An awkward, loving giant: On sticky notes, peace tea, homemade songs, and giving and receiving love in our communities

“He that gives should not remember.
He that receives should not forget.”
―The Talmud

“It is more rewarding to watch money change the world
than watch it accumulate.” ―Gloria Steinem

“Everything is so good you might get a lot of energy and love everything and you might get bigger and bigger as a giant or something like that.”
―Ezra at age 4 (now age 6)

Dear Maple Street Families,

What sustains us, especially post-election, comes in the little and accumulated ways we take care of each other. Our little love notes of protection on our wall and in Union Square add up and get “bigger and bigger as a giant or something.” And then we have this homemade sticky note giant, held together by tiny bits of tape and glue and a whole lot of compassion. Walls of sacred love notes are ancient, and they are so needed in our present, troubled times.

In the last month, I found myself going to the pre-school classroom oracle for wisdom. Today I sat in a little chair for a moment and was spontaneously served invisible peace tea by some children in the Squirrels and Chipmunks classroom.  It was delicious, healthy and tasted like community.

I am supposed to be writing about fundraising right now. I wasn’t hired to do development, and even after much practice, I do it in a messy, imperfect and deeply loving way, just like we do most everything at Maple Street School. But over time, I have learned to ask for donations and tell our stories in ways that help add to the bucket of love in quarters, dollars, twenties, hundreds, thousands, and more.

I did take some fundraising trainings, went to meetings, worked with consultants, and organized spreadsheets. I danced, pranced, and skipped through a half marathon. We have raised a lot of funds together, we still have a ways to go, and some of us are weary.

When I am tired, I often return to gratitude, vision and practice.

Gratitude: I thank all of you for this expanding-in-size-and-love village. This is not a little thank you, but a giant thank you: for decades of work done by hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. This school has witnessed and fostered so much play, learning, and growing of small humans who are now bigger humans, who are potty-trained, who easily ride on their own the Q and B trains they once admired so much and held a hand to ride through our diverse and beautiful city. But adults grow, too, and over the years many adults have also found service, love, compassion, and wisdom at Maple Street School.

Vision: Our vision is about welcoming, protecting, and standing up. On tours, we often say that at Maple Street, you get to be you: you get to wear a dress; marry who you want; love your skin and hair; be proud of how you jump, dance, sing, run, talk, build castles, climb, paint, and feel. You get to be a friend and you get to be supported and loved, too.

Practice: Our practice is one of creating community through play, meetings, difficult conversations, pop-ups, circle time—and, of course, sticky notes and invisible tea! In accumulation, small actions create a beloved community.

In addition to gratitude, vision and practice, I also ask with everything we do, What do we want to teach our children about this? Our co-op, in its essence, practices the world we want our children to live in. It teaches children that giving and receiving are beautiful things in themselves, that money is for changing and creating, not just consuming, and that whatever you give and receive is enough. You are always enough.

A couple weeks ago, I was sorting out my own giving on a digital sticky, trying to figure out what my gifts say about my core values. I wrote that my gifts are about:

Remembering with love
Honoring history
Taking a stand
Being in solidarity
Easing pain and poverty
Stopping danger
Finding vision
Finding joy in the arts
Access and empowerment, and
Creating something
I am sure there are more, too. For instance, this morning I was thinking and feeling the importance of nature, the parks and our Earth. And writing this, I am thinking about all the people I desire to be in solidarity with, the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” At Maple Street, we continue to fundraise in order to grow our community, keep it diverse and affordable, offer scholarships, and—most of all—raise thoughtful, open, caring, loving, beloved humans: sticky-note giants, peace-tea drinkers, welcomers, protectors, stander-uppers.

To receive is special, and to give is special, too—maybe more so. It completes the circle that builds community and makes our school more diverse, expansive, kind and socially just.

