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Education Journal

​In which one may find tidbits from Terri's years as a kindergarten teacher.

"Who is this Aunt Maribelle?"

Terri Reinhart

This was originally a part of a longer article about storytelling in the Kindergarten, but I wanted to re-post just this bit in honor of my real Aunt Maribelle who passed away today in Sterling, Colorado.

I had another child who was having a terrible time at nap.  Uh, I don’t have that right.  She was actually having a WONDERFUL time at nap, dancing around the kindergarten, making noises and generally being such a distraction that no one could rest.  I wasn’t in the classroom during nap time but I would often come down and see this little girl sitting in the front office with our secretary, next door to the kindergarten, because she had been so mischievous.  Somehow, I had to find a way to turn this around.  She was learning very well how to be mischievous but nothing at all about how to rest.  So, the next time I came down and saw her in the office, I picked her up and put her on my lap and told her this story:

“When I was growing up, we used to visit our cousin on the farm and the first thing we did when we arrived on the farm was look for the cats.  We knew that there would be at least one cat that had kittens.  My cousin always knew just where the kittens would be found and soon we would each be happily cradling a kitten on our laps.  Then we would wrap them up in our sweaters (and here I wrapped my sweater around the child) and carry them quietly into the house and play with them in my cousins bedroom.  And we had to keep them very quiet because Aunt Maribelle didn’t allow kittens in the house at all and if she caught us, she would be angry with us and she might even make us scrub the kitchen floor.  So we would put the kittens on our laps and pet their tummies till they fell asleep.  Most of the time they would fall asleep but sometimes a kitten wouldn’t want to sleep and it would meow very loudly!  Then Aunt Maribelle would come and we would have to take the kittens outside again.  And then we’d have to scrub the kitchen floor.”

I then cradled the little girl and carried her back into the classroom and put her on her nap mat.  I whispered quietly in her ear, “Now, be a quiet little kitty so Aunt Maribelle doesn’t hear you.  I don’t want to scrub floors today.”

Two weeks later, the girl’s mother came to me and said, “WHO IS THIS AUNT MARIBELLE??!!”  Every day for two weeks, her daughter would come home and say to her mom, “I was a quiet kitty at nap today and Aunt Maribelle didn’t even know I was there!”

My Aunt Maribelle enjoyed the story, too.

 

Homework Report Card 1918

Terri Reinhart

In 1918, my grandmother was a teacher in a one room school house. Some years ago, I was given this copy of a homework report card from her class. I was thrilled to see there are no academic tasks on this report, instead the tasks are the chores a child was expected to do or help do at home. I wish schools today would emphasize this type of homework rather than the attempt to continue the school day into the child's precious family time.

A Bitterweet Last Day of School – Thank you to the Denver Waldorf School for 26 Amazing Years!

Terri Reinhart

This is it, the best day of the year. What child doesn't get excited when the last day of school comes and it's time for summer vacation? The heavens have opened their gates and the angels are blowing trumpets, banging on drums, and dancing ecstatically. All the children are smiling and laughing and getting ready to burst out the door and be free at last, free at last, thank God already, we're free at last. For three whole months (or thereabouts) they don't have to think about school... unless one of their parents is a teacher. I can't count the number of times I dragged my kids to the school in the summer, roping them into helping me prepare my classroom.

We first learned about the Waldorf school before our children were born. One of Chris' coworkers had two nieces who attended the Denver Waldorf School and loved it. Their proud aunt gave a brochure to my husband. The curriculum from kindergarten through 8th grade was there for us to see, and we fell in love at first sight. It might surprise people to know it was the stories, the lore which progresses from nature stories to fairy tales, fables, legends, and myths, which drew us to the school in the beginning. We started at the Waldorf school before I even saw the knitted gnomes.

We were determined. This was the school we wanted for our children. Our son's first year of kindergarten was paid for, partly, with puppy money.  Fortunately, our basset hound had a large litter.  The second year, we sadly checked into other schools, as there were no more puppies to sell. However, after observing a kindergarten where the children were working in math and reading workbooks and studying for a spelling test, we gasped and decided quickly to go back to the Waldorf school, where we re-enrolled on faith. We couldn't imagine sending out children to a kindergarten with no toys and no play time, inside or out.

A week before school started, I got a call from one of the teachers. There was a need for an assistant teacher to help with nap time in one of the classes. Was I interested? Amazingly, I jumped at the chance to be in charge of 17 squirrelly 3 to 6 year olds every afternoon. The job paid tuition, I made it through, and two years later, Alice Jordan called to ask if I would consider being her full time assistant.

It was around this time, I realized I didn't just want Waldorf education for my kids. I wanted it for myself.

For nearly twenty years, I worked in the kindergarten program as an assistant teacher and a lead teacher. Our sons graduated from the Denver Waldorf High School and our oldest, John, received his Master's degree in Waldorf education, coming back to the Denver school in the fall of 2007 to begin teaching English and History in the high school. Patrick has taught an occasional art block in the high school and has illustrated one of my kindergarten stories. I still teach a couple of art blocks in the high school each year, too.

Tomorrow night marks a passage for us. Our youngest, Emma, will graduate from the Denver Waldorf High School. She has been at the school longer than any of her classmates, having gone back to work with me in the kindergarten when she was only two years old. Next year, for the first time in 26 years, I will not be driving in to the school every day.

26 years! That long ago, things were different. Mr. Clark had hair. Mr. Baker taught gym as well as woodwork. Mrs. Hindes taught kindergarten. Dr. Blanning was in 7th grade, and Mrs. Cartwright was in 1st grade. There were a total of three telephones in the entire school building, all attached with cords, and no voice mail.

Other things haven't changed. The teachers were still playing jokes on each other. There were bumper sticker wars between Mr. Baker and one of the kindergarten teachers, who came out one day to find a sticker on her car, proclaiming her to be a “Party Animal”. The next day, Mr. Baker found one on his, saying, “Have a nice day ”.

There are all the obvious things to love about Waldorf education: the consistency of having the same class teacher for eight years, the integration of the arts into the entire curriculum, the natural materials, the creative lessons, the storytelling, learning with the head, heart, and hands, and the teachers who acknowledge that they see only one part of the student's journey and what a priviledge it is to be a part of that journey. There is more, of course, and I could go on and on.

