Democratic/Free School Ideas

Today in Exchange Everyday, there is a piece on choice, on setting up the environment so children can be independent, so that each individual can follow his or her own thoughts and interests throughout the day.

Today after lunch of yogurt, raspberries, english muffins, and cucumbers, one of our favorites, two twos climb up to the tall table. One says to the other, “Hey, H—, do you want to play checkers?”

For the last two weeks, there has been a set of checkers on the tall table, a wooden board and a red can of checkers. My co-teacher first got it out to occupy some restless fives and a ten in the late afternoon. Then it became popular with the young ones, who like to line up the pieces, to stack the checkers on the table, sometimes to see them drop to the floor, probably also to see me react when they do that.

But, today, it’s the two initiating a game with her friend that interests me. For a long time, since the very first moment these two entered the care, they have been curious about one another. First thing I remember was a scuffle at the play sink and stove when the mother of the inviter was dropping her off that first day.

Today the guy accepts the gal’s invitation..and for a few minutes, they take checkers out of the can, put them on the board. Then a third two, almost three, comes along, and there is a spat, which I don’t fully follow, as I am at the sink washing dishes, and shortly that game ends. That is how it is with twos. The game starts and ends, often very quickly, often with a spat, but over time, it is building in it’s way, from grabbing, side-by-side at the play sink to invitation at the tall table, from dumping plastic fruit and veg to organizing small parts of board games, lining things up alternated with tossing them about.

Life is a little like that, I think. I’ve been reading a good book about adolescents, and teens, as my life is full of those, too, and many friends are sorting out life with older parents..The struggle between being a baby and being independent seems to strike in all three places, toddlerhood, teen, and elder..and we middle agers are struggling with it all, asking the twos firmly but kindly to pick up the checkers as they toss them on the floor, asking the teens to take out the trash and recycling and compost, even as they disappear into the worlds of their phones and their rooms, offering choices to our parents, who often choose the thing we wish they wouldn’t, inviting us all to live with the consequences of our decisions, choice at the heart of living a good life, no matter our age or stage. Grateful as always to live in places where choice reigns.

Here is the piece from Exchange, should you be interested in that. Also, if you are interested in teens, consider “Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager” Fascinating read for me, fine to put it off if you are living more exclusively in the world of the very young.

The Right To Choose
April 8, 2014
Cheerful company shortens the miles.
-German proverb

“Our view of children strongly determines if we support and challenge them or direct and correct them. Adults must believe that children deserve the right to choose and are capable of understanding that with rights come responsibility. If we believe this, then we will use our role to coach children in making good choices.”

These are the words of Deb Curtis and Jess Guiney in their Exchange article, “Seeing and Supporting Children’s Right to Choose,” which serves as the basis for Exchange’s newest Out of the Box Training Kit by the same name. The authors give an example of how to support children in making choices:

“A teacher who values autonomy in decision making will organize his classroom so that materials are accessible to children — and so that children are responsible for the care of those materials. Children benefit from an environment that is intentionally designed and well provisioned with engaging materials so they are able to see what is available. The arrangement and care of the environment communicates to the ­children the value of focus, collaboration, and choices for complex play and learning.”


Today we are walking to the park. The sun is out, the sky is clear, and the temperatures are not as low as they were yesterday. As we near the apartments for disabled and elderly persons, my German speaker spies another thrill, a worker and his truck, which I explain is a glass repair or replacement truck. The worker is fussing with things in his truck, cigarette dangling from his mouth. The children have initiated a new favorite version of the name song. The spanish/english/german speaker is singing proudly, “My name is Poopy, Poopy, Poopy. My name is Poopy. I like Poop.”

Then the english speaker follows up, giggling, “My name is Pee-Pee, Pee-Pee, Pee-Pee. My name is Pee-Pee. I like Pee.”

I am wondering what to say, know extinguishing such songs is a challenge in a group of twos almost threes. I also wonder what the worker will think, wonder what the disabled and elderly persons will think. I smile at the worker as he walks from van to building beside us, sure he has overheard what I think of as our fresh talk. “They all love those words,”  I say, smiling.

“You have the best job in the world”, he replies, huge grin on his face.

And I am reminded, and reply, “It is a good job.”

Face saved, critique of children’s behavior avoided.  The children naturally move on to wondering about the owl that is resting on the veranda of an upstairs apartment, fixture of every trip we’ve taken to the park this year, and then about our friend, who they refer to as the Hi-Ho man, name passed down through generations of day care kids since the man we adults know as Michael used to sing to us from his balcony three floors up, or pop out of a door to serenade us on the sidewalk, “Hi Ho Hi Ho its’ off to the park we go”, or some variation on that Disney Snow White and the Seven Dwarves theme, who hasn’t sung that in quite awhile as far as I remember, but who keeps his name. And so we talk about the Hi Ho man, wonder what he might be up to today, off to a store, reading the newspaper, talking on the phone, watching tv, until I come to going on a bus adventure, which the German/English/Spanish speaker likes a lot, says, “Yeah, riding a bus.” And then we arrive at the park, where we are on our own for the hour, are visited by the mother of a late arrival, play in the sand and sun and wind, until it is time to go home again.