Our teacher Peggy wrote a new song for the children:

Love, love, love, love, love
Amour, amour, amour
I stand for you,
You stand for me
Yes, we are brave in our community

You can hear the children singing this song here. The second line changes as the children sing it, so they sing “love” in different languages:

Amour (French)
Amor (Spanish)
Milosc (Polish)
Ai (Japanese)
Liebe (German)
Ahava (Hebrew)
We are looking to add other languages spoken by families in our community. (Please email me yours!) And with all this love, we are launching our sticky-note peg wall. You can buy a peg to have your name, your vision, or your favorite quote engraved on it! You can buy your peg and choose your inscription here.

Let us build our community through sticky notes, peace tea and homemade songs. Let us welcome, protect, take a stand, and teach our children to do all of these things well. Let us use our giving to communicate our core values and fund our vision, our beloved community, even when we are weary, and trust that although the present is deeply troubling, together we are a giant—a giant that is awkward, that is learning and makes mistakes—but a giant of energy, love, compassion, diversity and social justice.

Please donate, write, love, expand, create, change, give and receive. Let’s be a peace-tea-drinking, justice-creating, freedom-singing, welcoming, protecting, standing-up sticky note Giant Community together.

In cooperation and love,
Wendy

The Beautiful Goal of Messy and Cooperative Ribbon Cutting

(Wendy’s Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Speech – September 10, 2016)

Welcome!

I am so excited to be here at our 626 Flatbush Maple Street ribbon cutting, and I want to thank you and hug you all for coming. Many of you have played with us before, and to those who haven’t, you are invited to play right now. At Maple Street we say that every single day, everybody gets to play.

Maple Street is our hearts and souls. We are inspired by and grateful to our founders, our alumni, our teachers, our advocates, our heroes, our children, our elders, our babies, and YOU.

Maple Street, as many of you know, is a co-op in both practice and spirit, an all-of-us-come-as-we-are, be-our-best-selves, stretch kind of preschool. It is an everybody place, where black lives matter and anyone can wear a dress or be a princess as long as we are safe and kind. Maple Street is a place where we all experience magic, struggle, learning and play.

That’s especially true right now. As one of our heroic and wise leaders, Jennifer Smith, says, “We are as much of ‘we’ as we will ever be.” And now we—we!—are opening a second buiding here with you today.

Marisa, one of our teachers (with the best heart ever), said something wonderful to me about the quick and slow and bumpy opening of our school. “Wendy, I see this as just like the subway,” she said. “It slows down and stops sometimes, and you can either growl and stomp or make a friend and become a community.”

We have always been and will always be the kind of school that chooses to makes a friend and become a community. But as a preschool made up of people who teach and love young children, we also know that growling and stomping and showing our feelings is honored and permitted along the way until the doors open.

So today, in the spirit of Maple Street, we are all cutting the ribbon together: papas and daddies, mamas and mommies, caregivers, aunts, community leaders, local businesses (like Drink wine store, which sponsored us today), children, fairies, princesses, superheroes. Every race and culture, many special needs, lots of beautiful quirks.

The walls built here by our most amazing superhero construction team are meant to frame a space where we can create culture, be open and loving, and heal the world in micro-revolutions. We will play here everyday. We will begin now.

In preschool curricula, we often begin by asking: What we are doing? What is ribbon? Why are we cutting it and what is happening? Is it long or short? What color and shape is it? What  else can we do with it?

So I was studying ribbon this week, and I read an anonymous quote that said: “Here is a warning. Not all things end up tied with a perfect bow. Sometimes you get a knot, a very messy one.”

And this, at Maple Street, is our goal: to learn, to play, to fray, to knot, to tangle and untangle, to love. We are all in it, growing together, cutting and playing with ribbon, and opening this beautiful, magical, soon-to-be-a-little-messy, loving school.

Thank you all for coming. We love you.

If Children Named Themselves

That’s just the first part. What others call you, you become. It’s a terrible magic that everyone can do — so do it. Call yourself what you wish to become.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

 

The Ritual and Surprise of Magical Naming

 

– or –  

 

If Children Named Themselves: A collaborative blog post by Wendy, Nikki, Marisa and the afterschool teachers.

