It takes a village.
This oft-quoted phrase represents a truth that has stood the test of time.
Since our early days, we have gathered with those close to us, to remain safe, share our talents and stories, and grow stronger.
In older societies the youngest members were often left in the hands of others, while parents foraged, farmed, sought new opportunities and strove to provide for their families. There was a time, not long ago, when it was common for children to be raised by “all the mothers on the street” and there was a deep sense of responsibility for all within the community. Parents could expect the same respect and manners from the neighbourhood children as they did from their own.
In many regards, even though the work to provide for family was more difficult, child rearing was easier, as it was a shared experience.
In this busy, overly competitive and technology driven world we find ourselves in, community is even more important than ever, and yet seems to be lacking in the lives of so many families.
Parents and caregivers talk of feeling isolated. Extended families live miles away and the nurturing non-judgmental love and support, that is so important in these early childhood years, is not easily available. Communication is delegated to the laptop or mobile phone.
Parents struggle to find the right childcare that will bring them peace while they go to work. Guilt has become a heavy mantle that far too many parents are carrying and, added to the ever growing daily pressures, things start to swirl leaving them feeling insecure and overwhelmed.
I created The Village Well in San Francisco to provide a place of community for families with young children. Based on lessons learned from my decades of working with families, I knew that there is often a sense of isolation in those early years and since we don’t have the luxury of extended families close at hand and neighbours who share our story , it was important to create a place of gathering that might transcend those feelings of being alone on this journey of child rearing. Beyond the physical space of bringing people together, the sense of community at The Village Well is strong. Many new friendships have been forged through sharing tales while romping with children on the floor. Parents and caregivers swap daily tales and find solace and support knowing they are not alone. Turning off the phone while visiting adds to thier experience.
Since The Village Well is not a preschool, I have been able to incorporate the best of a variety of early childhood education philosophies. My three main influences have been Frederick Froebel (Founder of the Kindergarten), Rudolph Steiner (Developer of the Waldorf School) and Maria Montessori (Montessori Education).
In simplistic terms, each of these educators believed that children have an innate sense of wonder and a desire to understand. Self-directed learning is achieved through open, unstructured play and music in a safe and nurturing environment. Providing as many natural, age appropriate play materials as possible, is an important component. The child thrives, but also the larger community and society will benefit with happily adjusted and confident, loving families.
TVW provides for children the opportunity to explore at their own pace and, because the focus is not based on outcome, they are much more receptive to learning. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to hone their powers of observation (one of the staples in the Norland training) by turning off all outside distractions. They become more fully engaged and mindful and, even if just for a few hours a week, this exercise is so helpful in teaching them how to better care for their children.
There is still a need to follow the rules of community and at TVW we are able to teach our families that manners are important and we all accept responsibility for our space.
Putting our shoes neatly on the mat outside the playroom; serving banana cups with a “please’ and “thank you” and ringing the bells before our daily circletime reminds us that we are responsible for our toys, books and play and this lesson will be carried over into your children’s school and ongoing social interactions.
School teachers continue to be amazed at the number of children who have no sense of responsibility in community. “Clean up time” falls on deaf ears if a child has not been introduced to this concept and encouraged to participate. Children will follow by your example.
Once again, a reminder that homes are the first schools and parents the first teachers.
What does village mean to you? Who is an important part of your personal community? Do you take time to honour and nurture those relationships? Do your children feel a sense of belonging to the larger community? Are polite manners an active component of your daily discourse? Do you engage fully or is the ubiquitous mobile phone your modus operandi?
Every day you are given the opportunity to make choices. Your children are learning from you how to grow and share in this sometimes complex world. Take time to be still. Enjoy the quiet and small moments in the day and remember that simple actions are often the greatest teachers.
c Jean Alice Rowcliffe 2012