Well, after two months of holding in one of the biggest secrets of my career, I can finally share some photos.
This experience has been incredibly surreal from the moment Chris called me and told me that I had won this award.
It has been one of the most amazing weeks of my life as I sit here and reflect on my time spent in Ottawa.
There were 5 Early Childhood Educators chosen for this award across the nation.
It was so inspiring to meet the incredible teachers from across Canada who all teach in various provinces with their varying skills. We were all so different, yet joining together to accept this prestigious award together.
One of the recipients, Amandine; also works as an early childhood educator in Yellowknife. I was so inspired by her story.
The day she flew home it snowed again! It's the end of May!
I can't imagine what it would be like to teach small children in an environment where there is snow 6 months of the year, full daylight on some days, and full darkness on others, and the protocol for coming indoor during the winter is -33. (children start to cough a lot at this temperature, and they become in danger of freezing their lungs) This just blows my mind. People are amazing!
Our local MP Elizabeth May also came to congratulate me. She was voting during the ceremony, but she managed to come over and have a glass of wine with me after the awards. What a beautiful and kind woman she is. We are VERY lucky here in BC to have such compassionate representatives. She is also quite hilarious!
Meeting the Prime Minister was surreal, and epic in is own quiet way. I ried to slow the moment as best I could, walking mindfully across the stage (repeating don't trip, don't fart) in my head. I was more worried about stumbling in my tall red shoes than anything! But they did make an impression, and they matched the red in the background Canada flags perfectly! lol.
It was Justin's anniversary this day, so we all knew our time with him was very limited. Selfies after the awards were kaibosched immediatly when we were told he would be racing off to meet Sophie for a date!
I did have an opportunity to congratulate him on his anniversary, and he was very genuine and kind when he spoke. He congratulated me, and told me that my nature program was very impressive. He was all smiles and kissed both sides of my cheek very traditionally.
My 20 seconds were over in the blink of an eye.
The week we were there, we were treated like Royalty. There were beautiful buffets, interviews, media opportunities and lots of time to collaborate with the other recipients. I think there were 16 of us in total, and many brought their families and spouces with them.
We visited the Science Museum, Q & A period with Mr. Speaker (what a sight that was to see!), Parliament Hill, and a pin ceremony as well.
Overall, this experience has been life changing.
When I first arrived, I didn't feel worthy of this recognition. I thought to myself, "How am I actually getting this award?
By the time Ieft Ottawa, I was in awe. The other recipients LOVED what I was doing here in BC with small children! They LOVED the idea of Nature daycares, outdoor napping, muddy buddies, forest walks etc etc. They made me feel worthy of this award. It was te recognition from my colleagues that made this feel earned.
That is worth it's weight in gold!
It's Friday afternoon and as usual I am buzzing around all the centres, trying to connect with all my staff before I rush out in time to pick up my youngest daughter from school.
I don't live in this neighborhood, although I have travelled these roads daily for the past decade. I know I must leave by 2 pm to get to my daughters school by 2:40. There's just not enough time in the day to get everything I need to done!
I enter the Spirit Bear Lodge, hands full with bursting Dollar Store bags, books and keys in hand. The fresh scent of Lavender immediately hits my nose, and I am welcomed by two women engaged in conversation in the atelier. One is our Atelierista the other our cleaner. As the two ladies continue their conversation I am then greeted with running knee hugs from two of my little bears. I feel so welcome here. This is my second home.
I start to find places for the new books on the wooden shelf, and I start to sort through the giant Recyclable bag from the Dollar store. So many things....
I had an idea one night while I was thinking about spring and all the flowering plants around the property. I thought, what if I could bring in those bright flowers and make them last? I had found these incredibly beautiful silk and fabric flowers from the dollar store that I thought would really make the centres look incredible.
I started in the Cub House and slowly made my way through the 4 other centres, decorating with bursts of colours everywhere.
As I sat in conversation with one of my staff, we both agreed that the flowers had such a beautiful and soft touch to them, and it really helped to brighten the space up.
In the Reggio philosophy, Loris Malaguzzi encourages us to use he environment as the third teacher. We create beautiful spaces worthy of the beautiful children who occupy them.
