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Scrubbing Away the Gray

I received a beautiful essay by Elayne Griffin Baker called The Gray House ( see below) a reflection on our current political climate.

I was very moved by it and was led to respond. The ECLP team aspires to live in a fear-free and inclusive world, where Hope Reigns.

The Gray House

By Elayne Griffin Baker

September 2020 

There is no literature or poetry in this White House. 

No music.

No Kennedy Center award celebrations.
There are no pets in this White House. 
No loyal man’s best friend. No Socks the family cat.
No kids science fairs.
No times when this president takes off his
blue suit-red tie uniform and becomes human, except when he puts on his white shirt- khaki
pants uniform and hides from Americans to 
play golf.
There are no images of the first family 
enjoying themselves together in a moment 
of relaxation.
No Obama’s on the beach in Hawaii 
moments, or Bushes fishing in Kennebunkport, no Reagans on horseback, no Kennedys playing touch football on the Cape.
I was thinking the other day of the summer 
when George H couldn’t catch a fish 
and all the grandkids made signs and 
counted the fish-less days.
And somehow, even if you didn’t even like GHB, you got caught up in the joy of a family that loved each other and had fun.
Where did that country go? Where did all of the fun and joy and expressions of love and happiness go? 

We used to be a country that did the ice bucket challenge and raised millions for charity.

We used to have a president that calmed and 
soothed the nation instead of dividing it. 
And a First Lady that planted a garden 
instead of ripping one out.
We are rudderless and joyless. 
We have lost the cultural aspects of 
a society that makes America great.
We have lost our mojo. Our fun, our happiness. 
The cheering on of others.
The shared experiences of humanity that make it all worth it. 
The challenges AND the triumphs that we shared and celebrated. 
The unique can-do spirit Americans have always been known for.
We have lost so much in so short a time.”

Elayne Griffin Baker

September 2020 

In Response to The Gray House: Scrubbing away the Gray

By Kathryn Torres

Societies falter when we forget to listen to poets and dreamers

Don’t take heed of the long-red-tie-we all know the emperor has no clothes anyway 

In the spirit of RBG, let the scribe write truth, the poet sing, the songbird soar 

Let’s raise the roof and raise the bar, and raise our voices

Bring the grown-ups back, calm troubles, ease fears

Give voice to hope, and healing, and build back better

To those who “rule”- we yearn to see ourselves in you

Reflecting empathy and compassion

Friends and family who support, love, and value each other

We crave being caught up in the joy of life, 

Unafraid and fearless to love who we love 

May a hopeful new generation rise

Award kindness, care, and humility

Celebrate friendships and mans’ best friend

Bringing the sound of playfulness, genuine laughter, normality, simple pleasures 

Make time to value what’s truly important

Acknowledge that we possess more similarities than differences

Seek values shared, celebrate and revere our joint humanity 

Recall a time where with respect, we listened  

Care enough to return to that place

Step up, with renewed purpose, come out of the shadows

We want to feel part of something whole-and-wholesome-and-natural-and-normal-and HUMAN again

Enjoy the freedom of unplugged beauty 

Embrace the outdoors, stay safe, close to home, value each other

Relish small pleasures 

Find time for family connection, meals shared

A job well done, pride in our collective path

Our zest for life restored

Simple pleasures restore and soothe our anxious minds

The roses will return, the purple-blue irises thrive

Our shared sense of responsibility

Our care for others

WILL remain our North Star

Hold tight…

 

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Drive-in-Movies…the way to go with Covid?

A sense of wonder

Mike & Ike and friends…

Thank you, Charlie, Henry & Ned…

Donna Bailey, ACPCC

Ready for the movies, and ready for bed

Sean getting the movie and sound set up ( played through the car radio, on 100.7 that night…)

On August 20th, a warm, still night in Middlebury, The Addison County Parent/Child Center (ACPCC) hosted their first drive-in movie event. It was a collaborative team effort, largely driven by the ACPCC board. Thanks to the efforts of Woody Jackson, we secured some generous sponsorship.

