This summer, our childcare provider person decided she needed to move on to her next adventure. Maria’s decision set into motion our community’s response to finding our next childcare provider, and this, in turn, led to larger questions—like, what do we really want for the children who live with us at Breitenbush Hot Springs?
Coincidentally, we’re experiencing a relative baby boom at Breitenbush, a sort of rebirth of children being born and coming to live in our community. This, after a longish period during which we had few, if any, children living here year-round. For starters, we now have the baby boy I adopted with my partner a couple of years ago. I cannot adequately describe how it changed my life to change diapers again, and do all those things that new parents do. Raising children is like riding a bicycle, you never forget how really, but wow….. Gabriel has refocused my life in love like a laser.
I am not alone in such focus. Early this summer, Leah and David brought Carlo into this world (in the same cabin my daughter Jazz Minh Claire was born, back in 1978). This is also the summer that Paul and Anna bring “Sky Baby”, their second child, into the world. And in our Parents Meeting of mid-July, Starr and Justin let us in on their own miracle—they’ll be birthing their first child sometime in late winter/early spring. Eric Powell (dad of 7-year old Riley) got it right when he exclaimed, “It’s a wave!” But into what childcare program is this wave splashing? Is it mainly early childhood education with emphasis on safety, health and loving nurturance? Or do we want to create a program based on curriculum, a school of some kind, and if so, what?
Breitenbush’s older kids, Elliot (Bernice and Collin’s five year-old) and Stella (baby Carlo’s older sister), are year-round in childcare, as is baby Gabriel now. Other kids, some older, visit periodically when their parents come to work at the springs. So our Childcare Provider must work with children of differing ages and with some kids full time and others part-time.
Historically, most families leave Breitenbush about the time their children turn 6 or 7. Reasons include the diversity of educational opportunities out in the world and social interaction with more kids than is possible at Breitenbush. No doubt, there are other reasons too.
Given the above, the question – why don’t families stay – and creating a children’s program that attracts more of them to do just that, are big discussion items now among the parents and other workers at Breitenbush since Maria left. After all, Breitenbush is a miraculous environment for learning in nature, there’s nothing like it in the city. My own daughters, all of whom live in city environments now, have been imprinted with wilderness since early childhood and I witness how it informs their imaginations and experience of life for the good like nothing else could (TV doesn’t compete). But like so many others in the history of our community, they ultimately received their education from a combination of public schools and homeschooling, with summers and vacations at the springs.
And so, we wrestle with questions that center on what shall be central to our childcare program. It starts with love, safety, mental & physical health, self-directed and natural learning – but should it also include an inspired curriculum, carefully orchestrated by an inspired teacher, that opens the senses and minds of children fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of it? If so, when should such curriculum-directed learning begin anyway? What do we want the legacy of a childhood spent at Breitenbush to be? And finally, what is the responsibility of parents in this combination of children, childcare provider and the socio-natural environment at Breitenbush?
When it comes to hiring a new Childcare Provider, all of these questions are brought to bear. And in the back of my mind like a mantra there repeats the question, how do we amplify the happiness-based sanity of our kids, our experimental community/co-op, and ultimately our world? It starts with what happens in childhood.