I am very excited to be holding a parent information meeting April 14th at the Mahon Hall on Salt Spring Island. I am looking forward to meeting families and beginning some first steps towards building a community around forest school.
As I prepare details for the meeting, I have found myself thinking over what it is to teach. The following are some thoughts about teaching and my approach to it.
My approach to teaching stems from the concept of emergent
curriculum. I believe that children are born with great resources for
learning and challenging themselves..... that what they need to
support this natural tendency is a relaxed, inspiring atmosphere in which
a wealth of varied experiences are provided. My
intention in using the outdoors as the classroom lies within my
intuition that through becoming deeply engaged in this environment, the children will initiate their own activities. Children, much like ourselves, become very engaged and excited when inventing from their own creativity. Through working with this momentum we help develop their learning and problem solving abilities. My further intention lies in my belief that the outdoor space offers children opportunities to be involved in care of their classroom,
through helping out with real jobs such as gardening and experiencing
the world in the ways that nature presents it. I hope children
will experience a sense of ownership of their school, a sense of
belonging to a classroom community and a sense of connection to
nature, through the outdoor classroom model.
The cornerstones of my approach to teaching lie upon teaching for 1/ a
love of learning / building creative problem solving skills
2/ building a sense of community and ownership of the classroom 3/
dealing with aggression through teaching empathy and cooperation (
this concept is connected to building a sense of community where each child
belongs) and 4/ teaching through modeling and conversation with
children to help them understand feelings. Social skills are
a huge aspect of preschool's inherent value. Teaching children how
feelings, thoughts and behavior go together, builds a foundation for
emotional strength, and strong friendships. Because of this I start out the school year, with activities designed to create a sense
of safety. I want children to feel accepted, and begin to feel they can
relax away from home. When children have issues, we
name their feelings, as a first step towards teaching empathy in the
classroom. " It sounds like you are angry...sad ect" I teach
through meeting a child where he or she is as a first step. I
am sure that working with the feeling underlying the behavior and
helping the child understand that is what will create lasting harmony
amongst the children more than anything else. Children are
like adults, in that once they feel understood they will more easily
extend empathy towards the other, and be able to work though social
problem solving with other children. Lastly, I believe we are models
for children, that our interpersonal skills are what create the tone
of the classroom in which the children seep,like little tea bags in a
cup of tea.
My family and I are heading back to BC next week. April will bring us to Salt Spring. We are renting a little cabin close to Ganges, where I will settle in for a month of networking, parent meetings, and getting to know the community. I am very excited to meet parents and teachers alike whom I have been conversing with over the past 5 months. I'm equally excited to start looking at land, checking out the local wild herbs and plants, visiting the farmers market, and to meet Phoebe Capelle's fairies. THANK-YOU FOR ALL THE CONNECTIONS I'VE MADE SO FAR!!!
Within my personal experience as a student practitioner of Holistic Medicine, I noticed an alarming level of anxiety and depression affecting clients during my practicum. I notice that a growing trend of speeding through life at the expense of ourselves is being passed down to our children. I have concern for a fearful, plugged in, disconnected from body and source child, and for that matter, society. We want children to grow up to be empowered members of society with the strength within to make a difference in our world. It is important to consider the growing trend of anxiety, depression and attention disorders affecting a growing majority of children. My thinking around this is simply that according to my experience, it is through feeling safe in the world, that is in part, responsible for where our ability to notice and act upon the world outside us, comes from. I do not want to be part of a discussion that forgets to build opportunities for children to build a future that is grounded through meaningful work, with the authentic world. I want to create a discussion that builds strong relationships in children between awareness of their own bodies, the body of the earth, and the body of humanity. It seems to me that an over emphasis on video games, and toys that direct children's play in a specific direction, disempower children, through disconnecting them from awareness of their bodies, and encouraging them to focus on mental activity only. Richard Louv, in "Last Child in the Woods", suggests that our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. To him this represents an increasing divide between young people and the natural world. He suggests that though the modern poststructural perspective that reality is a construct suggests limitless possibilities, because the young spend less and less time outdoors, the senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically and this reduces the richness of human experience. To me this suggests the importance of embracing children's opportunities to learn in the outside world as a rich and essential part of our human heritage. We as humans have been playing outdoors for most of our evolution. Our bodies and senses are closely linked to our affinity for the outdoors. Our minds enhanced by it. I am excited to be part of a movement that seeks to create more opportunity to bring outdoor time to children, families and society at large.