As I looked around at my creative masterpieces I say to my staff,
"I like the way it looks, even if they are plastic."
We both kind of paused for a moment.
There's that DIRTY word....plastic.
I immediately thought, "Do I really love this, even though they are not real?"
Looking to my colleague, she agreed that the additional flowers looked lovely and that they did add a new and beautiful element to the environment.
"We're all just a walking contradiction, aren't we?", she laughed.
"Yes, we truly are." I agreed uncertainly.
Even if you read back to one of my earliest posts, you will find an article about banning plastics and my hatred for cheaply made, expendable land fill.
So why am I purposely buying them fro my centre?
I guess, even my own beliefs can be squewed a little when I get into the decorating mood. When I wrap my brain around my idea of a (throw-way) plastic and one that will last in my centres for decades, I can find some rationale with it.
I know these flowers will be used and re-used over and over again for decades. I know that they can be restored very easily when they get a little dull with some soap and water. (you can even throw them in the dishwasher if you didn't know!)
I have 4 centres that they can rotate through. If they happen to break (which is highly unlikely) I suppose they could be cut up and used in the atelier.
For some reason, I felt like these were okay to purchase, because they don't have a one-time -only use.
But even now, here I am questioning my decision.
This is not the first or the last time I will question the decisions I make when it comes to my programs and the working environment.
In the article that Kim Atkinson and I wrote a couple of years ago, "An Uncertain Tale: Alternative Conceptualizations of Pedagogical Leadership", I was grappling with the idea of completely changing a much loved, and very popular space in my program called the Zoom Room. This room was filled with bright primary coloured plastics "Disney" posters, cars, trains and A LOT of PLASTIC toys. At one time, I thought this room was awesome, but something deep inside was telling me a different story.
It started on a weekend, I just emptied the entire space out. Everything had to go! The room had also become a holding space for "beautiful junk" that I had been holding on for who knows how long! When was I ever going to use that old water marked paper roll, those egg cartons, that flower wrap or those Christmas cards? It was too much, and it all needed to go.
To shorten this story, and get to the point, this "zoom room" became an art studio, or "atelier" as they would call it in Reggio-Emilia, Italy.
It took on a whole new feeling, as I covered the walls in white paper, added some pre-mixed paint jars, wooden stumps and even a giant brick of clay.
Fast forward, to present day, you will NOT find a ZOOM room in ANY of my centres, but you most certainly will find our precious art studios, papered walls, lots of wooden stumps, paint jars and giant lumps of clay.
In our everyday life we contradict ourselves all the time!
We buy items from China, even though we protest child labor.
We stop at Tim Horton's for a tea and a doughnut even though we are trying to lose a few pounds.
I could go on ad on, but you get the idea.
I can live with my decision to buy these silk,fabric and plastic flowers for my centre. I feel strongly that I am doing my part in SO many ways to be true to my beliefs and my word.
It is nice to take a step back now and then and question the , "WHY", of what we do.
I am truly so thankful to have such incredible colleagues around me who can also comment and question my actions with the sincerity that they do.
We are only human.
I am only one of many people that work in this environment, and it has to feel right for everyone!
I am reminded that we do have many REAL flowers and bushes around the property that actually smell and bloom every spring, and I am so thankful for their beauty.
Today, I will stop and smell them all.
It seems like such a cliche to say, but the impact these three little words have can be so profound.
I find myself repetitively reminding my three children as I kiss them out the door every morning before school, like a broken record; but always with the best of intentions.
"If you see someone without a smile, give them yours.... and above all, be kind!"
I realize how "Cinderella-ish" this sounds, and the eye roll my 12 yer old is a subtle reminder of my "Pink-skies ideology" believing that we all live in a safe world with no bullies and no judgement.
"Yes, we know!", all in chorus from my three little bears.
"Good, I'm glad!"
We all know how to be kind, but I have a sneaky suspicion that it might be a it harder for some than others.
Some times being kind means saying nothing at all. That's the easiest way to be kind!