 

In our after school, for several years, when we sing our welcome song and go around the circle we don’t give our real name, we give our very special imagined name for the day.  This happens for both children and adults alike. Last Tuesday we were named:

 

Belly button, Mermaid Princess, Shoe, Clothes and Mama Papa.  It goes like this: We sing,  “Welcome to after school, welcome to after school, welcome to after school so nice to see you here.” And then we sing, “Welcome Mango Queen Cat, welcome Tow Truck, welcome Elsa Princess Mermaid Glitter… so nice to see you here…” Some of us use these names for the afternoon, or for many days in a row, and some of us return to our given names.  

 

This naming ourselves is playful and silly and more importantly it is also wise, radical and community building.  Globally naming has many traditions and purposes.  Sometimes it is linked to the past of heroes, beloved relatives and traditions and sometimes it is linked to the future and filled with hopes and dreams.

 

In preschool, magical naming ourselves daily keeps to the core values of play and imagination.  It allows each individual to define themselves (often beyond gender, racial, or other societal norms). Naming supports seeing others in how they define themselves both realistically and magically.  Naming also builds community through the daily ritual of it which makes children and adults feel rooted and connected, and through the surprise that brings something unexpected, fresh, magical, and joyful to the individuals and the group.  As Vivian Gussin Paley, Early Childhood expert, author and MacArthur genius, says, “Get in the habit of thinking of yourself and the children as partners in an acting company. Once we learn to imagine ourselves as characters in a story, a particular set of events expands in all directions. We find ourselves being kinder and more respectful to one another because our options have grown in intimacy, humor, and literary flavor.”

 

Some days everyone has different names and other days there are many many children with the same or slight variations in names. Other schools and families, especially those aligned with imagination, play and getting to be ourselves have pretend names and if we had some real data we could tell you the trends more scientifically like the New York List of Most Popular Baby Names, but we don’t, so we will have to do our best to give you the top names of the year if pre-schoolers named themselves.  Even our most creative and amazing adults, for example Prince, would change his name not only for art but to assert his beauty and power in the world as the artist formerly known as Prince, or a symbol.  He also returned, as we often do, to our royal original selves.

 

The regular themes we have witnessed in our naming ritual can be divided  into  categories: superhero, princess queen (which is related to superhero), animal names, vehicle names, pragmatic what you are in the room names, the make everyone laugh names, the be who or what you love or miss a lot names, the lineage-biographical every thing that matters name, and the hybrids of all of the above.

 

Let’s go through them quickly and carefully like a college lecture: Magical Naming 101.

Then later we can continue collaborative learning about celebrating and magically naming ourselves again and again.

 

The Superhero Power Names:  I recommend you talk to our 4 year old expert Rhys about this.  He knows how to make a superhero name.  Most recently he explained to me that he was Aki avatar who is also an airbender and that he has watched many videos in order to choose this important name.  The superhero crew also suggests super batman and want you to know it’s important to not confuse this name with super spiderman. I am sure in many of your homes you have experienced or have been asked or asked others to call you Superman, Ironman, Fairyman, Wonder Woman, Ninja Turtle,  Spiderman, Deadpool or something else.

The Princess Queen Glitter Names:  The names are also powerful and originate a little more from our sparkly selves.  These include:  Princess, Rapunzel, Mango Queen and many versions of Elsa including Mango Queen Elsa, Rose Elsa Flower, Anna Elsa Anna, Ballerina Elsa and Teddy, her doll, and Frozen Anna Fever Elsa.  If you need a teacher in the Princess Queen Elsa names, I would refer you to children in both the day and afterschool programs including Ola Mae (age 3), Niro (age 5) and Jaielle (age 4).  In the world these consultants can often be spotted as either overtly or subtly their royal glitter selves peak out from their coats.

