Creating Nurturing Environments (Part Two)
"Only to the degree that people have what they need,
Have you ever heard young children talk about how much they love it when the power goes out? Without electricity no one is on the computer or watching television. The whole family gathers in one room by candlelight and tells stories or plays games. Our lives today are often so hectic that many homes feel more like a home base where the family sleeps, showers, does laundry, stores their belongings, sometimes cooks and eats meals, and watches television. For the first seven years of life children need their home and family to be their most nurturing environment. Since many young children now spend more of their waking hours away from home than at home they need a nurturing home environment more than ever.
Creating nurturing environments for our children means more meeting their physical survival needs of food, clothing, shelter and protection. Creating environments, in which children can thrive, means consciously creating warm, loving, sensory rich environments where their physical, emotional and spiritual needs are recognized, honored, and met by their family and their community. It is true that children "live what they learn" and they learn what they experience. Children absorb and imitate what they experience in their environment. Their exterior environment molds their interior environment. Just as area is a product of length times width, human beings are a product of nature times nurture. The potential children are born with will be limited by or nurtured by their environment. A nurturing environment is one that gives children the security and opportunity to discover themselves and their world.
In a nurturing environment the family spends more time gathered around the table than around the television. The family table is where the family is both nourished and nurtured. Working on projects and school work, drinking hot cocoa, playing board games, learning to peel carrots and roll out cookie dough, having tea parties and eating birthday cake together turns the family table into a nurturing "center" where many of the most important, interesting and nurturing things happen in the home.
A rocking chair is an essential piece of furniture in a nurturing environment. Children crave the nurturing of touch. Whether we are soothing a baby or reading stories, rocking is nurturing to both the adult and the child. Children rarely refuse an invitation be rocked, especially if it also means hearing a story or a song. The rocking chair should be in the room where we will use it the most. We love rocking chairs so much we have one (or two) in almost every room. Outside (or in) a hammock creates another nurturing place to cuddle, to read, sing, tell stories and rock.
Gathering around a fire has always been a symbol of physical and emotional warmth. Children love gathering around a campfire or fireplace. Even if we don't go camping or have a fireplace/ wood stove to gather around simply lighting a candle at the dinner table can create the warm feeling of gathering around the fire. Another quick, convenient, magical source of warmth is the microwave. Any 100% cotton fabric can be warmed in the microwave. Imagine how nurturing it feels to get out of a bath and be wrapped in a warm bath towel and dressed in warm flannel pajamas that have been heated in the microwave. One of our favorite warm comforts is the rice pillows you heat up in the microwave to warm cold feet, sooth aching muscles or just to cuddle up with.
Being in or near water is soothing to children and adults. Children love to be in or near water. Just filling a plastic tub with water and some empty containers provides hours of contentment for young ones. Whenever we take children to the ocean, the lake, the river, a pool or put them in the bathtub we provide a nurturing environment. A table fountain is now in the same price range as a toaster and a fountain brings the soothing sight and sound of water right into our home. The place everyone wants to sit at our house is in the rocking chair that faces the wood stove and is beside our table fountain.
When we garden with children they feel connected to the earth and nature. Children need to touch the earth and feel connected to living things. They love to dig in the dirt, plant seeds and seedling and watch them grow. Even if we don't have space for a garden or know the first thing about gardening we can still give our children the nurturing experience of gardening. We can put a seed in a jar of soil, transplant marigolds into a window box, plant a tree on a child's birthday or measure and record the amazing daily growth of an amaryllis during the holidays. Any connection to living, growing things creates a nurturing environment for children.
The living things most children love to be connected to are animals. Most children dream of having a pet to love and care for. I once read that " it is a good thing for children to have animals to care for. It reminds them that they are not the only living creatures on the earth." Children love to feed the ducks, the birds and squirrels in the park. Hanging a birdfeeder where children can watch it out the window is a great way to give children a connection to nature. Even if our living situation does not allow pets we can provide children with access to animals through friends, relatives, neighbors and community.
Part of creating nurturing environments is spending time with our children in nurturing places. With everyone in the family so often going in different directions, it is important that families have places to go together. The local library provides the family with more than books. When we go to the library often and attend story hours and special activities, the library becomes a nurturing environment for our children. For many families their place of worship provides a nurturing environment. One of the most family- friendly, nurturing environments I know is the Family Dance at the Wescustego Grange on Rt. 115 in Yarmouth at 6PM every second and fourth Saturday. The dances are taught each time so parents and children can learn them together. There is live music and children dance with their parents and siblings and other families. At 7:30 there is a pot- luck dinner (bring something yummy to share) for all the hungry dancers. Parents have as much fun as the children do; it's great exercise, and a wonderful opportunity to experience community.
As children get older they have a greater need for the nurturing of community. Parenting never used to be and was never intended to be a one or two person job. It does take a village to raise a child. Since we no longer live in villages creating a community for our children is vital to creating a nurturing environment. The calendar in Parent & Family is a rich resource that lists many activities and events to support families in planning nurturing activities to do together. When we create opportunities for children to spend time with people who play musical instruments, tell stories, dance, sing, paint, garden, cook, sew, knit, weave and build things, we provide a nurturing environment for their imagination, creativity, and self-esteem.
One of the most important aspects of a nurturing environment is ritual. If we grew up in a family where rituals were an important part of family life we are more likely to perpetuate rituals in our own family, but even if we don't recall many rituals we can create new ones for our family. Lighting a candle at the dinner table, reading at bedtime, having pizza on Friday night, picking apples in the fall, and carving pumpkins at Halloween become rituals when we do them consistently. Daily, weekly, and seasonal rituals give children a sense of security, stability, and belonging. These family rituals become an anchor for children as they navigate their way through a world filled with inconsistency and uncertainty.
One of the reasons children love the holidays is the nurturing rituals that accompany them. The things we do with our children give them more than anything we can ever buy for them. Decorating our home, preparing special foods, making gifts of love, and attending special services, gatherings, and performances together create the nurturing environment that families need throughout the year. When we learn to incorporate all the nurturing elements of the holidays into our daily lives we can keep the spirit of the holidays alive in our hearts and our homes all year.
SUGGESTED READING FOR CREATING NURTURING ENVIRONMENTS:
"Creating Nurturing Environments (Part Two)"