What I really want to say is, thank you. Thank you to all the faculty who taught our children and encouraged and challenged me to be the best teacher and person I could be, the staff who challenged me to be more organized, and parents who also encouraged and challenged me through the years. And thank you to all the children. You have always been my best teachers.

Though I still plan on teaching an art block or two in the high school, I will miss driving in to the school every day. The school has been more than a job for me. It has been my community, and an extension of my family.

It's time for a new adventure. What that will be, I don't know yet. I hope to do some volunteer work, possibly at the Ronald McDonald House here in Denver. They've done a lot for us. I'd like to give back. There will certainly be more gnomes and felted animals, books, brooms, and puppets coming to life in my studio. If anyone wants to join me, you're still welcome. Don't worry about payment. Let me know how your kids are doing at the school.

That'll be payment enough!


Kindergarten Quotes

Terri Reinhart

Kindergarten Quotes
collected by Terri Reinhart

Good morning teacher. When’s lunch?
It’s okay, teacher. I’m just sad. I have to cry for a minute but then I’ll be okay.
Watch this, teacher! Watch this, teacher! Now…don’t… try this… at home!
You can’t call her a dude. She’s a girl. She’s a dude-ess.
I’ll finish that later, teacher. I have an important job to do in space.
That’s okay, teacher, you can do this when you’re younger.
I made some cookies, teacher, do you want some? Now you gotta eat ‘em.
I don’t like porridge. Can I just have some maple syrup?
When’s lunch?

My mom’s prettier than you are.
I’m stronger than you are.
Watch how I can pull on my ears until they hurt!
I don’t suck my thumb, but I do scratch my head a lot.
I’m going to catch you and then I‘m going to eat you! I’m going to catch you and then I‘m going to eat you! I’m going to make princess stew!
When’s lunch?

I’m sorry to have to tell you but I’m not going to marry you. I’m going to marry Sam.
That’s okay, cause I’m not going to marry you, either.
Teacher, she’s being mean to me. She says she’s not going to marry me.
When I grow up, I’m going to marry my daddy.
When I grow up, I’m going to marry my dog.
I am not Adrian. I am a mushroom.
When’s lunch?

Only Jesus could tie his shoes when he was born.
Only God can count to infinity
God says we have to love our enemiesSHUTUPORI’LLKNOCKYOURHEADOFF.
That’s impossible and if you don’t believe me, ask God.
After I die and then I come back again and have a different mom and dad, will I still be a boy or will I maybe be a girl?
My mom’s going to get married and then she’s going to have a baby.
I got a baby girl. She got out of my mom’s belly.
Really? My baby sister was hatched out four months ago!
When’s lunch?

I’m going to hide under the table. Try to find me.
I’m not coming out, teacher, cause I’m not in here.
Don’t look, teacher.
Ssshhh..…teacher’s coming.
You know, teacher, you shouldn’t really go over there, cause they’re not really doing anything bad, so you don’t have to go over there.
I wasn’t trying to hit her, I was just throwing it at her.
So, we got busted. What’re you gonna do? Cry about it?
When’s lunch?

I wish you had mousies flying everywhere and going pop, pop out of your chimney.
I wish you a flying rainbow that could take you anywhere you wanted to go.
I wish you a rocket ship.
Dear Firemen, I wish you this firemen picture so that if your firetruck ever gets stealed, you can look at it and remember all the good work you did.
Dear Firemen, I wish you had a fire hose so you could wash the fire off a building if it gots fire on it.
I wish you a shooting star.
I wish you a big birthday cake with lots of candles on it.
I wish we could have lunch.

Uh, teacher, I don’t think that’s a very good idea. (I let a child help light the story candle)
I know where Grandmother Willow lives.
I’m going over to Grandmother Willow’s house, tomorrow, to see Matthew Mousekin.
Well, I’m going to Mexico to have my hair braided. You can come with me if you ask your mommy.
I’m going on a big blue airplane and I’m never coming back.
Is that story for reals?
My dad did that. (After every story)

Snip, snap, snout, this tale is told out!

NOW I know! After story and after you shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you for a lovely morning’, THAT’S WHEN WE HAVE LUNCH!!

Uh, uh, uh, Mrs. Reinhart! No silliness. Thank YOU for a lovely morning!

Goodbye golden knights!
Goodbye golden teacher!

Mmm, teacher, your lunch looks good. I think I’ll have some of yours.


Craft work in the Kindergarten

Terri Reinhart

“Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.”

~Phyllis George

 

I love to do crafts.  I have been knitting since age 8 and making things ever since I can remember. Working with my hands is my therapy.  If I don't have at least 3 or 4 projects going on at once at home, my husband comes over to take my pulse.  I'm probably the only woman who has ever asked for 50 pounds of broomcorn as a birthday present. 

Why then, am I so cautious about how I bring craft work into the kindergarten?  In the early years of my teaching, I felt obligated to have a different little craft for the children to do every week.  We made pouches out of felt, shooting stars with ribbons attached, dolls, and many other projects.  Most of them were sewn.  Every time we started a project I would carefully label each one with the child’s name so they wouldn’t get lost and I had a checklist so that I could make sure that every child had made their project.  In time, this became such an exhausting process that I dreaded doing any crafts with the children! It was too much.  The children were not enjoying the crafts because it became almost like an assembly line.

I learned that not every child needed to make every project.  And this was okay.  In time, the number of projects that every child would be expected to do was narrowed down to just the gifts that were made for parents for special times.   During the rest of the year, we concentrated on the practical work that was needed for the class.  As I have mentioned before, when we needed rugs for the classroom, we made them.  The first rug I made for the kindergarten evolved from quite a different project.  I was ambitious that year and for Easter, we made baskets with coiled rope that we covered with strips of cotton cloth.  The baskets were lovely but they were also a huge amount of work and it wasn’t something that was easy for the children to do.  After the baskets were made, we ended up with quite a lot of fabric left over.  We had cut all the fabric into strips for the baskets and so the leftover fabric was in strips and rolled into balls.  What to do with the extra cloth?  I crocheted a round rug – basically like crocheting a very large pot holder.  The children watched and helped unroll the ball of fabric.  And they were so excited to see the rug taking shape.  I worked on this rug for the remainder of the school year and when it was done, it was put in the place of honor in front of the nature table.  The children, during play time, would come and sit by the rug and point to the different fabrics, saying, “There’s my basket and Joey’s basket and Helen’s basket and Sophie’s basket,” etc.   This was one project that belonged to the class and was “owned” by every child.