It’s a typical day in our world, and I wonder if the man who believes it’s the best job in the world had such loving care when he was a child, if he remembers it and is glad we are giving it to our children, or if he didn’t and wishes he did. Our presence in the world serves as a reminder of how our society ought to treat the children, of how childhood should be lived and revered. Not bad for inspiration from a repairmen on the sidewalk by his van.

Early this morning, I read an article from The Washington Post shared with me by two fellow providers, including a letter written by a Cambridge Public School teacher resigning her post due to not being able to live the life she believes in with the children in her classroom and school. I’ll share it here. We at WFDC are indeed lucky to have the freedom we have to live life with our children in the way we do. No tests, minimal data, all children, all the time. Lucky indeed.


Definition from the internet, found via google search, making me feel that I am not alone in the world:

  1. Attunement | Define Attunement at

    Main Entry: attunement. Part of Speech: n. Definition: being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being “at one” with another being 

Today I walked to the ICA with my beau and my gal. We left the house somewhere near two, both my gal and my beau having a hard day, me wishing to cheer them up, to bring us together. We walked to Davis Square, where we took the T to the museum. Before we were halfway up the hill to Broadway, my gal in her pink coat was far ahead. She continued this way until we arrived in front of the T station, making my beau wonder if he was doing something wrong, reminding me of the time I walked her to meet the carpool, and followed her all the way there. At the museum, we wandered the exhibits, mostly on our own, coming together a few times, when one of us missed the other, for a brief shared glimpse to show another what we loved, to take a photo, and for a long time, inside the exhibit, The Refusal of Time, put together by William Kintredge.

For those many moments, I stood beside my beau, our breathing in sync as we watched the black and white images projected on three walls. For awhile, my daughter stood nearby, then she eased her way through the crowd to a place on the floor, where she sat and soaked in the exhibit. Others sat on chairs, or on the floor, or stood nearby, some in groups, some on their own, some in pairs.

On the way home, my gal and I sat side by side on the subway, across from my beau. He had searched for three seats together, but the train was too full. My gal’s arms and mine touched through our coats, and our shared gaze rested on the others on the train. Earlier in the afternoon when I had asked her which route to take from the museum to Fanueil Hall, the Greenway or the Waterfront, she had chosen the Greenway, where we could see a group of skate board dudes opposite us, telling me she wanted to people watch. So on the train, arm to arm, I shared my observations of a couple across from us, observed that the woman spoke what sounded like a Spanish accented version of Spanish, much like our friend Carla, with whom we had shared two weeks in our home last spring, and a surprisingly deep connection. My daughter observed how pretty the woman was, and I observed how nice she seemed, wondered if the man she spoke with was a partner or a friend. My daughter speculated he was her partner, confirmed her suspicion in my ear when he kissed her cheek. Then I noticed her diamond ring, wondered if they were married, noticed he didn’t have one, and my daughter said they better be. I said he could be someone else, besides her husband, and my daughter noted that if she were the one with someone besides her husband she would remove her ring.

I wake up in the night with the back of my beau pressed against my own, on my side of the bed. He arrived late Friday night, straight from his mother’s home, after making a plan to send her to the hospital, which was supposed to happen via his brother’s car, driving her to New York City from Connecticut. Instead she went via ambulance, met his third brother there at the hospital where that brother’s son is in training as a neurosurgeon. One connection to the other, stringing dots to safety, or not, his mother a very old woman, on the brink of death, threading the needle on a Hail Mary prayer, as my beau had described the days ahead yesterday morning, before calling his brothers and his mom and asking the home health aide to give him a first hand report on his mom. Four days he was by her side making plans for her to get some pain relief and to be cared for in her home after a steep decline from independence, or to go to the hospital for a treatment aimed at relieving pain. It may be the end of her life, the end of my beau’s physical connection to his mother, though the relationship will live on.

All this wakes me near five am thinking about attunement, about the way a mother and a newborn baby come together after  birth, seeking to regain that shared breathing and respiration, circulation which in utero was effortless, how sharing a home or a bed or a subway train or even space in a museum or a coffee shop brings us great satisfaction and contentment, or leaves us feeling all alone.

So, I rise, in the absolute dark upstairs, to find lights on in the tv room below and my cat Frances waiting at the door, to sit beside me and purr while I type, her body warming mine through the blanket on the couch, the furnace breathing through the pipes in the house, loud now I stop to listen, filling the house with hot air, as soon we’ll all wake and breath closer together or far apart, the shared breathing moving from sleep to wakefulness a mixture of separation and contentment.

Yesterday my beau and I made frittata. Really he made frittata and I cleaned the kitchen and invited the kids to the table, a round one in my kitchen where we sit when meals are cozy. Later in the day, my beau and gal and I shared a table in the ICA, she hungry, we craving coffee, and then at 7 we met up with my boy in Davis Square to share four plates of Tibetan food, warm light, in the company of strangers who cooked and served and cleaned, and ate and talked and laughed. Then we walked home again, along the sidewalk in the cold, stopping at CVS for a razor, a binder, some nail polish, a lip gloss, toilet paper, notebook dividers, all carried home in four bags shared between four people.