In 2009, I was blessed with the wonderful opportunity to complete a practicum with, and later work for a wonderful Waldorf 3-5 center in North Vancouver, until Luca was born. I loved many aspects of this experience. I enjoyed finding myself immersed in a peaceful image of childhood. Children helped chop vegetables for lunch, swept, and baked with me. There was emphasis on simplicity and imagination.
According to Waldorf philosophy children become secure in their bodies through daily rhythm. A daily routine is set so children know what to expect and therefore feel safe throughout the day. Teachers are discouraged from reading children books and asking children questions or interrupting them in any way from a dreamy inner place they are thought to occupy. I deeply believe in creating rhythm for children as a way to hold them. I also deeply believe in reading children books, and asking them questions. When we don't engage the child, and don't create opportunities for him to make meaning of the world (in a manner that excites him and invites conversation) , it seems to me that we are in some way limiting the child’s freedom.
According to Barbra Patterson, author of’ Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing our children from birth to seven’, A Waldorf teaching handbook, children age 3-5 need to be given space to play with no interruptions, in order to fully play out their dramatic play. This suggests a child who is connected to the spirit world, who learns by taking things in through all his senses, and through working with his body, rather than his mind. This suggests a child who instinctively observes and imitates adults, but does not think. For this child, simple non-directive creative play spaces are designed to encourage growth and spontaneity in play. At the same time this child’s projects and trains and villages that were made yesterday are not saved in the classroom for today, which is just the opposite of a Reggio approach to early childhood education which allows for children to build on and extend their thinking from yesterday by approaching it with a fresh angle today. To a Reggio approach this fresh angle is considered to be rooted in meaning that has been retained from previous work. To a Reggio educator thinking is something that is encouraged and supported.
To me this brings up an important question. What is freedom in early childhood programming? We wish to offer children the opportunity to unfold their inner nature, express their ideas and their understanding of the world. We hope for them to become individuals who will be self motivated and who will feel that nothing can stop them in life. But, placing our adult assumptions and interpretations on stringent ideas regarding what education should be for children restricts children's freedom. Placing children in a program that limits the opportunities for their encounters with opportunities to question and engage their curiosity is only one way in which we impact children's sense of freedom to learn.
This brings me to a larger perspective that states that any child entered into any childcare program is not free. He is enrolled within a structure that is of his teachers choosing. It seems to me that in taking this perspective into consideration we can see that there is an inherent danger in teaching of projecting our adult theories on a child, as opposed to being fluid enough to respond to the child’s actual needs. The question is can we be flexible enough within our theories and philosophies to be able to see and respond to the child.
To me freedom has to do with creating a place of freedom within ourselves as adults. When we are free, and not too constricted by any one idea of what childcare should look like, we are better able to see the needs of the individuals before us that are in our care. When we keep flexible and self-reflective we are setting the stage for ongoing wonder and learning within ourselves. This is something that I do believe the children will imitate.
As we move away from the darkest days towards the light that Winter Solstice and the New Year promises, I find myself thinking about how to bring light and cheer to the cold wet days the children and I will spend in the forest next year. I love to go out in the wet weather. I experience an exhilaration and excitement which is transmitted to my body through the cleansing water. I want to share this feeling with my group. I know deep down that water is not a problem. Children love playing in the mud, and watching rivulets of water running through the forest floor. The rain becomes a friend making everything shiny and beautiful, leaving little fairy droplets on the leaves , making concentric rings in the puddles. It is the cold and dark that must be combated. A cheery fire, storm lanterns hung around the corners of an outdoor shelter, warming children's tea that lightens the spirit and lifts the mood, baking bread in our little outdoor cob oven- These are the things that keep our spirits up and teach us the resilience and freedom that living our day outdoors, in this season offers us.