By my last years of teaching, I had come to where I was doing several very distinct types of crafts. 

The individual gifts for children’s parents:  Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Christmas were our big holiday gift giving times.  I tried to choose projects that the children could do by themselves and the finished product would be purposeful and/or very beautiful.  My favorite Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts were when we dyed silk scarves for the moms and painted bandana scarves for the dads.  We had also made tie dyed t-shirts for the children as an end of year gift.  On the last day of school, all the parents were invited for our end of year celebration.  I asked all the moms and dads to wear their scarves for the day.  The children were given their t-shirts, too, and we were a very colorful kindergarten!  In fact, a parent from another class told me that we looked like we were getting ready for a Grateful Dead concert!  It was a lot of fun, easy to do, and the scarves really looked beautiful! 

Crafts for the children that were created by the entire class:  These included the Easter/Spring baskets, lanterns for lantern walk, crowns for the Harvest Festival or the May Festival, and other crafts where each child would eventually have one of the finished products to take home with them.  We made felted baskets for Easter one year.  As they were felted over large plastic eggs and I only had a few of these large eggs, every basket was worked on by at least two children at once.  It is safe to say that every child worked on every basket.  Nobody “owned” their own basket – there were no names attached.  But everyone had a basket to take home before the Easter holidays.  In a similar way, we created our lanterns for the lantern walk.  Every child who wanted to help with the process of making lanterns would come and help.  Some children did not work on the lanterns but carefully watched as we made them.  Others couldn’t get enough of this work.  And I realized that was okay.  Not everyone needed to do everything.  And they still participated in the lantern walk and took a lantern home, even if they had not helped to make one. 

Practical crafts to meet the needs of the kindergarten:  As I have said, many times already (it’s one of my “mantras”), I wanted to be able to create, instead of purchase, as many things as possible for our kindergarten.  This meant that I was able to learn how to make many wonderful things!  One of the benefits of these projects was that they all took time to make.  You can’t make brooms or rugs in a day.  One year we made woolen vests (or if you are in the UK, sleeveless wooly jackets) for the children out of old wool sweaters.  We started around Thanksgiving and finished our last vest in March. The children watched the vests being made, played with the buttons in the button bin by my feet, and some of the older ones would help with the blanket stitching.  When the vests were all finished, the children loved wearing them and so the project had another wonderful side benefit.  As we told the parents about what we were doing and why, we were able to bring awareness to them about the need for warmth.  The parents began sending their children to school in appropriate clothing without my needing to constantly say something to them about it.  I think that as we were actually engaging our will and doing something about keeping the children warm, the parents were more able to engage their will, too.  As always, we strive to provide the best model for imitation – and not only for the children! 

In service to others:   More and more I came to realize the importance of having the children create projects and do work that would not be given to the individual children or even to the kindergarten but would be done in service to someone else in the community.  Had I stayed in the kindergarten, this is the area that I would have most liked to expand.  The children need to learn, by our example, that they are not the center of the universe.  For me, this meant doing things for others as often as possible.  We baked cookies and made cards for the firemen before Christmas and had a couple of our families deliver them.  The six year olds baked a special cake for their future first grade teacher on Valentine’s Day.  And when we spent several months one year making brooms, we opened up a broom shop and invited the other kindergarten classes and the first grade to come and choose a broom for their classroom.  One year we baked an extra loaf of bread every week and gave it to the first grade class.  It was considered the highest privilege to be chosen to take the bread to the first graders.  These projects for others were not complicated service projects as would be done with older students.  They were very simple.  We didn’t make a big deal over it, either.  Doing for others was just an expected part of our experience in the kindergarten.  We were not going out into the community to do service – except for baking cookies for the firemen – our “service” was to another class at the school.  For the young children, this is going outside of their world.  Delivering the Valentine’s cake to Mrs. Doyle meant walking all the way upstairs to the 8th grade classroom. 


****

A child came to school one day wearing a shirt that boldly proclaimed:  “IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT ME!”  I think that as I saw this attitude become so accepted among the children and parents, it was this, more than anything else that convinced me to change the way I did the craft work.  I wanted to challenge the notion that it is natural and desirable to have children think of themselves in this way.  And I found that the children were never happier than when they were creating something to give away, whether it was a loaf of bread for the first grade or cookies for the firemen.  They delighted in doing for others.

 



Civilized

Terri Reinhart

I had the opportunity to reconnect with an old friend from school last weekend.  I always jump at the chance to see people.  I love to hear a little bit about their journeys in life.  It’s interesting, though.  Inevitably, we get to talking about other classmates and wonder what they might be doing now.  As we looked back at our old friends or school mates, I realized that we were both looking at them as though they were exactly the same as they were thirty…some years ago.  Well, maybe they’ve gained weight or lost hair, but otherwise they were exactly the same in our minds.

It was when we spoke of one classmate who is a friend of mine now that I suddenly realized what we were doing.  

“I remember he was always a little shit in school.” 

That was in elementary school.  Wow.  Were we really seeing these old friends as still having the maturity of a 12 year old?  I know I’ve done this, without thinking.  Who was the girl who was always too popular to speak to us lowly, ordinary students?  I wouldn’t want to run into her again, would I?  And I certainly would have no desire to find out anything about those nasty boys who loved to tease.  They’re probably still doing the same stupid things they did then.

I wonder what people would remember about me.

(It is a little known fact that I was a Brownie dropout.)

I look at things differently now because, after nearly 20 years of teaching kindergarten, I have seen children grow and change throughout their years at school.  Often the children with whom I struggled so much, turned out to be most amazing adults with loads of creative energy to give to the world. When I see these lovely adults, I look back and wonder why I ever worried about them. 

