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.”