Though it was a drizzly, chilly day outside, there was plenty of warmth and sunshine inside the Luscher Farm's classroom where we gathered for stories and songs. We did a lot of singing as folks arrived, changing the words to suit us: "♫ If you're happy on the farm, ♪clap your hands, ♫ if you like to feed the chickens, ♪ shout, 'Hurray!!'....." and "♪Clap your hands, ♪touch your toes, ♫ turn around and ♬ put your finger on your nose....." We are getting to be quite the song and dance act!! And lots of happy faces peaking out from those hooded sweatshirts. Emy's smile lit up the room as she handed me a picture of an elephant she had colored "for Miss Lynne" and a book she and her dad had read the night before. It was a very funny book. Would I read it today? Of course!! Who wouldn't enjoy hearing about The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash, the silly story of a field trip to a farm that a little boy relates to his mother. Possibly he's exaggerating??? The author is Trinka Hakes Noble.
Though I think the children and parents enjoyed story time the week before, Henrietta and I were a bit wrung out by morning's end. Holding the attention of 18 children, mostly very young with plenty of nearly-two-year-olds, was a huge challenge. Some were "helping" me play the autoharp. We were tap dancing as fast as we could!! By necessity, we cut the story portion of the morning short, did more singing and movement, but even then we needed to go outside to explore and play much earlier than usual. They were so restless!! I can't even recall what books we read. Did we actually read a book? Maybe we just looked at some pictures. I couldn't even think what to write about the day.
All week I pondered how we might meet the diverse needs of these families. Having a place to bring very young children to introduce them to a group experience and to explore the wonders of nature is important. So is connecting with other families. But many of the older children are eager to delve more deeply into the subject of gardening, farming and all its related topics. And they enjoy more complex stories. I hated to think they might lose interest and stop coming. No solution seemed quite right. But as I drove out to the farm for this week's story time, a light bulb went on. What if we spent the first 15 minutes of story time with more singing and some very simple stories and then let those younger children who were getting restless leave with their moms to check out the chickens and head over to the Children's Garden to get an early start on the digging? Then the older children could stay on to enjoy some longer stories with more complicated plots or subjects. I gave the moms and nannies a heads up about the plan and at quarter after the hour about half left to go to the garden. The rest settled in to listen attentively to more stories. It felt like a win-win solution to me. Hopefully the participating families agreed.
For the younger crowd we read This Is the Farmer by Nancy Tafuri. Few words, simple plot, large, bold illustrations. We had to look closely to find the flea that lands on the cat. But it was there!! Everyone enjoyed The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson. Who doesn't love cookies? Can you imagine why the cow loves cookies? Hint: milk and cookies taste mighty good together. We barely made it through The Animals of Farmer Jones by Richard Scarry before attention spans were spent. Though the book is very age appropriate for the younger crowd, they'd just had enough. When I checked it out, I remembered this story. It was read to me as a child. I read it to my own children. Sure enough, a Golden Book, it was published in 1942, and has obviously stood the test of time. All the animals are hungry, but where is Farmer Jones? Finally we learn he is out in the field on his tractor, a great segue to the younger crowds departure and some play time on the Children's Garden tractor.
The older ones settled in to quietly enjoy the story of Jimmy's boa constrictor and then we read Stephen and the Beetle by Jorge Lujan. I've been dying to share this ever since I first saw it, but it's not for the younger crowd. Dramatically illustrated by Chiara Carrer, one of Italy's best-known children's book illustrators, this is a simple, but surprising story. One day Stephen spots a beetle in the garden. He takes off his shoe and is just about to squash it, but then he has another thought...... It's a thought-provoking story and the children were quietly reflective. I told them it reminded me of some of them, their fascination with studying the beetles, worms and slugs we find under the straw bale.
Not much digging went on this week; kind of muddy. But we fed the chickens oatmeal and the worms vegetable trimmings and shredded newspaper. And some boys noticed some large, dead worms in one plot, apparent victims of a Boy Scout digging project there last weekend. We recalled learning a few weeks ago that a worm's life is dangerous.
The garden is looking so gorgeous. Children's Garden Co-ordinator Dawn has really been working hard and harnessing the power of lots of volunteers. The tunnel is planted with pea vines which will soon cover it; already some children were crawling through. The fairy house has been wired to a post so it won't fall down and freshly replanted, inviting imaginative play. Lots of herbs to smell and taste, fuzzy leaves to touch, bees to watch, flowers to delight the senses, a promise of veggies to come. And adorable children running about enjoying all its wonders! I feel so lucky to be able to spend my Wednesday mornings in the Children's Garden! I think the moms and kids do, too.
That being said, I will be away for awhile. First a vacation and then back surgery in early June. Dawn will take over the storytelling and Children's Garden exploration in my absence. I know I'll miss your delightful children while I'm gone. Hopefully I will be back telling stories, singing songs and enjoying the garden with you all by the end of June or early July. All rested, repaired and ready to roll once again!!