Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Honoring Diversity by Sandra Schmidt

Honoring Diversity  

By Miss Sandra  

At my final week in the LifeWays training the subject of racism in a child care setting came up during a morning discussion period and I immediately began to think of the setting in my room -- the "whiteness" of it and how it might be more inclusive with a change in our belongings. I also began to examine how I deal with racism with the young child.
My older friend Clayton (who has since headed off to first grade) has experienced several times during his time at LifeWays children stating that he could not play with them because of his skin color. The first time I heard a young friend state this I reminded her that Clayton was her friend, which resolved the situation and they quickly ran off to play together.  This past summer however an older friend repeatedly stated that Clayton could not play due to his skin color. After being admonished several times the older child began to refuse to play with Clayton while away from the teachers (he was trying to be sneaky).  When confronted about his behavior he would try to explain it away. And at times he would get quite angry when I would ask him to remove himself from play and come join me by my chair.
Children do notice differences -- the color of a person's skin, their body type, if you are a boy or girl. That is part of normal development. But I've also seen what happens to Clayton when he experiences this refusal by children to play with him because of the color of his skin --there is a brief moment of confusion on his part that is apparent in his facial expression, followed by a wash of sadness, then a moment of trying to rejoin the play and lastly a resignation. This happens briefly -- under a minute, but it does happen and as an adult witnessing it can be painful.      So, what can I do to help? I don't have all the answers but I do know I'll side with Clayton every time. I can't imagine what it is like to be "dinked" on a regular basis -- how it shapes your sense of self --how it impedes the journey towards being a free human being. We all come to LifeWays and Waldorf education for a variety of reasons, but as a caregiver it is my work to help the children in my care develop in a way that allows them to be an upright human --ready to face the challenges that come their way. So for now I'll examine "whiteness" of my room and work on having the toys and books reflect the community we live in and I'll continue to strive in thought and deed to be an upright human worthy of imitation by the children in my care.

YoungStar MicroGrant  

A note from Jaimmie Stugard: 

Earlier this year, LifeWays earned a micro-grant through the YoungStar child care quality rating program. During the application process, the LifeWays staff collaborated to develop a quality improvement plan that includes improving the diversity of our learning materials and our program. With the micro-grant funds, we were able to purchase over $700 worth of natural toys and supplies that reflect the diversity of the community that we value so greatly.  Each suite has several new dolls, toys and books that the children cherish.  While we are extremely grateful for our beautiful new things, we realize that our day to day thoughts, words and deeds are essential for creating a home away from home where every child knows that they are welcome, cared for, protected, supported and loved.