At home we took time apart around the dining room, living room, tv room, three adjoining spaces, all in separate chairs, all with separate devices, my beau and boy on laptops, my gal and I on phones, my gal watching tv, the rest of us reading, looking, watching, whatever you call checking e-mail, Facebook,and searching the internet. Then the kids and I watched New Girl, my latest addiction and pleasure in the tv world, joined for an episode and a half by my beau. Lots of casual sex seemed to be the theme of those last two episodes, though in the nuances of the series I see the cast of characters fighting against it, talk with my gal briefly about all the sex we’ve seen, noting that it seems ok, that she is a teen, and it seems normal to want to play or read or watch about those older than ourselves, remember a conversation or an article I read when she was young about Barbie play for young girls, and how many think it’s inappropriate with Barbie’s full grown silly woman’s body, but how from the time we are small, we are learning about the next phase of life through story, play, and image.

Kintredge’s work, The Refusal of Time, if the words on the entrance to the museum are true, has something to do with the standardization of time, how at one point Greenwich Mean Time, even the clock, took over the world. The piece I remember was a parade of shadow puppetry, individuals, who all appeared to be black, African, danced along from the corner nearest us at the back left hand side of the space, around the front wall to the right side wall. There were sounds and images and for awhile there was a feeling of a parade, with each member moving along in a rhythm of his or her own, with style and grace. Then, as things shifted, forms overlapped, technology, even in the form of a simple baby carriage pushed by a small girl, shifted things away from human forms, and by the end of that scene, gobs of black scattered across the images of dancing people overshadowed the dancing and stuck in my mind. It’s hard to explain this work without a shared experience of being in that room. When I got home, I encouraged my son to visit with his gal, as seventeens and under get in free and I’d really like to talk with him about it, to see what he thinks and how he and his gal might react.

In the gift shop before we left the ICA I looked at a beautiful book of the Kintredge exhibit, a store copy unbound in plastic, wishing the exhibit could go on for me, wanting to read text to explain the images, and to have more time to absorb the work. The book in it’s plastic cover cost one hundred and twenty five dollars, so I went home instead with a book of houses published by Phaidon, a sort of bird book of houses around the world, houses created throughout history to reflect a sense of home in a particular place and time. Home, that wonderful word.

As we closed up day care, my friend and I talked about home, about how hard it is to find it, how hard to let it go..She gestured with her fist over her heart, telling me how she learned, after her parents divorce when she was a young child, after living in multiple apartments, feeling homeless her whole life, where home is..and I wonder still, is it in the walls of Garrison Avenue where I’ve raised my kids, does it need to be here, or could we find it elsewhere, could I without them, could I with another, not my former husband, but my beau, or someone else, if this one doesn’t pan out? It’s the attunement we’re seeking is what I think, that sense of oneness in the world, whether in a coffee shop or a museum, whether alone in our chairs with our devices inside our shared home, or in front of one tv, snuggled up on couches and cushions and soft chairs, or with our backs pressed up against one another, sharing the same bed, breathing, temperature, somnambulance in sync.

Learn more about Kintredge. It’s not all about attunement. The colonial powers might have wanted that on some level, too, when they insisted the world live and breath on their time. Apparently Albert Einstein argued that it was possible for time to move differently, for each of us to experience time in our own individual way, for time somehow to pass differently that we think. The dancing parade made me think about that, about standardization, top down education, top down time and place, about finding our own individual rhythm and way of being, about how we more organically get in sync or don’t, about the pleasure of  a conversation, whether in day care with the fives and twos, or on a subway ride with my gal, or around the kitchen table, of how that can’t be planned or forced, though it can be orchestrated, and if we don’t try, it often won’t happen, which is probably why I love so much to cook and share a meal, the family style dining part of our day care something I can’t quite give up, in spite of being up in the middle of the night typing, really now 6 am, and needing to spend a good chunk of Sunday shopping for the day care and my home.  Stopping time is worth it, to notice together the sweetness of a pear, to hear about my son’s experience of his first college class, to look into my beau’s eyes, to have my arm rub up against my daughter’s on the train. All those times are rare in days of wandering life alone, the glue that holds me together, though not the only thing. The spaces in between the togetherness are sometimes more mysterious, like when I wake up in the night and tiptoe down the stairs, only to find the cat there waiting, and I wonder what will come in the dark if only I take time to listen and pay attention and record the thoughts inside, percolating up from the day.

Somehow the exhibit felt familiar, all of us in the room with the breathing machine and the images on the walls, the sounds and movement bringing us along, reminding me of SVS, of WFDC, of life in the city and in my family, disunity into unity and back again, resonance and synchronicity, joint venture, conflict and harmony. Rhythm of life stuff, not always music, not always noise, sometimes silent, sometimes dull, sometimes cacophony, sometimes shiny as can be.

