written by Linda Park for the Hearts Speak blog. Thank you!
Week in and week out, the rhythms at my daughter’s pre-school and kindergarten program stayed essentially the same. It was always porridge on Mondays, rice on Tuesdays, bread on Wednesdays, and soup on Thursdays (no school on Fridays). Painting was always on Rice Day. And, Outdoor Adventure was always after lunch. This was our rhythm for over three years. Some friends have understandably asked me, “But isn’t your child getting bored?”
It had crossed my mind. Other than the morning circle time, I knew that the majority of my daughter’s day was engaged in free play and not a lot more. Another popular kindergarten in the area offered Spanish and French classes, yoga for children, gymnastics, jazz and tap dance, painting, pottery, and singing, just to name a few of the electives. On a tour of the center, I marveled at the program’s extensive selection of lessons and asked if this meant that they had a large number of adjunct teachers. It was then explained to me that all those additional classes were provided through videos – and that the school did not give the children any media except for these “educational videos” which were described as a great way to expose the children to a wide range of learning.
At home, I tried to carefully observe my daughter for any signs in a loss of interest or the need for something more, like maybe violin or badminton lessons? I wasn’t sure what I was looking for outwardly, but I thought whatever signs that might manifest, it would probably stand out in some way. So, I observed as carefully as I could and observed for over three years.
What I saw was a child who was deeply engaged in her world. Every afternoon, the older children including my daughter would go on an outdoor adventure with the teacher. My daughter loved these outings and, arguably, she looked forward to it more than her all-time favorite snack of freshly-baked-bread-slathered-with-butter-AND-apple-butter-on-Bread-Day.
During Outdoor Adventure, the children discovered all kinds of treasures in the creek-bed. They learned some herbal first aid when my daughter got stung by a bee and the teacher plucked wild plantain to address the sting. They took pleasure in tasting tiny drops of nectar from honeysuckle flowers and finding onion grass to add to their soup. Inspiring acts of bravery and quick-thinking became an oft-repeated story, such as the time Jack, literally, went out on a limb to rescue a friend’s hat that blew into the rushing stream. There were times of tears when Lucy got scared while crossing the big log and all the children quietly gave her their encouragement, and so on. Daily surprises and adventures presented themselves in the context of the same walk, same creek, and the same teacher.
What I was observing was more than just the learning associated with knowing things. Every day, through the familiar, my daughter was deepening her feeling of her experiences. She was learning through her head and her heart, and growing a sense of love for the world around her. Cultivating this love was the teacher-gardener.
In my daughter’s third and final year at the school, the teacher asked me to consider a picture of “ripeness” in terms of our children. I kept thinking of the bananas and avocados in the store that are harvested too early and sometimes go from under-ripe to black. Or the tomatoes that we keep in brown paper bags to ripen on the counter. This was in contrast to the taste and goodness of juicy berries right off the bush, peas pulled from the vine or apples picked off the branch. It was a fair question: in this day and age, how do we cultivate ripeness in our children?
A slow and deep transformation was unfolding at this school, in the community, and within my daughter. This change was rooted in the very earth of the teacher’s perennial “garden.” The teacher’s gentle guidance and daily attention was the nourishment for the children’s growth and connection with their physical and social environment. The warmth of the teacher’s own being resonated and extended to the health and bounty in each of the children. A bountifulness that, I firmly believe, is generative towards our future.