain friends. They needed to express their concerns about the big change that was coming at the end of the summer. They needed me to listen and acknowledge their concerns. Changes big and small are part of life and how we help each other during times of change is what makes human.

Change by Tamara Treviranus

This spring has brought some changes in terms of our teachers and administrators. However, amazingly, everything feels very much the same as it always has at LifeWays. The rhythm of each day and the cyclical rhythms of the seasons provide us all, especially the children, with security.

Several years ago, when my now teenage daughter attended LifeWays, she was lucky to be one of the first forest kindergarteners. One spring day, probably about this time of year, I picked her up as usual after lunch.   She wanted me to take a walk in the woods with her.  I felt that it really was time to go home and take a nap.  Her persistence and sincere desire to show me the forest won out and off we went down the path surrounded by small blue flowers to the river.

My three year old daughter led me on a hike all the way to the troll bridge and showed me what amazing, magical sounds a stick made when dragging it across the metal bars. She showed me where the fairies and gnomes hide and how to make proper hot “lockichaw” with a stick, stirring contentedly at the edge of the river.  I was astounded that making “hot lockichaw” was an enjoyable activity for 45 minutes for a three year old.  Keeping a three year old busy at home by myself was never so laid back.  Needless to say we began taking more frequent trips to the river for some peaceful enjoyment together.  

Now, several years later, we still occasionally take walks in these woods as a family.  The blue flowers and mossy earthen floor are just as beautiful.

“Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”- Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

 “The more it changes, the more it’s the same.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Speaking in Stories by Jaimmie Stugard

One of my favorite stories to tell at rest time is the story of Peter Rabbit.  I like to tell this classic tale of mother knows best when the children are in a particularly squirrelly or defiant mood.  Many children can relate to the bold, independent and adventurous little Peter- especially in early spring as the world is blooming and bursting and begging to be explored.  The children are tucked in and I sit in my rocker in the hushed room with a baby or a lyre on my lap.  I begin to sing, as I do every day, the song that introduces our tale, “Peter, listen to your mother.  You may go down the lane.  Or to the meadow to play.  Stay out of the garden.”  The children know the song well and they know the story that will follow.  They have heard it day after day, for weeks at a time.  They snuggle up in their beds, listen to the familiar tale and drift off to sleep.

Lately, I’ve been telling the story of Chez Jaques and Amelie.  This story was inspired by a sweet, old pentatonic melody and a lot of full plates at the end of the meal.  “Hearty eaters” and “choosy eaters” alike love the story of the talented chef and his hungry brood.  Every evening, Jaques fixes a fine meal for his family while his children sit at the table, chanting and singing “We will empty any pot. Little children eat a lot. Bigger folks will have to fast. I do not think the bread will last…”  (Julius Knierim).

 A pedagogical story paints a picture as the images come to life in the storyteller’s mind.  The children relate to the characters and the tale is vivid and wholesome and affirming.  Lectures, scoldings, commands and demands are all often ill-received (if received at all) and soon forgotten.  It is clear to me that the pedagogical tale leaves a deep impression upon the child.  The unintended benefit is the healing effect it has on the “Pedagogue” (that’s us).  The “choosy eaters” probably won’t suddenly start eating everything once they’ve heard the story of Chez Jaques, but telling the story is a nurturing way to address the matter without frustration.    
At LifeWays, we also use simple story-songs and verses to mark a transition.  For example, when it is time to clean up and prepare for our meal, I’ve learned its best not to suddenly  announce,  “It’s clean-up time,” or start nagging and begging “Please, help clean!” or sing some condescending, Barney-esque jingle about cleaning and working.  I like to simply sing this verse while I begin tidying:
Grandmother mouse
Likes a tidy house
With the toys all put away
At the end of play.
Her little broom sweeps
While dolly sleeps.
The teacups and dishes
Line up like wishes.
Let’s rest for a while,
Mousey nods with a smile.
The house is neat.
Let’s go have a treat.
-Suzanne Down

When it is time to come in from the clearing or go up the stairs, I always sing, “Up, up, up the mountain. Up the mountain side. Climb, climb, climb the mountainWe all climb so high.”  We all hike up “The Mountain” together, singing and huffing and puffing our way to the top where a hot, tasty meal awaits. And, as always, we sing:
Earth Who gives to us this food.
Sun who makes it ripe and good.
Sun above and Earth below,
To you our loving Thanks we show.

For more on the subject, I recommend this wonderful collection of pedagogical tales - Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour  by Susan Perrow

I Hear You and I Understand You by Jeremy Bucher

 As children begin to develop their language skills it is important that their words and ideas are heard and acknowledged by the adults in their lives. Providing children with verbal and visual cues help them to understand that they are being heard and will boost their confidence in their own words. Though it is important to listen to children, it is essential to frame conversation in such a way as to not leave too much choice or complicated thought for the child to have to cope with.

            There are several young children at LifeWays who rely heavily on verbal cues for them to understand that their voice is being heard by the person they wish to be speaking to. There are many times where I will hear my name called and I will look attentively at the child requesting my ear and instead of proceeding with their thought they will continue to say my name. Though I am looking at them and clearly giving them my attention, they wait for a verbal cue that I am listening to them. This can be as simple as my saying, "Yes, Joey?" Visual listening cues are more understated and harder for young children who are just developing speech to grasp, but still very important. After I have verbally acknowledged a child wishing to speak with me, I provide visual cues such as eye contact and orienting my body towards the speaker, things that they will begin to understand equate to an attentive audience even in the absence of a verbal cue as they grow and further develop their speech.