Huge appreciation to Woodchuck Cider, The Marquis Theater, Vermont Cider Co, Silver Maple Construction, IJP Real Estate, Middlebury Eye Associates, Deppman Law, & the Vermont Bookshop for their support.

The evening was hosted in the car park of The Cider Mill on Exchange street, a venue that happily housed the 40 or so cars that joined us for a 8.30pm showing of Night at the Museum, a film that seemed to hit just the right balance of fun, storytelling and suspense for our intergenerational audience. For our first event, we wanted to play it as safely as possible, but in the future, we sense we could host up to 55 cars at the venue, and still retain safe social distance.

We were SO happy to see many of our local families come out and support us. Ben from the Marquis Theater very kindly donated candy and popcorn for the evening, and the community nature of the event was evident when packing the treats the afternoon of the event-Charlie, Henry and Ned, the children of Sean & Kelly, one of our board members, were of tremendous help. The fact that they had a rich insight into the vagueries of candy with descriptive names including ‘Sno Caps’, ‘Nerds’, ‘Charleston Chew,’ ‘Sour Patch Kids’ & ‘Mike & Ike,’ was of immense help to me, my own children having been brought up on another continent, with limited ‘sweety’ choice. Who would have thought Mike & Ike could find a market for so many different versions of something- a choice of original, sours, berry blast, megamix, tropical typhoon, megamix sour…?!

I’ve never been to a drive-in movie before-having grown up in the UK, there was no culture of outdoor movies, and by the time I moved to South Africa in the early 2000s, the drive-in culture was over. We did have a version of outdoor cinema that was very popular before Covid, where movies were shown in public gardens, beaches and rooftops, which could be a new trend for Vermont going forward? Colchester (our closest drive-in), feels too far away, and having lived in cities for the majority of my life, I’m only now getting used to driving on roads with little street markings and limited lighting, so prefer not to be out too late. So it was with anticipation that I attended one very close to home-and it didn’t disappoint! I loved the way families arrived in their cars and pick-ups, fully prepared with sleeping bags, pillows, and in some instances, mattresses, to settle in for the experience. A few arrived with lawn chairs and cooler boxes, and many of the children got into the spirit of the evening, wearing their P.J’s. It was my vision of the American family experience, one I had only seen in movies, and I was only sorry that my own children weren’t around to enjoy the evening.

We couldn’t have hosted the evening without the expertise of Sean Flynn and Kelly O’ Malley, who took on the project with enthusiasm and skill. A huge thank you to all involved, and now we have the formula, we hope to run a series of community drive-ins next year-Covid or no covid, it is a fun, easy, and effective way to gather socially, which is novel, fun, and communal. Hopefully, by next year, we can include and a few local food trucks and cider tasting to add a further festive element to an evening with a difference. Watch this (movie) space…

A few of our movie attendees, ready with their unicorn sleeping bags…

A bird’s eye view…

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A slice of life with Su White

Teaching Director at Quarry Hill School, and co- director of the Addison Country Early Childhood Directors Network

It’s a very real thing to be kept up at night” says Su White, teaching director of Quarry Hill, a small private school based center in Middlebury which accommodates up to 35 children. As a co-leader of the Addison Country Early Childhood Directors Network, Su plays a significant role in offering support to her fellow early childhood educators (ECE). Currently meeting weekly, the group has built strong bonds and deep relationships over the years, which have proved vital during these strange and surreal times of COVID-19.

Acknowledging that COVID-19 took us all by storm, Su was not surprised that it took a while for clear guidance from the governor and the health to become streamlined. She relays that the messages were sometimes confusing and contradictory, and it was at this stage that the cohesiveness of the group came to the forefront. Since late March, the group has become more connected and grounded in their relationships. “The safety net of our group became really important for all of us.” Out of the chaos, the group found comfort and strength in one another. They reacted nimbly and remained (mainly, she quips) calm and measured in their response to the changing guidelines.