 

The Animal Names: Sometimes these names appear in spirit animal ways; bears, moose and more magically dragons.  Pets like cats, dogs, geckos and tortoises are also a favorite.  Animals do not have to be real in this category and I recommend you consult with Liv, age 3, as she uses the names Fuzzy and Momo often which are technically not animals but snugglies.  Animals also can represent moods as well as spirits so you may get something like Shy Lion or Dinosaur Stomper.

 

The Vehicle Names: Children sometimes name themselves Tow Truck which is interesting and perhaps a little stressful to grownups. Grey and Milo are often Diesels or Diggers. Grey did not only want his own name but his whole disco band to be called Digger and we sang it together. Maybe take a few moments to sing Digger or Tow Truck over and over and you will get the power and feeling of having a vehicle name.  There have been several types of trucks and a variety of vehicles beyond most of our adult vehicle knowledge that are very big and powerful, have many wheels, are very strong, mix things up, save people and do all sorts of cool things. If I were a vehicle I would be some kind of Lever truck and get a lot done together but that’s a different tangent.  Finally, vehicle names often include any and all of the Thomas the Tank Engine line.

 

The What You See in the Room Pragmatic Names:  This is one of our favorite categories and Finn (age almost 3, and you should know his parents call him Keyser Soze) could be your consultant.  His name is often Curtains, Floor, Pants, Shoes or Zapatos on Spanish Viernes.  It is extremely fun and invigorating to chose the things you see around you as your name and we recommend you try this on occasion. Finn’s latest name has been Sushi so these names also give you interesting updates.

 

The Make Everyone Laugh Names: These are often weird sounds and gestures from our youngest or new children like Aaah or Ooh or Eeee.  It comes perhaps from a magical evolving pitch child development moment that a neuro-linguist could teach us more about.  These also can be a “where in the world did you get that name?” Mr. Leaf Book and Yeah are two names that recently appeared.

 

The Be Who You Miss or Love A lot Name: This is a top choice. Malcolm (Age 2) likes to be named  Mom and Dad and one day Rhys was  Sad Cowboy Who Misses His Mom. Shiloh is often his brother Isaiah and Louie is often his brother Ezra. Naming is a chance to put what is going on inside on the outside so we can see and love you more at Maple Street and in the world.

 

The Lineage-Biographical-Everything-That-Matters-Name:  This is a very special category, it’s for those who don’t want to choose and instead go for the whole list and everything that comes to mind or heart. These names feels chanty and a little spiritual like a list of Saints in Catholicism, getting called to the Torah in Judaism or  Buddhist and Zen teacher lineage and probably more traditions.  Nikki our teacher’s magical lineage biographical everything name is Nikki Ruby Mountain Palm Tree Mommy Daddy Jaguar Mango Rice and Avocados on my Bike.  Children are often things like Baby Mom Dad Cupcake My Dog Purple Stars or Rainbow Elsa Strawberry Princess.  One child even named himself The Little God of Everything.  

 

The Hybrids of the Above: Often categories blend or get mixed as there are many hybrids and versions of lots of names.  Elsa, Baby, Princess and Super are words that get hybridized the most.

 

Unnamed Categories:  These are categories that will emerge from our children in afterschool, your children at home or you.  At the end of this post there is a link to a  list so we can have have a silly and wise time while being organized and efficient in The Magical Naming of Children and ourselves.

 

Here are some new categories that we are continuing to explore.

  1. Forbidden Names (also called potty names)
  2. I Am Just Going Always to Have My Regular Name Names.  
  3. Historical Figures and Current Events (Lo Ha, Evita, Malala)  

 

We are leaving you with our conclusion of the top 10 names in 2015-2016 at Maple Street if pre-schoolers named themselves:

 

  1. James (the train)
  2. Ballerina Elsa (and Teddy, her doll)
  3. Sparkle
  4. Anna Elsa Anna
  5. Rose Elsa Flower
  6. Shoes
  7. Frozen Anna Fever Elsa
  8. B Train
  9. Glove
  10. Baby Mom Dad Cake Cupcake My Dog Purple Stars

 

Finally, yes we are going to ask you to sing “Welcome” to wherever you… and please let us know your magical categorical transportational animal superhero royal beautiful changable imaginative names.  And you too can use them for your evening,  the week,  just a moment or for as long as you wish.

