We all want our children to love school. I haven’t yet met a parent to say otherwise. Regardless of our own experiences or memories – we all want our children to love school.

It starts early. No matter where you are from, or where you are – it is always there – this conscious desire and in fact sense of urgency that our children have a positive, pro-social, empowering, meaningful, long lasting experience of school. And as their parents – we are driven to find this place for them in order for that good start, that first taste, that lingering warmth that underscores the rest of their educational journey.

It is where they will make their first friends, work on writing their first name, paint something to adorn their refrigerator or bedroom walls, and learn how to say goodbye and wow how they learn how to celebrate hello.

When they are young, we scour the options – if we are so lucky to have options – and try to find a place that mirrors our own values and expectations and understanding about what makes for a good school. And the funny part of that – is that has been my experience, both personally as a parent myself, and based on the hundreds of visits with prospective parents – it is really all a feeling. A gut instinct kind of experience. You walk through a school, you hear the words, but it is in how a place makes you feel that you know if this is the place for your child.

And now, in these coming weeks and months, I will meet a new batch of earnest, inquiring, parents – who come to find out in person about this community, our program, curriculum, and who walk about and wonder if this could be the place for their child to fall in love with school.

And here’s what we forget as parents sometimes…they will love if we do too. The children feel that most of all. When parents embrace a school – so will their children. And in that hug, that hello – the child can then be nurtured. The love and trust that exist between parent and teacher, parent and place become the fertile ground from which the beauty of love and learning can take place.

Community Nursery School is a co-op – meaning that the parents are all involved in the operations, decisions, and daily life of the school. I often tout the research that supports the connection that children benefit when their parents are involved with their school. But do we really need the research to back up what we already know and feel in our hearts? It just makes sense. When a child knows his parents care enough about a school to go to a night meeting, or attend a work day weekend or take time from work to parent help – the child gets the message. School is a special place. An important place. A place where mommy and daddy get to play, too.

This year, I have the much fun of welcoming some children into our youngest group — that I knew before they were born.  I can remember with each of these children when the mom told me she was pregnant.  And so now those babies are Front Roomers.

One of them happens to call CNS, “freeschool”.  And I think that is just beautiful.  Because isn’t that really what it’s all about?  A place where free play and love abound.  An environment where freedom is cherished and a child’s self will is respected.  Freeschool.  I like it.  (Thank you Charlie.)

Our connections go deep.  Our love is deeper still.  This is more than just a school.  It is a community.  And I am just so grateful to be along for the ride.

Keeping it REAL

 IMG_0012“It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

I recently moved to Belmont.

In exploring my new neighborhood this summer, I stepped into a bakery a couple blocks from my apartment. Ohlins. A friend was coming over for coffee that morning and I thought it would be nice to have some muffins to share.

Ohlins has a somewhat dingy store front – handwritten signs yellowed with curled edges. Inside, old time bakery cases are trimmed with an array of Green Mountain coffee options. In the cases, the variety of doughnuts is plentiful and right there in that shop on that morning, I spontaneously decided to skip the muffins and opt for the a jelly dipped instead.

I ate one on the walk back – and I was transformed. With the first bite, I was brought back to my childhood when all doughnuts tasted just like that. Pure. And good. Not just good – deliciously good. With no aftertaste – no weird slippery feeling on the top of my mouth like when I eat a Dunkin Donut – this was just a good delicious sweet treat.

And I realized something on that street corner. That doughnut was REAL. No chemicals. No preservatives. Made that morning.

It really made me consider that while I was enjoying those purely delightful calories that would do nothing for my body but give me a sugar rush and more fat to burn off – I realized that I wasn’t ingesting any chemicals. And how is it that our food system has become so corrupt that buying a real doughnut felt like a new experience? A novelty. Something my own teenaged children have yet to experience.

It is hard to find REAL this days. It is hard to sustain conversations without having someone check their phone or hear a text alert beep.  We are so distracted and our attentions split between before, now, and what’s next. It is hard to demand REAL. We live in a fast food cheaply constructed consumer driven world where there is very little REAL. We live in a world where it is cheaper to buy a new oven then get your few years old oven fixed.

As part of my move to Belmont, an old family bed came up to Long Island to furnish my bedroom. My brother graciously drove it up for me arriving one Saturday morning. I had been moving stuff into my apartment all morning – but when that bed arrived – something else happened. I couldn’t lift it myself. Not one piece of it. And I consider myself reasonably fit and strong. But there was no moving or even putting that bed together by myself. It was heavy. Made of REAL wood. Nothing like the stuff I had recently purchased – not even close.

I know there are so many new inventions and advances that make our lives better today then what life was like for my parents – or their parents. But what have we lost?

We have to become more aware of what is REAL in our lives. So that we don’t miss our own opportunities to be REAL and we recognize when there is REAL. To be present. To fully love. To be aware of what is distracting from this present moment. To eat REAL food. To appreciate the weight of REAL wood. To stop and smell REAL roses.

Be aware of what is REAL. Because with real ingredients in your life, everything tastes so much better.