Drop Off Reflections by Jennifer Grimes

Drop Off Reflections 

by Miss Jennifer  

My oldest child never went to daycare. When he started school in 2005, he was barely 4 years old and entering Pre-Kindergarten. Pre-kindergarten is for 3’s turning 4, so he was right on target. A few days before the start of school, I actually tracked down his teacher’s home phone number and called her. I asked her how in the world I was going to initiate this drastic change in our routine without fumbling everything from breakfast to bath time and alarming my child (irreparably certainly)? The woman on the other end of the call was a 25 year veteran of beginning parents, thank goodness, and she took my call and enlightened me. She gave me four vital points of action.
Her first point was the quickest way from my house in Shorewood to the kindergarten, bypassing blocks with stop signs and likely morning commuter jams. (She was only able to offer this because her home is close to mine.) She followed this up with the suggestion that I aim to allow time to drive the scenic route as often as possible. She felt the aesthetic calming value of the ride would ease our transition, which you should read as, “A pretty drive might ease your separation anxiety, Mom, your perfectionistic panic.” It also might give my son a little peace in the back of the car to gather himself. Oh, yeah, this was about him; I was beginning to remember.  
The second item she gave me was the wisdom that no child going to school, or leaving school should ever, ever be carried. And a child going to school should even endeavor to carry his or her own possessions into the building and into the classroom. But let’s back up to the part about never, ever crossing the asphalt to the school door with my precious vessel fixed in my arms- he who had been the very touchstone of my existence for most of the 36,720 hours since his birth. If that sounds a little unbalanced, a little confused about my roll at this juncture, I agree this was true. But I had called her (at home!) to ask how in the world to succeed at school life, and I was humbly prepared to listen and implement.
The third assignment was that I would enter the classroom with him, wait for the teacher or her assistant to welcome us, and with a simple hug and kiss, smiling bravely, HAND OVER MY CHILD and LEAVE. Gracefully. She went so far as to suggest that if I needed to weep, lurk, or assure myself that he was well, I could wait until the classroom door was securely closed and gaze through the one way glass for long as I needed. Without missing a beat, she even admonished me to REMAIN OUT OF SIGHT if I felt I had to climb in the bushes to get a better view from a window.
I have to smile now, because I was in such turmoil at the time that the need for her fourth suggestion implying success was truly a leap of faith. But that’s a teacher for you. Her last direction was to praise the school. She wanted me to let my child hear me speak of his kindergarten wholly in a positive light. Perhaps I could praise our
experience on the phone while he listened nearby, or while he played at his own games. She showed me that if I was satisfied with his new place, he would be too. Our children take their cues from us.
So, I began talking out loud about the lovely impression I had the first day I explored the school and the faculty. I practiced believing that my boy was ready for a circle of love beyond the home and family. And when the day came I drove carefully up the prettiest streets I could, as if I had ducks in a row from here to Kingdom Come. When we parked, I extra-cherished the hug I got helping Peter down from his car seat. I made it especially big, especially long and let that be all. On that first day, I don't honestly recall if he raised his arms to me for a “carry” or offered me his school bag, or simply marched off at my side. I know that there was a moment when he asked to be lifted. I know that in my best imitation of an Omniscient, Omnipotent, Benevolent Being of Upper-Midwestern Zen-Motherhood I leaned in and said, “Oh, we never carry you to school. It’s school.” And that was it. I did want to cry but I did not. And when I turned my back on him in the classroom, oh boy did he look worried, and I was literally terrified for us. After all the other parents had come and gone, I did look through the one way door Drop Off Reflections by Miss Jennifer glass. I stayed there till my feet hurt from standing, and I did the same for many days to come. I even started a trend because many of the other parents hadn't realized they could spy so successfully until they questioned me over my semi-permanent post.
That was 12 school years ago, and frankly most of what I learned from our first school teacher is true in my parenting life today. Wherever I take them, I try to leave time for the beautiful route. Each child carries themselves on their own two legs and snuggles and lovie-eyes aren't for the doorstep, they need to happen before hand. Never doubt the rightness of “Goodbye” when it is time, or muck up the new dynamic with indecision.
However you need to handle your child’s drop off at Lifeways, let us work with you. You can even call me at home. But, let’s do that before hand. And please do carry your little ones if you like to, for they are not in kindergarten yet! Rest in the brilliant planning you have executed which culminates at Lifeways, where we are there to take over for you. Believe that your child Can Do It. She’s got this. He can absolutely handle what is ahead without you. After all, they take their cue from Mom and Dad.

"I can't do it.... I did it!" by Mikayla Wilder

“I can’t do it… I did it!”
By Miss Mikayla 

We all want children to succeed but sometimes we get in the way of their learning. When we’re rushing to get outside after snack, it becomes a bit chaotic if we try to speed up the process to get outside as quickly as possible. After realizing my own impatient state of mind in those moments, I realize that I’m stepping in too much. Rather than allowing children to learn things for themselves, like getting dressed to go outside, we are tempted to do it for them to save time. This isn’t always the best way for children to grow.
One little friend approaches obstacles by saying “I can’t do it” without trying. I’d step in and explain what I was doing while doing it for her, whether it was helping her to climb onto a bench, put on a second boot or zip up her jacket. After noticing the dependency, I stopped stepping in right away. Now when a child becomes frustrated doing a task, I approach them with support and make sure to encourage them with a positive message like “you can do anything you set your mind to.” I also verbally simplify the steps to make it happen and give them space to explore. Sometimes they figure it out and gleam up at me with big smiling eyes that say “I did it!” Other times they would attempt something and then ask for help. Then I would demonstrate the act and explain what I was doing.
It is so important to allow a child the opportunity to learn by giving them space to explore. Of course, there will be times when your help is needed, but we want to avoid stepping in right away so children have that space. Making sure a child has the opportunity to try and resolve the issue on their own is so important. We may give advice and counsel, but need to allow them to discover the answers. Sometimes we need to let them solve their own problems and come up with their own solutions. Our role should be to encourage interdependency; children who approach situations with confidence and have the wisdom to ask for help when they feel they need

