We're enjoying as much as possible of the woods before Spring brings along her faithful N.C. companion: poison ivy. Then our outdoor focus will return to our play yard closer to home and the seeds we've planted in the garden. The children have loved working and playing together in the rugged woody hills behind Appleseeds. Sometimes a large branch requires lifting by 3 or 4 friends (just for the heck of it!), requiring grunts and deepened voices in order to lift it, and then drop it down again. Another game they love to play is to reach out a hand to a friend who has made it to the top of a hill and say "help me up!", whether it's required or not, it's enjoyable for them to have their friends waiting for them at the top and helping them up.
All through February we had a little finger play about 2 hungry mice who looked for some food. It is done with children sitting down "indian style". The hands are the mice and they "creep creep creep to the first floor (knees), they look all around...not a crumb to be found! And then they heard a sound, MEOW!! And they scampered to the ground!" The children do the same on the second floor (shoulders), but in the attic (head) the mice find a BIG piece of cheese and "nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble, and gave the crumbs to the birds". By the end, the children knew all the words and loved saying it on their own.
Turning that corner
There were discoveries of spring this week, despite Sir Walter Wally the groundhog's prediction. There were squeals of glee at the discovery that there were "bumps" all over the growing shrubs and trees. It's so exciting to see the children discover a small bud and to see their faces change as they realize the whole forest is beginning to transform itself.
The trellis arches in the garden have been resurrected and the children helped to plant peas along their bottom edges. We also got some beets and kale planted as well. As always, here's hoping.
It's been beautiful to watch how the children tenderly care for one another. As the older ones are growing (though they are still quite young!), they are beginning to slow down and wait for the younger ones. I love watching them as they pour their water for snack, the pitcher goes around the table, and the older children will watch the younger child take the heavy pitcher in their little hands and let them know "Careful, it's heavy...now tilt it just a little, aaaannndd...that's it! Stop there!". Or in the forest, an older child will get ahead a bit and hear a younger one calling their name, and sit on a stump while the other stumbles over all the logs and vines to get to them. A little fella who had not yet gathered the courage to climb the rope ladder came up to me today to say he wanted to climb it. One of his slightly older buddies was sitting nearby, who also is not yet so keen on the wobbliness of a rope ladder. I told the first child that perhaps his friend could join him and help him to brave it. So the first child said to his friend "Will you help me be brave?", to which the friend took his hand, and I kid you not, kissed his forehead, and said "I will". The older climbed up a ways to steady the ladder and let the younger give it his best shot. This is what I try to make space in the day for, time for children to seek one another out, work through difficulties and discover that their peers, who are going to share the same world at the same time, are GOOD and there to help them grow!
We had a fun and early Valentine's day, which I am grateful for since the weather wound up being prohibitive on Thursday! The children spent the past several days painting their paper for Valentine pouches, sewing them up and gluing on extra hearts. It was fun to watch how proud they were to pass a Valentine to each friend and how pleased they were to receive each one. Snack was a special treat of heart-shaped scones with whipped cream and strawberries. We had children working their hand dexterity this week with heart-shaped hole-punchers, punching colorful hearts which they later used to sell in their "store".
Thanks to our prolonged cold spells, the children are getting far more adept at putting on their snowpants, boots, jackets, more jackets, fiddly little gloves and mittens, and hats mostly by themselves. It is cumbersome to wear those clothes and requires a bit more motivation to move, but they have it! Day after day of zipping and unzipping, pulling on boots, flipping jackets, and buttoning sweaters has given them the skills for this. After plenty of (previous) weeks of playing with mud and water, they are very skilled at pouring their own water from a large glass pitcher into their (breakable!) mugs at snack. Children who are normally boisterous are very calm and collected carrying an almost full cup of water in the nursery!
Play is work
I've been thinking this week about play-based care and how it prepares the child for later life and schooling. People often ask me what is the difference between Montessori and Waldorf as both have some similarities, yet can often be so very different. I could reflect on the many aspects of each, which are both very inspiring and lovely but to synthesize it simply it is this: Montessori believed that work was the child's play. In Waldorf environments it is that play is the child's work. In other words, Maria Montessori believed that a child felt whole and sound when they were doing real work such as washing dishes, folding napkins, or raking leaves. On the other hand, play as the child's work is a way of saying that the child comes to wholeness through unstructured, imaginary play with others and with simple toys such as cloth dolls, and even sticks, stones, water, and mud. So which is true? They are both true, and in a play-based environment, they experience both in a deep and unhurried way. However, I can say that play can be much more work for the child than actual "work".
In an environment where the focus is on play, both independent and social, the child begins to develop the mental flexibility it takes to become a participant in the broader world. They begin to watch one another for signs of willingness to play; the nuances of their various friends' personalities. There are disagreements about toys and what to play that must be worked through. Some children must find boldness to proclaim "I'm playing with this now!" and some must control the impulse to grab what it is they want. What a wonderful time to learn these lessons! How terrible to be rushed through this experience or not to have it at all. There is also the joy of discovering a new way to play with one another and finding that you've happened upon a brand new experience to share with your fellow friend. So how is this preparation for the broader world? In today's world, which is fast and so busy that it can become isolating, it is particularly important that we develop social capabilities in our children. When the time is not taken in early years to allow children to experience one another through play, we begin to see antisocial behavior arise further down the road, and I believe we see signs of this in the news headlines everyday.
Play is certainly work. In many ways it is far easier to just have children working individually on separate tasks, or to keep them so busy that there is no time for disagreeing with one another. Many personalities (mine included), find life easier when you go about your day doing things independently. And yet it is so important that we allow our children the time to "bump up against" one another and share each others space. In doing so, they also discover mutually pleasing games and take joy in making one another laugh. They watch one another closely and see how they can contribute to the play. It does mean that kids are exhausted at the end of the day, and they certainly need a mid-day rest to recover. The child's brain is equipping itself to live in community with fellow humans. This is a major human task and it requires rest!
Work is certainly part of the child's play. There is pride that comes from applying effort to a task and being able to finally achieve it. Joy also comes from the process of work as well. But the role of play in the lives of children affects them further down the road. Allowing them the time and space needed to play imaginatively with one another gives them the capacity for understanding their peers. Compassion and patience are only a couple of the learned skills that can only come about from time spent in interaction with others. So I like to think of play as an exercise in the improvement of human beings, and that takes some work!
We finally had some snow, and some time to enjoy it. The children loved testing out the "road conditions" with the cars and bicycles. The fared about as well as Atlanta motorists. We had a bit of snow cream when the snow was fresh, and warmed up with hot cocoa when we had enough. It was a week that had inside cozy time with baking cookies and bread, and outside time in the snow that thoroughly chilled our noses and toes! It was a nice way to finish out the month of January.
It is difficult for our bodies to adjust to such up and down weather, but the children still seem to enjoy the outdoor time, and often ask to eat outside as long as their fingers can handle being un-gloved while eating. Building a fire in the fire pit helped keep children warm on the coldest of days; gathering so many sticks and pine cones had them warmed up before the fire began! Fire is an interesting element to introduce to such a young age, it is the one element that they are not allowed to handle, but nonetheless they experience it in a deep way. They were able to feel it's warmth and yet were very inclined to keep their distance!