This kind of winter magic is not possible unless we ensure that children are properly dressed. Otherwise they will associate being cold and miserable with being outdoors. As we know, keeping hats and gloves on is a trick. At Little Nest we will have glove gators on hand, a nifty little import from Oregon. http://glovegator.com/how.html. On this track, socks that come up to a child's elbows, over gloves, under a coat, make the gloves more immobile. Sewing mitts or gloves to the cuff of a child's coat so they won't drop to the ground also works. Regarding hats, long flaps that cover your child's ears are wonderful. Get crafty and add eyes and ears. Give the hat a funny voice and turn it into a buddy to come to school. Comfortable fleece seems to go a long way with hat compliance.
I dress Luca in several thin layers as heat trapped between layers helps keep little ones warm. He has freer movement in multiple thin layers than he would in one heavy layer. Several layers of clothing also means a layer can be removed if he becomes too warm. Leg warmers or tights can be helpful to keep little legs warm. Luca wears second hand tights with the feet cut off, as little boy leggings all through the winter.
And so, warmly dressed, out we will go, to find adventures in the forest and lights among the trees. I can hardly wait to run out in the rain with the children. Perhaps it will be cold and wet, but armed with our enthusiasm and imagination we will uncover what the winter forest has to offer.
Our electricity has been out over the last day and a half due to stormy weather.
We spent yesterday evening with the fire roaring in the wood stove, reading nursery rhymes by candlelight.
I've noticed that when the power goes out, and we are separated from the modern convenience of electric light, my family and I slow down. Everyone relaxes. We become focused on each other, as if we suddenly become the lights in the room. A warmth and sense of peace prevails, and I find myself feeling connected to the part of my humanity that I equate with my inner power. I find that the simpler things become, the more powerful I feel.
Depending on media to entertain me, and someone else to make my bread, feels like putting something between myself and my sense of accomplishment and wonder. I get my sense of who I am through digging my own hands into the flour and singing my own songs to my family. A day or so without power takes this feeling further. It reminds me that I often don't need as much as I think I need. Simplicity seems to encourage my sense of place and connectedness to the natural world.
I believe that children also experience this. There is a sense of power in trudging down a woodland trail in the rain, knowing one is secure in the wet, that a warm campfire will be built, hands will be warmed without indoor heat, and that one is free to experience nature as she presents herself. In short I suggest that extended, daily exposure to the outdoors invites children into a deep experience of belonging. Children out in nature together become the lights in the woods. They show up for each other, and interact in a much deeper way than children in a busy classroom abuzz with endless activity and visual stimulation.
This is not to suggest a shift away from life's luxury, but instead a re-framing of what makes life beautiful. My wish for my students is that they develop a sense that they are competent agents in the natural and the man made world around them. I wish for them to find that they are successful in their experiments, and their extensions of friendship to the birds, the trees, and each other. From this place I want them to know how to create a nest of security and confidence for themselves. From the warmth and safety of this nest is where, I believe, the element of possibility enters. A fairy house here, a line of lanterns all aglow under the roof of a forest shelter, hot cider and story time; this is where the rooted soul finds it's wings to fly towards all that may be possible and imagined. To me, this flight is the true luxury we all seek.
"The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a magnificent world in itself."
I have spent the last month figuratively up to my elbows in cob, straw bale, and the logistics involved in building with alternative materials on Salt Spring.
I am an architect's daughter. I have seen my Dad build homes for our family, yet I am learning that there is so very much more to the process of building a house, than the simple understanding I gleaned from walking through these partially built homes and pouring over Dad's drawings.
