My memory takes me back to a beautiful sunny morning from last year. The air was still and temperate, not too hot in sunny Queensland. It was Playgroup morning and we, the Mothers and their young children and I, stood quietly by the dam searching for the ducks. I looked back over my shoulder to see a little boy sitting by himself, the soft grass beneath him blanketing the earth. In his hands was a leaf and he turned it over and over again. I could not see the expression on his face as his hat was pulled well down. What was he looking at in total absorption? Was it the colour of the leaf, the texture or the shadow cast on it by the light? A poignant moment and I knew then, that this was what our Playgroup was all about.
Dr. Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) founder of Waldorf education spoke about sense development in the young child. Beginning in the womb, if the senses are not taken care of there is likely to be an adverse impact on health. What the children hear, see, touch, feel or smell will become a part of their future. The senses are to be cared for, protected and nourished.
This Playgroup has been inspired by the European Outdoor Kindergarten model, a type of preschool education for children between the ages of three and six that is held almost exclusively outdoors. It began a year ago and today we have 7 Mothers and 8 children ranging in age from 9 months to 21/2 years. My observation has been that the young children manage better in a smaller group. The morning begins at 9 and ends at 11. Two hours is sufficient as most children have been awake since before dawn and by the finish of Playgroup it is nearly time for their morning nap.
The benefit of creating a Playgroup with the focus of activities being mainly outdoors is that there is a real sense for the rhythms of the natural world that we are constantly being exposed to, although sometimes we forget this. Rhythm supports sense development by providing a beautiful secure ground for the children because they know what is coming next. Hence, our morning routine is always the same, beginning a little down the paddock at the play area where there is a sandpit, swing and a plank of timber and short log of wood which make up the see-saw – so simple.
Up and down
In the sky
And on the ground.”
Our ?Welcome song which the Mothers and I sing while we all, including the children, hold hands and walk in a circle, brings us together to acknowledge each other and the beginning of our morning together. Followed by a walk through the paddock, slowly, slowly we take the time to notice the flowers in the field and the butterflies, fluttering through the bushes. There is this sense of wonder in the world of the very young child and nature hands it to us, whichever way we choose to look.
As the Facilitator of the group, it is my task to model reverence for the small things, the detail. Over a number of years, we have used the method of Biodynamics, an agricultural approach developed by Steiner bringing balance to the soil and nature. It too has taught me to be mindful of the detail. Visitors mention our place ?feels good and I have certainly observed over the years the healthy growth and diversity of plants, delicious vegetables from the garden and the amount and variety of birds flying joyfully overhead. The natural world provides the opportunity to teach reverence for the other, for nature and everything that creeps and crawls. I think of the poem by Christina Rossetti:
Hurt no living thing,
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.
Morning tea is a highlight after the walk. I always bake a cake and make a tea of fresh herbs from the garden. Activities are simple and kept to a minimum as the Mothers have expressed to me that they just like to ?be, to sit and converse with each other. Close by is the sandpit beneath a heavy cloak of leaves hanging from a tall flame tree, embracing and sheltering the children at play from the sun.
In no time at all, it seems Playgroup is nearly over. We wander to the shed to feed fruit scraps to an unusual looking, yet interesting creature called Possum. On to the pen where the chickens are given seed and eggs are collected. Once we reach our favourite seat beneath the jacarandah tree, facing the group I kneel and perform a short hand-gesture game appropriate to the season before singing fills the air with our ?Good-bye song, bringing our morning to a close.
It has been a privilege to be a part of this group of gentle women and children, Mothers who seek only the best for their children. It is indeed an act of courage to become a parent and through the nurturing the Mothers have received from myself and the natural world, they can continue to give selflessly to their child.
Throughout the year, I was able to capture the essence of Playgroup through illustrations, hand-drawn by my artist friend, Jan. I used the images to create a book called ?Little Earth An expression of childhood.