Welcome friends! This is the perfect time of year to begin a new journey together. Perhaps springtime seems more likely, with its riot of color and soft winds. But let me tell you a story. (And may our time together be filled with stories. Our joined stories help us not only know who we are, but also help us create who we will become)
Category Archives: The School
Thank you for your interest in The Rose Garden. You will find here, at the Rose Garden, an environment filled with the wonders of nature. Your child will spend days playing at the foot of ancient pines, surrounded by birdsong, and the melody of the small stream. After the midday meal, in the warmth of sunlight filtering through the forest umbrella, your child will dabble beside the brook. Or swing, or dig and make sand-pies, or build fairy huts in the garden-play-yard. The richly varied natural terrain, as well as the natural play equipment, offers endless opportunity for physical development, allowing your child to live deeply into the body, happy “inside their skin”. read more »
For the young child especially, but for all children as well, it is a rich life-lesson to experience “whole process” learning. We live in a fast-paced, fragmented world. With the SOLs and Kindergarten Boot Camp looming large on our national landscape, when does a child have the opportunity to take a field trip to the apple orchard, bring the apples “home” to school, process and cook them into apple butter to eat, weekly, on their home baked bread? Or plant bulbs in the fall, and jump for joy as they peek through the late winter snow. Activities as simple as working day after day on the apple butter, or using growing muscles to dig a bed for an autumn bulb….then sweetly forgetting all winter long….only to be amazed by early crocuses, teach endurance, patience and the reward of caring-for. The young child learns it is good to live in a strong body, to work and care for the earth and oneself. And to share this sense of goodness with those we love. The buzz-word these days is self-regulation, but we just call it a healthy childhood.
One of The Rose Garden parents sent me this photo yesterday. The exquisite beauty of the young child’s connection to nature is so evident: these brothers are free and at-large in the woods….living a life larger than the confines of their small bodies. They are as large as their own imaginations, at home in the forest. I am reminded of something I wrote years ago, as I prepared to write Heaven on Earth:
“I have found in my many years of teaching young children, and in my years as a mother of young boys, that most children are happiest at play outdoors. Young children are close to the realm of nature because they are still very natural beings. Because their consciousness is not yet separated from the environment, because they still live in the consciousness of oneness, of unity, they belong still to the natural world. In time they will belong to themselves, as the process of individuation becomes complete. But for about the first seven years, they are still at one with the world they inhabit. The process of separating from the parents and from the environment buds only around age seven. Before that, the child is moved along by life, something like the way a tree’s leaves dance in the breeze. The young child responds to the environment in a very unself-conscious way, a very natural way, and the open, complex, and diverse environment of the outdoors gives him that opportunity. If, in his excitement at a butterfly, he needs to dance and pirouette dizzyingly around the garden, no one has to say, “Be careful of the table.” If he needs to shout for glee or weep for sorrow, he is free.”
Through play in the natural world, we give our child the gift of freedom, tethered by and rooted in a deep visceral relationship. Is that not the fundamental balance humanity strives for? Such joy!
“How does the world work, and how do I fit into it?” This is the daily, living question of the young child. We can allow plenty of time and plenty of space for our children to wonder, to explore, to experiment, to keep trying, to learn. And isn’t much of learning discovering the right questions to ask? In this way, the questions remain alive; the “answers” are part of an on-going process. When we allow this hands-on exploratory learning, and do not limit the questions or answers with our linear adult concepts, the children learn in the same way Mother Nature herself learns: through scaffolding, or “serial functional progression.” The answers become a platform for the next set of really interesting questions. Our children experience themselves as avid students of life.
In these photos we see the Universe hard at work: How many stumps, boards, bricks and pine cones does it take to make the see-saw go down and the children go up? How do “up and down” operate, and what is the relationship between stumps, elbow grease and results? And what might be the relationship between the big black bugs and the small brown one (in the blue bowl)? When we learn to live the questions, life is rich!
