Since 2008, a small group of children have gathered at the Ludlow Farm in Mecox, spending their days enthralled in a summer camp focused on the outdoors, art, imaginative free play and gathering together engaged in simple rituals like making vegetable soup and homemade bread for snack time.
Directed by Lisa Bono, a certified and experienced Waldorf trained early childhood educator and the founding teacher of New Amsterdam Early Childhood Center in New York City, last year Our Sons and Daughters expanded into an early childhood program for parents and children at a private home. This year, after incorporating and applying to the New York State Education Department for a provisional charter, the organization hopes to create a private pre-school with facilities at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton.
According to lead childhood center teacher Maggie Touchette, Our Sons and Daughters will open this fall as a day care while awaiting approvals from the state for recognition as an early childhood program. Currently boasting 10 children, Touchette said for this school year the program may have just one or two slots available, and as the program grows she would like to see a maximum of 15 students next year.
In addition to the early childhood education program, Our Sons and Daughters will also continue to offer its parent-child class led by educator Ann Jones.
Touchette, who earned her bachelors at Fordham University in English simultaneously gaining her teaching certificate before completing a Masters in Education at the same institution, said the movement towards creating a Waldorf-inspired pre-school on the East End was born out of the desires of a handful of parents familiar with the philosophy.
Waldorf education, also known as Steiner-Waldorf education, is focused on interdisciplinary, experiential learning with the arts, the use of imagination and practical chores used as the basis for giving each young child the tools to develop their own unique being.
“I think one of the things that draws parents to it is it is an arts based program and a play based program, but it takes child development into account and each child as an individual into account,” said Touchette. “One of the things I try and work with is letting each child be who they are and not label or judge them — what is wrong, or what is right, but take them for who they are, not put my expectations or their parents’ expectations on them, but just be with them and see where they are in the moment.”
An established rhythm to each day is also key, said Touchette, in enabling each child the freedom of not having to question what they will be doing throughout the day, despite the fact that activities are diverse.
While Touchette is still working on the fall curriculum, in the last year children have started their day at Our Sons and Daughters greeted by Touchette quietly working, either chopping vegetables for that day’s snack, folding the class laundry from the day before, or knitting.
“They can help me or they can go into free play, because we think play is very important for the young child,” she said. “It’s deeply important in their education to have that time and experience.”
The classroom space is crucial to free play becoming more than a group of young children plowing through toys, but is designed with soft walls, cast in a soothing pink, with soft rugs and nooks available for relaxing and toys made from natural materials like wood, sheepwool and stones. Many of the toys are designed in free form, lending to play time focused on using the imagination rather than pressing an electronic button to hear a new sound.
After free play, the children are engaged in an activity, whether it be water colors or making homemade bread or soup for a snack. That is followed by more free play, and then clean-up time before the children enjoy rhythmic musical games in circle time. A homemade snack is enjoyed, and the children help wash dishes before an hour of outdoor play. The day is completed with story time or a puppet show.
“As we transition from one activity to another we do it through song, which makes the children feel like they are not being rushed around, not being told what to do,” she said.
Touchette said leasing space from The Hayground School, after searching the East End for right location, came after touring and feeling welcomed by the faculty and staff at Hayground.
“We just felt the people working there have a great love for their work and for education,” she said. “Our curriculum and our pedagogy might not be the same, but I feel we can be with them, and it is just a beautiful space.”
Touchette said the idea of expanding the pre-school, when approved, into a full fledged elementary school is a source of constant conversation within the Our Sons and Daughters community, but while it may be a goal, it is something they will address after getting the early childhood program off the ground.
“One of the things I have really loved about this, one of the things that has impressed me, is that we have grown this beautiful little community,” said Touchette. “We had a picnic at the Ludlow farm the other day and it was so nice to see everyone together and what a family we have become.”
For more information on Our Sons and Daughters, visit, www.oursonsanddaughters.org.