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.
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 season as they experience the joys each part of the year brings.
This age (1 1/2 - 3 1/3 years) is a time of wonder. Children move through the world at a slower, more intentional pace as they explore and build relationships with the world around us. The modern world is 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. Children come to learn that with the right gear, a rainy day is not a "bad" day; just a different, puddle-jumping kind of wonderful day. The outdoor environment also provides children with the opportunity to work through a wide variety of normal human emotions as they ground themselves in the hard work of their play.
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 academics aside until later on when those skills were more developmentally appropriate.
As a way of being present and grounded for the children, the guiding adults engaged in both their own inner work, as a part of a reflective practice; and meaningful physical activities (such as caretaking, woodworking, household tasks, etc.) - things the children would often come to imitate. 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.
I am interested in learning about the ways in which this trauma-informed approach to holding space might be beneficial for those experiencing systemic traumas as well - such as racism, white supremacy, classism, colonization, patriarchy, sexism, heteronormativity, ableism, etc., as a means of building resilience. I believe that in addition to holding space, paying attention to who the space is held for can create an environment in which all children can thrive.
A reflective practice in which we both listen, and continually examine our own biases, allows for continued growth in this area.
Equity and Inclusion
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 - with minimal intrusion from the intellectualism of the adult world - while
acknowledging, honoring, and validating each child's (and family's) lived experiences.
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 in order for us to learn, grow, and change along our shared path to a more equitable world.
As with any active practice this exploration is by nature, a living, breathing, changing process.
We have worked to integrate these values into our practice in the following phases, past and present.
1. Ongoing anti-racism and equity/inclusion/decolonization professional development - work that children may not see explicitly, but that shapes the educator(s) who guide the children in their walk. 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, white supremacy, classism, colonization, patriarchy, sexism, heteronormativity, ableism, and other messaging and working to change/decolonize/replace parts as necessary. We are also working to interrupt problematic narratives that arise by noting the questionable parts in simple, straightforward, age-accessible ways.
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 open to the conversation of whether this would be more effective with human characters).
4. Determining how to hold space - in a way that honors the socialization needs of all children - by examining the greater cultural landscape. In mixed-group play, who is typically allowed or given the space to do their important work? Who does society assume will step back to make space for others, often putting aside their own work to do so? Who needs to learn to step back to make space for others, and who needs the space to step into? These are the questions we ask as we guide the children through normal and age-appropriate toddler interactions. Our deeply reflective practice includes examining privilege and power dynamics to reveal and confront our own biases.
5. Addressing some degree of accessibility through the creation of an Equity and Accessibility Fund. We are asking families to share in the challenge of opening our doors to more families by restructuring our tuition model. A portion of each month's tuition now goes to the Equity and Accessibility Fund, which helps provide limited financial aid to some families; affords spare outdoor gear for families in our program who may need it; and/or supports local BIPOC-owned family childcare programs and other resources in the local community. We also acknowledge the financial limitations that come with being a small, private program and the challenges that may prevent full accessibility (and are open to ideas for additional outside funding).
6. Developing a program culture that is welcoming and responsive to the feedback and experiences of families and integrating it into the tenets that maintain heart of The Maple Hill Play Garden (such as abundant time outdoors; play as a child's work; keeping explanations simple and straightforward; etc.).
In this age group we introduce most concepts implicitly. Much of the work is the inner work of the adults that manifests in the materials and curriculum we present; the way in which we hold space; and the behaviors and responses we model - how we carry ourselves in the world (those little sponges are absorbing!). The prioritization of inclusivity is interwoven into story, theme, and walk, rather than laid-out lessons with direct instruction. I do my best to interrupt bias simply and honestly, in a straightforward way, as it arises organically.
I am also interested in discussions about how to have these direct conversations with our children at home.
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.