Springing forth…

Daisies nod to daffodils, little children run up hills…

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Along with the latent energy of spring bursting forth in the natural world, so, too, does the energy in our preschoolers. We note a restlessness building as the daffodils and tulips emerge and as the thermometer rises, Grow With Me friends spill out of the inside classroom into the upstairs playground as part of an extension of our morning free play, in addition to the regular outside time spent on the lower level exploring our ravine. It is a beautiful and bustling time of our year.

Speaking of the lower playground, during a recent community workday, parents came together to construct a new mud kitchen connected to a rejuvenated sandbox area, which has witnessed an explosion of newly inspired creative play. As the day of work drew to a close, our families partook in a potluck and enjoyed the festive tunes of our resident parent musicians.

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Families also recently gathered for a whimsical family celebration around the May Pole. The day was sun-drenched and warm and began with the children threading flowers through braided bands, which adorned their sweet heads as they marched in procession to the pole where they manned their long ribbons, and the community sang as children encircled the pole with vibrant spring colors. Then ensued face-painting, popsicles, and a spring-themed puppet show put on by Ms. Katy and Ms. Jenny in the Waldorf tradition.

 

This particular spring took awhile to fully get off the ground, as Old Man Winter proved to be a stubborn guest overstaying his welcome. He retreated reluctantly back to the north, with only bits of sunshine and warmth punctuating his dreary presence. The children coaxed him with reminders of spring’s wonder, cultivating sprouting seeds on the classroom windowsills, pretending to be germinating seeds themselves during circle time, and chatting about the signs of spring they had discovered in the outdoors.

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Springtime forest days are especially fun, as we witness nature awakening firsthand on the fecund forest floor. Creek stomping gives way to rhododendron leaf races, crawdad and salamander buddies, and muddy children.

 

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Grow With Me ventured out for two outings this spring: one in education and one in service, but both a lot of fun! Our friends explored the WNC Nature Center and assisted with food sorting at Manna Food Bank, two wonderful organizations in our area.

For Mother’s Day, the classroom mothers received a gift that will dwell in our gardens and hearts for years to come as Ms. Katy facilitated a particularly special craft with our children, and we all took home concrete garden stones imprinted with our child’s hand.

As we wish each other well and send our graduates off into the bright unknown, we look forward to park play dates during the summer months that nurture Grow With Me’s strong sense of community that makes it such a magical place to be young (and old).

 

 

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This is how we Waldorf

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Here at Grow With Me, we are most strongly influenced by tenants of Waldorf early education: rhythm, reverence, and repetition. Founded by Rudolph Steiner in 1919 in Germany, the focus of Waldorf philosophy is on developing the whole child as a well-rounded being with a strong, thoughtful foundation.

While our school does bring in many elements of Waldorf, we try to do so while remaining open-minded and not strictly tied to any educational approach, and we are not an officially registered Waldorf school. So what does it look like as we incorporate Waldorf philosophy in our classroom?

*Daily Rhythm and Reverance

Our children have a consistent daily rhythm that unfolds predictably each day and is marked by external cues such as the church bells, the clean-up bell, and songs that signal the next activity. We hold a goodbye circle with parents in the morning and sing a familiar song to ease the transition from home to the classroom, we sing a blessing and light a candle each time we gather around the table to eat snack and lunch, and we sing a song to close the day each afternoon.

*Natural Materials

The environment of our classroom is pieced together with intention. Our walls are decorated minimally, the lighting is soft and provided by lamps and twinkle lights, we pay close attention to cleanliness and organization, and the toys and supplies provided are mostly composed of natural materials (and many made by American artisans and craftsmen). Wooden dollhouses, handmade dolls filled with stroked wool, naturally dyed play silks, and blocks created from slices of branches are just a few of the items our children come into contact with on a daily basis.

*Handwork

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You will find our students beading, weaving, stringing leaves, and molding beeswax. Handwork takes precedence over handwriting in Waldorf early education, though at Grow With Me we do encourage children to foray into writing their own names if they so desire. The thought is that we encourage little ones to develop fine motor and dexterity prior to asking children to form letters, so that when the time comes for them to write, they will be fully equipped.

 

*Painting and Artwork

A Waldorf approach to art focuses on engaging young creative imaginations rather than prescribed projects with lines and specific directions, though guidelines are sometimes provided. Our class painting day is Thursday and the students often paint on thick watercolor paper with rich, primary watercolors from glass ramekins. Ms. Katy refrains from guessing what children are creating, but instead poses the open-ended question… “tell me about your painting!”