Check it out at the ICA, on your own, with a child or a friend, even in a group. Then tell me, if you can, how the experience was for you.

Today at meal times and on walks to and from the park I found myself in interesting conversations.  My meal and walking group, put together by two visiting fives, consisted of those two, a full time five, and two twos. As we sat down to breakfast, after serving the kids, I let them know I was going down to check the furnace, because it seemed a bit cold. The furnace was fine, and the conversation took off from there. We talked about furnaces, different heating systems, warming ourselves over forced hot air vents, radiators, how the furnace works to push the hot air or hot water or hot steam through the house to the vents or radiators, then about other heating systems, propane heaters, electric baseboard. The kids were not bored, they wanted to know more, their questions made sense, they brought their home experience to bear, I learned something about my own limited knowledge of heating and furnaces.

Then at some point, either at breakfast or lunch, we talked about the holes in the day care kitchen floor, two holes in the wood flooring near the base of the stove, which are covered with clear tape, because kids over the years have loved to look through them to the basement below, and have also loved to figure out which things in the day care fit through those holes. Every so often the tape gets peeled off and I find piles of tinker toys and pencils and marker caps and other slim things on the basement floor. The kids this time were curious about the possibilities the hole might have in terms of houses, though..and I really don’ know the story of those holes. I thought they might have been put there to accommodate pipes to drain an icebox and I explained how I thought that might work, and one boy wondered if there would be a puddle in the basement, and I had to admit, I really didn’t know what the holes were for and that I might like to ask someone who knows more about these old houses to tell me.

The other five wondered how the hole got in my floor..I thought a drill, but he thought maybe an animal chewed it. It is clean and round, and the first five and I thought not..but then we talked about animals who chew wood..bugs in particular, termites and carpenter ants, and the time we found them in our porches and stairs eating up the house..and had to get rid of them..and the third five was sure to tell us she has no bugs eating her house.

Later we talked about mail..the two had asked who the man was walking on the sidewalk as we returned from the park, and I talked about him being a mail carrier, and the five wanted to know why he was doing that and I talked about how mail goes from one house to the post office to another post office to another house, in this day and age and part of the world, carried often by mail carriers and trucks..and about the pony express, which the kids thought was a funny name for a pony..and then we talked about the GPS truck, the name one five had for the truck that delivers packages, and I thought maybe it was UPS, and he thought so, too, was sure that is the quickest way to deliver a package or mail in Cambridge, and my disagreeing about the way the service works didn’t matter at all, the five moved on to planning to mail a UPS package that afternoon to his other friend the five, and we talked about a book we read last week where Frog mailed Toad a letter by Snail Mail, and how long it took..

Then another part of the day we talked about where my laundry machine is, a question my five just had to ask..and when I said it was in the basement, he said his was on the third floor for his mom’s apartment and in the basement for his dad’s. Then we talked about our houses and what is on each floor, and his friend the five told about her bedroom being on the second floor and what was on her third floor..

Somewhere in there we came upon the topic of mice, probably after the termite talk, and I was bemoaning the mouse who ate my Valentine candy yesterday and the mouse who ate a pecan out of our Thanksgiving Pie and I think a bite out of someone’s Christmas birthday cake, and the poison that doesn’t seem to work, and the present my cat Frances left by the trash can two weekends ago, when I was away, and my five gave the cat credit saying she must have left it there because she couldn’t open the can, which she couldn’t, so I suppose he’s right. The kids thought and thought of creative ways to trap and kill the mouse, the fives inventing traps of tubes and poison and chocolate, even a cheesecake dangled out the window on a string, to ward the critters off before they reached the chocolate, and the two reminding me I might just like a pet mouse, which she herself would like, and I let her know that when I was a girl, that is just what I wanted, even made a shoe box house and kept it in my dresser drawer, in anticipation of the mouse moving in and having a cozy bed. And I let the kids know we used to trap the mice by using a special trap of a paper towel tube hung off the counter top over a tall trash can with peanut butter on the trash can end of the tube, and the mouse would walk the plank to get the peanut butter and drop into the can and we would wake up in the morning and take the mouse to Alewife Brook, over and over again, which is something I no longer do, but the poison isn’t working either, nor the cat, at least neither can keep my candy safe, so perhaps it’s time for more humane treatment, which my two continued to remind me even as the fives invented ever more dastardly traps.

It’s been ages since I’ve had conversations like this in the day care. I’ve missed them a whole lot, these big kids in small groups asking and thinking and wondering together. Nice to have them back for February vacation, hopefully next summer again. During after school I tend to be busy these days, doing desk work and dishes and diapers and resting my weary brain,  while Liana or Jen hang with the older kids, but at meal times on vacations, I get my fill of interesting talk.

I’m waking up and going to sleep, walking around town, driving long drives thinking about my projects. The kids and I are going to Amsterdam with friends in April, my first time in Europe since junior year of college, second time altogether, kids’ first time ever. I’m revved up about my research/writing project, collecting ideas and resources, researching, talking and thinking about what it’s all about.