Besides offering emotional and social support during a time of physical distancing, the group has supported one another professionally, guiding and informing each other in a variety of concrete and practical ways. Su laughed wryly when she shared the amount of time the group spent interpreting the COVID-19 guidelines. A sense of deep trust underpins their collective thinking, which led the director’s group through some very anxious times.  “What if I get an email from X,  what is my response going to be?” “what is it going to be like having PPE in a childcare setting? “What is our capacity to safely and effectively uphold these new measures in a childhood setting?”

The support network became a blessing, a space to organize thinking, ensuring the group could all sleep better at night. The group spent time forging statements and reaching a collective position on how to move forward as professional ECE practitioners. It was recognized very early on that it was imperative to be at the table when decisions were made and to become part of the conversation around appropriate practice. She is proud to highlight the collective manner in which the group galvanized, swiftly creating a task team to respond, advise and act upon the new guidelines.

What became apparent very early on to the whole group was the importance of early childhood education and care: realizing that the economy rides on the back of early childhood education. Without a strong response from their colleagues, the group knew it would be hard to move forward as a workforce. To date, Vermont has been the only state to provide financial support to the field of ECE, responding quickly with measures to help mitigate the financial burden school-based programs and early educators were facing. Without such measures, Su knows that many more school-based programs would have disappeared without a trace. This financial support provided short term relief, and the group have a deep sense of gratitude for this recognition. However, the future remains uncertain.

Challenges moving forward into the new normal

The latest guidance for K-12, with the introduction of a hybrid teaching model where children will be in school two days a week and learning remotely for three days, raises questions for us all: what is best for families? What if parents can’t get back to work because their children are only in school part-time? What about ECE and K-12 educators and teachers who have school age children who are unable to be at home alone? How does this impact our staffing levels? The proposed hybrid model creates more questions than firm answers around children’s needs.

 “The collective is acutely aware that our entire economic system rides on the back of an effective early childcare system. This is the time to talk about the issues that we face today around early childcare and the weekly meetings create a space for that to happen.” Su states that “the time [to address these issues] is now.” There is a recognition that the post-COVID-19 normal needs to be a new normal and needs to be a ‘normal’ that is inclusive of the voices of our ECE professionals. This period in our history has provided opportunities to highlight and address issues such as healthcare for ECE professionals (and everyone), paid medical family leave, paid time off, compensations and benefits.  “What we need to come out of COVID-19 is not only the understanding that our system relies on functional early care and learning systems, and especially a system that works for the ECE professionals.”

Su highlights the importance of maintaining a focus on the importance of taking care of ourselves as parents, educators, and professionals. Carving out time for self-care in the midst of uncertainty and broken routines is imperative, and to this end, Su has spent a lot of time in her garden, scheming and dreaming. She recognizes this important ‘self-work’ has helped her retain a glass half full approach in her work. 

The Quarry Hill team has spent much of the summer creating a practical and effective way to return to school, creating a plan about which she is cautiously optimistic and excited. Quarry Hill has created a curriculum that works for them and their community which includes opening as an outside space in September. Although this fresh and innovative thinking poses new questions for her and her team, including how to ensure that children can be kept warm/cool, stayed shaded and hydrated, she is well equipped and resilient enough to face these uncertainties.

As a lifelong learner, Su is up for new challenges, and faces them as she always does, with a smile, a keen sense of humor, a vast bank of professional expertise, and a feeling of hope in the face of the unknown. As far as the bigger picture is concerned, Su is hopeful that the new normal becomes a better normal, a place where early educators can support children in their earliest and most formative years with high quality care and learning, guiding and teaching our youngest Vermonters within safe, stable, and nurturing environments.

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Reflections of Castleton Summer 2020

This week and next, I’m attending the Castleton Summer school, taking a course with Michelle and Suzanne from Wren’s Nest, who are supporting 14 of us through a deep dive into the significance of Nature and Forest-based pre-school. My motivation to take the course is led by a desire to continue and deepen my understanding of the way we can utilize our outdoor spaces more fully as practitioners. I am interested in how we can explore the possibility of moving more of our traditional care and learning activities outside. During the period of Covid19, this feels even more pertinent for the youngest of our babies, infants, and toddlers.