I always had my fair share of interesting children in my kindergarten.   For some of them, sitting down and listening to a story was almost impossible.  Others could be aggressive at times, taking out their frustrations on other children.  Some had trouble just fitting in.  On very rare occasions, we would have to make the decision to ask a family to leave the school, but only in very extreme cases.  I always preferred to keep a child in my kindergarten, even if he or she was a “great challenge”. 

Why?  It would have made my teaching much easier if I could send off the most challenging children and not have to deal with them.  It would make for a more peaceful classroom, one where the children would play more harmoniously.  This is preferred, right?

We need to keep the children safe.  We also need to be able to admit when a child has needs that our program cannot meet.  It would be arrogant of us to say we could work successfully with every child.  There are cases when families must be asked to find another setting for their child.

However, that’s the extreme.  Our world is made up of many different kinds of people and somehow, we need to learn how to interact with them.  Our children need to learn this as well.  As a teacher, I had the advantage of seeing the children interact with each other.  Those teasing boys that I detested when I was young weren’t really picking on me.  They just weren’t civilized yet.  It takes awhile.  But hey, most of us have become quite civilized by the time we reach 25 or 30.  Those “popular” girls who snubbed me?  Um, actually, if I look back honestly, I was probably the one doing the snubbing.  When I was uncomfortable in a social situation, it was much easier to blame the other person.  Realistically, it’s hard enough for adults to figure this one out.  Children generally can’t see the situation clearly or express clearly and honestly what happens in social situations.  When an adult asks them to describe social stuff, they often oblige by giving us a long description of something that may or may not have happened anywhere, except in their imagination. 

The classmate we were remembering last weekend has had a responsible, professional job for many years.  He takes care of his family and took care of his parents when they were older.  When I remember back to my students, I immediately think of those wonderful, challenging, quirky kids.  One is now a musician, another is a dancer.  There are mechanics in the group and mathematicians.  I suspect that at least one of my former challenges will become a doctor, a lawyer, or a politician.  They will bring their creativity along with them wherever they go.  They were not easy students to have in class and they demanded of me, a degree of creativity and patience that I might not have known I possessed, had they not been there.  They made me work harder than I wanted to at times but I am grateful to each one of them.  They were my teachers.

Coming around full circle, I find myself hoping I can reconnect with some of those classmates whom I found challenging.  It’s been thirty…some years.  I sure hope I’ve changed! 

 



Storytelling in the Kindergarten

Terri Reinhart

 

Come into my story house 

Where in the kitchen lives a mouse

With twitching nose and listening ear,

He sits behind the stove to hear

While Grampa rocks in his rocking chair

And Grandma sits knitting some socks to wear,

Stories are visiting my little house. 

So, sshhh, don't disturb my little mouse,

But come into my story house.

 

During my first year of teaching, I struggled to learn stories.  I found it very difficult but also rewarding. Eventually, storytelling would become my favorite part of the teaching.  But for the first year, I mainly told very simple fairy tales:  Sweet Porridge, The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, The Elves and the Shoemaker, and The Bremen Town Musicians.  Most of these stories were stories that I had been familiar with from my own childhood.  When I first starting learning longer stories and stories that were new to me, I would often write them out completely, copying them into a special notebook.   It wasn’t that I was trying to memorize them word for word but I had found that by writing the stories out, I was bringing the learning into my own will forces.  I have always learned easiest through my will, through doing.  Later on, after I had told the stories over and over, I was able to remember the stories simply by reading them over once or twice and then picturing them as I told the story.  This is a lovely way to learn a story by heart. 

I learned to tell stories through my heart and my hands – NOT through my head!!

When I told a fairy tale, whether from the Grimm’s fairy tale collection or a fairy tale from another culture, I always told these stories for at least two weeks.  Some of our more beloved stories would carry them three or even four weeks, though I rarely told a story for more than three weeks in a row!  The children seemed to love hearing the stories day after day and I loved to tell them over and over.  Even when a child grumbled at the beginning (“oh, it’s this one….again.”), I would see them sitting on the edge of their chair, taking the story in as though they could never get enough of it.  Sometimes I would “introduce” the story in a new way, telling how the little forest friends had asked Grandmother Willow to tell them this particular story today because they had never heard it before.

And now, you must meet Grandmother Willow, too.

I also told simple nature stories.  These were much easier for me as they were coming from me and not learned from a book.  After 18 years of teaching, I can now close my eyes and see clearly Grandmother Willow’s willow tree house.  I can walk through the door and know exactly what her kitchen looks like and I hear the tea kettle whistling on the stove.  I look out her window and I see the little creatures that live near her home. There is a whole world there populated with little friends who have many adventures in the forest and the garden around the willow tree.  This world made itself known to me slowly.  I would never recommend that a teacher try to create this world all at once!!  In fact, I don’t think that the teacher creates this world at all.  I remember clearly when the first little fellow, Jack Ivy, suddenly made himself known to me.  I was looking at the ivy growing on a wall and I could suddenly imagine this little ivy elf, climbing as high as he could and looking into the windows.  It was easy to begin telling stories about this fellow who really didn’t want to go to bed too early in the fall and that meant, of course, that he liked to sleep in a bit in the spring.  In fact, by the time Jack Ivy woke up in the spring, Daffodilly had been awake for some time and she teased him and called him a sleepy head!  Now Jack Ivy had a friend!  And this is the way it went.  As I told the stories, other friends appeared and made themselves known to us all.  Matthew Mousekin eventually became Jack Ivy’s favorite companion.  Then one day we met Grandmother Willow and learned how she watches over all the forest friends.  And throughout the years, I have gotten to know Thomas the squirrel, Rosy, Old Man Sage, little brown bird, the Magpie family, Matthew Mousekin’s whole family, white faced fox, a shy little garden snake, and of course, Stormy, the donkey.  Stormy really is my little donkey and it is fun to include her in the stories.   When I made dolls for each of the children in the class, it was from Grandmother Willow that they came and, until I was finished with the last doll, I told stories about their adventures in Grandmother Willow’s house and about their journey to the kindergarten.  Before school let out for the summer, the dolls were prepared to go back to spend the summer with Grandmother Willow again.

