The Modern Family

Supporting the life of the modern family. Gerrit Raichle

Childcare has long been part of society but from an anthroposophical perspective is new and comes in response to the ever changing world of today where family life is constantly impinged upon by society’s perspective and expectations, often resulting in both parents working.Little children are confronted with ‘rush’ as the usual feature of family life where parents – their role models – are in an almost constant whirl of ‘busyness’. How can these families be inspired to create a nurturing home?It was with these and other thoughts in mind that Awhina Day Nursery was born in 1995 in Havelock North, offering a care environment that looked to the needs of modern families and supported children on their journey into life.So what is an anthroposophical day nursery? It is a day nursery that offers children and their families an environment which allows the child to unfold their potential in a healthy, unrushed manner; where they can learn to become truly social through empathetic guidance and supportive rhythms and where the family can experience good sound practices of the archetypal home which can then become part of their home culture if they so choose.Providing anthroposophical childcare is of course primarily for the individual child, but it looks to the needs of the family today, respecting their values and choices and supporting and nurturing their life of ‘family’.  At Awhina, we endeavour to do this without any form of judgement and in a way that does not ‘dictate’ but rather provides possibilities for parents to experience this way through the practical day-to-day care and management of the child.A parent stepping into the day nursery for the first time can experience a thoroughly prepared environment, with caregivers engaged in their tasks and children busily involved in their play.  Parents can only leave their child in an environment they relate to and where they experience empathy of relationships and trust the caregivers that are in that environment.When this transition from home to the nursery is addressed with care and consciousness, then the child is able to take the step without discomfort or trauma.The homeIn days gone by, the mother stayed at home with the infant for at least the first forty days after birth. Both were protected from the world and only slowly did the mother re-enter the outer world of society, and still with an intuitive protection for the infant. Whilst mother and baby meet the world a great deal sooner these days, home is still considered the ideal environment to ‘cradle’ the infant into life. However, the changing needs and dictates of society means today’s children are often not able to remain in the home environment during these first years. Hence the supportive environment of an anthroposophical childcare centre modeled on the archetypal home – a home away from home – is the next best environment for very young children.

Creating a home for body, soul and spirit

The infant in its early months lives within the soul realm radiating from the mother that protects the vulnerable infant from every sound and nuance of emotion swirling around in their immediate environment with tenderness and love. It is this mantle of soul interwoven with the nuances of the father that creates the environment into which the child is held.  It is this atmosphere that ‘caresses’ the child into life in the early months.

When the child is first brought to the day nursery, that ‘soul’ mantle that surrounds the child is ‘folded back’ to encompass the life of the nursery with its own colours and tones, and together, the family and the nursery surround the child on their awakening journey to the earth, each supporting the other. This transition from home to the day nursery can take weeks or sometimes months to enable mother and child to fully embrace what is to become the family’s second home.

The day nursery assumes the role of the archetypal home (without replacing the child’s own home) allowing the child to ‘breathe’ in an unhurried manner and to gently ‘unfold’ in a protected environment. The nursery is prepared, acknowledging the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the child, allowing them to develop a healthy physical body, a rich soul life and the potential to strive for a spiritual life as a free human being.

Homemaking belongs to the life of the day nursery just as it belongs to the life of the home. We see it as a profession that carries with it the possibility to bring about profound changes in society. How our children are raised, the values that surround them, the social life of the home, all have  consequences and impact on the wider community. The work of the day nursery is about supporting this family life.  The late Manfred Schmidt-Brabant ( past General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society), refers to the art of homemaking as a spiritual ideal.  We continually contemplate the role the anthroposophical day nursery has in this statement.


Developing a four-fold being

Just as the being of the child needs to be nurtured from a physical and soul/spiritual perspective, the life or being of the nursery has to be nurtured and developed, through an understanding of the four-fold nature of the human being. These four aspects need to be nourished and maintained in order for the ‘whole’ to be healthy. It is the nurturing of these four environmental sheaths that is the central theme of our work and our study.

The physical environment of the day nursery needs to be aesthetic and thoroughly ‘penetrated’. The day nursery, like the archetypal home, is a reflection of the heavenly realm, awakening in the child a sense of well being, of coming home, and memories of the distant cosmic home, thereby supporting the child to maintain the ‘dreamy’ consciousness that is so much part of the child under three years.

It is surely every child’s right to grow up in a garden filled with flowers and herbs, vegetables and fruits, where they feel the grass under their feet and are surrounded by the beauty of nature’s creations. The awe of a sunflower towering above them, or the sound of mother hen chortling to her bevy of chickens, are experiences that can only enhance and strengthen the sense of  life as well as the child’s relationship to the natural world. The nursery’s environment, both inner and outer, offers a variety of possibilities for play and exploration.

Like the home, Awhina provides the possibility of different spaces, each space having its own quality. Little children are better supported in small groups which is made possible by the number of co-workers. There are sleeping nurseries for infants, away from the centre of activity; the dining room and sitting room provide different play spaces and there is a separate room for art and craft activities. The kitchen, the very heart of the home, has a place for the children to ‘be’ at the bench safely.