 

*Storytelling

Here we break away from strict Waldorf philosophy a bit; Ms. Katy is an artful storyteller and engages the class with felted props, story stones, and by involving the students in acting roles, however, we do also love our books at Grow With Me. Waldorf dictates a rich storytelling tradition, which Ms. Katy embodies beautifully, but discourages books with printed pictures. As flexible Waldorfers, we find that most of our families are readers, and our children are big fans of books that supplement our curriculum.

*Caring for the Classroom

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Our daily rhythm includes chores. Waldorf education emphasizes a home-like environment where all members are responsible for upholding its condition. Students contribute to the meal preparation by chopping and measuring and the cleanliness of the classroom through daily chores. Children are assigned a job each week with this beautiful chore chart, as well as daily chores, such as sweeping, spraying and wiping the table, and dusting. They also participate in serving snack, and are responsible for washing their own dishes afterward.

*Seasonal Nature-focused Curriculum 

At Grow With Me, though sometimes we will dabble in early phonetics and counting though casual conversation with the children, we refrain from focusing on these skills in our classroom teachings. Lessons instead emphasize themes like identifying changing seasons in the nature, storytelling, shapes, the five senses, and character traits like kindness and helpfulness. We flow with the changing of the seasons; when the weather is warm in the spring, the children’s energy is so big that we open the outside as part of the playroom and incorporate water play and bubbles. Our snack menu is also seasonal; winters see root vegetables and soups while warmer weather ushers in smoothies and fruit popsicles.

*Unstructured Play

The daily rhythm leaves ample time for unstructured play, and the adults do their best to refrain from interfering and guiding the group dynamic. We aim to intervene to assist with conflict resolution, guide a group whose play has become dangerous or hurtful, or offer a fun activity such as garden chores or a craft.  We believe in their big imaginations and in giving them space to expand without adult influence.

 

Winter: In the Classroom and Out

January has really delivered this year with it’s single-digit temperatures and two good snowfalls to date. Upon returning to Grow with Me after winter break, the children enjoyed a good romp in the leftover snow on the ground, while last week an overnight snow storm canceled school for two days.

 

Inside the classroom, the children have been busy learning about and exploring their five senses and experimenting with ice using salt and colored water in the playroom.

 

 

 

Outside, they discovered the kale in the garden was still growing even after the frigid temps we experienced as we ushered in 2018 (Ms. Katy’s kale at home did not fare so well!) They became a family of kale-loving bunnies and nibbled the cold-sweetened leaves. Often parents will find kale leaves tucked away in jacket pockets or backpacks.  It is a wonderful thing when a culture of healthy eating choices takes hold of a group of preschoolers and nibbling kale becomes trendy. Grow with Me reinforces choices such as these by involving children in whole-foods snack preparation and tending the vegetable garden.

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Lately, the children have also been loving creating vibrant chalk drawings, taking turns scooting down the hill aboard the big toy dump trucks and pretending to be dinosaurs. Luckily most of the extremely cold temperatures haven’t been occurring on school days- but weather certainly doesn’t stop Ms. Katy and her students!

A Season of Celebrations

Just before winter draws us inward, Grow With Me friends and families have ample occasion to enjoy the festivities of the season together. Our co-op shares several heartfelt annual holiday traditions.

We kick things off by gathering for a Stone Soup Thanksgiving family potluck. In the weeks leading up the feast, Ms. Katy uses her storytelling magic to impart upon the children a beautiful folk story of a hungry community coming together to contribute one ingredient per family to a large pot of stone soup that they then share among themselves in celebration. We in turn bring in one ingredient per family to contribute to our own communal pot of Thanksgiving soup, which we enjoy together. It is a warm, noisy gathering of families and the children are excited to share the event with their loved ones.

 

During the month of December, Grow With Me meets at a local nursing home to sing carols for the residents. We parade through the halls with our voices and instruments before convening in a community room to perform the carols the children have practiced in school. It is a magical and emotional experience to see the faces of the elderly, injured and disabled alight with the joy of the children’s infectious holiday spirit. We look forward to it every year.

 

And the culmination of the season is Grow With Me’s Solstice Spiral, where past and present Grow With Me families gather to carry our candles through the darkness into the spiral as a symbol of the promise of the light’s yearly return.  This year we were graced with the primal rhythms of drums played by a former Grow With Me family, and after the ritual of walking the spiral was complete, a gaggle of kids of all different ages overran the upstairs playground with the laughter and screams of a familiar tribe in play while inside families gathered and partook in holiday treats.

May the joy of the holidays sustain you through the cold winter days while we hold onto the sun’s promise of the Solstice.

