Friday, March 20, 2015

Playing and Being at Laurie's House

We begin our day greeting the children as they arrive, visiting with parents and then saying good-bye to them. The morning transition is often the hardest part of the day; I comfort upset children and reassure them that the people they love will come back, and I comfort upset parents and assure them that their child will be okay. Then we do whatever the children need: eat, sleep, diapering and play. As they get older a routine emerges, with a morning snack, lunch, mid-day nap and afternoon snack as the touchstones of the day. We try to get outside every day. Because relationships are such a core part of early care and education I maintain a primary caregiving relationship with the children…
… My goal is to provide the optimally stimulating and nurturing environment that a young child would encounter in a healthy home – ordinary reality, life in its goodness.  We spend our days together in my small home, learning in the way that young children do: for example, playing with pots and pans, being read to, resolving conflicts and exploring.

From my website: 

When I decided that I wanted to do infant care in my home 22 years ago, I looked at what my community needed and what I could offer.  

It was clear that there was a shortage of good infant care, and that most infant programs in the area required full time enrollment in order to make their budget. I wanted to support parents spending more time with their babies by working part time if they had that option. This worked better for me as well, because as I completed my MA in Human Development I knew I wanted to spend some time teaching adults as well as working with babies – I needed that balance in my life.  So I am open 4 days a week, and parents can sign up for between 20 and 36 hours of care per week.

Having studied with Magda Gerber, who developed the RIE method of infant care, I valued the concept of respectful care that allows for children to develop as authentic and competent people. From Liz Prescott at Pacific Oaks College, I embraced the idea that family child care could be as good as center care, and provided an ideal setting for children to experience the ways in which  we meet day-to-day human needs – an essential part of the early years curriculum in my view. I liked the idea of providing care in a small, home-based, non-institutional environment.  From Betty Jones, also at P.O., I learned about the value of providing a safe space with an abundance of interesting things to do, and letting children explore freely within it. 

Because I wanted to develop deep relationships with families, and provide continuity of care I decided that every three years I would enroll a new group of four infants, between about 3 and 9 months old, and that they would stay together as a cohort until leaving for pre-school. I enjoy creating a small, stable community for children in their first years, and children benefit from having a primary caregiver in a small group during that time. When I enroll families we talk about the intention we share to stay together for three years; twice families have had to leave before the end of that period and I have filled their slot with another child of roughly the same age.

In Oregon, as a Certified Family Child Care Provider, I am able to care for up to 4 infants at a time. We arrange the schedule so that when they are tiny they’re not all here at once, or if they are I have some help. So our ratio is always 1 to 4 or better. I often have help from my part time assistant Katie, from my partner Terri, and from practicum students. The children in each cohort develop deep connections with each other, and we spend lots of time developing language and problem-solving skills together.

Sometimes I want to say that what we do here is nothing special, or that we’re hanging out with babies the way people always have, but I know it’s much more than that. In a speeded up world we provide a place for babies and their parents to slow down and enjoy the richness of the early years. Daily life and caregiving is our curriculum; we try to take the time to honor young children’s interest in the mundane aspects of life that adults often ignore.

Some examples are:

Our toddler field trips are the hour long walks around the block where children become intimately familiar with the geography of this place, and the beings that inhabit it. We know which neighbors have given permission for us to run up and down their steep driveway, and which lawns we need to stay off of, we know that Pearl the neighbor cat can often be found a block away taunting the squirrels, we know which plants are okay to touch and which ones we should avoid – we end up knowing a lot about ourselves and this place. That knowledge provides a solid base for moving out into the wider and more diverse world.

I’ve joked that I don’t need to hire magicians and clowns to entertain the children because in this old house we have regular visits from workers who help us maintain it. There’s Tom, our painter who comes every spring, and makes smiley faces on the windows with blue painters tape, there’s the plumber who glows as I explain to the children that good plumbing is one of the foundations of civilization and public health, and Julie who comes a couple of times a year to prune our trees and shrubs. She leaves us piles of sticks to sort through, and we learn that if we leave them for a while they become dry enough for us to break! 

Of course food is an essential part of the infant/toddler curriculum, and in this small setting with a little garden and access to the kitchen, children are able to explore it fully with all their senses. One of my favorite materials to put out for babies is an unpeeled onion - the textures, the smells, the taste, the conversations about cooking with onions – I can’t think of any toy that offers such rich possibilities!

In part because I began with a minimal budget, and in part because I value reuse and non-commercial materials, I mix in lots of boxes, scrap paper, empty bottles, avocado pits and other found treasures for the children to explore (Tom Hunter’s line “we just call it garbage when we don’t know what to do with it” is a great inspiration for this kind of reuse). These materials mix easily with the open ended purchased objects in the environment, and are used just as much if not more.

In being together here in very ordinary ways, we learn that life is delightful and play is what it’s all about!

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