 

Marisa aka Zapatos

Wendy aka Relax Suprise Love Rainbow Galaxy Bubble

Nikki aka Ruby Mountain Palm Tree Mommy Daddy Jaguar Mango Rice and Avocados on my Bike.  

And the rest of the afterschool magical naming crew.

We Are All Caregivers

Marian Wright Edelman (1993) states, “[We] Adults have failed dismally in our most basic responsibility—to protect our society’s children from violence,”-National Association for the Education of Young Children Position Paper

We are all caregiversA preschool director’s journey to a new second amendment.

At Maple Street School we get to invent the world, create culture, play deeply, breathe mindfully, include radically, strive for racial and economic justice and work toward a playful, responsible, just and peaceful world.

Through these philosophies and practices, I have come to realize that power and change can come from one sentence: “We are all caregivers.” That is our job in pre-school as for days and decades teachers lovingly change dozens of diapers, then transcend dirty diapers, and look into newer eyes with light and wonder. Additionally at preschool, young children learn how to share reluctantly and empathize slowly, holding that impulse to smash their friend in the head with a block and instead stating firmly, “I don’t like that” and, “Are you ok?” and, “How can I make you feel better?”

The concept of We are all caregivers may sound simple on the surface, but it is very, very deep. It’s a sentence that resonates in our souls, our homes, our places of school and work, our cities, our country and our world. I stand by this vision of change.

In fact, if I could change the constitution, I would repeal and replace the second amendment from one of individualism and fear to one of community, courage and even love.

Our second amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Imagine if that were replaced with: “We are all Caregivers.”  It sounds a little open ended but then so does the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which itself allows for safety, freedom, and joy, but in the individual and not the collective.

I am asking that we use the phrase We are all caregivers in reference to violence, guns, racism, immigration, being ourselves, owning our bodies, and other difficult choices.

The second amendment never was about hunting so let’s not use that as an excuse when children and families die from needless gun violence. Besides, first nations and diverse Americans have hunted on our earth before with love for the earth and caregiving intentions.

The problem of violence towards children has become out of control. According to The Telegraph toddlers in America have accidentally shot one person a week in 2015. We have abdicated our responsibility to the safety of children; we all need to show up as caregivers.

I don’t expect all of Maple Street or all readers of this blog post to agree with me, I just want to put it out there that if we were inspired and required to all be caregivers in the same way we had the right to own guns and bear arms, the world would look different, perhaps in these ways:

  1. Gun violence

If we were all caregivers, we would listen to our public health experts and adopt laws and practices to ensure the safety of our society no matter what state or political affiliation we had. The right to be safe would supersede the right to bear arms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2012 policy statement, Preventing Firearm-Related Injuries in the Pediatric Population, states that the absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents.

This seems like a fair position and yet it is extremely controversial, so much so that physicians have been challenged not only in recommending the absences of guns in children’s homes, but even in counseling families to ensure their guns are locked and stored away from children.

In 2011, the state of Florida enacted the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, which prevented physicians from providing such counsel under threat of financial penalty and potential loss of licensure. The law has been blocked from implementation by a U.S. District court but similar policies have been introduced in seven other states: Alabama, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia. The fundamental right of physicians to provide medical counsel to their patients must be protected to mitigate risk of injury—or even death—to children in the environments in which they live and play.

If we were all caregivers, it would be our job to protect children and each other. It is an obscenity that we have the right to bear arms but not the right to be free of gun violence. It is our time now to let go of the guns in favor of the right to be safer.

