The Seasons Ways
There are several ways that Seasons has set itself apart from other programs that are crucial to the maintenance of our peaceful, loving environment. While I am sure that Seasons Path Programs is not the only programs with some of these policies and guidelines, Seasons is the only program I have found that employs them as non-negotiable aspects of our daily program. Many of these ways affect the children’s home life and thus work well to strengthen the connections between home and Seasons. Because the parents who enroll their children in our camps agree with and are in support of these ways, they also serve to begin important dialog between staff and parents about the day-to-day happenings both at Seasons and at home.
A Community of Peace
Our most important agreement with the families and children is that every living being in our camp is safe. We have a strict policy against violence of any kind at Seasons. This policy extends beyond mere physical violence, such as hitting or kicking: At Seasons we disallow verbal and emotional violence as well. It is our belief that a simple act such as walking away from a conflict is subtle emotional violence and acts such as excluding one child from group play is overt emotional violence as well as name calling or other common “bullying” actions.
To enforce such a way goes beyond “we don’t kick” or “you can’t say a child can’t play with you” at Seasons. We work very closely with the children to empower them to always speak up for themselves, enlist the help of others when needed and to always be willing to listen when others have something to say. We teach active listening skills and we teach compassionate communication at every turn. We boldly and bluntly share our ideas with the children, for example one will often hear a teacher say something like: “Yikes! I just heard you say you were going to hurt your friend. That was scary for me and I didn’t feel safe about that. At Seasons, everyone needs to feel safe and I think your friend might not feel safe with you right now. Is there something else you need to say to your friend? Are you feeling angry about something?” We then engage the children in discussion with each other, moderating a safe way to express anger, disappointment or hurt feelings. If we hear words like “kill” or “hit” or “punch”, we step right in as those are violent words and violence, we believe, begets violence. We offer suggestions for expressing anger, we encourage the children to say clearly, “I’m angry!“, to do some heavy work such as kicking hay bales, throwing something (away form others), breaking something (a gourd or a piece of bark to later use for art), or running madly up a hill.
Anger is a large, heavy emotion and while we encourage the children to work it all the way through, we clearly agree to do so without hurting anyone else. Most times, others will join in to assist the child in their expression. They will howl like coyotes, help spread a hay bale or race to the top of a hill together. Thus, the child who is feeling angry is able to focus that energy on a positive outlet and has the support of their peers.
It is important to note that we don’t jump in with “no-no” type authority. It is valid and must be honored that people get mad. We hear unkind words and embrace them as an invitation to work directly with the children to engage them in becoming more active members of our peaceful community. Finding peace within yourself, becoming attuned to your own emotions and honoring them is often discouraged in our society. At Seasons, we believe that in order to grow healthy, emotionally connected people, we must respect the fact that all emotions are equally valid: happy, sad, mad, and afraid. We encourage the children to notice their reactions to things and to speak to their feelings about them. The expression of anger, frustration, and sadness cannot be directed at another in a violent way.
We listen to the children and guide them through “big feelings”. For example, we work at informing the children that we are all responsible for each other’s safety, emotional as well as physical, while we also listen to what their plans and goals are, validating and encouraging a non-violent approach to getting their needs met. It is at the core of the Seasons philosophy that there is a way for each of us to get our needs met- such as the need to feel powerful- without the use of violence against others. We see that as what we are here to teach.
Respect for others is an important way of Seasons but it is a hollow learning if it is not paired with respect for oneself. At Seasons, we teach respect for all creatures of the earth and we begin with respect for our bodies and ourselves. We believe strongly that what we eat and how we approach nutrition are very important factors in the lives of our children. Beyond basic nutrition needs, we believe that children have a need for food that is organic and free from poisonous additives of any kind. In addition, we believe that avoiding sugary treats sweetened with refined sugar is paramount to supporting children’s brains and bodies to do the”work” we expect them to do daily. Organic fruits and vegetables, whole grain, no added refined sugar and absolutely nothing artificial added are strict rules in our cooperative snack program. Again, enforcing this Seasons Way adds another thread to the weave of the connection between home and Seasons Path, and provides another opportunity for parents and counselors to become connected as we all learn more about simple nutrition and how important it is to the lives of children. Not the least important factor in this is that children whose bodies are not processing “junky” colors, flavors and sugars are free to run and play in the joyful celebration of life that a day at Seasons becomes.
Free to be You and Me
We work hard at Seasons to teach the principals of compassionate communication and the value of caring for the community as a whole as well as the individuals within it. We teach children from infancy on that the person beside them is just as important as they are and their needs need to be considered at all times. We are all here together and we all need our place at the table. The concept that “fair is not always equal” becomes paramount when we focus on caring about each individual fully. When working through a conflict, someone may be disappointed. Caring for your friend and finding a solution that works for all requires patience, which is hard for anyone- of any age. At Seasons we work toward embracing this concept with the children, the families, as well as each other.
By remembering at all times that our community as a whole is to be nurtured and sustained along with the individuals within it, we create a space where there is far more freedom than on a typical playground. Within this community of attention and caring, we see the children experiencing the freedom to be who they are without the common fears and social anxieties of traditional playgrounds.