There was an article in our newspaper the other day that talked about how good it is for children to have imaginary friends.  They didn’t mention anything about adults, though.  I realize that I have a whole world of imaginary friends now!

I don’t prepare for these stories as I would for a fairy tale.  I don’t ever write them out or even plan them out in detail.  To prepare for telling a nature story, I spend time out in my garden watching the animals and observing what is happening with the trees, the garden, even the weeds!  Animals need to act like animals and live like animals.  They aren’t cartoon characters that wear clothes and act like people (though Matthew desperately wanted some shoes after Jack Ivy had to visit the fairy shoemaker)! Their homes are animal homes.  I have been fortunate that, while we live in the middle of a large city, we are also in a part of the city that is still considered “semi-rural”.  We are allowed to have our donkey and may someday have chickens and geese again.  Stormy really did make friends with a white faced fox and they spent an entire spring running around the yard together.  We have quite a lot of wildlife that wanders through:  foxes, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and an occasional coyote.  Mice, we have in abundance.  The magpies often build their nests in our large maple and apple trees – huge nests that must be at least 2 feet in diameter – and the sparrows and finches nest in the smaller trees and under the eaves of the house.  I tell about what I see.  I would never try to include animals in my stories that I hadn’t ever observed.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t.  I just couldn’t do that myself.

Once in awhile something happens in the kindergarten.  One day, a child became upset and instead of going to the teacher, he decided to walk home.  So he carefully watched and waited till the teacher wasn’t looking and slipped out of the play yard.  His friends gave him a head start and then realized that something wasn’t right and they came to tell the teacher.  When we caught up with him, he was a block away from the school and very, very worried.  A severe lecture would have further upset and shamed him so I chose, instead, to tell a story about a time when Matthew Mousekin had run away from Grandmother Willow’s house.  To tell a story and allow their familiar characters to go through the same challenges helps to objectify the situation.  I’m not giving a lecture, I’m telling a story.  But everyone in the class hears the story and understands that it was very scary for Matthew to run away like that and they all know, especially Matthew (and especially the child who ran away), that he will never do that again.  These familiar characters are my best helpers in the kindergarten.

There are other situations in the kindergarten when storytelling is not only helpful but also healing.  When the mother of one of my children had a miscarriage, the child was very upset.  An extremely sensitive little boy with very intellectual parents, he felt the loss deeply and was in need of a story to help him to digest this loss.  An intellectual explanation wasn’t very helpful.  At story time that day, I brought out one of our birthday candles and decorated it with a star.  I had this child light the candle, something I don’t usually let the children do.  (I ignored the 6 year old boy who looked puzzled and said quietly, “Uh, teacher, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.  That doesn’t look good.”)  Then I told a story, very simply, about the child who was coming over the great sea from the heavenly meadow to find his family on the earth when a storm suddenly came up and tossed the little boat from side to side.  The child in the boat was beginning to be frightened because the storm was not letting up at all.  Then the child’s angel came and took the child up out of the boat and brought the child back to the heavenly meadow.  There the angel would watch over the child until it was time again to try to come to the earth.  The parents told me that their son came home, lit the candle (with supervision), and told the story to the family.  I know that he seemed lighter and less sad after that day.

I had another child who was having a terrible time at nap.  Uh, I don’t have that right.  She was actually having a WONDERFUL time at nap, dancing around the kindergarten, making noises and generally being such a distraction that no one could rest.  I wasn’t in the classroom during nap time but I would often come down and see this little girl sitting in the front office with our secretary, next door to the kindergarten, because she had been so mischievous.  Somehow, I had to find a way to turn this around.  She was learning very well how to be mischievous but nothing at all about how to rest.  So, the next time I came down and saw her in the office, I picked her up and put her on my lap and told her this story:

“When I was growing up, we used to visit our cousin on the farm and the first thing we did when we arrived on the farm was look for the cats.  We knew that there would be at least one cat that had kittens.  My cousin always knew just where the kittens would be found and soon we would each be happily cradling a kitten on our laps.  Then we would wrap them up in our sweaters (and here I wrapped my sweater around the child) and carry them quietly into the house and play with them in my cousins bedroom.  And we had to keep them very quiet because Aunt Maribelle didn’t allow kittens in the house at all and if she caught us, she would be angry with us and she might even make us scrub the kitchen floor.  So we would put the kittens on our laps and pet their tummies till they fell asleep.  Most of the time they would fall asleep but sometimes a kitten wouldn’t want to sleep and it would meow very loudly!  Then Aunt Maribelle would come and we would have to take the kittens outside again.  And then we’d have to scrub the kitchen floor.”

I then cradled the little girl and carried her back into the classroom and put her on her nap mat.  I whispered quietly in her ear, “Now, be a quiet little kitty so Aunt Maribelle doesn’t hear you.  I don’t want to scrub floors today.”

Two weeks later, the girl’s mother came to me and said, “WHO IS THIS AUNT MARIBELLE??!!”  Every day for two weeks, her daughter would come home and say to her mom, “I was a quiet kitty at nap today and Aunt Maribelle didn’t even know I was there!”

My Aunt Maribelle enjoyed the story, too.

I have found that, for me, the most important element in preparing to tell stories such as these is trust.  Trust that you will find the right images and words.  Trust in yourself.  Sometimes I would have very little time to prepare the story.  It was needed NOW and I needed to be able to just be in the moment, in the NOW with the children.  During the last year that I was teaching in the kindergarten, I had very little stamina and often could not plan anything in the evening, even birthday stories.  I would think about the child before I fell asleep, often being able to do little more than just picture the child and commend the child to his or her angel.  I learned quickly to just trust that as the child’s angel had every intention of making sure that the child heard their proper birthday story, I didn’t need to worry!  The stories I told that year were the best I’ve ever told.  And I think I had very little to do with that.  When I woke up in the morning, there would be one image in my mind and it was this image that came into the birthday story.