House design is natural to me, but I am like a babe in the woods when it comes to understanding how to build.
Fire safety, zoning, building permits for alternative building materials, consultants, ringing up Dad's old buddies, my uncle, my brother, experts in Eco building, a straw bale workshop on the horizon; there are questions after questions to answer. It is poetic that during the process of building our home and schoolhouse, I am teacher turned student.
We are gearing up to build this summer, with the help of 'The Mud Girls', a local all female alternative construction crew. We are going to build in a style similar to that of a barn raising. Cob and Straw Bale go up quickly when there are many hands. Our plan is to invite friends and members of the community who are interested in a crash course on Eco friendly building, to serve big community meals and to camp out on our property. My hope it that anyone interested in getting to know us will come join us.
In the meantime we are looking for a carpenter familiar with building post and beam structure for an alternative infill, a plumber and an electrician with a good reputation who would be interested in working on an alternative building project. Suggestions are welcome.
More information about our work party will be posted on the Little Nest home page this Spring. Our family information night, which is scheduled for April 14th 3-6 at the Mahon Hall will also be a source for updates on our building party.
We had one of our first rains today. Luca and I stomped in puddles. I got to thinking about the virtues of mud. I love simple open ended materials such as sticks, leaves and mud, because they offer children limitless possibilities for play. Because they don't dictate to children what they should be saying, or how they should be playing, these materials allow children to develop creativity and better communication skills. Many toys today dictate to a child an oral script, and in so doing limit children's learning and self expression. Do we want our children to be mimics of commercialized scripts, or active participants in the more simple cycles of family life and nature? In addition,
children who play outside in the rain and mud tend to be children who are sick less often than those who spend their days inside. When playing outside in the fresh air, little immune systems get exposed to the dirt and grime that makes them stronger . Science shows that a little dirt improves our immunity and helps pave the way for better lifelong health. http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500165_162-4766105.htmlIn fact, mud is such well acknowledged fun, that every year, June 29th marks international mud day. All over the world children, and early childhood educators celebrate by getting really, really muddy. Squish, squirt, squash; mud provides tactile experiences that stimulate a child's developing brain.
Mud makes great paint, is fun to scoop into containers, makes wonderful pies, and best of all feels great when we squish it through our fingers, and toes.
For more information about international mud day visit http://worldforumfoundation.org/wf/wp/initiatives/nature-action-collaborative-for-children/international-mud-day-2011/
Luca has been taking his naps outside, through the winter, since he was a baby. We spent his first winter in North Vancouver, B.C. It snowed and was certainly cold and wet. He slept in a comfy stroller, complete with memory foam seat, and cushy reclining position. It's still his preferred place to nap. As the weather gets colder we pile him with blankets. When the wind kicks up, a blanket goes over the whole stroller, sometimes with the rain cover over that. We attribute the fact that he sleeps so soundly, to his being outdoors.
As I was putting him down this afternoon, I got to thinking about the question of bad weather. As children, most of us were taught to come in out of the rain so we didn't get a cold. As adults, we go about the winter streets in street clothes, and spend the majority of the season inside. When we look at the concept of an outdoor kindergarten or preschool from this place, it is challenging to imagine leaving our children to play outside through the cold and wet winter months.
In European outdoor programs teachers say " There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing." When we dress our children appropriately for the weather, so that they are able to run around as self-sufficient little hot houses, the cold and wet are no longer a problem for the little ones. In fact they revel in the freedom to get wet. They roll around in their waterproof gear, and happily splash in puddles and streams. So how do we go about this? What is appropriate dress for cold and wet weather for a 3-5 year old? How does one pee in the pouring rain, in a snowsuit?
