Sunday, June 12, 2016

Into the Woods by Amanda Quesnall

Into the Woods
By Miss Amanda

Lately I have been taking the children out into the forest for some of the morning play.  It is interesting to note the changes in play as we move from the play yard out into the woods.  In the play yard I noticed that I have to do a lot more interjecting telling the children not to rough house, snatch or fight over toys.  Most of the play I see is media based pretending to be transformers, characters from frozen, ninja turtles, or some other show.  But this all changes when we step into the forest.  Things become calmer and I can remove myself from the children’s play observing them instead or redirecting them.  There are no longer toys to fight over or snatch from one another.  I have noticed that the play itself is less media based and more imaginative and creative.  The children welcome the play to everyone instead of just one or two friends.  Depending on where we play in the woods the children pretend they are a family, they pretend to eat breakfast together then depart to their job.  Some gather/prepare for their next meal, others take care of their sick child, or make a fire to stay warm.  Sometimes the children like to pretend a log is their ice cream store, the children search around finding different rocks, plants, acorns, and sticks to be different flavors of ice cream.  Other times they are lost dogs in the woods trying to find their owners.  Even the younger children join in the play imitating what their friends are doing and adding their own twist.  I usually only interject to tell the children that there are getting too far and need to keep the play at a closer distance.  We are very lucky to have such a great outdoor environment for the children to play and explore.

“There's no way that we can help children to learn to love and preserve this planet, if we don't give them direct experiences with the miracles and blessings of nature.”     - Anita Olds

Spring Cleaning by Jaimmie Stugard

Spring Cleaning
by Miss Jaimmie
It’s the time of year when the fresh spring air inspires us to refresh our homes and gardens and spend more time out in nature.    After spending a lovely day outdoors in the amazingly orderly wilderness, I am compelled to follow Nature’s lead when sprucing up the indoor living spaces, both at home and at our home away from home, LifeWays.

When I was a very young girl, we had a mature lilac bush in our back yard.  The branches arched nearly to the ground, creating a little fortress between its trunk and its blooming branches.  I spent many spring days playing under its blossoms with my dolls and little bits of stones, leaves, grass and dandelions – whatever was handy.  It was a fragrant, beautiful place of solitude to play while my brothers and their band of boys ran amok in the yard.  I was on the perimeter of their rowdy games, yet completely sheltered and serene.
            Though we lived in the working- class suburbs just outside the city limits, I had very little access to truly natural environments growing up.  The nearby playgrounds were covered with pavement and the parks were heavily landscaped.  Looking back, I find it interesting that I gravitated toward the lilac tree and immersed myself in this piece of nature.  As an adult, I treasure the experience that working and playing on a nature preserve provides for the children in my care as well as myself. 
          Early childhood education expert, Anita Olds encourages us to provide children with experiences in nature.  She asserts that, “The basic elements of nature - air, fire, earth, and water - are in motion. Whereas the built environment is rigid and immovable, the natural environment is always in flux. And it is nature’s rhythmic patterns of change, akin to our own physiological rhythms, which account for the sense of calm we experience in natural settings.”  The subtle and gradual changes that nature undergoes creates a rich, balanced learning environment full of opportunities for movement and stillness, for quiet and noise, for exuberance and concentration. 
            Indoors, I like to take my cues from nature when arranging spaces for working, playing and living.  At LifeWays, we favor subtle colors and materials that are inspired by nature and strive for simplicity and beauty when choosing toys and decorations.  It is easy to become overstimulated when you are living, working and playing in a full, vivacious community or home.  Natural materials such as silk, wool, wood, stone, cotton and living plants nourish the senses.  The secluded cozy corner of the suite is reminiscent of the lilac bush in the yard- a sanctuary veiled in silks where a child be in their own little world even while the outer world buzzes with activity around them. The daily rhythm mimics nature’s balance and rhythms, allowing times and places for quiet solitude and joyful togetherness.  We balance spending time outdoors playing in nature and participating in more domestic activities such as baking bread, sweeping, eating and resting. 
            Of course, a well-loved living space can accumulate clutter and cobwebs even when we tidy throughout the day.  It is refreshing to open the windows on those first spring days, clear the cobwebs, dust the neglected corners and remove some of the excess stuff from our space.  Ill-fitting clothes and forgotten toys are sorted into boxes labeled Hand Me Downs, Yard Sale and Donate.  Mattresses are flipped and the little ones crawl under their beds to dig out lone socks, books and stuffed animals that are hiding under the dust bunnies.  At LifeWays, the remnants of the lost and found basket are donated, books are mended and muddy, extra mittens are washed.  The play yard becomes more inviting and the children are inspired by the good work that we do together at our Spring Festival.  And, I see the wisdom in the words of Shea Darian, “Order our lives to make room for the largeness of our love."

Young children love to help with housework, so why not let them pitch in!  Here’s some ideas for including your little ones in Spring Cleaning:

*Let them spot wash the floor with a sponge and some natural, non-toxic cleaner. This is a favorite activity in my home and at LifeWays. I must confess, I haven’t washed a floor in years!
*Washing tables, counters and chairs
*Watering plants
*Washing the stones and shells from the nature table (a favorite in our house!)
*Really anything involving soapy water will have them mesmerized!
*Sorting through their things.  I like to keep a box handy when we clean the kids’ rooms so they can help choose things to give away or sell in a yard sale. Of course, I override some of their choices. (Sometimes the loud superhero toy from Christmas needs to go into the box and the hand-made lovey needs to come back out!)
*Laundry. Even 2 year olds can help load the washer and dryer. By 3 or 4, they are pretty good at folding, too! Toddlers love to help hang the clothes to dry by handing me clothes pins.
*Weeding.  Pulling garlic mustard is a favorite in KinderHouse. I just start my work and they join in, I never even have to ask!