Trusting in the help of the spiritual world doesn’t let us off the hook in our preparation, however!  It doesn’t mean that we can blithely get through without preparing inwardly.  Even when my stamina was low and I couldn’t do much outward preparation, I always needed to take the time to think about the child very consciously before I went to sleep at night.



A Teaching Opportunity

Terri Reinhart

The other day, I was sitting on the kindergarten playground and talking with one of my former colleagues. I enjoy visiting the kindergarten playground. It always reminds me that I am happily retired now and I’m not responsible for watching the children. I don’t have to respond when a child starts to cry or goes over and bops another child. I don’t have to help change wet pants and no one has thrown up on me in over a year.

 

I sat on a small kindergarten sized chair and watched the children play. Then little Matthew came up to me and asked me about my feet. Could I walk? Why did I have those things on my legs? Why did I need help standing up? Why was I sitting in the chair that HE wanted to play with? He had a seemingly endless number of questions.

 

These are moments when I really do miss being with young children. They are so open. They don’t hedge around anything; they just say it like it is. If they have a question, they ask. They don’t worry about whether it’s going to embarrass the other person, they just ask. And they do things, too. Whether it’s jumping off the swings, pouring sand down their pants, or letting their teacher know that, “My mom is lots prettier than you are,” they are adventurous, curious, and honest.

 

Young children have very interesting points of view, too, and they are quite willing to talk about complex topics such as religion, death, and procreation. I have learned from kindergarten children that Jesus was the only person who knew how to tie his shoes when he was born. I also learned that only God can count to infinity. One child announced to us all that his baby sister “got hatched out just four months ago”.

 

There are always those moments, too,that we call our “teaching opportunities”. Much more important, in my mind, than learning how to read or count, these are the moments when teachers are called on to be creative. A child gets angry and hurts another child, unintentionally. A parent in the class has a miscarriage or a grandparent dies. A new baby has arrived in another family. Rowdy play results in broken toys or torn play cloths. As a teacher, I often told stories at these moments. Stories are magical and healing and intensely comforting. I loved telling stories, even the very short ones that helped the children to settle down at the snack table. To tell a story to a child when there has been a death in their family or when a new baby arrived was a privilege that I took very seriously. I would talk with the parents first and often the parents would join us for this special story. We would even decorate a candle and light it before the story began.

 

Every good teacher knows, however, that it is never just the students who are learning. In all my years in the kindergarten, I know that the children taught me far more than I ever taught them. And my visit to the kindergarten playground the other day was no exception! Here little Matthew was asking questions, waiting for me to share my wisdom with him. I was ready. I figure I’m old enough now to have vast stores of wisdom just waiting to be imparted to the younger generation. I told him that I wear braces on my legs because my feet often just forget which direction they are supposed to be pointing and then they make me walk funny.

 

Matthew looked at me for a moment and then looked at his own feet. “I’ll show you how,” he said, very seriously. “Just put your feet like this, see?” he continued, gesturing downward to show me that his feet were pointed forward. “Make sure they are going this way and then you just walk. Like this. Watch me.” And he very carefully and deliberately walked back and forth across the playground, explaining to me all the way how I could do it, too. “Do it like this, Mrs. Reinhart, and then your feet will take you anywhere you want them to.”

 

Being a retired Kindergarten teacher is a little like being a grandmother. You can visit and reap all the wonderful benefits of being with the children and let the teacher handle all the challenges. And the children are still teaching me more than I could ever teach them.

 

“That’s right, Mrs. Reinhart! Just like this, just do it like this and you’ll be able to go anywhere you want!”

 

Thanks, Matthew!

 

A Birthday Story

Terri Reinhart

Long, long ago, but not so very long ago and far, far away, but not so very far away, there was a meadow. Through the meadow ran the sleepy blue river and in the middle of the meadow, right next to the sleepy blue river, was the Willow Tree. Underneath the Willow Tree, many flowers grew and the Willow Tree bent down her arms to shelter the flowers that grew under her.

And in the middle of a patch of golden flowers, all shaped like golden stars, there was a little child who was sound asleep. She had been sleeping for a very long time and might be sleeping still, if it hadn’t been for the music that the child heard while she was sleeping. At first, it was such sleepy music that the child just turned over in her flower bed and slept on. The music brought dreams to the little child.

In one of the dreams, the child saw flowers growing in a garden. There were so many flowers and they were so beautiful that the child wished she could live there. In another dream, the child saw a beautiful woman with kind and gentle eyes and a handsome man who was quiet and strong. They looked as though they were waiting for someone or something.

Then the music changed again and became lively, like a dance! Now the child could hear the music clearly and she woke up. She looked around and saw the Willow Tree and the sleepy blue river. And she saw, sitting quite close to her, an old man. He was playing a flute. And the music from the flute danced through the air and the notes landed softly upon the earth. Wherever a note landed, a beautiful flower grew.

The child watched for some time and then she crept up to the old man and said, “Could you teach me how to make the flowers grow?” “Yes,” said the old man, “for I am the gardener and that is why I am here. You are to work with me and learn how to take care of the flowers.”

So the child went with the gardener and he taught her how to take care of the flowers. He showed her how to pull up the weeds and how to dig around each plant so that the sun and rain could come and nourish them. The child worked very hard and soon grew to love the gardener and the flower garden. In one corner of the garden there were flowers that were very delicate, the orchids and hibiscus. These were the child’s favorite flowers and she took special care of them all.

Every night the gardener would play his flute for her. The music made her sleepy and brought her dreams. One night, she dreamt again of the beautiful woman and the handsome, kind man. They still seemed to be waiting for someone or something. And by their little house grew beautiful orchids and hibiscus flowers. The child woke from her dream and suddenly she knew that the woman and the man were waiting for her!

So the child went to the gardener and told him of her dream. “I am so happy here and I wouldn’t ever want to leave you,” she said to him, “but they are waiting for me. I am sure of that! Can you help me to find my way?” And the gardener smiled, “Since you have worked so hard for me,” he said, “I will take you to the shore of the great sea. I will walk with you.”