KinderForest Magic by Lori Barian

KinderForest Magic
By Lori Barian

Follow, follow me to the ring of the fairies. Follow, follow me where the fairies dance and sing. Gather with me here all the magic you can carry As we circle and circle ‘round the dancing fairy ring.
That is how we begin our circle time in KinderForest, and truly we find nature magic nearly every day. Wonder and awe feed and nurture our souls. Our senses are saturated with the goodness of the natural world. Our imaginations soar with the clouds.
Our woodcutter story in the wintertime inspired our gathering and bundling of kindling. The imaginary fire we built at the end of our circle time gave us a place to warm our feet while listening to the story. On a number of different days, sticks that were found easily became wands; they were so coated with sparkly frost that they glistened and flashed as they were waved about.  
Somehow, as the river thawed, we discovered that the twine I had for bundling firewood was also good for making fishing poles. After “fishing” with the poles on a Thursday morning, we tucked them into the crook of a tree to find again the next day. When we went down to the river that Friday, we found more than our fishing rods. We found two fishermen in their hip waders, their “real” poles in hand, who had already waded deep into the river very near where we had fished the day before. The fishermen seemed to enjoy our company; everyone fished together.  
While we had a story about a mouse, we enjoyed leaving birdseed near the apparent homes of such creatures. Some homes were more obvious than others, and the children only got birdseed to put down for the animals if I thought the home they discovered, often a hole in fallen tree, was truly the doorway to such a residence. Then it was fun to go back and see how much food was gone the next day.  
More recently, we were walking around the side of the play yard to go see the flowers growing along the roadside. We discovered quite a generous pile of deer poop right on the woodchip path. In case we had any doubt about who made the poop, the children then discovered deer tracks in the mud along the parking lot. That was exciting!
Of course, walking into the woods from the parking lot/garden area these days is magical indeed. An undeniable fairyland of scilla and bloodroot (otherwise known as bluebells and white flowers) carpet the ground and smell so sweet, too. We are happy for the milder weather and all the new growth of spring, but we’re not the only ones. On a recent walk down to the river, we encountered 8-12 mallards congregating on the shoreline. The children were slow and quiet enough that the ducks didn’t startle and fly, but instead gradually waddled their way into the water so close to where we stood watching them.
Now that our story is about a caterpillar who becomes a butterfly, “a flower that can fly,” wouldn’t you know it…two chrysalis were spotted by the children in the carved out side of a tree trunk.
Yes, there’s more magic than can fit into this article, so much of which we often take for granted, like the sparkles on the river in the sun. But even when we don’t shout out for joy, these experiences are making deep impressions. The world is filled with an undeniable magic, gifting us every day with reasons to be grateful and glad.  
KinderForest Kindling
The KinderForest children have been gathering bundles of kindling to share with our families.  Please help yourself to some kindling for your homes’ fireplace or fire pit.  Kindling bundles are located just outside the west play yard fence.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Note from the Sunshine Garden by Belinda Kenwood

A Note from the Sunshine Garden
By Miss Belinda

As I was perusing my Facebook page the other day, I came across an article from Respectful Parent’s page that resonated with me, because it serves as a reminder of why I have chosen to work with young children as my lifelong vocation, and why I do what I do when working with young children.   When taking a continuing education workshop a few years back, the instructor told us that our job as parents, grandparents, caregivers, most grown-ups really, is to teach children what it means to be human.  Children come into this world not only as beautiful, tiny, miracle beings, but also as a bundle of chaos.  They need we grown-ups to serve as guides on how to manage the social pieces and interactions of living in a world inhabited by billions of other people.   It is crucial that children have adults in their lives who show by example what it means to be compassionate toward one’s fellow human beings.  Do they need us to be perfect?  Heavens, no!  There’s no such thing.  We all make mistakes and will continue to do so.  But what will live in the children is our striving to do better and be better next time.  It’s the most important work we can do.  So, on that note, I bring to you the article from Respectful Parenting’s page entitled, Why “Choosing Your Battles” May Not be an Effective Parenting Strategy, by Kelly Meier.  An important way in which children learn how to be “confident, respectful and kind” is by the setting of limits or boundaries by the grown-ups in their lives. And by the way – All of the questions listed by the author in the first paragraph regarding doubt?  I ask those same questions to myself every day when working with your children.  And I continue to ask them when relating to my now 21-year old son and 18-year old daughter.  Parenting, like any journey, is an act of faith and trust that, indeed, the universe does have our backs.

Happy Reading!