This is the sort of place I like to be, excited, energized, inspired, a little on the edge of holding it all together, a bit on overdrive to sort out something I  can’ t quite name. Mystery, I suppose, wondering what might be next.

Today my beau and I walked downtown, my new downtown, Northampton, and added to the usual stops at the bakery, coffee shop, grocery, and the frame shop to say hello to his gal, I requested a visit to The Raven used book store, where they have had a surprise waiting for me on the shelves each time I’ve visited. Today was no different. After half an hour or an hour sitting on the floor in front of the Education section, a few minutes perusing the Latin American and Women’s Studies sections, I came out with a short stack of books I can’t wait to read and share and a slightly better idea of where I’m headed, topics ranging from urban education, writing, composing a life, growing minds, becoming a teacher, observing and writing about the children in our midst and our interactions with them, reflecting on our work and mission in life, evaluating the changes that occurred in British primary schools from the 70s to the 90s, teaching and testimony, finding a voice.

This afternoon it’s back to a project of the more mundane variety, data entry for day care bookkeeping, tax and financial aid purposes. The music is on, the tea is made, the toast and jam and almond butter nearly eaten, the rice is cooked, the leftover Indian food in the fridge for a meal break an hour or two down the road. This writing is my last break, I promise myself, before getting down to business, having put off this business too long, all weekend, for walking and talking, eating, cross country skiing, eating, even a movie last night, Gloria, and some music and dancing, living room style.

Reminds me that kids are no different. All work and no play makes us all dull would all play and no work.. Here I go:) Will feel good to log the hours and knock a bit off the to do list..nice also to wander into the world of playing with ideas, of playing in the snow, of browsing in the world and in the mind of another for ideas which may or may not take hold, which may or may not lead to a concrete, predictable end.  This, on some level, is what I am trying to understand, the nature of learning, the nature of meaning and life to master it or to be good enough at it, and how to create places which allow all human beings, children and adults, to make the most of each day. Ciao for now as I disappear into the world of Moneydance…tax appointment looms..sometimes I need a deadline to make time for the things which are hardest for me to do.

Earlier this week I was eating lunch with my group of twos and a baby. One two is quite new and has just recently begun to adjust to life in our care. When asking for something at the table, he said it so kindly, I had to let him know.

“May I have some more bread, please?” he asked.

“Sure. Such friendly words,” I smiled.

“I’m a friendly person,” he smiled back.

“Yes, I would say you are a friendly person. I’m enjoying getting to know you.” I replied.

“Do I have to like the day care?” he asked, with a thoughtful expression.

“No.” I replied.

“But I know I will like the day care when I get used to it.”

“That’s what I think.” I answered, recognizing these words from him as some I had shared earlier in the day when he was wondering about his good-bye. “I think you’ll like it when you get used to it,” I had said. “Its a friendly place and most of us like it here.” Somehow those words shared with a slightly sad and anxious small person reassured me, as much as him, that the work we do, looking after children while their parents work or do their thing, is not so bad, even when a child seems not to want to let a parent go in the morning. The day care is a place most of us want to be, adults and kids alike, once we get used to it. That, bottom line, is a good, good thing, especially when a new arrival presents himself as a friendly person. Who doesn’t want to spend life in the company of friendly people, playing, eating, talking, walking, resting, making art and building things, cuddling, reading, sharing stories, even fighting, as long as things resolve?

That being said, we all like to direct our own lives, and each of us is our own person. Who am I to say a child must eat a certain food or like a certain thing, or what it means if they do or don’t? Giving kids time to adjust, allowing them to dislike and/or reject a food or activity,  to move at will from place to place, seeking places of comfort, interest, and satisfaction, is a big part of what we do. I hope in the end, what it allows is for children to like the day care once they get used to it. More than that is hard to ask.

I’ve been reading and researching for my project, most recently about David Hawkins and things related. Last night I stumbled upon a blog by one of his friends and colleagues, John Paull, who began his connection with David Hawkins when John Paull was working in the Leicestershire schools in the UK and David Hawkins came to the UK to learn about the work happening there in the Infant Schools, as part of his work with ESS, the Elementary Science Study.

Here is the post:

The blog post was a tribute to David Hawkins on what would have been his 100th birthday. There is a wonderful chronology of Hawkins’ life and work, and a proposal for a school John Paull had helped design in honor of David Hawkins which he and a group hoped to establish in Denver. The proposal was denied, but I found it to be an interesting read, somewhat similar in form and philosophy to the Somerville Progressive Charter School proposal I helped develop, which we just recently had to abandon due to changes in the state regulation of Charter schools..

In any case, John Paull referred to his classrooms as “richly resourced”, I believe, and there were many references to hands on learning, Open Studios, inquiry based science, reading and writing workshops, reflective meetings at the end of each day, and learning math and reading and writing as tools for learning, rather than as ends in themselves.