So the gardener took her hand and they walked together out of the meadow. They walked through a forest and along the base of a tall mountain. At last they reached the shore of the great sea and the little golden boat was waiting to take the child across the sea to the land beyond. As it was night and the child had journeyed so far, they decided to spend that last night on the sandy shore. The child curled up and closed her eyes. The gardener took out his flute and began to play. The music made her sleepy and brought her dreams. In her dreams, she saw the beautiful woman and the handsome, kind man. They were smiling because they knew the child was on her way! The child slept through the night and in the morning when she awoke, the gardener was still playing his flute. Now the music was lively again and the music from the flute danced through the air and landed gently upon the sandy shore. Where the notes landed, little starfish appeared. Some of the notes flew up in the sky and where those notes flew, stars appeared. Then the music flew right to the child and the notes landed gently in the child’s heart. “That is music that you will hear in your heart every time someone calls your name,” said the gardener.

Then he helped the child into the golden boat and spoke a word into the sail. The boat took off and sped across the sea. It was a long journey and the child fell asleep. She slept for a long time and might be sleeping still except that the boat finally came to the end of its journey and bumped into the shore. The child fell right out of the boat and splashed into the water. When she came to herself again, she could no longer see the boat or the sea or the stars in the sky. What she did see was a beautiful and kind woman and a handsome, gentle man. And they said to her, “Welcome dear child! We have been waiting and waiting for you!” And the child, as she grew, helped the flowers to grow because she had the gardener’s music in her heart.

Being Mindful of the Present Moment

Terri Reinhart

(This was written in February of 2006 as a parent letter to my kindergarten families.  It was originally sent out in two parts.)

Lately, I’ve been getting a number of articles sent to me that talk about the proliferation of marketing that targets young children, the lack of play time in our society, and our dependence on entertainment - television, movies, computers, and computer games.

The world is changing so fast now that none of us can really and truly comprehend these changes. At my son’s college (Beloit College in Wisconsin), Professor Art Robson comes up with the Freshman “Mindset List” each year, just to help the parents and faculty to realize how different our children’s lives are now from when we grew up. I thought it might be helpful for us to take a moment to realize just how dramatically the world has changed for our children, so I have attempted to create my own list:

The children in our kindergarten were born in 1999 or later.

They have never known life without a remote control.

DVD players, VCR’s, Game boys, Computers, and Television are part of most households.

They have never known life without the Internet!

A mouse is usually connected to a computer, not running around the kitchen.

Many were born after 9/11 and so our country has always had a “patriot act” and has been fighting terrorism around the world. Airport security has always been very tight. George Bush has always been president.

News is available on television round the clock.

Children have play dates.

Health food is bought at a special store, not grown.

They have always known digital cameras and small video cameras.

They have never known life without cell phones.

Movies have always been available to be seen at home.

It is almost expected that even young children go to the movie theater to see movies.

What do you remember about when you were growing up?

I am 48 years old. I remember:

Not having a television until I was 8 or 9 years old - then we had one channel - black and white.

We played all day in the fields around our house with the neighbor children.

We ate radish sandwiches with the radishes we pulled from our garden.

We knocked on our friend’s front door, then opened it up and shouted, “Yoo-hoo”.

We spent hours playing “Mother, May I”, “Red Rover”, and other traditional games with the many children in our neighborhood, without an adult directing us.

The first movie I saw in a theater was when I was 10 years old - The Gnome-Mobile.

Before that we went to the drive-in. The adults watched the movie and the kids played at the playground.

The first Batman TV show with Adam West and Burt Ward was very controversial even for 10 to 12 year olds because of the “violence”.

TV couples had twin beds in their bedroom.

I knew nothing of the news until President Kennedy was assassinated and a man walked on the moon.

I also know that my parents:

Never had indoor plumbing while growing up.

My grandmother baked her own bread, churned all her own butter, made pickles, canned food, and made beer. And she prepared the rabbits and frogs that the boys caught for dinner.

My grandparents moved from Missouri to Colorado with 8 children, in horse drawn wagons.

My grandfather harvested farm crops with a horse drawn combine.

My mother walked to her one room schoolhouse and took time off to help with harvesting.

They had a washing machine that had to be cranked by hand, and then the clothes put through the ringer, and hung up on the clothesline. (My husband grew up with this as well!)

The kitchen garden was not a luxury but was depended on to provide the vegetables for the whole year.

My mother played with paper dolls cut out from old catalogs and with the many farm kittens.

My father got into more mischief than I want to imagine - he had three brothers!

The Ice Man came down the block with ice for the icebox.

Grampa or one of the boys shoveled coal into the furnace.

Chores came first, out of necessity, before schoolwork. My mother’s family worked a large wheat farm in northeastern Colorado and my father’s family had a fruit orchard in Ohio.

There were just 66 years between the first airplane flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.

The Internet did not become readily available to all of us until around 1995. Until then, the government held most of the control over the internet. AOL and CompuServe began in 1995. Not many homes had computers before that time. Eleven years ago, it was a rarity. Now it is considered a necessity.

When I started teaching in 1979, at a BOCES school that served the most disabled children (academically, physically, and behaviorally), we had only one child on Ritalin. It was so controversial among the teachers to be almost scandalous. One source I found estimated that 15 to 20 percent of all school children were on Ritalin in 1996.

Please bear in mind that I would not want to go back in time to when we didn’t have any of the modern conveniences - I love my washing machine, my digital camera, and being able to send email. But it is important for us to stop from time to time and acknowledge how different the world is now and that it is changing exponentially at a rate that we cannot comprehend. How we respond to this will make the difference to our children and our future:

“…we, insofar as we have power over the world and over one another, we must learn to do what the leaf and the whale and the wind do of their own nature. We must learn to keep the balance. Having intelligence, we must not act in ignorance. Having choice, we must not act without responsibility.”

Ursula K. LeGuin The Farthest Shore

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Being Mindful of the Present Moment - part 2

Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience.
It isn't more complicated than that.
It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.
Sylvia Boorstein

The other morning, I must have asked my daughter to hurry up at least 10 times before we finally made it out to the car to go to school. In frustration, I said to her, “I wish you could get ready quicker. I don’t like to rush.” She replied in a twelve-year-old huff, “Right, Mom. You do it all the time.” Like the good Waldorf teacher and experienced Mom that I am, I responded with patience and grace, “YEAH - WELL I STILL DON’T LIKE IT”. Okay, well…some part of me said quietly that I could have handled that one differently.