Hello, friends! It is September and school has begun again. The children are full of joy to be back into the simple warm rhythms; enfolded by this rhythmic flow, they grow more fully into themselves. Here is what one parent wrote me about the bridge her child has built between home and school:
“The school day doesn’t just stop when the day is over. Greer plays school whenever she is at home as well. At home she gets the chance to be the teacher. She sets up our living room like the living room at The Rose Garden. Moving the coffee table and couches so that the space is just right. She brings in her own chair along with a cup of tea and some crackers. She sets her babies up in a semi circle around her so everyone can see and then she begins to “read” her story always starting with the chime of the bell which at our house is the clinging of silverware. She then sips on her tea as she tells her story with a big (all words) book in her lap.
When the time for resting comes up she prepares by laying all the colored silkies around the room and placing each baby it the appropriate place. She covers them says sweet words to them and gives each a gentle rocking motion to help the fall asleep. Once everyone is satisfied she goes to her chair and has a sip of tea.
Watching this take place in my own living room gives me a sense of satisfaction and pure joy. What my husband and I are giving our youngest of three is a treasure that is molding her into the gentle and kind human-being that we had hoped for when we decided to become parents.
And thank you, Shannon, for sharing this with us! These rhythms create the foundation for a lifetime. During the summer, I had the pleasure of talking, on separate occasions, with two of my former students who are now college students. Each young woman told me how deeply her early years had formed and shaped her. The years spent in this forest busily building “homes” for insects & feeding the birds as well as singing, painting, playing and listening intently to stories had given them a deep love for the world, and also a beginning direction in their future work. One young woman is studying environmental law and she said she paints for pleasure, while the other is a poet as well as environmental activist.
The environment of our home gives shape to the young soul; let us be joyful for this gift, as we go about our “daily round!”
Virginia has had a very cold winter so far: many, many days the temperature is below freezing, and plenty of days in the 20’s. This has not phased The Rose Garden children, as we play in the woods! As Helle Heckman says: “There is no such thing as bad weather, there is only bad clothing!” Equipped with woolie long johns, plenty of layers, snow suits even with no snow, and snug hats and mittens, the children have flourished in the cold. “But why,” you ask, “send them out in such weather?” It is hard to convey the importance of Nature, in the development of young children.
I wrote an article that was recently published in the Winter edition of Rhythm of The Home (click on Connections) a beautiful on-line magazine that you will want to visit. These are beginning thoughts on outdoor play: ” Outdoor play offers the child the opportunity to step into the long slow rhythms of the earth. The child readily comes to know their own bodied-ness when in intimate connection to the body of the earth. Running, swinging, jumping, creeping, sliding, kneeling, splashing, digging…all of this develops familiarity with and fullness “in the body.” The child develops strength, balance, agility, grace, flexibility, competence and confidence. This kind of “body-knowing” lays a foundation for all of these qualities to permeate the child’s whole being. Years later, the young person steps into the world with these capacities intact and readily available for the challenges and joys of adult life”
Here is a little more from an article of mine to be published in the Rhythm of the Home spring issue:
“Much research has been done, observing children’s play in both natural spaces, and in “built spaces” Studies show that children engage in more creative play in green areas than in built spaces. One study observed children playing in both “vegetative rooms”, (little forts and such that he children had built themselves) and in playgrounds dominated by play structures. They observed that children playing on the formal play structures grouped themselves in hierarchical subsets, dependent upon physical abilities. Whereas the children playing in the natural vegetative rooms used more fantasy play and their social standing was based more on language skills, creativity and inventiveness”.
Language skills, creativity and inventiveness abound when children are given plenty of creative play time; time to run and frolic held in the arms of our Mother, the Earth!
Winter has arrived on The Rose Garden playground and the children are ready to play! But what you see here is not all fun and games: according to a CNN article yesterday, the learning that takes place in childhood through the magic of creative play serves them not only on the playground, but in their Harvard classrooms. The following article by Erika and Nicholas Kristakis, of Harvard, highlights how the ability to control impulses, which is learned in play, serves the young adult in their future endeavors. The operant words in the article are “constructive, teacher (adult) moderated play”. Children certainly learn from their interactions with each other, but they need an adult close by to help them know how to move through the rough spots. Here is an excerpt from the article; you’ll see your child’s play in a new light!