All are Welcome by Jaimmie Stugard

All are Welcome

By Jaimmie Stugard

         Today, people all over the country are protesting the travel ban that prohibits people from certain countries from traveling to the United States.  There has been so much talk of building a wall to separate our nation from the “others” that the school age children in my life are expressing fears and asking questions.  The me first, us and them, competitive and divisive rhetoric is pervasive and unnerving.  Understandably, many of us grown folks are not feeling like ourselves.  The sky is grey.  The news is glum.  Some of us are feeling defeated, depleted and exhausted.  Others are feeling fired up and activated. 
              Of course, the little children in our lives hear our conversations and the stories on the news.  Even those who have little exposure to such adult things can sense when we are feeling edgy or off kilter.  Now, more than ever, it is essential that we practice presence.  If we are brooding about the latest executive order or a tiff we’ve had with a relative on social media, the children we are with will feel our anger or distress.  But, they will not understand it.  They may internalize it or mirror it, but they will not understand.
             At this young age, children are developmentally unready to be burdened with the injustices of the world.  They are still learning to love the world.  They gaze in wonder at the snowflakes that land on them.  They delight in catching a glimpse of rabbit prints in the snow.  As their parents and caregivers, we are honored to guide them as they experience the beauty of the world unfolding before them. 
              When they are older, they will have a solid foundation based on their early experiences that the world is good.  They will have learned to love the earth, its creatures and their fellow human beings.  Then, when they are ready, knowledgeable and strong they will have the life experience to empathize and the power to fight injustice and to confront their fears.  Right now, they are (physically) little beings who are looking to us for reassurance and guidance.  They need to know that the grown-ups in their lives are okay and that we will take care of them.  They don’t need us to tell them.  They need to feel it.

            The current cultural climate may compel us to educate our children about social justice, conservationism, diversity and advocacy.  When considering how we might do this, it is essential that we consider the development of the young child.  Very young children respond to rich experiences, to songs and stories.  Lectures and overt instruction rarely resonate with the toddlers and preschoolers.  At LifeWays we “teach” conservationism by letting the children play in nature and, through their play and explorations, develop a love for the outdoors.  A toddler who is learning to navigate the difference between affection and aggression is learning the basics of social justice.  Sharing simple and authentic foods, songs and folk tales offers an introduction into humanity’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.  Children who experience our openness, compassion and empathy toward all humanity trust that all are welcome. 

A Word About Festivals By Belinda Kenwood

A Word About Festivals
By Miss Belinda

Glimmer, lantern, glimmer,

Little stars a-shimmer,

Over meadow, moor and dale,

Flitter, flutter elfin veil.

Pee-wit, pee-wit, tick-a-tick-a-tick,

Rou-cou, rou-cou, rou-cou.

Glimmer, lantern, glimmer,

Little stars a-shimmer,

Over rock and stock and stone,

Wander tripping little gnome.

Pee-wit, pee-wit, tick-a-tick-a-tick,

Rou-cou, rou-cou, rou-cou.

As I reflect upon our lovely and magical community gathering in celebration of our annual Lantern Walk and Festival, I thought I’d “shed a little light” on why we celebrate festivals here at LifeWays.

Throughout the year, we at LifeWays celebrate festivals in order to help us celebrate the rhythms of the earth which can, in turn, help us to be in harmony with ourselves and find a greater sense of wholeness and balance in our lives.  Our “festival life” also helps establish a yearly rhythm for the children.  Children love their lives to be orderly and predictable as it gives them a feeling of safety and security, and whether we celebrate a festival with the whole community or during the day with the children (think of our Birthday celebrations), the rhythm of the festivals provides them with feelings of safety and security within the endless passage of time.  Our festival life also provides us with the opportunity to reconnect with one another and strengthen our community.  They help to nourish our souls through the sharing of stories, food, songs and activities that celebrate the seasons, and we seek to express them with beauty and with reverence.  Festivals remind us again and again that beauty, wonder, anticipation and reverence are worth making space for in our lives.

Thus, every year around the end of October or early November, we, along with other LifeWays centers and homes as well as Waldorf schools, celebrate a Lantern Walk to celebrate Martinmas, a festival of inner light in the outer darkness of the approaching winter.  St. Martin, for whom the festival honors, became known as friend of the children and patron of the poor.  He is remembered for his good deeds and acts of kindness.  The festival originated in France and then spread through Germany, the rest of Europe and Scandinavia.  Because it is held in November, in this part of the world it occurs as autumn is ending and winter is coming on, marking a time of full barns and completed harvest in preparation for winter.  As St. Martin spread warmth and light to his fellow human beings, this festival of light serves as a reminder that within each one of us lives a divine spark, and that we may spread our own warmth and light out into the world as we enter into the darkest time of the year.

Over the month of October, the children hear stories, create their lanterns and learn the songs in preparation and anticipation of the festival.

Each year, we look forward to sharing this festival of light with you as we see how our own little flickering lantern becomes a shared light, and we experience the full circle from the solitary individual to the fullness of community.