They run toward Life, arms open, and Life loves Itself through their small bodies. Pressing themselves into the sand, sifting dirt, watching an inchworm measure a branch, reaching toward the black cat who looks at them through inscrutable green eyes….it is their biological imperative to reach toward Life. We, their care-givers, must structure the way in which Life reaches back, the the way they are touched in return.
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Living in the round of the seasons, as earth moves slowly through her journey around the sun, our souls learn this “round movement” as well. We are shaped by a bountiful grace. To live in the abundance of the natural world, held in the arms of our loving family, capacities evolve that will serve us and the world.
Today we marvel at the flock of spring’s earliest birds eager at the snowy feeder, last summer we found a baby turtle, in the fall we plant bulbs to perfume the coming spring. What is born of this is the knowledge that we are part of a mysterious unity that holds us, cares for us and sustains us. As well as the desire to hold, care for and sustain life itself.
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!
A few years ago, I noticed a dramatic shift in the needs of parents. No longer was I receiving calls primarily from parents of three, four and five year olds, rather, I had as many calls from parents of two year olds. Many years before, at the Waldorf School I had witnessed a similar shift. Parental needs for good, wholesome, creative education of their children at that time, shifted from four and five year olds, to include threes, as well. The world and our lives are changing dramatically, and the needs of families reflect this.
So, a few years ago, with very careful selection, The Rose Garden began to accept children as young as two and a half. What were the benchmarks of “readiness” I looked for in such a young child? There is a time in the life of a toddler and new-two year old, in which the child is the king or queen of the Universe. Just watch how the parents and older siblings, the grandparents, and actually, every adult jumps to run along after the newly-mobile explorer! This is the time when the learning for the child is most efficiently conducted one-on-one with the parents, the other siblings, their primary care-taker. This child has not yet crossed the threshold, and moved from their position of royalty into the realm of simply being “part of the club.” At a certain point, though, the child’s matrix of concentration changes, and they can look further than their one-on-one contact, and wonder about a larger paradigm. The child becomes ready to learn from their playmates at school, to learn as part of the group.
It is a delicate balance, to ascertain when this moment occurs, in each child’s developmental arc. With faith in intuition, both the parents’ and mine, and with help from our twin muses… this enchanted forest and the little stream.…we began. It has been an amazing growth process! Rebecca and I looked at one another in astonished amazement that first year; the innate intelligence of these babies! We were in awe of their curiosity and willingness to join the older Rose Garden children in every aspect of the day, from baking bread to something as developmentally complex as Circle Time with all its focus on language, motor, spatial, imaginary, and social skills! What a confirmation of ours and their parents’ intuition!
In Sept, The American Journal of Play published research studying the kind of learning that takes place in mixed-age play situations. The research examined this kind of play-based learning, from cultures across the globe. Most striking to the researchers was the fact that this type of learning, based on humanity’s long evolution of tutoring (knowledge being passed on within the family unit nested within the village unit) is quickly vanishing in our time. Children are being separated into age-same groups, and playful learning is disregarded as inferior. Yet their research showed, whether in an African village, or a mixed-age, play-based program here in the US, younger children are capable of accomplishing skills, when in the presence of their older playmates, which they are not capable of in age-same groups!
This school year, we reap the harvest of our decision to open our doors, our minds and our hearts to such young children. These children, our “babies” of a few years ago, either are already five or will become five years old this school year. Today they walk into school confident, capable, intelligent, empathic, curious and kind. Older children turn instinctively to their younger friends, helping, instructing, modeling, mentoring. They are being trained, in the traditional way, to be the leaders of tomorrow.
“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!”
It is spring, here in the Virginia woods. The forsythia reigns golden above the deck, and the daffodils sway in the dogwood-scented breeze. The Rose Garden children are gearing up for their “summer-games” Today they found catkins which had fallen from the trees to the ground, and quickly made fairy houses in which to leave presents of “the little ears of corn” for the fairies! These children are so full of imaginative forces and pure creativity! If only every parent could understand that this life-imbued imagination is the foundation for a life of thought, filled with creativity and flexibility. The world of the future (and the future is now!) will need people who have thinking that is flexible enough to move creatively with change, people familiar with “flow”. These capacities begin to grow in early childhood. Let’s nurture them for the future!
Tomorrow will begin an amazing( and free) virtual conference: Feed. Play. Love. It is designed for mothers, to empower you to choose, consciously, how you will parent and educate your children. I will be speaking on the necessity of creative play to foster this wide, up-welling creativity that they will need for the future. To find more information, to see the other fine speakers and contributors, and to participate, follow this link
Here is a little from the web-site:
Our incredible speakers are going to teach you so much about being a parent on purpose…
We’ll teach you to FEED your child’s body, mind and spirit…
Give ways to allow them space to PLAY and foster their own ingenuity and creativity…
Inspire ways to LOVE being a Mom, to feel confident and purposeful in the choices that you make about raising your child.
You will also receive the 2011 Feed. Play. Love. Workbook so that you have a tool to implement the strategies, techniques and ideas that you want to incorporate into your life.
It had rained in the night, and the playground was wet yesterday morning. I had kept bags of raked leaves from the fall, for this exact sort of moment. I emptied a bag, so the children and I could rake a path of leaves from the gate to the door. When I emptied the other bags of sweet and fragrant leaves to be spread into their play-space, the children greeted this addition like I had given them mounds of gold! They rushed for the rakes; they worked and played, laughing and jumping, raking and tumbling until they dropped, exhausted and giggly in Rebecca’s and my arms!
When we adults can give ourselves so fully to the joy of the moment, we will have become rich in our simplicity!
Here is a quote from Heaven on Earth’s chapter about creative play:
In thinking of the young child’s free creative play materials, a fitting motto we can keep in mind is, “Anything can be anything.” But what does that mean? Children need play materials that are open-ended enough to meet new needs each day, to fill the demands of their imagination. A toy needs to be “unformed” enough to be reasonably used as many things, in many circumstances. For instance, a red fire truck, with a remote control, will always be destined to be just that. But a simple, open-bed wooden truck can be a fire truck, a farm vehicle, a bus, a lumber wagon, or even a truck that floats on water! Or, better yet, an open basket can be a bed, a suitcase, a grocery bag, a hat, or, when turned upside down, a mountain, a prison, a cave, a hiding place ?.?.?. anything can be anything!
Yesterday on The Rose Garden playground we were surprised and delighted by this principle in-action. Sitting on the tree stumps was a small group of musicians, busy singing, tapping their feet and strumming banjos, mandolins and guitars. In the corner, the old wooden ladder had been laid down to become a rocket ship. Comfortable reclining chairs for the space-explorers were under construction. Beside the porch, a group of mothers attended their babies, giving them baths in the large bucket. Occasionally we were asked to baby-sit the fresh-scrubbed babies so grocery shopping could be done. What is the magic, what is the common thread here? Banjos, mandolins, guitars, as well as comfy chairs for the rocket ship and even the darling babies themselves, all of these remarkably different playthings were….the playground boards! The absolute wonder, the vast breadth of the young child’s imagination lies waiting for us to allow enough time and enough open-ended “toys” for it to blossom. Toys: sticks, pine cones, boards, bricks, lawn-mower tires, rope, pieces of slate, bales of hay, un-baled hay, piles of leaves….you get the idea!