Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summer Festival Reflections by Jaimmie Stugard

Summer is coming to an end and many families are trying to squeeze in a few last outings before autumn, and the changes it brings, begins.  Between trips to the beach and the zoo, we prepare for new classrooms, new schools, new schedules, new clothes and new friends. 
Sometimes the excitement of activity and change in our lives can be quite draining.  Consider how many of us feel after a holiday, party or a family vacation.  We may say, "Whew! That was a lot of work. I am glad that it's over and things are back to normal!"  It is easy to enjoy our lives when they are rhythmical and steady.  We have time to just relax and soak it in, rather than always planning and wondering "What's next?"  As adults, we value our daily rhythms even as our children depend on them.  Usually, it isn't until our routine is disrupted that we realize how we thrive as humans when our daily tasks are a matter of course, leaving us to bask in the deeper essence of our existence.  To contemplate bigger questions than "Where is the next meal coming from?" and "What will the next moment bring."  The structure we place in our lives allows us to experience peaceful presence.   
Yet, there are things in our lives that are intended to nudge us out of the ease of our existence, to bring us together as a community and to transform us as individuals. Holidays, festivals, community events and rites of passage elevate us from our daily physical life into a spirit of joy, celebration and wonder.  While the elaborate preparations are often exhausting, we find that when we muster enough resources to be truly present during the celebration, we are lifted.  The act of coming together, of passing into the next phase of life, draws in unknown forces and replenishes us. Anthropologists call it collective effervescence.  Spiritualists refer to it as the cosmic consciousness, the life force or the Holy Ghost. When children experience this coming together, they carry the feeling with them for some time.  Christmas carols are sung well into spring and wedding ceremonies are reenacted again and again in their play. 

Seasonal festivals are one of the ways that we embrace life’s cycles and celebrate our community at LifeWays.  In autumn, we illuminate the long night with our home-made lanterns and our radiant inner light.  Our summer festival is a beloved tradition, an honored rite of passage and a time of joyful reflection and fond farewells. As summer draws to a close and we begin to anticipate all the changes that the new school year brings, we celebrate one another and the transitions ahead.  Families and caregivers come together for a story, songs, a pot-luck lunch and a special bringing ceremony to honor the children who are beginning kindergarten.  The children help prepare for the festival by making food with their caregivers and parents, gathering props for the puppet play and polishing the bridge.  Before the festival, the bridge is decorated with rainbow silks and fresh flowers.  When all has been prepared, we came together for our story.  The story is full of familiar landmarks and scenery to spark their imaginations and set the scene for this tale of imminent change….

The Children of the Cedar Castle
By Miss Jaimmie

Once upon a time, there was a Cedar Castle at the edge of an Enchanted Wood.  The castle was a magical place, especially for children.  It was filled with young friends who spent their days playing, working and living together.  They ate together and they rested together.  Many stories were told and many songs were sung.  Many, 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, a few young friends went for a stroll in the Enchanted Wood.  They walked further into the wood than they had ever walked before.  They walked through the Clearing and beyond the Story Rock.  They walked down the Crookedy stairs and along the riverside.  On and on they walked, beyond the Troll Bridge and the Jasper House.  They walked and walked until they came to place they had never seen before.  There in the heart of the enchanted forest was a magnificent crystal mountain made all out of rose quartz.  At the foot of the mountain lay many shining quartz crystals.  The friends each took one crystal to remember their magical journey and continued on their way.
The children walked on until they saw a most unusual sight.  A beautiful rainbow arced across the blue sky and landed at their feet. 

A lovely rainbow, see it span.
So brightly shining, o’er the land.
It is so red, gold, green and blue.
I want to climb it now with you.

The friends climbed the rainbow and when they reached the top, they were amazed at all they saw.  They could see the wide Enchanted Wood, the Flowing River and the Quartz Mountain. They could see the Jasper House and the Troll Bridge, the Crookedy stairs, Story Rock and the Clearing.  They could see the Cedar Castle and the village beyond.  And when they looked even further… they saw other castles.  The friends longed to explore the other castles.  Perhaps, they too, were filled with happy, playful children.  