I met with a friend for lunch yesterday to talk about ideas related to my project, which doesn’t have a core just yet, and was online researching after our conversation to follow up on ideas we discussed. One of them is the importance of materials and children having time to explore them and to follow their own ideas.

Today in the day care, I was especially aware of how much of children’s activity in our program is based on relating to the physical world. We have a project room full of all kinds of art and science materials which we used today to work with play dough at one table, and stamps and stickers at the other. There are puzzles in four rooms, building toys in three, dress ups and dolls and dishes and other dramatic play props in three rooms, cooking supplies in the kitchen, vehicles and figures in two rooms, a cd player and cds and musical instruments in one room, and today a young guy brought a hand held MP3 player he could use independently, playing music during our art project and while waiting for other kids to dress. At the park, we have sand and ice, shovels and buckets and other sand toys, and all sorts of natural materials, from sticks to pinecones to leaves and rocks, which the kids use for play and projects of their own design. There are riding toys, trees and bushes and climbers and slides, a playhouse and other equipment.

I cannot imagine asking our kids to sit at tables and spend their days with pencil and paper. Why, I keep wondering, do we expect that in any school, all the way up through college? My own kids spend a good part of their day at school interacting with materials, whether playing sports outside, sliding on the ice or sledding in the snow, drawing or painting or working with clay in the art room, playing music and singing in the music rooms or piano room, or playing games with friends. Other kids there use blocks, dress-ups, sewing materials, and cook. There is a pool table and outside there are endless natural materials for play and building as well as swings, a slide, a sand pit, a basketball court, a bike shed full of bikes, rocks and trees for climbing, hills and woods to explore. Many kids bring materials from home, whether toys or art supplies or games or computers, to add to what is already at school.

The world is so much more than pencil and paper and books and writing. Part of what the project I want to do has to do with the importance of materials. Not sure yet how all the parts relate, but that will be in there..David Hawkins set up spaces full of materials, some natural, some manufactured, some designed by him and his colleagues for adults and children to explore, then engaged with materials and the children adults in learning about all kinds of things, from ponds to pendulums to patterns. I’d like to learn more about how he viewed the role of materials and how he viewed the role of the adults and children. In Reggio Emilia, an early childhood approach about which he was curious and which he influenced, the environment is considered the third thing, after the child and the teacher, necessary in any learning environment, and considered carefully by those creating learning and care situations for children.

This morning I tidied an art cupboard, organized the paper supplies. Last week I sorted the construction and painting materials. The week before that I tidied and reorganized dishes on the kitchen shelf. Little by little, I’m attending to the materials in the space and hopping that just in the handling and organizing of them, I’ll get reconnected to their importance and potential in the life of children.

This morning I wake from a wonderful dream. In the dream I had been on a sort of vacation . The vacation home was shared by many people, all who shared the love of reading. In the home were arranged many collections of periodicals. Gradually, I found my way through them, at the guidance of guests who had visited previously (I was new), and under my own powers of browsing and engagement. I could not wait to read and read, worried I was hoarding too much material in my small corner of space, leaving the place untidy.

When I wake I am energized. I had stayed up too late last night, lost on the internet, not on Facebook or WordPress, but in a world of exploration not too dissimilar from the vacation home, though in the dream the journals were stacked neatly in alphabetical order in cozy spots around what felt like a large living room (an image that carried over, perhaps from my reading and listening on the internet, to a living room as a metaphor for the way teachers learn best). Some collections were vintage, others current. Friends were there, including Kathryn and Al, but mostly I was in new territory, exploring on my own in the midst of others who were also exploring. Before I woke up there was talk of a large meal. The feeling was festive.

This morning when I wake up, this is how I feel about my new project, not overwhelmed, but invited in to a world I want to know. The words of David and Frances Hawkins, and those who study and preserve and carry on their work are on my mind. I think of a piece I wrote here a long time ago about living as though everyone matters, and the observation in a film I found on the Hawkins’ life, the words of Karen Worth, I think, who spoke at the Lesley Pre-Institute, about David Hawkins’ interest in each person and their contribution, no matter their station or education or position in life. And I think of John Dewey and Reggio Emilia, and the blog post which perhaps has had as many readers here as any of which I have been proud, John Dewey and Reggio Emilia, Friends in My Mind, and I think perhaps the Hawkins’ are one of the missing links, friends of Loris Malaguzzi, who has been inspiring the Reggio Emilia approach many years, and friends of the early Open Classroom, grounded all three in the works of John Dewey, my intellectual introduction to this world, discovered in Mann Library at Cornell many years ago, when again I could not put the ideas down, was awakened by their power.

Last night I finished a wonderful book by James Hollis, and in it he talks again about Jungian ideas of how we operate in the world, and he calls us to find our true purpose in life. Somewhere, there is a purpose in here for me. Exploring human dignity as it relates to learning and education is at the core for me. It’s not an accident that the schools and schools of thought that interest me in education were born and reborn in progressive eras concerned with human rights, with equality, with the idea that each of us is a valued individual existing within the whole, that each of our contributions and lives and inner selves matters.

