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.”