Our Program

The Maple Hill Play Garden is a licensed family child care program

located in Amherst, MA

for children ages 14 months* through 3 years.

The program runs Monday-Friday,

full days (8:30-3:30)

or half days (8:30-12:15).

Families may select two, three, four, or all five days.

We provide hearty, homemade, hot organic lunches

and a healthy afternoon snack.

We operate on a school year schedule.

*Children younger than 14 months who are both walking without assistance

and down to one afternoon nap/day are also welcome.

***************************************

Philosophy

 

There are a number of things that inspire our daily rhythm and curriculum at The Maple Hill Play Garden.

Below is an overview of the philosophy that shapes our program.

Time Outdoors

When children spend time outdoors in (almost) any weather,

they begin to build a deep connection with the natural world.

They come to truly know, deep in their bones, the cycle of the seasons

as each child bears witness to the different joys each season brings.

 

These are times of wonder. Children move through the world at a slower, more intentional pace as they explore and build relationships within the spaces around us. The modern world is often so busy, so hectic, so fast-paced; it is truly a gift for children to have the opportunity to slow down and discover the delight of jumping in a giant leaf pile; the beauty of the delicate snowflake; the joys of jumping and splashing in the mud; the contentment of lying in the grass with the warm sun kissing their face.

Social Justice

We are living in a time of movement. Places committed to social justice work to provide spaces in which all members "are physically and psychologically safe and secure, recognized, and treated with respect" and in which "individuals are both self-determining (able to develop their full capacities) and interdependent (capable of interacting democratically with others)" (Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice). As adults, this often means confronting our own conscious and unconscious biases and being willing to have difficult conversations that involve really listening to others' life stories and perspectives in order for us to learn, grow, and change.

 

The Maple Hill Play Garden is committed to learning about how the dynamics of social justice can be interwoven

with the tenets of a Waldorf-inspired early childhood philosophy. More specifically, we are exploring ways to foster inclusion

in developmentally appropriate ways, without the intrusion of too much of the adult world, while still

acknowledging, honoring, and validating each child's personal experience.

 

As with any active practice this exploration is by nature, a living, breathing, changing process.

Integration of social justice tenets at The Maple Hill Play Garden takes several forms.

In each of the phases we continue to examine the elements of the previous phases.

Phase One:

1. Ongoing anti-racism and equity/inclusion/decolonization professional development - work that children may not see physically, but work that shapes the educator(s) who guide the children in their walk. This in turn allows for a more inclusive, open, safe, and welcoming family environment. We are always learning on this journey and are open to feedback from families as well.

2. Diversifying our book/story collection to normalize a variety of cultures, skin tones, physical differences, and family compositions. We have been specifically identifying stories written by persons who actually represent the culture/racial identity/gender identity/etc. depicted in the book.

3. Diversifying our collection of "babies" (baby dolls) to represent and normalize a variety of skin tones, particularly those of people from the global majority.

Phase Two (current phase; in varying degrees of process):

1. Ongoing anti-racism and equity/inclusion/decolonization professional development - work that children may not see physically, but work that shapes the educator(s) who guide the children in their walk. This in turn allows for a more inclusive, open, safe, and welcoming family environment. We are always learning on this journey and are open to feedback from families as well.

2. Deeply examining the existing curriculum (themes and nuances in stories, songs, and puppet shows) for bias, racism, ableism, classism, colonization, patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy, and other messaging and working to change/decolonize/replace parts as necessary.

 

3. Introducing concepts of inclusion, empathy, and acceptance of differences with the children through themes in storytelling and puppet shows - at this age, often with animal characters (though I am exploring whether this would be more effective with human characters).

4. Developing a program culture that is welcoming and responsive to the feedback and experiences of families, while honoring the tenets that maintain the integrity and heart of The Maple Hill Play Garden.

5. Addressing some degree of accessibility through limited, partial financial aid scholarship(s). I also acknowledge the financial limitations that come with being a small, private program and the challenges that may prevent full accessibility (and am open to ideas for outside funding for scholarships).