Today when I interview a new family with a small child, I want my house to be clean. I also want my walk and driveway to be shoveled and my kids to get off to school with a travel mug of green tea and a napkin laden with warm buttered toast. I have to stop writing here to do those things. That doesn’t mean I have to stop thinking. Thank you Frances the cat and Jonah and Isabel for spending last evening on the couch with me so my mind could rest and prepare. The rest of the evening was inspiring, all the way til one am, and on through the night and into my dreams and again at seven am, when my mind woke to a dream state and carried on, giving me some insight into where I’m headed and what I might do.

One takeaway from last night is that the first step in the way forward, as David Hawkins knew and wrote, is Messing About. Somehow I thought I had to know how to tackle this project without doing that. Nonsense. As David Hawkins’ fellow traveller Eleanor Duckworth must have known when she wrote her famous book, The Having of Wonderful Ideas, we aren’t given them, we have to come to them, not only on our own, but in the company of others. I had forgotten momentarily how easy it is to join these friends in my mind. On the couch and on the internet and in books is a great way to start. Eventually, again, I’ll find my way out in the world to engage with them again in real life. But for now, this is a place to start. I’ve ordered a documentary that was made last year about the lives of the Hawkins’. You can watch a trailer here:

Video released 1/6/13 about David and Frances Hawkins, trailer for documentary:

Others are on the trail, too..perhaps someday soon we’ll meet. For now, I’m happy messing about and dreaming and wondering where I’ll be next, an idea from James Hollis’s book last night as well, that not knowing where we’re headed is sometimes scary, but the only way to go through life fully engaged and making meaning. We must be open to possibility, even on days like yesterday, which start off slow. Now it is really, finally, time to shovel the walk!

P.S. The other thing David Hawkins said which I found inspiring this morning was that he could not understand how people can separate feeling from cognition..the quote was quite marvelous, possibly shared by Karen Worth..about how feeling informs cognition and vice versa, but said more eloquently. I’ll find it and record it in its’ full glory, soon! Good to be feeling it again, for sure!

Last Friday our good friend the four celebrated his last day care day with us. The last hour of our time together, I brought out the china tea set and we had tea, a small group, three twos, a three, a four, and a five, fanciest cups for the older three, fiesta ware for twos, not a dropped cup, and only a bit of spilled tea. It was dark and we were warm and when the boy left, I asked for a hug, and he agreed, both of us acknowledging that is what folks do when saying fond good-byes.

This weekend the snow arrived in earnest. My son and my beau were here to help me shovel out the heavy stuff, icy layer on top of heavy laden snow. This morning Liana and I braved the back yard with the youngest ones. I tamped down the icy layer with my big boots and the help of the five while Liana tended the baby in his slippery suit and the twos wondered what the heck had happened, ground slipping out from underfoot every few feet, backyard dishes buried in snow, nothing terribly familiar. Finally I was able to get the sleds. The five and a two and I tested a threesome down the tiny hill under the tree house. Several twos were just happy to have solid ground under their seated bums and turned their sleds into boats. The baby even lay on his back on a sled where I tried to feed him round two of his rejected bottle.

When the day ended, many families were late. The snow came down again, this time swift and all at once, fluffy, but so much so fast that traffic was stopped. I asked another single mom for advice on timing the shovel (to conserve my energy) and she recommended waiting til about 9, which I did, giving me time after the last kids left with families and Liana left on foot, choosing to walk home rather than dig out her car and sit in traffic. I explored the fridge, found kale, mushrooms, wondered what I could make in the world of soup, turned to The Moosewood Cookbook, wedding gift of twenty some years ago, remembering as I read how much Moosewood loved the mushroom.

One recipe struck me and called for just what I had in the cupboards and fridge, Curried Squash and Mushroom Soup, requiring two squash, which I had, one from Hadley, not far away, and a pile of mushrooms, which I didn’t want to go to waste, left her from Thanksgiving and still good. I roasted the squash while I ate dinner by candlelight, leftover soup, rice, and corn muffin spread with maple cream from the farmer’s market near my mom’s, while I shopped online for some more of the things on my list, then took it out to cool while I shoveled and shoveled and shoveled, off the porch, down the stairs, across the sidewalk, up the driveway (finishing only part) and around the house to clear the sidewalk on the other side to the back porch and door. Then it was time to come in from the cold, dry my boots and finish the soup, puree the squash, mix it with broth and orange juice, sauté onions in butter with curry spices, then mushrooms, mix it all together, and eat a bowl with slivered almonds, leaving the yogurt topping for bowl two to be eaten, if all goes as planned, with my kids tomorrow. Luckily, the two squash the recipe required produced twice as much pulp as needed for a single batch of soup, so I made a double, enough for the kids and I with bread and a salad, which I can make from the contents of the fridge, leaving time if the gal comes home, for lighting and decorating the tree.

