Monthly Archives: May 2009

In The Garden, Again!

Today the children, Rebecca and I returned to the garden playground! Last autumn, after the Harvest Festival, the children and their parents came to school for a Saturday picnic, to “put the garden to bed”. We raked out the leaves, took the scarecrow apart, and spread her straw into the beds for winter mulch, pulled out the old stalks, and laid everything to rest for the winter. Through the very long and cold winter, from time to time, a child would ask, “but when do we get to go back to the garden?” Today was the day, and everyone was thrilled! The five year olds were discussing the exact place they had left off playing their “garden games” and the little ones were trying to remember which path we take to get to the garden.

Our garden is a little bright spot in the deep Virginia woods. It is laid out in the curve of our stream, and we must walk across a small footbridge to get there. The children love to play “in the garden” because this includes splashing in the shallow water of the stream, looking for salamanders, water skaters, cray fish and all their relations. As well as the endless back and forth across the little bridge, to play on the swing set, in the sandbox , under the scented branches of the butterfly bush, nibbling herbs and flowers as they go.

It is such a gift to teach these young souls, here in the generous arms of Nature. The children develop intimate relations with the insect and animal world, from the army of worms they unearth (and re-earth!) to the song of the wood-thrush they hear and the footprints of the raccoon in the mud beside the creek.

The native people pray by intoning “All My Relations.” And the children talk of the great family of Nature: our best friends the Rain Fairies, their mother The Great Mother Rain Cloud, Brother Wind, Father Sun. These children have the foundation laid for a life lived experiencing humanity as part of a great seamless Whole. This is preparation for the only future we can sustain. This is our one hope, and they bring their up- springing joy to it!

Miracle of the Mixed Age Group

It is so unusual at this time in our society to see young children in a wide spread of ages, mixed together in an early childhood program. Because young children change at such a rapid pace, it is easy to imagine that their changing needs will be better met if we separate them out, and “teach” to the specific developmental age. But I find quite the opposite is true. When we mix the ages, the “teaching” happens in an organic fashion, the way it has for millennia.

Children develop on a continuum, new growth is built upon that which is familiar, as well as through imitation of the “new” which is modeled. Children follow a predictable developmental pattern. When we allow the children to be grouped in the traditional way, in mixed ages, we strengthen the learning of both the younger children and that of the older children as well.

It is clear and obvious the tremendous advantage the younger child has in this situation, in that they can through imitation learn new language patterns, new social skills can be developed, new imaginative abilities are discovered and so forth. What is less obvious is the tremendous advantage a mixed age group offers to the older children.

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