“In an age when there are so many untruths for young children to sort through, work provides them with a connection to the world around them based on truth and service.”
Louise deForest

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Note from Miss Sandra Schmidt

A Note from Miss Sandra

This past week I had the delight of looking up from my knitting to a scene of four of my young friends holding hands and singing our blessing at the table in my room and after they had given thanks they proceeded to cheer and have the breakfast that Soren had made of "toast and orange juice". We have been singing a lot in our room lately. Besides the blessing at our meals, my friends have been singing The Alphabet Song, The Wheels on the Bus, The Farmer in the Dell and Good Night Irene.  The singing tends to erupt spontaneously and soon everyone in the suite is joining in too.

Woodland Whispers by Jennifer Grimes

Little ones have lots to say. At LifeWays, we hear some very interesting things from the mouths of babes.  Insightful, brilliant, silly and strange – we hear it all!

Woodland Whispers shared by Miss Jennifer

All in a day's progress at Lifeways are pithy communications, formative wisdom, and profound revelations.  Truly, we are a model community. Recent examples:

One Tuesday last month this exchange happened at the Woodland table.  It passed between two toddlers seated side by side.  With heads close, they watched one another unwaveringly.  In all seriousness they took turns listening to the other.  Each intently nodding whilst taking in the other's words, their satisfaction was most evident.  And not one word of it in English- all of it was total babble!

And from a teary-eyed little one, "I bit my finger and it doesn't feel good!"

“Your sister looks like a flower 'cause she has lots of petals on her dress!”

While filling in the daily attendance log, a caregiver asked the time. The preschooler funneling sand just to his left responded promptly, "Thirty five."

News from the Forest by Belinda Kenwood

News from the Forest
by Miss Belinda

Though King Winter has struggled mightily to continue his reign o’re all the land, his icy grip is slipping as Lady Spring, quietly but insistently, implores to him in the following verse:

There came a knock at the outer door.
“Who’s there?” King Winter cried.
“Open your gate,” said Lady Spring,
“For you reign no more as king…no longer here abide.
This message from the sun I bring.
The leaves grow green.
The birds do sing.
The hills with Joy are echoing!
So pray, Sir, step aside.”

Being outside in the forest over the past couple of weeks, we have born witness to the tug-of-war between King Winter and Lady Spring.  And though King Winter appeared to have had the upper hand over the past few weeks with the cold, rainy, raw, blustery weather, we still were able to observe the subtle entrance of Lady Spring with the grasses growing green and lush, many of the trees dressed with tiny, green buds waiting to open, the blooming of the tulips, daffodils and jonquils in the gardens surrounding LifeWays, and the beautiful blue and purple hued carpet of scilla growing abundantly on the floor of the clearing.  This past Friday, while playing down by the river, we observed not one but two families of geese complete with a Mama and a Papa goose each with five to six goslings in tow.  One family of geese was waddling on the grassy bank opposite from where we were playing, and the other family of geese was leisurely swimming up river.  And then to our wondering eyes, that same family swam across to our side of the river (further up from where we were playing) with six little ducks swimming in a row behind their Mama and Papa.   All of this activity was worthy of the children stopping their play to observe the goings on with awe and wonder.  These truly are the days of miracle and wonder as we observe new life returning to the forest in all its glorious forms

Media play has been abundant with super heroes leading the way.  Batman and Robin, Superman, Spiderman, and Star Wars characters appear to be the current favorites, and then an occasional tornado is thrown in (from The Wizard of Oz) just to mix it up a bit.  This type of play tends to occur during the first 30-45 minutes of our day but eventually phases out to allow for more imaginative, creative play, i.e., gathering sticks, twigs and branches to make houses to play house, the howling of “coyote and wolf” packs, and games of chasing and capturing.  Of course, fallen trees and branches still need to be climbed and jumped from.  I do allow some time for superhero play, because it’s one of the ways in which children process and make sense of what they’ve seen and/or heard either through the media or from their friends.  However, if the play gets rough and/or hurtful, it’s time to ask the superheroes to go home for lunch and a nap.  Generally, I’ve found that following snack time, it’s a good time to ask the superheroes to go home for lunch and nap while other types of play are encouraged.

Lastly, it has been such a pleasure to work with your children throughout this past year.  It has been an incredible growth experience for me professionally and personally.  Bonds of friendship have been formed even through the challenges.  It is soul satisfying to watch how they help each other with getting backpacks on, dry tears, use words of encouragement, and laugh hysterically at each other’s jokes (sometimes much to my chagrin). 
To our friends Clayton, Everett, Zeya, Ian and Jolene, who are moving out into the world to start school in the fall, blessings on your new adventure.  I will miss you!  Always remember that you are capable, brave and strong!  Remember the “Little Engine That Could” story…”I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”  To our friends Xavier and Silvia, we look forward to seeing you back at LifeWays after your summer adventures.  And please remember the “Little Engine That Could” story as well…”I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”
This is one of the songs that parents and teachers would sometimes sing to the graduating 8th Graders from Prairie Hill Waldorf School on the occasion of their graduation ceremony:

“I can give you roots,
I can give you wings,
But only you can know when to fly.”

Love and Abundant Blessings,