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.

Communication at LifeWays by Amanda Quesnell

            At LifeWays we strive for the children to work out their own problems and frustrations so that they can become more independent. Getting ready to go outside in the winter is always a challenge for the children. They struggle putting on their snow pants, coats, hits, mittens, and boots. Many times the children get frustrated and may start to whine or refuse to get ready, some will give a scream out of frustration. I always tell them “to use their words” they then will kindly ask for a little help, many times the older children like to help others zip their coat, or put on their friend’s scarf.
            Throughout the day a toy will be taken or fought over. Usually when this happens the children may start to cry or scream.  When this happens I usually go over to them and ask them to “use their words” they will then tell me the problem and I will have them go tell their friend what the problem is. More often than not the toy is given back but sometimes the friend will need to be reminded to listen to their friend’s words. It’s always really enjoyable watching two children work out their problems by themselves without an adult interfering. 
            Another great example of communication at LifeWays is at meal times. Sometimes the children are so excited to tell me what they did over the weekend or earlier in the day.  The children get so excited that they all start talking to me at once. I always tell them, “I can only listen to one at a time,” so then we go around the table one-by-one telling a story while the others are eating, listening, and waiting for their turn to come. The children really enjoy doing this and will usually want to keep going around another time. This is always really enjoyable to me because now with the advances of technology, family dinners are not the same as they use to be. I remember when I was younger having family dinners.  For these family dinners the T.V. had to be turned off, and there were no games or phones allowed. It was a time to talk to one another and hear what was going on in everyone’s day. But now when I go to restaurant I look around and see many kids and parents playing on their phone or Ipad, instead of enjoying one another’s company. 
            LifeWays is a great place that teaches children how to communicate with one another, solve their problems, and work out their frustrations.


The Joy of Connecting Face to Face by Sandra Schmidt

Sometimes people wonder why we don't have any media at LifeWays, even audio CD players for music. Recently I saw Miss Jane (the former lead caregiver of our suite) and, as early childhood teachers are wont to do, we updated each other on the children in our care. She let me know how the children that had left LifeWays and my care last fall were doing in Kindergarten and I filled her in on the milestones of the children that were in her care before she left LifeWays to join the Tamarack School community. And as I filled her in on the lives of the children in my care, I told her of my babysitting for a young friend the previous night. Simon and I spent a good 25 minutes opening and closing a box that contained a set of small board books. The first thing he had to master was opening the box (it had a magnetic flap to secure the books) and after that skill was mastered we spent the remaining time of me asking, *Where did they go?* (Box closed), Simon opening the box with a laugh and me commenting, *There they are*. Repeat. I marveled to Jane at his attention span, his ability to master the opening of the box, his pleasure in opening and closing the box, and his sense of humor (he hid books under the box with a grin). This never would have happened if we had the TV on.

We now talk less to our children because they are spending so much time having *screen time*. Several studies have linked future success in school with how much parents talk to their children. A program in Providence, RI is now teaching parents how to talk to their children as a way to improve first grade readiness. Simon*s opening and closing the box, while perhaps not the most exciting thing from an adult perspective, was a deeply rewarding experience for him. Not only was he learning to use his auditory, fine and gross motor skills he was learning what it is like to be a human with an adult that cares about him * something that never can be duplicated by an electronic device. That is why we at LifeWays use the human voice to sing * why we don*t use the TV or audio players in the classroom.

Circle Time by Emily Hall

Most days before lunch, the older children and I set tables and then have a circle time which includes songs, movement, a simple story and a rest time. During rest, we warm colored beeswax in our hands, perhaps mold it into a shape or just enjoy the warmth and color, and some of us share our creations after quiet time. The circle songs are nursery rhymes about the seasons and daily life, and they remain the same for months on end. Often, we are joined by curious younger friends who participate as they are able and willing. Because the songs remain the same for so long, it is easy and welcoming for younger friends to join. I enjoy this mix of ages and even the babies sometimes visit and watch from the center of the circle.
            In You Are Your Child's First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin Dancy writes that rhythm and repetition in nursery rhymes make memorization simpler, and that for the three year old child simple stories that build on themselves through repetition are important. Stories like This Is the House that Jack Built, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, The Little Red Hen, and The Little Gingerbread Boy are the type of stories that I share at rest time while the 3, 4, and 5 year olds (and their little imitators) join me on the circle rug. After circle, we share picture books on the couch and snuggle up before we bless our meal. This little daily ritual gives important language stimulation to the children at LifeWays and provides storytelling that feeds the soul as well as the brain.

The Pause Between Listening and Speaking by Tamara Treviranus

It is almost one of my favorite times of year.  When we just begin to feel a twinge of warmth in the air, the light begins to return, and the snow and ice melt.  I really like this time of year because it is when I begin to think of the seeds I am going to plant, of plans for the summer with family, and longer, warmer days. This time of year holds all the promise of what is to come, the time between seasons.  I liken this time of year to the "amrit vela" a sanskrit word referring to the pre-dawn time that holds all the potential for the day.  It is a good time for intention and meditation. It is the time between sleeping and waking.  For that reason, I am also intrigued by the pause, the space between listening, then speaking and the power that that space holds.

Of course, I also love that young children usually do not utilize this space in the same way before something comes out of their mouths.  Except perhaps when they are thinking about how to answer, "Well, how old do you THINK I am?” (This always generates a humorous and sometimes painful response.) Seriously, though, just being present in each of the aspects of listening, and allowing the space between stimulus and response has been helpful during our days with the children.  Pausing for a moment, with presence, before stepping in to impose an adult resolution to something that could be solved by the children. Or carefully listening to each side of a disagreement, so that each child feels heard and then working together to find a solution, models for them a method to use when they are figuring out their own social dilemmas.  

Thank you for all the days with your children.  I have really enjoyed seeing all the cooperative and imaginative play that happens in our suite.   
Blessings to all,

Miss Tammy