According to the Brady Center, Over 18,000 American children and teens are injured or killed each year due to gun violence. http://www.bradycampaign.org/gun-violence/topics/children-and-gun-violence,

We are not doing our job, bearing arms is not our job, caring for children and teens is our job. We are putting our second amendment before their first, their right to life.

  1. Racism

In America, we have lost our “caring for each other place.” Or perhaps we never had it to begin with. While the civil rights moments made strides and gave us strong, brilliant, beautiful and powerful heroes to honor and follow, it did not repair inequality and inequity, and it did not root out hate or change systems of power and privilege.

If we were all caregivers, we should not rest until the lyrics of Ella’s Song by Bernice Johnson Reagon have come to pass: “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons /Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons.”

If we were all caregivers, perhaps white people could show up better for racial justice, align with black lives matter, understand and make changes in our privilege, our assumptions, and our fragility.

If we were all caregivers in the universal sense—not just in watching over our own children on the subway or playground, but seeing every child and human as having the same rights and potential we see in our own offspring—we would make a difference.

I often call for micro-revolutions small changes in perspective and actions by each of us everyday to make our world safer, more just, more inclusive and kinder.

Being a white woman I do not know the impact on communities of color of being all caregivers. I can focus on my work and sweep my side of the street, stay in my lane, and make changes in my field such as paying worthy wages for early childhood teachers, childcare workers and domestic workers, advocating for access and equity in schools, acknowledging that each school and community has its own cultural context and values, and bringing to our community experts in areas where I am a learner.

If we were all caregivers, we would recognize that every human has the right to be free from racism and brutality, that black lives matter, and that allowing for oppression divides society. If we were all caregivers, we could live together in honest struggle instead of what Martin Luther King called perishing as fools.

  1. Immigration

If we were all caregivers, we would realize that families who take care of each other should be together. While adults may debate on borders and policies, we can learn from children, like five-year-old Sophie Cruz who ran up to Pope Francis (Papa Francisco) and gave him a letter. She wrote:

I want to tell you that my heart is sad about the discrimination of the immigrants in this country. [Immigrants] are good people, they work hard in the fields…like my dad, who I barely get to see.  I ask that they stop deporting our parents because we need them to grow and be happy. I have hope that this pain will come to peace.

Or perhaps we can learn from our own parent community…like Maple Street alumni parent Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. She writes in her blog post, For my Mother, For My Daughters

We need to stop immigration enforcement policies that would keep a nursing mother away from her baby. We need to stop immigration enforcement policies, which will subject all women of color to increased racial profiling. This is not the America we should be.

If we were all caregivers, we would put nurturing before nationalism and make policies that protect families instead of borders.

  1. Being us, our bodies, our choices, complex identities, complex lives.

I often say when families go on a tour of Maple Street that you get to be you here, whether you are a baby or a grandparent. You can wear a dress or a cape no matter what gender you are and you know that you matter, every single one of you. I explain that everyone is central to our school and are to be treated well, included and visible. I explain that there is no child admission process and I have never met a child that should not get into Maple Street. We work toward a better world, a caregiving world.

When it comes to issues of choice I look to a Benedictine Nun, Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. who writes:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

She too believes we are all caregivers.

Many people often tell me I don’t live in the real world and I agree and take this as a compliment. I do not deny abuse or atrocities and am willing to disagree and make room to hear your voice (as long as we are both being safe and kind).

I do firmly believe that we are creators of culture whether it is a pre-school, a family, a community, a village, or a country…and if our cultures put caregiving before the right to bear arms, we would do so much better.

That being said I laugh at my own idealism at times, as I know our lives, struggles, and identities are complex. I have witnessed or experienced abuse, addiction, racism, poverty, xenophobia and many injustices and I, as a white woman with family support, acknowledge my privilege and know both my education and my current job and lifestyle have benefitted from it.