Sometimes being kind is a knowing nod, or a simple smile with no words needed.
Kindness can take on many shapes and sizes. A little note to your child's teacher thanking them for sending home a beautiful drawing, or simply stating that they care (It means the world to us when parents acknowledge our work)
Taking an extra moment to acknowledge a colleagues efforts at work, or to simply tell them they look nice today. What a simple thing to do! What an easy way to make someones day!
Personally, I find that I have a better day if I go out of my way to be a little nicer to people. Random acts of kindness are great for your own personal karma, and it is something I have been teaching my own children since they were little.
Simple things like leaving the beach cleaner then you found it, offering to buy a stranger their coffee, weed-eating your neighbours boulevard for them, or giving up your seat on a bus to an elder (or anyone who needs to sit down more than you do.)
Derek and I practice manners with the children when we are out for dinner with the children. We find this a great time to practice ordering respectfully by making eye contact with the server, and by starting with the simple line..."May I please have....."
My two older boys are fantastic now with this, and I can see their confidence build as they get older and use their skills. It makes my heart so happy to hear them being kind to servers and wait staff, and every time I can see the smile on the servers face, or the nod back at us, acknowledging the manners hey have used. We often are told that our children have great manners. This makes me very proud.
I believe that good manners are a show of respect. I also believe that all people deserve to be treated respectfully regardless of their job or profession.
Loris Malaguzzi ( a school teacher from Reggio-Emilia, Italy and one of my greatest mentors) reminds us that their is no hierarchy when it comes to people. That we should treat the Principal in the same regard as the custodian. People are people, regardless of what they chose to do for work.
Kindness goes a long way in my books, and I plan on continuing to remind the children in my care to use their kind words and to encourage their kind actions when conflicts arise. Kindness and working with children go hand in hand. It's easy to be kind when you are constantly surrounded by it.
I feel so fortunate to work along side with some of the most caring and kind educators in the field of early childhood education. It is such a pleasure to exist in an environment that practices kindness each and everyday so effortlessly.
Thank you to all of the incredible men and women at Little Bears for your love and respect for our children. Your constant kindness reflects in the incredible children we have the honor to work with every day.
"In a world where you can be anything,
start with being kind."
Thanks for reading,
*It's cold and a bit windy. The wild west coast of Vancouver Island often brings us a plethora of crazy weather and quite often all in the same day! The running joke here is if you don't like the weather, just wait 10 minutes! (It often changes that quickly from rain to sunshine) but we love it here, and we wouldn't change a thing!
Back when I started my first daycare, Puddles & Paints; I tried an unfamiliar strategy one day to see if I could calm my overly boisterous group of pre-schoolers.
I suggested we take our sleep mats outside and have our rest time under the trampoline! The response I got was hilarious!
The children immediately ran to grab their mats and blankets and then lined up at the door jumping with excitement.
I thought to myself, "Oh no, what am I thinking?", but I had said the words out loud so I had to follow through.
I grabbed a large bed sheet from the closet first, so I could lay the mats down on the grass and not get them dirty.
The trampoline was not for the daycare children to use (as per VIHA regulations), so just being under it seemed to excite the children.
I lay out the giant sheet, and then the children found spaces all around to place their mats on. There were lots of giggles, and excited little bodies as they settled into their blankets.
Within moments, of course, the inevitable occurred....
"I'm cold!", one child chanted out.
"I have to pee!", another squealed.
"It's too bright, I can't sleep!"
All within the first 3 minutes!
I thought, "Oh no. This is not going to work!"
One by one, it seemed they all had a complaint to file with me.
I remember thinking to myself, "Okay. This is day one. Just stick with it."
I took each child in, as they needed. I grabbed a few extra blankets and a pillow for me to sit on. I filled up a water bottle in case anyone was thirsty, and I brought extra cups.
Day one was not a success in terms of sleep. Not one child fell asleep. But what did happen, kept me believing in this concept for weeks, years and to this very day.