The key to preparing children for a day outdoors lies in packing layers, and a change of clothes. Children should have some spare items of clothing in case of accidents, or clothes becoming wet. Spare gloves and socks are a must. On a cold winter day children will stay warm when dressed in waterproof layers such as the following:
Long sleeved top
Hooded top/ fleece of thick sweater
Thick socks ( thermal or two pairs thin socks )
Hat, gloves, over mittens( waterproof mits), hat
Luca has a pair of waterproof pants, and jacket by the Swedish company 'ABEKO'. I like his rain suit because it is tough, enviromentally friendly, PVC free, and comes in two pieces. Imagine a child in the pouring rain trying to get out of a one piece 'muddy buddy' to pee. The 'ABEKO' pants come with or without adjustable suspenders. Either pair comes down quickly and easily in the cold and wet. Because they are very lightweight, they are ideal to pack in a bag for protection of children's clothing in case of sudden showers. Best of all, they are well cut, with cuffed sleeves and ankles, and an adjustable button at the waist, so parents can buy a pair several sizes too big. Luca's size 90 will fit him through his third year. We bought them for his first birthday. For reference, the 'ABEKO' line is available online at puddlegear.com. West of Moon, also carries some of this line. I want to be clear that this is not a plug for a particular product. This is just a personally tested example of the high quality products available, which facilitate children's outdoor experience. I am aware that buying rain gear is a considerable expense for parents, and I like this line because it is tear resistant, and if bought big, should last through a child's preschool years.
Luca age one, in his rain pants which are several sizes too big.
The First Leg of Our Journey
My family and I are on a journey. As summer wound down, we packed our bags, leaving Vancouver, British Columbia behind until the Spring. Our journey is the journey of a lifetime. We are embarking upon the exciting process of finding a home for our Forest Preschool, and for our young family.
My husband, baby Luca and I spent the first leg of our trip, in a teepee on Vashon Island, Washington, where I had the wonderful opportunity to intern with Erin Kenny of Cedarsong Preschool. I spent days observing a forest preschool program at work, and interviewing Erin. I learned that Erin and I are of the same mind, that children thrive in a forest setting with an experienced teacher to engage them in the wonders all around them, and that mindfulness is as simple as asking a question like " Can you hear the birds singing?", or " Can you listen to the moon?" I observed empowered young children who knew their way around a piece of land. They were never told to stop throwing dirt, but instead were told that if they felt liked throwing dirt, to throw it away from people. I observed children's imaginations thriving, as they conducted plays at a nature theater, comprised of a curtain hung between two trees, and made nests for stone eggs in the underbrush. My overall impression lead me to a realization of how simple the forest kindergarten model really is, and how well it serves children and families. Children in nature kindergarten enjoy being outside. They encourage their parents to get out and walk in the woods with them, and they teach their parents about the plants and wild edibles they encounter on the way.
From Vashon Island, we've driven to Northern California, where we a spending the winter in California's beautiful wine country with family. Over the Fall and Winter while our baby turns two and experiences his first memorable Halloween and Christmas ( for Halloween he is going to be a monster. His decision), I am putting together the administrative and creative details for Little Nest Forest Preschool.
I've heard it said that you know you're on your path when everything you've done in your life previously begins to make sense, because you see how it fits into what you're doing now. The information I've collected throughout my life on permaculture, homesteading, gardening, mindfulness, community building, healing and herbalism are marching up to me, like a set of animated tin solders to present themselves as components of my vision.
This past week and a half, I have been conducting a needs assessment for the island with the intention of hashing out the need for alternative childcare on Salt Spring. I have been met with generosity and enthusiasm. I am finding myself falling in love with the island, through the people I have spoken to. Thanks to a hand full of enthusiastic parents, and the help of local preschool teachers, my family and I are looking towards Salt Spring as our destination for Little Nest Forest Preschool. We are collecting feedback, and we have received enough interest to have made the decision to rent the Mahon Hall in Ganges for a Parent Information night this coming Spring. We will be viewing various sites for the school during our Spring visit. In the meantime, I would love to hear from parents with young children about how they have found Salt Spring as a place to bring up their family. Baby Luca will be 2 in Dec, and a baby no longer. We are excited by the possibility of finding a community of like minded people to bring him up amongst.