Autumn In The Classroom

The north wind came along one day, 
so strong and full of fun.
He called the leaves down from the trees 
and said “Run children run!”
They came in red and yellow dressed, 
in shaded green and brown
And all the short November day
he chased them ’round the town.
They ran together, 
They  ran alone
They hid behind a tree.
The north wind found them hiding there
and said “No stopping please”
But when he saw them tired out, all cuddled in a heap,
he gently sang “Goodnight my dears, and now it’s time to sleep.”
-R.J. Weston
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Autumn is in full swing here in our classroom. Leaf garlands and corn husk dolls adorn the windows, which showcase the vibrantly colored trees growing in our outside play space below. Children arrive bundled in coats in hats on these cool mountain mornings and shed them throughout the day.

 

Rhythm plays a most important role in Waldorf education, and that includes both a daily and seasonal rhythm. The “curriculum” involves bringing the outside world within our four walls- working with materials gleaned from nature and its seasons. So far this fall we’ve been apple picking, pressed apple cider, harvested and roasted sweet potatoes from our own garden, decorated pumpkins, collected leaves and preserved them in a beeswax dip, explored signs of autumn in the forest, talked of the preparations our animal friends are making for winter,  and enjoyed listening to stories and verses rooted in seasonal themes.

 

 

 

Our mid-morning snack also reflects the offerings of the season, and lately has included squash soup, roasted root vegetables, and all things apple. And as part of our daily rhythm, the children help with snack prep by peeling and chopping vegetables and fruits.

Below you’ll find a simple kid-friendly recipe for the roasted root vegetables we so often enjoy for snack during the cooler months:

 

Sweet potatoes

Yukon gold potatoes

Beets

Coconut or olive oil

Salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Scrub veggies and peel beets. The adult can slice the vegetables into 1/4 inch slices and allow the child to chop the slices into bite-size pieces with a chopper like this one. Toss veggie bits with oil until coated and spread onto a baking sheet. Season with salt to taste.

Bake at 450 for 30-40 minutes, removing to stir about halfway through. Allow veggies to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Bon appetit and happy fall!

 

The Making of Bread

Part of our weekly rhythm revolves around making bread each week.

On Tuesdays, the children are invited to grind the wheat and the flax seed. On Wednesday, we bake the bread, and on Thursday, we eat our creation slathered with peanut butter and honey.

Last Wednesday, I worked in the classroom, and I had the opportunity to make bread with a couple of eager kiddos.  I wasn’t nearly as good at it as Ms. Katy, but I gave it my best shot.  The kids were quick to point out my (many) errors, which led us to a great discussion about mistakes…everybody makes them!  We talked about celebrating mistakes as a way to learn…and in the end, the bread still managed to turn out quite tastily.

Here’s our easy (and very forgiving) bread recipe…so it’s great to do with kids, or, in my case, well-intentioned, but mistake prone adults:

1 1/2 c. Warm water

3 tbsp. Oil

1/4 c. Honey

2 1/4 tsp yeast (or one packet)

2 2/3 c. Unbleached bread flour

1 1/3 c. Whole wheat flour

1/3 c. Milled flax seeds

2 1/2 tbsp. Flax seed (or however many the kids throw in)

1 1/3 tsp salt

Mix water, oil, honey and yeast in bowl and set aside. Mix remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour wet mixture into the well. Slowly mix until combined.

Kneed the dough in the bowl until it comes together.  It’s still a little sticky, but throw out a generous amount of flour on your kneeling surface, and it will be fine.  Divide it for the kids to kneed/play with/use it to make mountains and cars and sheep and pizzas until they’re bored. Discourage them from making shoes or hats…it’s hard to resist trying them on.  Reform it into a ball.

Let it rise for 1 hour. Flatten it into a rectagale-ish shape. Fold it in thirds and place it into a loaf pan. Let it rise again for 1 more hour. Bake it at 325 for 50-60 minutes.  It may look done before it is done.  It’s best if you stick an internal thermometer in it.  It should be between 190-200 degrees. By the way, we’ve WAY over baked it before and it was still okay.

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The Return of the Sun

“While we can’t stop the earth from turning, we can choose to experience each revolution so deeply and completely that even the dark becomes luminous.”

Starhawk, in The Spiral Dance

Noticing and celebrating the rhythms of each day and each season are central to the heart of Grow with Me. The days follow the same soothing rhythm. Each week follows a rhythm of grinding wheat and flax on Tuesday, making bread on Wednesday, and eating our creation on Thursday slathered in peanut butter and sticky honey. We spend time noticing the rhythms of the planet. In the fall and early winter, we notice that the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer, until that longest night of the year, the winter solstice, when the rhythm reverses itself.

Each year, somewhere around December 21st, we gather each year to celebrate the returning of the light.