When I first arrived in Vermont to live last year, I was surprised that there weren’t unlimited options for what I would consider a true nature-based school, one where children spend at least 50% of their time outside. I’ve always admired the Scandinavians, who make little distinction between seasons: babies routinely sleep outside, only moving inside during the coldest of temperatures, and I was expecting a similar approach to Early Childhood Education (ECE)  in Vermont-after all, the message Vermont Strong is everywhere. 

I was born in the U.K., and studied ECE under Helen Tovey, Helen May, and Tina Bruce, all strong proponents of nature-based learning, and the importance of optimizing the outdoors as a classroom. It is not unusual in Europe for pre-schools to have a ‘free-range’ approach to children, with the freedom to roam indoors and outdoors, depending on what children are ‘working on’ at that point in time. These spaces are not free for all unstructured, settings: rather, the environments are tailored to ensure children can use all their senses to develop their interests and become the people they need to be. The pre-school my son attended even had child-sized doors and hatches that connected the outside to the inside, which suited him perfectly, as he was an earth and sandboy scratcher, and needed to be outside the majority of the time. He is now a sophomore at Middlebury College, so we did something right! 

I sense that an over-arching concern over children’s safety in the USA has interfered with the fundamentals of how children learn best, yet trying to protect children from failure and potential harm can be counterproductive. Being too safe by providing a sanitized and overly cautious environment can limit children’s abilities to make smart choices, think through challenges, face problems, and overcome them. We are liable to limit our children’s sense of empowerment and their innate ability to make good choices. What choice is there, if the slide is 30 inches off the ground, and surrounded by a mound which takes all the risk away? Where does the sense of achievement come from?

It is important to recognize that children need some opportunities to struggle to assist their learning. The importance of trying different strategies to overcome hurdles is a valuable life lesson, and perseverance is a quality that serves us all, particularly during stressful times. I maintain that the ability to continue when things don’t go to plan is rooted in a strong sense of autonomy, competence and, self-belief. 

As practitioners, I believe we should be championing the deep significance of the outdoors, within nature, providing children multiple chances to take calculated risks. Self-mastery is the goal, and providing an environment where children are able to test themselves, work out problems, be challenged is a positive thing to be embraced, not removed.  A child will be more likely to try something more challenging if praise focuses on the process, strategy, effort, and choices made, all of which are directly linked with intrinsic motivation.

The pre-school regulations may feel limiting for how we can utilize outside space, yet Wren’s Nest has shown us that it is possible to work within the rules, interpreting them and yet be able to offer our smallest Vermonters an environment to truly learn within nature. The Nature and Forest-Based course at Castleton has re-kindled my passion for ensuring children are provided multiple opportunities for being outside, living, and learning, and playing within a nature-based environment.

We all feel better in the fresh air, with the ability to run, or take a short hike, provide us the chance to swing, or jump, dance and read, find a quiet hammock for an afternoon nap, jump off the hay trailer, find a rock to sit upon, study the birds, watch the tomatoes grow, do some weeding, plant some seeds, dip our toes in the water, slide in the snow, sit around a fire, have a conversation about the geese flying overhead, watch the clouds, smell the breeze. With guidance and support from us, our children will flourish.

During normal times, outside activities are of deep significance: during Covid, the opportunity to spend lots of time outside is even more vital. The majority of us feel safer and better about ourselves in the open air. Our blood pressure goes down, our shoulders drop, our minds open, our stress levels are reduced. As practitioners, I envisage us using our outside space in even more creative ways this fall: we can re-look at our gardens, playgrounds, and yards with fresh eyes, and see how we can re-purpose the space as outdoor classrooms. Consider moving traditional indoor activities onto the lawn, create a shaded corner for a quiet book space, move the easels and tables offering opportunities to paint, and cook, and count, and sing and dance. Create a ‘stage’ with some pallets and provide opportunities for fantasy play and gross motor development. Maybe even experiment with naptime outside on a covered porch, as the Scandinavians do. I wish you some light relief, dreaming-and scheming-and-planning for a new way of being during the Fall and winter seasons. I’ll share what I learn!