            A common subject that is broached by the children at LifeWays is, "What is for lunch today?" I must tread lightly and simply when I answer this question because there are some foods for which even the name will cause a bad taste in the mouth for many children. I always make sure that I answer this question as broadly and simply as possible. Instead of responding to the child, "We are having spaghetti noodles with red lentil sauce and corn, beans, carrots and peas," I will simply reply, "We are having noodles with sauce and vegetables." The first answer, being so detailed, leaves space in the child's mind to focus on the parts of the dish that they dislike (or happen to dislike that day) and sour the entire meal. The broad and simple nature of the second answer provides a simple picture in the child's mind that does not become complicated until they are served their meal. At the point the food is on the plate, a negative reaction to the food may be met with the simple statement, "Find something on your plate that you like and you may eat that." This provides the child with a choice (eating some foods and not others) within a defined boundary (their plate), and shows them that their words were heard and taken into consideration. Too much choice is a problem for a developing mind and can lead to more issues rather than solutions. If given the choice, children would eat candy and cookies for every meal because sweets always taste good. Or they may choose the same meal over and over because they know they like it, never expanding their repertoire. Instead of asking children at LifeWays what they would like to eat for lunch, we provide them with a plate with several options on it and give them the simple choice of what is on that plate. There may be a day where lima beans are the most terrible and disgusting food in existence, followed a week later by a professed love for lima beans by the same child. It is important to guide the young child while all the while nudging them in the direction that will lead to positive choices they can carry with them for their entire lives.

            Speech development at a young age is a time when children will begin framing who they are as individual human beings. They must know that their words are heard and understood and that their thoughts and ideas truly matter. This can be achieved by providing verbal and visual cues while guiding children to positive decisions with limited choices and avoiding conversation that may complicate or confuse the ideas they have running through their developing minds.



Learning to Speak by Mary O'Connell

One of my favorite texts in the LifeWays Early Childhood Training is Karl Konig’s book, The First Three Years of the Child. Konig describes the three major milestones achieved by the child that are unique to humans. It always blows my mind to think about how important the first three years of our lives are; we accomplish the things that make us essentially human and most of us can’t even remember these years in our own lives!

The task of the first year is – you probably guessed it – Walking. It seems as though every movement the infant takes during the first year is leading him toward that milestone of becoming upright and taking his first steps. Rudolf Steiner said, “In helping the child as he learns to walk, we must be pervaded by love.” This seems like a pretty easy command to follow, as the infant is such a juicy bundle of sweetness! What’s not to love? Once the child achieves uprightness, he suddenly recognizes that he is a separate person from the rest of the world around him, even his mother. This realization is quite earth-shattering on one level, and great fun on another. Around age one, we often see the little toddler crying despondently for his mother when she walks out of the room, only to run gleefully away from her when she is calling him to come!

This sense of separateness leads the child to her next milestone, which is Speaking. Communication is what helps the little one connect again, in a new way, to her beloved people. Steiner advises, “In helping the child to gain the power of speech we must be absolutely truthful.” Wow, that’s a powerful mandate! It’s good to take the time to reflect just how truthful we are with and around our little ones. For the child, the first part of the process of the acquisition of speech is naming. It’s so fun to see a toddler pointing and calling out the name of everything around her…. Ball!  Baby! Cookie! Dada! It’s at this earliest stage of speaking that we can begin to see how important it is to be truthful. If we show the child a picture book or give her a toy that is a crazy-looking caricature of a person or animal and then say that is a “girl” or a “dog,” we are not helping the child develop a true picture of what “girl” or “dog” are.

To foster language acquisition, of course we need to speak to our children. Our intention of truthfulness invites us to avoid mindless chatter, but rather make simple statements that are imbued with warmth and love.  Steiner warns against the use of baby talk, saying it is really a caricature of true speech.  Rhythmical verses, nursery rhymes, and simple games are very nourishing ways for the young child to practice speech in a playful way.

Some parents have asked, “Well, what about the truthfulness of Santa Claus?” This is tricky if you think of Santa on a totally analytical level. On the heart and soul level, I love one of the stories I’ve heard and shared with children about Saint Nicholas, the good, pious, real live man who was friend and helper to many people, whom legend tells us left fruit, nuts and coins for hungry people in their stockings drying by the fireplace. When I tell this story to a group of children, I feel it is absolutely true on every level, and that the tradition of Santa Claus is keeping alive the spirit of this kind, loving man who is no longer physically in our midst. When my own boys at ages 7 and 9 began to question whether the person who left things in their stocking was in fact Santa or their parents, I was able to share with them the special secret of those who keep alive the tradition of St. Nicholas, without feeling in any way I had been lying to them. The boys were excited to be in on the tradition and keep the magic alive for their younger sister. The tradition of Santa Claus gives us an opportunity to examine our own relationship to wonder and magic, and we can decide if we feel it to be true.

Finally, clear, true speech leads the child to the third fundamental task of the child in the first three years -  Thinking. Steiner says, “Our own thinking must be clear if right thinking is to develop in the child from the forces of speech.” That may be a topic for a future newsletter! Of course, I just realized this is my last newsletter here at LifeWays. Maybe Jaimmie will invite me back as a guest writer sometime! In the meantime, please know that you and your children have a special, permanent place in my heart.