By Katharine Bill and Dani Reynaud
Like so many plans for this summer, Little Star’s Summer Naturalist Camp, planned for the third week in July, didn’t happen. Instead, the entire valley experienced a sort of naturalist camp, featuring fire ecology, geomorphology, and the basic interconnectedness of all parts of our home. Suddenly, the invisible parts of our daily lives became visible, as we learned about generators, wells, water storage and freezer space. We turned to Facebook for basic information, squinting at phone screens as the Internet failed. The power of the natural world, suddenly and irreversibly, taught its own camp.
Now, as school starts again, the luxury of familiar routines and faces feels better than ever. Here at Little Star, on the surface, kids are happy to play and leave the uncertainties of summer behind. But already, a few thoughtful activities have reached kids’ deeper emotions and stories.
Last week the kindergarten class drew pictures with charcoal from the summer fires. Teachers helped them write their stories of checking on friends, seeing fires come close to home, and leaving home for safer places. The un-tangling of the summer experience takes time, and each story is rich with its own emotion and tender experience.
The kindergarten stories speak a deeper truth to us as teachers and parents: that there are words and emotions ready to emerge, with time and space. What better role for a school, and for a family, to create a safe, familiar and beautiful place to come to terms with our dynamic summer, and also the dynamic natural world? What better lessons to internalize now, as the world will continue to give what is unexpected?
Here is a list of tips we feel could be helpful for connecting with children in a meaningful way, and helping them deal with stress and change:
• Encourage your child to express their feelings. Let them know that it’s okay to feel the way they do. Support them and allow for “quiet time” where they can cuddle up and be cozy. Share your own feelings too!
• On hard days, get on the floor and play. Allow yourself to just “be” with your child and follow their lead.
• Create a “mind jar,” a mason jar filled with glitter glue and sparkles that your child can shake and gaze in to when they are feeling upset or frustrated.
• Get outside. There’s nothing like fresh air to help shoo away the blues. Take advantage of this beautiful fall weather and step outside for a hike or walk with your child.
• Engage your child in meaningful work. Maria Montessori said, “the child who concentrates, is immensely happy.” Helping your child focus on fun and helpful projects around the house will distract them from external stresses.
• Get creative. Encourage painting, drawing, singing, dancing, and physical exercise. Creative outlets help children express their feelings and physical activity helps decrease stress.
• Encourage puppet or doll play. Children will be able to create a reality they can control and re-create stressful events in ways they can manage.
Above all else, give your child lots of love and affection. Pay close attention to what they tell or show you that they need from you, and do not elevate your to-do list above focused time with your child
We hope these tips are helpful, and we encourage you to stop by Little Star and share other tips and stories with us. It takes a whole community, connected through ideas and resources, to make our work sing. And when children can sing from their hearts, resilience follows.
Katharine Bill is a Little Star board member; Dani Reynaud is the school’s director.