About 20 minutes in to (nap time) I noticed the children really starting to settle down. The giggling had stopped completely, and they had stopped talking to each other. One little girl started to sing to herself (which was a normal way for her to soothe herself), but the children didn't ask her to stop (which was the normal reaction to her singing to herself by the group)
It was much louder outside then we were used to, and I didn't bring the CD player outside with me. The children were quiet....strangely quiet even for nap time.
What was happening?
I sat in silence and listened to the sounds all around me. I could hear the cars passing on the road, a man hammering something faintly in the background, two bicyclists riding by having a quick-winded conversation, a crow having a squawking match with another crow in the distance.
I sat there, eyes closed and I realized that we were all listening to the same noises.
In everyday life, these sounds just disappear into the background without much notice. But when you are silent yourself, you hear so much more around you, much more than you realize is happening!
(I am reminded of my wise grandmother "GG" saying to me when I was younger,
"There is a reason we were given two ears and only one mouth." Ha, ha! I love that quote!
I sat with this for quite some time. I had some fears about being outside with the children that I also was grappling with. I was a newer educator, and conversing with parents about new or unfamiliar pedagogy was not my strong-suit. I avoided confrontations at all costs, but I knew I was "on" to something here.
I feared that the parents would not approve of their children potentially being cold, or that they feared their children would catch a cold by napping outdoors.
It did spark some interesting conversations for sure!
"What if a cougar jumped the fence?"..... I hadn't thought of that one, but I also wasn't surprised to hear it, as there have been cougar sightings in the past in the wooded area directly behind my house.
"What if I need to call you and I can't get a hold of you?"
This dates me, as we did have a cordless phone, but it often lost full charge the further you got into the yard and they knew this.
"What if you need to use the washroom, will you just leave them outside by themselves?"
again, a valid question deserving of a valid answer.
I prepared a little letter for the parents answering these questions and a few others that came up and then I offered them a chance to respond. I documented what was working well, and what I was also noticing with the children. I took some photos of the children and posted them on the bulletin board by the door.
By week four, everyone was on-board with the outdoor naps, and the children were comfortable with the new routine. The parents enjoyed seeing the photos of their children asleep under the trampoline, and some made comments about how they thought their child slept better at night time lately.
I have run into children even recently, that still remember this (strange concept) of napping outdoors.
"Remember when we slept under the trampoline?" that was so cool!
Sleeping outdoors seems so magical to me. I know that there is a practice in the First Nations communities that they nap their children outdoors.
I have been fascinated with this practice since I became an educator, and read about the Forest schools in Norway! Some of the schools didn't have a building at all, their entire program was run outdoors, all year round. Other programs had a tent or a yurt to protect the children from the extreme weather.
I was having a conversation with my mom one afternoon when I told her about the outdoor sleeping. She laughed at me and replied,
"You always slept outside when you were a baby! I used to take you for a walk in the stroller, and then leave you in it (on the porch) while I tidied the house! You slept for hours!"
The idea of breathing clean fresh air while napping reminded me of the joy you feel from camping in the wilderness. Its exhilarating, it's liberating and it is so darn soothing!
Flash forward to today. Some of the educators in my Infant'Toddler program have been experimenting with outdoor napping for a couple of years now.
There are new struggles with this concept, as we are in a different location on 4 acres of treed forest.
Firstly, I just have to say how incredibly proud I am of these ladies for taking this on! It does require extra planning, and extra work! The cots are not light, and the preparation takes time...but they persevere, and they are rewarded handsomely with quiet, sleeping babies!
In order to honor these educators, and support them as best I can, I am working on some new and exciting plans that will allow all 4 programs to participate in this pedagogy of sleep.
In the next few months, we will be building 4 new "outdoor napping" buildings which will provide the following elements.
1. shelter from falling tree debris and wind
2. a tin roof to lull the children when it rains
3. a separate closet to keep the cots dry and clean
4. electrical power for their music and to hang fairy lights
5. an outdoor washroom
*Supporting the educators and honoring the children is my goal as we move forward with this plan.
This narration,documentation will be continued as we start to build and we photograph the process. Two educators to note especially; Colleen and Delany are passionately living and breathing this pedagogy today.
This is a group effort that I am beyond excited to share!
We never sit still around here!!! ....