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Reflections During the Summer of Covid 19 and the ECE Arena

The strength of community: lessons I have learnt working with the Addison Early Childhood Education Community 

I have been coming to Vermont for family vacations for close to thirty years, and finally, my husband and I took the plunge to live here permanently in 2019. With a background steeped in Early Childhood and Education, I took time to reach out and see what was happening in my local community, and over the last nine months, I’ve immersed myself in the deep, fertile soil of the Addison County ECE community. Just as I was starting to make connections and friendships, COVID19 struck, and we were all confined, physically isolated. However, the grass roots of creativity and innovation quickly came to the fore amongst the Addison crowd, with a prevailing sense of collaboration and community spirit.

What has struck me most about this time of COVID is the togetherness and collectiveness of local community, and this Vermont Strong spirit is represented at its best through the current series of Arts and Crafts projects being highlighted on the   Minibury website, and the Addison Independent each week. 

In mid-March, when the lockdown first started, the Addison County ECE Director’s collective, a group that usually meets monthly, to share resources, information, and training, seamlessly shifted to weekly Zoom calls. This flexibility and nimbleness has served the ECE community well, ensuring deepened bonds and caring support at a time when it was most needed.

Once the initial shock and uncertainty had passed, and we realized we were moving into a new normal, the group began to explore ways of reaching families and children in innovative and novel ways, including virtual nature walks, online story telling, Zoom show & tells, virtual tea parties, and one-on-ones between families and educators, eager to reassure and encourage. It soon became apparent that some families were struggling more than others, and beyond the emergency supplies of diapers, wipes, food and personal hygiene products being distributed to families, we recognized we needed to do more. How could we help regulate children and their families during a time of deep anxiety and uncertainty? 

One of the beautiful things about Vermont is the sense of community. Having lived in big cities for the past 40 years of my life, across three continents, I had forgotten the power of deep community and civic bonds-the sense that everyone knows one another, if not well, they know friends-of-friends, with generations connecting seamlessly. The power of collective connectedness and knowledge is what has enabled the Arts and Crafts project to flourish.  

As a group, we began to brainstorm how we could reach families and children beyond the social media and online platforms-Zoom, Whatapp, Skype, and Google Classroom were serving their purpose, but we wanted to do more, reaching further into the hearts and imaginations of our community.

Donna Bailey of the Addison County Parent Child Center was struck by the appreciation a parent expressed with one of the regular food and essential packs that had been arranged-one week, packs of craft paper and pencils were included, to the joy of many families. This sparked the idea of regular Craft and Art Packs, which have now become a staple for children and families during the time of Covid19.  

More people jumped on board- there is something powerful about how positive acts   attracts others to ‘pay it forward’. Anne Gleason of the Rural Fun Trust stepped forward, helping us create a beautiful series of weekly Arts and Crafts projects, with the additional offer of a small grant. Local donors soon stepped on board, offering their services, supplies and expertise. Donors came forward to support the project, and we were granted mini grants from New Perennials, United Way, and Building Bright Futures.

Megan James from the Addison Independent and Minibury heard about the project, and offered to publish our weekly art and craft projects in conjunction with a series of profiles of ECE providers she was profiling. Jody Pearce from Wow Toyz heard about the project, and donated toys to over 100 ACPCC children and families one week. The Front Porch Forum community donated pencils, pens, paper, paints, playdough over the course of two weeks, and several local churches and community centers stepped forward to act as a central gathering point for contributions.

As the weather improved, we shifted our craft ideas to embrace outside activities, and   seeds, flower-pots, soil and gardening equipment were gathered, thanks to Front Porch Forum, friends and family, NOFA, High Mowing Seeds, and The Red Wagon in Hinesburg, all who have contributed generously to the project. With Anne’s careful guidance we have learnt how to make pots from re-cycled newspaper, seed balls, and Terrariums from plastic soda bottles.