That being said, I would love to end with a moment of sankofa—a word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates as “reach back and get it” or, as I have understood it, looking back to move forward—and leave you with a beautiful vintage 1960’s 1970’s vintage preschool moment where we remember deeply and on every level that arms are not something we should bear. They have another, much more essential purpose.

We are all caregivers.

With love and justice,

Warmly,

Wendy

 

The United Nations and a Pumpkin (by Wendy)

 

We should see science as a provider of our wishes. -Dr. Hayat Sindi, Leading Biotechnologist United Nations Speaker on Women and Science

I like a pumpkin when the seeds pop out. -Mira, Maple Street School, Age 2.5

 

It may seem like a pumpkin and the United Nations don’t have much in common.  They are not even both round and orange and full of seeds. One has much more security.

But for me last month, visiting the United Nations and hearing Dr. Hayat Sindi Speak about Women, Science and Our Globalised World and having children and teachers deeply explore the insides of the pumpkin I was reminded of Maple Street’s and my thoughts on education, investigation and wonder.

So yes, I am going to compare my visit to the United Nations to children and teachers deeply discovering the inside of a pumpkin because they both relate to stretching ourselves, wonder, problem solving, knowledge, creativity, community and creating a better world.

First I want to let you know that our whole community of teachers and parents were invited by parent Indira Keane.  Indira is one of the two members of the diversity committee and, though it was not a typical event, I agreed with her that “global food for thought” would be a way to stretch our community in thinking about diversity and learning.

And because we know parents and teachers are busy, I was the very only one who responded and it took a bit of push and grit to get there.  The afterschool teachers were worried the giant journey sticks I picked from the park were too big, so we set out yellow and orange paints and glitter to make the sticks enticing and started painting.  They were beautiful and the painting and wonder took hold, and then I answered a few Maple Street concerns and almost had to cancel to pick up my daughter as her dad was stuck at the Department of Buildings.

But it all worked like magic and like a witch on a broom, I flew through the subway to Manhattan through security, met Indira, saw some art and history from across the world, went to the potty,  and the next thing I knew I was sitting in a giant spinning leather chair across from Ban Ki-Moon. Yep, the Secretary General of the United Nations.  And the first thing I thought was these chairs are way way way bigger than Maple Street pre-school chairs and then I thought about and knew why I was there:

  1. I deeply believe in unique extraordinary experiences and
  2. The United Nations and Maple Street have some things in common.

So back to the pumpkin and Maple Street and extraordinary experiences.  Please stay with me as I know this can feel a little Alice in Wonderland or Cinderella or even Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater (with a rewrite of the wife part) , but it makes beautiful fun sense.

I have a quote in my office by Leo Lionni, a children’s book writer and author and one my favorite philosophers. He writes “…and even if it was nothing but an ordinary little pebble, she would say, ‘Isn’t it extraordinary?’”

In preschool the ordinary and the extraordinary are the same thing and that is what feels so mindful and spectacular at the same time.

Let me now take you inside a pumpkin with a group of 2-5 year olds and their grown-ups. Let’s begin with Lincoln, age 4,  who explained that the inside is wet and mushy.  “Mommy takes out the seeds and cooks the pumpkin.”

Lulu, age 3, then added, “It’s gooey and yummy when you cook it.”

Violet, age 3 chimed in, “It feels like fun cheese.”

And Zazie concluded, “I only use a spoon, I didn’t want to get my hands gooey, the pulp is yucky and it is science because we learn about pumpkins.”

So back to the United Nations, which of course is not gooey nor feels like fun cheese, but it was about science and empowerment.  Dr. Hayat Sindi spoke a lot about interdependence and science in a social context.

This is what was happening at the preschool level and at the United Nations. Dr. Sindi was talking about how women’s passion is the best for science – we could discover a cure for cancer, help for the aged, and robots for dangerous jobs.  Women, she said, keep science relevant.