Order and good management are essential pre-requisites in maintaining the environment with beauty and care, and each co-worker looks on the day nursery not as a place of work but more as a home for which they are responsible through their intimate connection to the task of the homemaker.

The etheric or life sheath of the day nursery is supported by a healthy rhythmical life, giving the child the time to dream their way from this to that. Rhythm is the transition or movement from one activity to the next.  At the day nursery, parents come to experience these healthy rhythms through their child and the child experiences a sense of comfort and security in knowing what is to happen next. Each child is guided into a right movement through the day, which supports and ensures that the child is well-rested, happy and able to make a transition back into their home environment.

Infants are cared for by their own primary caregiver who maintains this role until such time as the child is ready to step away to be tended by other caregivers. This reflects a more ‘intimate’ way of working, in that the children are supported in a family grouping rather than segregated by age; at the same time, the very young have a protected and quieter space meeting their needs. The child experiences the family constitution of male and female co-workers and a mix of children of varying ages.

Hygiene rhythms are an important aspect of this very young age group and the caregiver supports the child into good practices with hand washing, teeth cleaning and toileting allowing them to be responsible for their own hygiene in a healthy way. It is important to ‘rhythmitise’ the child into good hygiene practices at an age when it simply becomes part of what happens naturally

The child is supported with the optimum nutrition gained from ‘Demeter’ grains – a different grain for each mid-day meal and produce including seasonal vegetables from the nursery garden. For many children, the food served is not necessarily what they  have been used to, but experience shows that, with patience, the child comes to eagerly anticipate the meals prepared with love and consciousness of the life forces. Our recipes are made available to parents who want to prepare the same food at home.

The soul of the nursery is that realm that embraces the social, sharing and co-working aspect. It is about relationships. It allows both co-worker and parent to know the environment, feel comfortable and ‘at home’. It is paramount for the children that the relationships around them are secure and consistent. It is for this reason that relievers are not used unless they are familiar to the children. Rather, a healthy co-working team is able to ‘tighten’ their working and fill the space left by an absent co-worker. The giving and taking and acknowledgement of fellow co-workers plays an intrinsic role and is pivotal to the healthy life of the day nursery.

The weekly pedagogical meeting forms the heart of the day nursery and is an opportunity for all co-workers to ‘be’ together, reflect on the week passed and the week to come, to study together, to look at particular children, to share openly and honestly the working relationships, reflecting on both positive and difficult issues.

Finally, there is the ego sheath, that realm of aims and impulses of Awhina which is expressed out of individual understanding of an anthroposophical way of working.  This way of working may be new to many co-workers, and although there is no expectation that they become anthroposophists, it is important that they ‘aspire’ to Awhina’s aims and impulses that arise out of Anthroposophy.

Whether anthroposophical childcare arises as an independent initiative, as has Awhina, or is affiliated or sponsored by an already established institution, there needs to be an independence of ‘being’ where the day nursery can develop based on the needs of the family and child.

It is in the healthy working of these four sheaths that the spiritual being, connected with and guiding Awhina, can enter and bring support to the impulse of anthroposophical childcare.

The need for anthroposophical childcare, which is intrinsically different to the kindergarten work and needs to be acknowledged as such, is now recognised worldwide.  With the growing recognition of this work, the development of specific training is imperative and is already available in parts of the world.

Awhina today

Since 1995 Awhina has developed its vision and this initiative continues to endeavour to meet the needs of the modern parent. Workshops on parenting, education, and festivals of the home are offered regularly at Awhina, and when it became apparent that parents also wanted to purchase woollen slippers, vests, leggings, hats, soft dollies and other items we deemed important, then Awhina Cottage Craft began life.During 2000, it was becoming more and more apparent that the professional development and advisory service that had become part of our everyday life, would need to be formalised, and so during Easter of 2001, Margaret Stevenson and Bernadette formed Sophia Early Childhood Associates, and a more formal programme of professional development began. Since this time, we have offered seminars for our own co-workers, other day centres and interested individuals.In 2003, Gerrit Raichle joined Sophia Early Childhood Associates when he took over the day-to-day management of Awhina, allowing Bernadette time to provide consultancy work and anthroposophical Early Childhood teaching programmes in New Zealand, Japan and the USA. She has been involved, together with Marjorie Thatcher from Vancouver, in the creation of a new 2 year course in anthroposophical childcare at the West Coast Institute for Studies in Anthroposophy in Canada.The changes in family life in this sometimes hectic and busy world are not always easily accepted. We would all like for things to remain as they were with children able to be ‘anchored’ in their home environment as is still the case for some families. However this is not real for many families today. Society has changed. Family life needs to be offered the possibility for renewal and for this to happen we need to offer a role-model, hence the advent of child care from an anthroposophical perspective. This is the ‘real’ work of the anthroposophical day nursery.We now know that Awhina was ahead of its time in offering this new and innovative approach to the care of the very young child from an anthroposophical viewpoint. It is the experience and penetration into this work since 1995 that is now serving many in their strivings to provide childcare environments worldwide out of an anthroposophical perspective.

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