Like many things, Early Childhood classrooms look very different this year. Some centers have been open for the duration of this pandemic. Most are limiting the number of children in our care. All teachers and staff are wearing masks. We are working extremely hard to keep children safe while maintaining a sense of normalcy. We cherish every moment of childhood, wonder, and community. Here at PJA we are doing our best to be an extension of your village, your family, and your safe haven.
Starting a year like this, we knew so much had to be different. What I have been learning this year is that it can bring so much to be grateful for. I have chosen to start this year using the Jewish lens of Hit’orerut or Awakening (Amazement and Gratitude). I am thankful to be employed by a community that finds value in Early Childhood Education. I am grateful to be back in the company of children. Children entered our school in the same state of gratefulness. They are so grateful to be able to play again with other children and be part of a community again. I am amazed by how much they value connection. This year, more than any other year, they want to work together.
In the classroom, I like to set up areas for the children to work individually or with someone else. For this year, I wanted to limit the amount of children that could work in a single space. After doing that I found that, no matter the activity, the group wanted to do it together. As much as we try to social distance where possible; I had to value their need for community or Kehilah.
In this value of community, there lies so many treasures. Treasures like, seeing the value of what each unique person brings to the community. They want these gifts to be recognized and seen for all of their value. In our beginning days together, I spent a lot of times broadcasting to the group the valuable things that they do for each other. When someone needs help, I reach out to the group and ask, “who can help?” Children love to be seen as the ones who are the helpers, the rescuers, the ones who can do “big” things. When we had the big wind storm, large branches covered our playground. They did not wait for an adult to take care of the problem. They worked together, lifting awkward large branches as a team, till the area was cleared. Small hands can make big movements. It was apparent that these children wanted to do more.
Each year we build agreements with the children of our ways of being together. My favorite one that they created this year was the agreement to “Protect Living Things”. With a pandemic, our many opportunities seemed too difficult to do. We were very fortunate to have an opportunity present itself to us. Andrea Wall with the Friends of Fanno Creek asked if anyone would be interested in visiting the trail next to our school and learning how to protect green spaces. Natural spaces provide endless opportunities for learning. We decided to make a first trip to the trail and see how our children might find a way to help.
On our first visit, we were transported into our own little green space. The trail has lots of native plants to look at and a pollinator garden. We discovered lots of large mushrooms, large old trees, and solar pebbles on the ground. One of our students is already an expert on mushrooms and quickly identified them by name. Everyone was imagining the possibilities of exploring this trail again.
On our second trip to the trail, we were able to meet up with Andrea to learn more about the trail and how we could help. She shared with us some of the reasons why it was important to protect green spaces. She also shared a Native American folk tale about the Douglas Fir’s pine cones. Read the story here. After she answered the children’s questions we were put to work. The children were able to collect all of the solar stones from the trail. The solar stones are there on the trail to light the path at night. That way people from our community, that use the trail at night, can have a safe way to travel. The trail had other volunteers who were going to help put fresh gravel on the trail to help protect it through the rainy season. The “big job” of picking up all the pebbles moved quickly with the help of a group of small hands. We had enough time to discover even more wonders including a bug hotel, a dead tree that is home to a number of creatures, a worm, and a ladybug. Andrea helped us name other native plants and told us that one tree was 119 years old. We left feeling like we had really done something to help repair the world, or Tikkun Olam. Andrea shared with me, “Small actions making a big change is the goal of the trail project since we started four years ago. Restoration work, little by little, has brought back native wildlife and a little bit of nature into the lives of people walking it every day. Every tree, plant, and bush helps combat global warming and helps insects such as friendly mason bees survive.”
I hope that our visits to the trail will continue to provide us with opportunities to help, as well as opportunities for us to become deeply connected to the world around us. We started to learn about how each thing exists in nature to nurture something else. The milkweed provides food for baby caterpillars to grow into butterflies. The snow berries, though poisonous to us, provide food for wildlife. Mushrooms not only help things decompose but also provide nutrients for trees. Children, though small, provide us with a better view of how to work together and care for our world. I hope we all have a chance to listen to children and do our part to make the world a better place.
If you would like to help out with Friends of Fanno Creek here is more information.