It seems that our lives are constantly in one rush or another. Perhaps as our world is changing at such speed, we are unconsciously trying to keep up. Whatever it is, it has become harder and harder to find ways to slow down and live in the present moment.

Michael Mendizza speaks about the “Power of Now”. This he describes as the “state” of relationship with the world, moment by moment. What we retain from an experience and how we learn depends on the state we are in when we experience it.

My son, John, is interning as a kindergarten assistant as a small school (not Waldorf) in urban Albany, NY. One night he called, very excited, and couldn’t wait to tell me his experiences of the week. He said, “Mom, I’ve started knitting again at the faculty meetings and I decided that I would also take my knitting into the kindergarten. It was incredible! The children came to see what I was doing and to feel the knitting, but most of all, they were just more settled. I think that since I was able to create a space around me where I could focus and do my work, they were also more able to create their own space for play!” You got it, kid!! This is very much what we mean when we say that we “work out of imitation” in the kindergarten. It’s not so much the activity that they are imitating, but the “state” we are in with our work. We create the opportunity for the children to see us having a relationship to the world, moment by moment, NOW! If we are hurried and strained or at loose ends, they will also be hurried, strained and at loose ends. If we are calm and focused, they are also more apt to be calm and focused. And which is the more optimum “state” for learning?

I don’t like to hurry. Or do I? There’s a nice little adrenalin rush that comes when you are stressed and hurried. You can suddenly feel a little more energetic and awake than you were. Are we becoming addicted to that feeling as we can become addicted to having our cup of coffee in the morning?

What can I do to slow my life down and create a space where my family and I are not hurried?

I have a few things on my to-do list:

Make sure I actually drink my full cup of tea instead of hurrying around, putting the tea mug down and forgetting about it. (I’ve been teased about this for years)

Get things ready for school for myself and Emma, the night before so there is not so much to do in the morning.

Eat real meals, including breakfast. Sit down with my family, light a candle, and take time to be with my family while we eat slowly.

Go to bed earlier.

Spend less time on the computer and telephone. (I don’t watch much TV anyway!)

Savor my daily household chores. (This isn’t an easy one for me. Cooking I can savor, washing dishes is fine, but cleaning the bathroom?) When I begin to appreciate the doing - in the NOW - of even the less pleasant chores, maybe my daughter will begin to appreciate this, too.

Take time for my own artistic work. Make sure that I am a creator and not just a consumer. This is not difficult for me, but everyone can be creators and it is such a gift to show the children that they can be creators, too.

And listen to others with genuine interest.

My teacher/mentor in this area is an old school friend who is now severely disabled. I spend an hour each week with him and during our visit, time stands still. We talk and tease and sometimes just sit together. His speech is labored, quiet, and slow. When I first started visiting him, I would strain to see the person I once knew and to understand what he was saying. After a time, I finally learned (he is a very patient teacher) to relax and just be present to him. When I could accomplish this, I found it was much easier to understand him and suddenly I was seeing little things that would remind me of the person I had known since we were both in 6th grade! Now my goal is to try to learn to listen to others in the same way.

It is possible to learn to be mindful of the present moment. Even if the world is changing at incredible speed, we can learn to slow down and be present to each other and the world, moment by moment, NOW!

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.

Zen Buddhist Quote

A St. Nicholas Story

Terri Reinhart

"The Fiercest Little Animal in the Forest" is now available in book form through https://www.createspace.com/3408785 and Amazon.  Story by Terri Reinhart, Illustrated by Patrick Reinhart

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The fiercest animal in the forest was the pine marten. Every time another animal would come near to him, he would growl and snarl and snap at them. Then the animals would run away from him. If any people walked through the forest, he would hide in a bush and growl and snarl and snap at them as they went by. Then the people would walk a little faster to get away from the snarling and snapping beast.

One day, the pine marten heard people coming. There were a lot of people coming right through his forest! It was St. Nicholas and all his helpers. The pine marten hid in a bush close by the path. As the people came by, the he started to growl and snarl and snap his teeth. Some of the people closest to him began to walk faster. But one man stopped and looked down at the little pine marten. The pine marten suddenly was afraid and wanted to run away, but he found that he was caught in the brambles of the bush. St. Nicholas, for that is who had stopped to look at him, bent down and gently picked up the pine marten and put him in his pocket. The little fellow began to scrabble and scratch, but it was no use.

pine_marten_small.jpg
pine_marten_small.jpg

He was stuck in St. Nicholas’ pocket all through the journey across the forest and all the way to the sea. He stayed in St. Nicholas’ pocket when everyone boarded the ship and when they sailed all the way across the sea.

When they finally arrived at the other shore, St. Nicholas’ helpers carried bags of food: flour, apples, nuts, and honey cakes. They went together to a town where the people were very poor and hungry. St. Nicholas and his helpers left food on each doorstep. Then St. Nicholas took the little pine marten out of his pocket. St. Nicholas looked closely at the pine marten, “No more growling,” said St. Nicholas, “no more snarling and no more snapping. I have work for you to do.” And he sent the pine marten in each house with coins to drop into the stockings that were hanging by the fire. The little pine marten worked very hard, carrying the coins in his mouth and slipping into the houses. He worked all night long and when morning came and he was finished with his work, he was very tired. He was happy to go back inside St. Nicholas’ pocket!

The little pine marten was so sleepy that he didn’t even know when they got back on their ship and sailed across the sea for home. He didn’t wake up, even when they came to the forest. But when they came quite close to where St. Nicholas had found him, St. Nicholas took him out of his pocket and told him that he could go free.

But the little pine marten wanted to stay with St. Nicholas. And so, he went back into St. Nicholas’ pocket and continued on the journey to St. Nicholas’ home. From that time on, he lived in the woods close to St. Nicholas’ house. And whenever St. Nicholas needed his help, he was right there.

Terri Reinhart                 12/06