Lead by our dear Ms. Katy, we create a spiral of evergreen boughs for our ceremony. When our ceremony begins, as families or individuals, we walk inward toward the heart of the spiral, where we light our candle and then retrace our steps, spiraling outward, leaving our lit candle somewhere along the way to light the way for others. Here’s Katy’s description of the event:

With reverence we will walk a spiral created by the boughs of the evergreen tree, a reminder that life too is nourished by darkness. Through the darkness, with unlit candle in hand, we will walk towards the flame burning at the spiral’s center. The winter solstice and the darkest days of the year offer a time to embrace contemplation, to look within. In reflection, we will walk the spiral, each step bringing us closer to our own inner flame. At the center of the spiral, you will light your own candle and return out from the center of the spiral, placing your candle along the spiral. Together, flame by flame, we will illuminate the darkness and welcome back the sun!

Afterwards, with hot apple cider and homemade treats, we celebrate the returning sun and our community. Yum and hurray! Happy Winter!

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Sassafras in the Forest

One day a month, Grow With Me moves school to the forest.  On Forest Days there is lots of time for exploring, building, playing, and (weather permitting) splashing!  Each Forest Day also includes a nature walk where Ms. Katy teaches us a bit about the amazing plants that call the forest home.

On our last Forest Day, we happened to run into a group of foragers who were generous enough to share a bit of sassafras root they harvested.  The delicious smell of the root inspired us to find our own golden sassafras tree with it’s three different kinds of leaves, and Ms. Katy told us a story about how the sassafras tree came to be.  It went something like this (apologies to Ms. Katy):

Long ago there was an old farmer and his wife who worked hard.  One cold winter day, the old farmer asked his wife to knit him something to keep his hands warm as he worked the fields.
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That night, as they sat in front of the fire, the wife knitted him a mitten without a thumb.  The next morning, the old man tried out his new hand warmers.  When he returned that night, he complimented his wife on how warm his hands stayed in his new creations, but he wondered if she could knit him something that would keep his hands warm and also let him use his thumbs.  
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The wife said, “Of course!” And that night as she sat in front of the fire, she knitted him a mitten with a thumb.
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The next morning, the old man tried out his new hand mittens.  When he returned that night, he complimented his wife on how warm his hands stayed and how he could use his thumbs, but he wondered if she could knit him something where he could use his thumbs and his fingers.  
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The wife said, “Of course!” And that night as she sat in front of the fire, she knitted him a mitten with two thumbs!  When the wife held it up, the husband and wife laughed at the creation.
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Then the wife knitted her husband a pair of gloves. His hands were toasty warm and when he got home in the evening, he declared them perfect in every way.  The wife laughed and hugged him and threw her three failed creations out the window.  
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The next spring, the husband and wife noticed that a tree was growing outside the window where they threw the mittens.  When they looked closely, they noticed that the tree had three different kinds of leaves that looked like all three of the wife’s mitten creations.  And that’s how the sassafras came to be.
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Summer Seed Camp

Join us for fun at our Summer Seed Camps!                                           
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July 19-22    Rainbows and Bubbles
Come chase bubbles and rainbows! We’ll spend the week making and exploring rainbows and bubbles, including making our own bubble juice, wands and rainbow catchers. We’ll spend lots of time outside blowing and chasing bubbles and running through the sprinkler too!

August 2-5   Summertime in the Garden
Inch by inch, row by row, come help our garden grow! Dig in the soil, plant seeds and harvest food from the garden to make yummy snacks each day. Our week will also include some old fashioned summertime fun like making ice-cream, blowing bubbles, and building homes for the garden fairies and gnomes.

Our camps are for children ages 3-6.5 and run Tuesday through Friday  from 9:30-1:30.  We meet at our classroom space at 954 Tunnel Road.  Camp includes stories, songs and crafts to go along with the week’s theme. We will also make and share a nutritious snack each day. Please send a packed lunch.

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The cost is $140 per week, due at registration.  If you are interested or desire more information, please fill out the contact form below.

Happy Halloween!

We love Halloween at Grow With Me! Not only is it fun to dress up, but it means that Autumn has settled in over our mountains and the ground is covered in leaves of many colors just waiting to be raked into a huge pile at the bottom of our slide. The last day of school before Halloween all the kids (and Ms. Katy!) dressed up in their costumes for the day. Everyone looked so great! Since it was Thursday, which is our painting day, everyone settled in at their places at the table. But, Ms. Katy had a surprise! As the children began to paint on their papers a special Halloween picture appeared! Our snack was in theme, too, with clementines made to look like pumpkins and each child was given a peeled banana half which they could decorate with little chocolate chips to make it look like a ghost. At the end of our day, Ms. Katy told the story about how the farmer decided to carve his pumpkin to scare off the hobgoblin from playing tricks on cows. It was a fun day filled with merriment and laughter. We hope your Halloween is just as joyous!

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