IMG_7594Celebrating Birthdays in the Acorn Nursery

by Mia Reed, Acorn Nursery Teacher

As I sit here sewing gold trim onto a beautiful hand dyed blue silk, I ponder the gifts that the recipient of this particular birthday cape has brought with him. I think of the child in question, remembering moments we have shared at school, consoling tears, comforting after a fall in the grass, looking at birds in the sky, laughing together over silly words, watching proudly as they master a task. I think of the family. I think of the love they have for their child to bring him or her to us. I think of conversations we’ve had, chit chatting at festivals and potlucks.

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Birthdays are favorite moments in the Acorn Nursery for me. There is so much love in the room as we gather in our circle to tell the birthday child’s story. Leading the child by the hand to their parents, singing our special song, “in Heaven shines a golden star, an Angel led her from afar, from Heaven high below to Earth… and led her to her House of Birth”. Some children get shy and hide behind my legs, others run ahead with joy. The teacher tells the story of the Little Angel and the Big Angel up in the Heavens, doing good work together, work that results in gifts that the Little Angel tucks into their back pack for when they will travel down to Earth. There’s a part in the story that I find so beautiful, that tells of the Little Angel handing their wings to the Big Angel for safe keeping upon their return…IMG_7589

As the birthday celebration goes on, I watch as the candles get lit, I watch the child open their gift, I watch as each child hands over their chosen treasure, and my heart is filled with love and joy.

And then to top it all off, there’s whipped cream : )

 

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I am hanging little beaded Chinese lanterns above the table in our classroom. They are one of the few crafts that I create at home and bring in to infuse our classroom with a mood for the coming celebration. I choose reds and golds, so as not to lose the spirit of the season, and to honor Chinese culture. I do so after I learn that cherry blossoms are not timely, for they are much more emblematic of spring, and while the Chinese New Year is one of those holidays that oscillates between winter and spring, it comes early this year, in January, and in our upstate New York classroom, winter is still very much alive around us. Our head teacher reminds me, as many have in my life, “Don’t go too fast.” Her comment voices that while we, as adults, are finished with the shoveling, the wet snow gear, and the lack of sun, to let them linger in the season.

An inquisitive child asks me, “What are you doing?”

“I am hanging Chinese lanterns.” I already question my response. Shifting between story and logic, logic and story, I am constantly reminded of how new I am at this world.

“What is Chinese?” And there it is: a once simple question for me to answer now hangs in the room with deafening silence. I rely on the “That’s a great question!” response, but I sense that this child is ready for more and has heard that response perhaps a bit too often for her own eagerness to learn. I let myself off, and I feel comforted in knowing that I did not provide her with the facts or the history of China. I also trust that she will learn the answer in the coming weeks. I later share my experience with the head teacher; she responds so simply: “‘Chinese’ describes something that comes from China, a place far, far away on the other side of Earth.” And there’s the story. Give her a place of wonder. Where is far, far away? What does it look like? Let the child fill in the blanks with imagination.

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Over the next few weeks I strive to illuminate her question. The children busy themselves making spikes for the Chinese dragon.

Chinese Dragon,

Chinese Dragon,

Breathing Fire.

Happy, Happy New Year.

Happy, Happy New Year.

Gung Hay Fat Choy.

Gung Hay Fat Choy.

We sing Chinese New Year songs during our circle, and later at Outdoor Adventure, we shout them to the sky and to the brave birds circling us in the cold winter air as we walk through the woods. The children no longer ask me questions. They are becoming the story. Every day before lunch, I read them a Chinese folktale about a Goddess named Nuwa who creates people from mud and then later saves them from a flood. I choose this tale not only for its cultural value, but because several of the children have been experimenting with making figures out of mud on our long afternoon walks. I choose it to speak to them personally. And my eyes get welled up when one of the children later tells me that I am Nuwa. Together, we are living the story. Together, we are creating a festival. Together, we are becoming a definition to what is Chinese.

Let’s Wave and Say Ni Hao.

Let’s Wave and Say Ni Hao.

Let’s Say Hi To All Our Friends.

Let’s Wave and Say Ni Hao.

 

On the day of our Chinese New Year, we gather outside the Oak House inside a long green cloth, stretching ourselves to become the dragon.DSC_0487

The children finally get to raise their spikes for the performance and provide a moment for the younger children to experience what we have been growing into for the past few weeks. In just a few short minutes, we round the corner of the Acorn House, lifting our spikes and voices, delivering sweet orange treats wrapped in tissue and silk ribbons, a gesture so simple, but huge to their small hands. The Oaks with beaming pride continue the chanting as we round the play yard and drift off into the meadow.

 

DSC_0494A small child asks his teacher, “Why can’t the dragon stay?” And I too am saddened when I have to leave shortly after the parade; I want to hear the festival living even more inside of each of them.

When I come back in the afternoon to pick up my own child, a sweet orange treat in his hand, I overhear three boys running from the Oak House singing “Chinese Dragon! Chinese Dragon!” And although my son clearly saw me standing behind the dragon’s head just a few short hours earlier, when he waved right at me and I cried at his elation, he tells me the whole story, how a dragon visited the school and gave them special treats. I listen with complete wonder.

In Waldorf teaching, we wish for our children to experience a journey rather than learn about it. That day, and during those late January weeks, I learned a lot about the power of festival. I was able to experience renewal and the important act of celebrating a new year. Whether we are in China or in America, or somewhere in between, festivals and traditions are the roots in which all people keep growing, to tap into the rhythms of nature, to awaken our senses and recreate this story called life.

– MacKenzie Kell, Acorn School Teacher

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Acorn School Summer Camp 2017Hooray! Acorn Summer Camp registration is open!

 

Acorn School Summer Camp 2017

Every week we play in meadows, climb trees, build and dig in the sandbox, make beautiful crafts, take nature walks, run thru the sprinkler and spend time with good friends, or simply enjoy summertime laziness… Hope to see you there!

Click here for more information and application.

 

img_3355A beautiful reflection of a child’s days at Acorn School by an alumni parent.

written by Linda Park for the Hearts Speak blog. Thank you!

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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.