January 2014

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!

In an effort to return to a project I envisioned two years ago, I’ve spent the last hour or so on the internet reading about David Hawkins, an early influence in inquiry based science education and intellectual partner to Loris Malaguzzi, of Reggio Emilia.

Here is a link to a very influential piece written by David Hawkins in 1974, when he was working with a group of people on a project called ESS, or Elementary Science Study, experimenting with science education in the Infant Schools in Leicester, England. 

Many of Hawkin’s ideas are very relevant today. For example, he questions the wisdom of attempting to teach children the same thing at the same time, advocating instead that we create places where children can follow their interests and learn in their own ways and on their own paths.

I need to get to sleep, but this is exciting stuff. I’m hoping to do some research, interviews, and hard thinking about some fairly broad topics which I believe to be interrelated. So far, I’ve mainly been thinking and talking these ideas. Maybe now I’ll begin writing them, which would kill two birds with one stone, possibly reviving my energy for this blog, and getting my thoughts organized so I can figure out what this project is all about and begin to make progress tackling it.

Enjoy David Hawkins’ words from 1974..I was born too late! Boy, I would have liked to be a part of that era in education.

Click to access Hawkins-MessingAboutInSci.pdf

My cat Frances is happy with my slothful, winter self. In the evening while the chicken roasts or the dinner dishes rest on the table, I lay on the couch and read. Frances lays on my chest or tucks herself between the backs of my legs and the couch cushions and purrs and purrs. If I pet her, especially on the neck or between the ears, she’s especially happy.

In late summer, Frances was a pest who brought fleas into the house. Now the fleas are gone we keep each other company in the cozy house, during the day while I do my desk work and she dozes, in the evening while I read and ignore the dishes.

She’s not a bad reminder of how to slow down, how to enjoy the quiet, dark, and relative solitude. Days I’m away in Western, MA or downstairs in the day care, or out and about running errands, Frances holds down the fort. When I return, even though I often think of myself as living alone when the kids or my beau aren’t here, she’s my steady gal.

This past week I took quiet evenings on the couch reading Per Peterson’s I Curse the River of Time. Nearby my son read his book, hung out on his laptop or phone, wrote in his notebook. In the other room or upstairs my daughter watched tv, listened to music in her room. In between I did other things, worked, cooked, talked, enjoyed meals, walked, washed the dishes and the clothes. But for those hours I was in Per Peterson’s world, I felt indulgent and indulged, also somehow less alone.

I read another of his books, Out Stealing Horses. I started it awhile back, didn’t get hooked, then last winter at some point, or early spring, I fell in deep, got lost completely in the woods of Norway, in the child and adult lives of his characters, trying to find their way.

There’s a bit of grief in a good book coming to an end. But, as I said to my daughter, as we discussed our books of the week, Wonder for her, Per for me, a book goes on so much longer than a movie. As wonderful as our two hours in the theater watching Saving Mr. Banks might have been, the evenings on the couch went on nearly a week, with anticipation in between.

The thing about the book is how little was revealed or resolved. In between everyday living and reading, this week has been a bit challenging on a personal level. Family stuff seems never to get resolved. Stories keep changing, each time we have a new conversation, another element is revealed, opening up and questioning the truth. Per Peterson’s writing, intertwining memory and close observation of everyday life, feel real to me in the way there are both moments of clarity, or purposeful movement, times when the sun shines brightly, or the connections are protective, other times we are adrift, stuck, alone in the most desolate of ways.

This morning I had high hopes. Last night I lay on the couch again, hoping to get lost in another book the way I had gotten lost in I Curse The River of Time. Instead I got lost on the internet, in my mind. This morning, instead of waking up clear and energetic, I am foggy and slow. Yesterday’s productivity faded, will come again, but isn’t as easy to sustain as I had hoped. Life is like that, Per Peterson seems to say. In moments our dreams and passions take hold, shortly after we lose hold, err or drift or find a new way.

For now, its off to the grocery store with my cart and pack, sons both off with the cars, my van and their dad’s Subaru, first to the bank to deposit checks, withdraw some cash. Laundry in process, checks processed, bills mostly paid, morning has not been a total loss, but against the high hopes of the to do list I made as I first laid down on the couch last night, I could be doing better..not cursing the river of time just yet, but wish I could flow a little more easily with the current or paddle a bit harder at points.