Our focus for July entails Balls, Books and Bubbles, conjuring more time outside, whether it is swinging in a hammock, finding a shady tree, learning to throw and catch, or just delighting in the warm weather, soaking up the magic of soapy-sudsy-water of summer days. All just simple pleasures that give children the opportunity to play away from the screens that have become part of everyday life, offering traditional, old fashioned yet tried-and-tested ways to re-focus and re-regulate during these strange and trying times.

The greater picture within this story is the sense of hope and purpose the project has brought to our community. For those organizing, it has been a way to move forward, a positive way of encouraging and supporting others. For the recipients, it has brought a sense of fun and creativity, a way to transcend the everyday, and escape for a while from the current reality. We may be physically distanced, but we are socially connected in deep and meaningful ways.

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Terrarium

Supplies:

  • 2-liter soda bottle ( a smaller plastic bottle could work as well)
  • Soil
  • Small plant or seeds
  • Sharpie marker
  • Rocks, pebbles or marbles
  • Sharp scissors
  • Water
  • Garden trinkets (optional)

Directions:

1. Turn a coffee mug upside down and rest your sharpie pen on top.  This will help you draw a straight line around the 2-liter bottle.  As you place your bottle next to the sharpie, spin the bottle around slowly to draw the line.

2. Take some sharp scissors and cut along the line. ** Adult help may be needed. Later you will be putting the top half of the bottle back onto the bottom half of the bottle, so to make the top part fit better we cut a little over 1-inch slit down the side of the bottom bottle.

3. Fill the bottom of the bottle with some small rocks, pebbles or marbles.  (The purpose of the “pebbles at the bottom allow excess water to flow to the bottom of the bottle. This will prevent it from soaking the soil and making it muddy”).

4. Add some soil.  How much soil you put in depends on if you are planting a plant or seeds. If you are planting small plants, you don’t need to put much in.  If you are planting seeds you will want to fill the soil so that there is about an inch of space left to the top.

5. Next add your plant, and add some more soil to fill in the spaces.  If you are planting seeds…the Terrarium Man recommends planting “6 to 10 seeds and later as they grow you can pluck out some of the weaker ones and leave the 2 or 3 best ones”.

6. Next water the soil so that it is moist.

Children may add decorations drawn on the outside of the bottle, or add trinkets/ small items from nature or from around the house—acorn tops, a nice rock, small toy or figure, etc.  After that, just place the top half of the soda bottle back on.

The Terrarium Man’s advice on how to care for your terrarium:

There are two important factors you have to consider when it comes to your terrarium: the amount of sunlight it gets and the amount of water that is inside.

Once the plants have sprouted you should make sure it gets sunlight but do not leave it in direct sunlight for the entire day. It is a closed environment and it can get very hot inside.

Water – Look carefully at the soil in the terrarium. It should look moist but not soaked or too dry. Beads of water should form on the top inside near edge and these will drip down the sides and continue to water the soil. If it appears to be too wet you can take the top off and leave it uncovered for a day or two.

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Minibury Art

Two more projects to look at this week! http://www.minibury.com/make-it-together-kitchen-garden/

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Castleton Summer Institute is going ahead!

Follow the link to Castleton Summer Institute
https://pathbrite.com/portfolio/PYSELlPB85/castleton-summer-institute

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Craft, Art & Gardening Projects

“Kitchen Karacters” and a “”Handful of Flowers

Throughout this pandemic, Anne Gleason has developed a series of Art and Craft projects that are being published in the Addison Independent, and the Minibury. Thanks to Anne and Megan, who make sure they get published each week.

Homing Pigeon
Home Made Paper Hats
Kitchen Garden
Paper Pots

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Minibury Series

Minibury is posting a series of articles about local ECE providers around the county, and recently, Megan James has written some great articles on some of the special people we have within our early childhood community. See the link here for her stories http://www.minibury.com/