“One of the best predictors of school success is the ability to control impulses. Children who can control their impulse to be the center of the universe, and — relatedly — who can assume the perspective of another person, are better equipped to learn.
Psychologists calls this the “theory of mind”: the ability to recognize that our own ideas, beliefs, and desires are distinct from those of the people around us. When a four-year-old destroys someone’s carefully constructed block castle or a 20-year-old belligerently monopolizes the class discussion on a routine basis, we might conclude that they are unaware of the feelings of the people around them.
The beauty of a play-based curriculum is that very young children can routinely observe and learn from others’ emotions and experiences. Skills-based curricula, on the other hand, are sometimes derisively known as “drill and kill” programs because most teachers understand that young children can’t learn meaningfully in the social isolation required for such an approach.
How do these approaches look different in a classroom? Preschoolers in both kinds of programs might learn about hibernating squirrels, for example, but in the skills-based program, the child could be asked to fill out a worksheet, counting (or guessing) the number of nuts in a basket and coloring the squirrel’s fur.
In a play-based curriculum, by contrast, a child might hear stories about squirrels and be asked why a squirrel accumulates nuts or has fur. The child might then collaborate with peers in the construction of a squirrel habitat, learning not only about number sense, measurement, and other principles needed for engineering, but also about how to listen to, and express, ideas.
The child filling out the worksheet is engaged in a more one-dimensional task, but the child in the play-based program interacts meaningfully with peers, materials, and ideas.
Programs centered around constructive, teacher-moderated play are very effective. For instance, one randomized, controlled trial had 4- and 5-year-olds engage in make-believe play with adults and found substantial and durable gains in the ability of children to show self-control and to delay gratification. Countless other studies support the association between dramatic play and self-regulation.
Through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment. By allowing children to imagine walking in another person’s shoes, imaginative play also seeds the development of empathy, a key ingredient for intellectual and social-emotional success.
The real “readiness” skills that make for an academically successful kindergartener or college student have as much to do with emotional intelligence as they do with academic preparation. Kindergartners need to know not just sight words and lower case letters, but how to search for meaning. The same is true of 18-year-olds.
As admissions officers at selective colleges like to say, an entire freshman class could be filled with students with perfect grades and test scores. But academic achievement in college requires readiness skills that transcend mere book learning. It requires the ability to engage actively with people and ideas. In short, it requires a deep connection with the world.
For a five year-old, this connection begins and ends with the creating, questioning, imitating, dreaming, and sharing that characterize play. When we deny young children play, we are denying them the right to understand the world. By the time they get to college, we will have denied them the opportunity to fix the world too.”
Autumn is a time to turn around and survey the work of the year. A time to assess what has developed, before we make plans for what is to come. In doing this, I looked back to my first post on this blog, and here is what I found. At the exact moment we begin preparing for the Lantern Walk this year!
“All week long the children had been watching Rebecca and me make paper lanterns of their watercolor paintings, folding and cutting the stars so perfectly, gluing and stapling, attaching the wire handles, filling each one with a candle. Such anticipation….the Lantern Walk!
Finally in the gathering dark, each little lantern was lit, their cut out stars shone bravely and the warmth of their red and gold glow gave us good cheer as we walked the woodland path. Rustling through the fallen leaves, singing through the woods, happily we trudged up and ever up the forested hillside. Round we looped, until at my long driveway’s end, the children had a thrill: if their parents agreed, they might hand the lantern to the adult, then run like the wind through the dark, all the way to the playground gate!
Like the children, we can work, in our adult life, to create a sturdy container, then carry our light into a dark world. We can follow the thread laid out by our own heart, illumined by the heart’s light, regardless of the twisting path or depth of darkness. In the end, we run on light feet, we run toward Home! This is an image to live with, to give our children, an image to begin a new journey together.”