Here’s the recipe in case you’d like to try it. The first bowl made me very, very happy, surprisingly yummy for a soup I’ve never heard of or tasted before. Just as delicious as the apples we had for lunch and snack picked from one of our twos’ grandparents’ tree, with history and cared they shared with me via e-mail tonight. I do love good, homegrown, homemade food, and preparing and sharing it with good people, little and big.

Someone on the internet put the recipe into a word document, so I’ll copy and paste it here for you. Enjoy:)

Curried Squash & Mushroom Soup (Moosewood Cookbook)


2 medium butternut squash

2.5 cups water or vegetable broth

1 cup orange juice

2 Tbs. Butter

½ cup chopped onion

1 medium clove crushed garlic

6 oz. Mushrooms, sliced

½ tsp. Ground cumin

½ tsp. Ground coriander

½ tsp. Ground cinnamon

¾ tsp. Ground ginger

¼ tsp dry mustard

1 ¼ tsp. Salt

a few dashes cayenne pepper

juice of one fresh lemon (just before serving)

sour cream or yogurt(topping)

toasted chopped almonds (topping)


Split the squash lengthwise, remove seeds and bake face-down in a 375 degree oven on an oiled tray 30-45 minutes or until soft.  Cool and scoop out the insides.  About 3 cups worth of the insides is required.  Put in blender with water or stock and puree until smooth.  Combine in a kettle or saucepan with the orange juice.


Heat the butter in a skillet and add the garlic, onion, salt and spices.  Saute until the onion is soft.  (May need some water if it sticks.)  Next, add mushrooms, cover, and cook 10 minutes.


Add the sauté to the squash, scraping the skillet well to salvage all the good stuff.  Heat everything together very gently.  Taste to correct seasoning.  You may want more cayenne or salt.  And, since this is a fairly sweet soup, you may want to spruce it up with some fresh lemon juice just prior to serving.


Serve topped with yogurt and chopped, toasted almonds.  Makes 4-5 servings and takes one and one-half hours to prepare.  Flavor continues to mature with additional simmering.

Today I started the day preparing food in the kitchen. A young guy was reluctant to say good-bye to his mom. I invited him to use the vintage egg beater to scramble the eggs for lunch. At first he wasn’t sure, but when I sat beside him at the table, he asked to give it a try. I cracked the eggs one by one into a small bowl, then dumped them into the larger bowl he was working with the egg beater. Soon a crowd joined us. We took turns, the first guy a four, the five additional kids all twos. “Take turns”, one of the younger twos kept saying as we passed the bowl of increasingly frothy eggs and the beater around the table. Each child learned to use two hands on the simple machine, left hand steady on the top handle, right hand turning the crank to beat the eggs. The nice thing about beating eggs is that it can go on and on and on. As the kids finished, some drifted off to play while two remained to sponge the table, another chore that can go on forever.

At lunch today, we had soba noodles, fluffy eggs, edamame, and golden delicious apples from the farm of one two’s grandparents. The apples were so delicious, we told the story of where they came from, and the kids called them golden apples, asking for seconds and thirds and fourths. The two whose grandparents grew the apples told us he plays at his grandpa’s house. There is a ball there. Inside there are toys. I comment that his grandpa must want him to visit to have all those things for him to play with there.

The noodles challenge the kids, too. They are long and unwieldy. Are they fork or spoon or finger food? All three for most. The eggs are so good today the children eat them all. The edamame is in the pod for the second time this year. Children must learn to remove the seeds from the pods. Once they figure out how to do this, they work and work and eat and eat. One two takes such pleasure in this task and treat she stays at the table after all the others are settled for rest, finishing all the pods in the bowl, putting the beans in her mouth, the pods in a “peel bowl’ we keep on the table to help us transfer peels to kitchen compost bin to side yard compost bin where the worms await their turn. Which reminds me it’s about time to introduce our new kids to this local pleasure, the compost bin with it’s colony of worms, pungent odors, and mystery contents transforming into soil.

Today our lunch time was generous due to an early arrival home from the park. Same was true on Friday, when we had a rainy day. It was a great pleasure to spend half an hour with our little ones enjoying our meal, taking our time to free the edamame from their pods, to retrieve noodles from their bibs for a second trip to the mouth, talking about the apples and the grandpas and wondering on other things, conversation ranging from storytelling to focus on the food. I’m reminded to get the group home in time for leisurely lunch, grateful to parents who arrive midday and are patient while we finish eating, pleased to be in a group of such curious cooks and eager eaters, happy to begin to do cooking projects with this new group, to watch children begin to pour their own milk, to scoop their own cereal, to choose their own bread. Even that choice today at breakfast, between bagel and bread, felt empowering to the children. Which do you prefer? is a way of getting to know a child, for a child to be known, allowing him or her to create a more elaborate identity, to choose. There is power in that, as much as in the healthy food we serve the children.

This afternoon as Liana washed the dishes later than usual, with three young twos up from nap more interested in helping her at the sink than in puzzles or in drawing, I realized again how much these young ones enjoy real work, and expect we’ll find more of it day by day. I’m going to think about what other cooking and real work projects we might do this year, reminded that many twos do love the kitchen and the work we do there.

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