And so, with their hearts filled with love and eager for adventure, the friends went, one by one, across the rainbow bridge to explore the castles beyond.  They spent their days laughing, playing and learning with their new friends. And so it was, that all of the children of the Cedar Castle, lived happily ever after.

       We celebrated our summer festival earlier today.  The children who were heading off to school gathered near their caregivers at the foot of the Rainbow Bridge.  They were given a piece of rose quartz and a hug before they crossed the bridge, where their parents were waiting with open arms.  As the children crossed, their caregivers and families sang:

Circle of friends I love,
Let me tell you how I feel.
You have given me such treasures,
Circle round again.

          After all of the kindergartners crossed the Rainbow Bridge, we sang our blessing, mingled, took a few snapshots and shared a meal.  As the families said farewell, a handful of people stayed back to tidy up after the festivities.  It was a full morning and by the end of it all, I was ready to go home and lounge with a good book...
A few hours later, my daughter and I happened to run into some LifeWays alumni at the public library.  The school-aged children reflected on their journey across the Rainbow Bridge and my little one eagerly chimed in that it will be her turn to cross next summer.  Their mother told me about the LifeWays friends that they still keep in touch with after all these years (my how they’ve grown!).  After visiting with our old friends for a few minutes, it was time for us to go home to bake a cake for grandma’s upcoming 75th birthday celebration. Circle round again….      

Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Experience with Potty Training by Sandra Schmidt

       My room this year is filled to the brim with two-year olds. Over the next year they will be transitioning from diapers to underwear and parents have begun asking about the right time to begin potty-training and how to do it.
       While it might not immediately seem related to potty training, the ability to dress and undress is one of the first steps towards this endeavor. When I first started at LifeWays I had a young friend who could never quite make it to the bathroom in time. Accidents were frequent and Miss Emily and I had frequent conversations about whether our young friend was ready for this transition. One morning in the play yard “Grace” said she needed to use the potty. We both scurried inside because I wanted to avoid sending home a bag of wet clothes (normally I let children in the building use the bathroom by themselves and Miss Jaimmie lets them back outside). Grace was able to remove her coat, hat, and mittens without a problem, but when we got to the bathroom Grace was not able to remove her pants. They were too tight! Between the snap and zipper and the Lycra in her skinny jeans she was not able to pull her pants down far enough to avoid an accident. I thought back to what she’d been wearing the other times she had accidents to consider if it was her clothing that had inhibited her success.
       Learning to use the toilet is one of the most complex and developmental tasks of early childhood. Potty training (or toilet learning) requires specific abilities and both neurological and physical maturity. After a discussion with parents on the readiness of their child, a plan is put together to help the child with this next step in development. The ability for the child to recognize that he or she has a soiled diaper is one of the first steps toward this goal. I frequently have 2-1/2 or 3-year-old children who come to me saying they need a new diaper before I’ve made my morning check of diapers in the play yard. When this awareness of wet and dry occurs, the child has usually been able to stay dry in their diapers for several hours at a time. This tells me that in the next six months or so they will be transitioning to underwear. 
       Many of our bodily functions - eating, sleeping, or toileting - are ruled by habit. At 9:00 am my body tells me it is hungry and one reason this occurs is because I’ve been having snack at 9:00am for the last three years. Toileting is similar and by offering the children in my suite the opportunity to use the bathroom at the same time every day (9:30 am, 11:45 am, 12:45 pm, 3:00 pm),  the children’s bodies adapt to the rhythm, resulting in greater success. 
       I often hear how great the child is doing at home, only to have accidents at LifeWays and, in my experience, the childcare center is one the last places that children will be accident free. Children also sometimes “regress,” often because of changes in their lives – a new baby in the home or weaning are two common examples. While it is more advantageous for the child to train in underwear (diapers and pull-ups can delay potty-training), there are times when I request a child wear a diaper at nap because they are a deep sleeper or wear a diaper late in the day because they have tried to hold in a bowel movement during the day. 
       It can often take up to a year to be consistently accident free. The process can frequently challenge a parent’s patience. I’ve experienced this with my own children, and having a sense of humor helps. Using the toilet is one of the first steps to our children’s independence that we can help facilitate, but over which we have limited control. By looking for signs of readiness, and working in partnership with parents, I am able to help the children in my suite make this important transition.