At pre-school the same interdependence and community connection keeps science not only relevant, but full of wonder.  Rachel Carson, a science hero of mine speaks to this and to the exploration of the inside of a pumpkin when she says, “It is not half so important to know as to feel.”

I would add that when we feel the inside of a pumpkin we know it, and wonder more….this is the essence of pre-school.  It is discovery and play.  It is gooey and academic.  It is play and rigor.

In the forefront of early education are play and rigor.

Just recently, on October 21, 2014,  in the opinion pages of the New York Times Shael Polakow-Suransky and Nancy Nager wrote, “This is a false choice. We do not need to pick between play and academic rigor… While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.”

Our children felt the gooey pumpkin slime and tasted the hard seeds, and investigated.

Lulu said,  “There are seeds in it, they help it grow.”

Just like Lulu said, I felt like that at the United Nations, listening to Hayat Sindi, the seeds in it that make it grow.

I even looked up the mission of the United Nations and found this: “We work to build a better world by strengthening and improving the United Nations through the engagement of people who share a global mindset and support international cooperation–global citizens.”

Sounds a lot like Maple Street working together, only we are in a pumpkin and they are in the world.

Both ways create joyful thinkers, and passionate scientists in the context of cooperation and engagement.

Our teachers too commented on the pumpkin both experientially and using their knowledge of early childhood pedagogy.

Toti started by expressing, “I have never gotten my hands so deep in a pumpkin so slimy and smooth at the same time.”

Anne Marie added to this feeling by saying she noted the texture and the feel of moisture teaches her to recognize different slime and how it feels on her skin.

Jenn said, “In preschool experiments we are learning to be a scientist and how to develop experiments and how to develop your ability to explore the world.”

The teachers then began having a discussion, I heard words like “think about what you know” and “be investigative.”

When you do that, Peggy added, the children use their 5 senses, how it smells, listen to it, how it tastes…then they wonder about everything ordinary, what’s inside an orange, what’s inside a cantaloupe, what’s inside a tomato.  Lunch is learning, so is going to the grocery store – those things become science.

It resonated with what Dr. Hayat Sindi said when she talked about her childhood.  She said “I waded through dusty books, but I couldn’t find a woman who looked like me.”

She also said that mothers should not be struggling alone to bring up global citizens.

At Maple Street and in all early childhood, a pumpkin, some curious children, and some thoughtful teachers can make a lot of difference.

For me going to the United Nations and hearing Doctor Sindi, well, it did feel like the children exploring a pumpkin…and these reasons are central early childhood, cooperation and a better world.

  1. They both require intention, risks and spontaneity: It was a little scary going to the United Nations by myself, but not too scary, probably about as scary as sticking your hand inside a pumpkin for the first time.
  2. I thought about power and influence: What we do at pre-school in a pumpkin and in the world in the United Nations empowers us to work together, to discover, and to be innovative. Who has access to schools like Maple Street, the United Nations, science, wonder and exploring the world?
  3. Thinking deeper and wider: When we have unique extraordinary experiences we think deeper and wider.  We wonder more about the grocery store, the neighborhood and the world.
  4. Interdependence and Community: When we work together in pre-school and in science we generate ideas together and collaborate, both our ideas and our community become stronger and more enriched.
  5. Creating a better world: I am not quite sure how this works either through the United Nations or a Pumpkin but I do know that cooperation lends itself to cooperation as does kindness to kindness and somehow with micro and macro shifts, our practicing of living gets better and eventually so does our world…

So it is with the United Nations and the inside of a Pumpkin that I want to reflect on and say thanks to Maple Street for being a place where we all risk to put our hands literally and metaphorically inside the pulp, the goop, the riskiness of life, where it can be scary, interesting and full of wonder and  learning.

And finally, I hope that your children and you carry this hand in the goop, risky and new feeling into your Thanksgiving and holiday and winter so that Maple Street and all of us learn to turn what in a little slimy and uncomfortable or big and new into love, learning and wonder.

Wendy at the UN

Wendy at the UN