The New Year begins cold and clear. My kids and I spend the early part of the week in Western, Ma, do fireworks in Northampton for First Night, sit by the fire in Ashfield and play games until well past midnight, wake up late the next day, pack up, return home. Then one day of day care, and a storm, which closes schools and day care today. Last night my gal and I put together a new tv cabinet, following directions, screwing screws, moving tapes and cds and the wii and the old vcr along with the newer tv and dvd player from the old wooden dresser we found on the curb, with the carved handles and the pretty pine and the broken drawers to the new sleek black thing from Crate and Barrel. Now the dresser blocks the closet door in the tv room and I’m wondering what to do with it’s pretty carved self.

My sons and I shoveled the snow today, light and fluffy and easier than many storms. Two strong teens and a mom getting the hang of shoveling made light work of the driveway, walks, and van. Then I sent my middle guy off on his own in the van for the first time, newly licensed, to the bank, the gas station, and his gal’s for her birthday, terror in my heart as the boy hit the road. Shortly after, the other three left, older guy, his gal, and my gal, to spend the next several days with their dad. The house shifts like that, full to empty, noisy to quiet, in an instant. Divorce, for me anyway, is like that, many sudden shifts from togetherness to solitude, bipolar is the word my long married college roommate used to describe my life today, trying to understand what it must be like.

All I can say is the heart breaks and breaks and keeps on breaking. It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark and not to turn, a line from Stanley Kunitz’ The Testing Tree, which I read again this past week in a book given to me by my co-teacher for Christmas, The Wild Braid, Stanley Kunitz’ reflections on his life as he is nearing death, narrative interspersed with poems and photos of him in his gardens. It’s a lovely book, timely, as winter and cold and storms lead me to introspection and poems and gardens remind me that life goes underground, we can tap it even in the dark and cold, and in springtime, things will bloom.

I haven’t written in awhile. Not sure why or how to get back. I’m reading WA on and off, enjoying the poems a lot, but not sharing them so much here. I’ve also been reading more of James Hollis, this time The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other, A Jungian Perspective on Relationship. I miss Quaker Meeting, could use a little quiet in community, may try for that on Sunday, may not. 

My older son is home from college for a month, in the middle of his second year away. All three of my kids are teens, growing up and away. The day care is just fine, full now, with many families coming for interviews in the next few weeks, looking for space in the fall. The twos are growing up, as is the baby. Next year will be lots of threes, a one, and some fours, if we’re lucky and they stay, plus the school age kids, assuming they stay, too. Life with kids in two homes and a beau two hours away is complicated, compels me to keep things simple, to focus on folks when I’m with them, to streamline my stuff and home and work life. I’m not sure what next. I’m not getting any younger, nor are my friends and co-workers. Aging parents are the topic in the circles where I travel outside of day care, making my own life feel farther from the lives of the day care families. Once upon a time, I was a new mom, too. Now I’m not. Instead I’m learning to live alone again, to be a single person, to be part of a pair part time, to sort out the complications of divorce and dating and families that don’t fit conventional molds, to shepherd my kids through to adulthood. Always a lot of learning, no matter what stage we’re entering or leaving.

Happy Birthday to each of my kids. Gal turned 13 on Christmas. Guy turned 17 the day after that. Last birthday on Sunday belongs to my eldest, a teen for one more year at 19. When he showed up in the day care at snack yesterday, nearly 6 feet tall, dressed in a black snowboard jacket, cords and a bright red hat, the kids all stopped and stared. We tried to explain that he was my boy, that once upon a time he was the baby who inspired me to start this whole thing. The kids were silent, some lowered their eyes, none seemed to comprehend. Ben said their names in turn, smiled, looked as friendly as he could, but he’s a big guy, a stranger, a mystery man, and these kids don’t know him from hole in the wall, as I think my own folks used to say, but now I think it was hole in the head..and the expression was something like she needs that like another hole in the head..which isn’t really relevant here at all.

Which is to say, this story is done, if it’s even a story. It’s more an attempt to get the juices flowing, to write something again, to find my way, to reach out and connect. Back to James Hollis, my guide at this stage of midlife confusion. Looking for light in the dark days of winter, as I often do, in the pages of a book.