6. Building a classroom set of spare outdoor gear (rain wear, snow wear, sun hats, etc.) for families that forget at home/have trouble accessing these materials.

All of the above points are in process to varying degrees.

Some are deeply underway; some are just in the initial stages.

I am happy to expand upon any of these areas upon request.

In this age group we introduce concepts implicitly rather than explicitly. Much of the work is the inner work of the adults

that manifests in the materials and curriculum we present and the behaviors and responses we model - how we carry ourselves

in the world (those little sponges are absorbing!). The normalization of inclusivity is interwoven into story and theme

rather than through direct instruction or intellectual communication - though I do my best to answer children's questions

- "Why are there two Mamas in this story?" - simply and honestly in a straightforward way as they arise organically.

I am also interested in discussions about how to have these direct conversations with our children at home.

Phase Three:

- I am interested in potential opportunities for shared learning among both parents and educators about topics and actions relating to social justice in the interest of building a more conscientious and empathetic community.

- Down the road, I am also interested in building bridges and relationships with the greater surrounding communities to better facilitate cross-cultural learning and empathy.

Waldorf Education

Rudolph Steiner started the first Waldorf School in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany, in response to the trauma experienced during and immediately after the WWI years. Steiner proposed a mode of education that would create a safe, nurturing, loving space that would allow children to once again experience the magic of childhood in a way that had been taken from them during the upheaval of war. Central to this experience (in early childhood) was allowing children to immerse themselves in both imaginative and imitative play, setting the cognitive skills (academics) aside until later on when those skills were more developmentally appropriate.

 

This prompted the need for guiding adults engaged in both meaningful physical activities (such as caretaking, woodworking, household tasks, etc.) and their own inner work, creating a presence worthy of imitation. It soon became clear that this type of education, in which adults hold a space for children that is filled with the warmth of safety and security, filled with a sense of joy and wonder, would benefit all children - not exclusively those born into situations of trauma.

The Maple Hill Play Garden is not strictly a Waldorf program, but we follow many of the same philosophies and tenets.

I am happy to expand upon the similarities and differences upon request.

Daily Rhythm

Our time together has a rhythm that is consistent from day to day with seasonal changes that ebb and flow. This allows the children to develop a deep confidence in themselves and the world through a sense of knowing what to expect. When we provide this structure to hold the space, our children are free to engage within this space in the imaginative and imitative play that sustains them and encourages their growth. We try to slow the pace of movement to match the reverence held for all activities in childhood. Transitions are often guided through song, with the older children both modeling for and helping out with the younger ones.

Creative Free Play

Imaginative play is at the heart of Maple Hill. Young children often imitate meaningful adult work they see

in daily life - such as cooking, cleaning, carpentry, and caretaking - through imaginative play.

 

Additionally, the stories children hear - in concert with their life experiences - provide inspiration for the playscape of the mind. Whether it be fairies and gnomes, animals running about, a trip to the (pretend) local bus stop, or sailing away on boats destined for faraway lands, the children are free to engage in the adventures of their imaginations.

While it may seem like simply games to adults, when children immerse themselves in creative free play

they are actually undertaking some of the most important work of childhood. When they play in this way, they can engage in socializing, sharing, taking turns, building autonomy, taking risks to build confidence and competence, and conflict resolution – all under the guidance of a nurturing adult who offers tools as needed.

It is also through this play that children process the world around them.

A Home Environment

We strive to create an environment that feels like a second home. Part of this work involves empowering children to participate in activities that allow them to build a deep sense of self-worth through their contribution of meaningful work to their and our “home” here. This might look like helping to knead the dough for our homemade bread; stirring the mix for special occasion muffins; folding the freshly-laundered cloth napkins for our meals; setting the table before we sit down to eat together; or sweeping the floor with real and appropriately sized brooms. Children (and adults!) love to participate in activities that fill us with a sense of meaning and purpose in the world.