We ARE a culture of THINGS and material goods and gift cards and catalogues of STUFF = shiny, new, electronic, colorful, hi tech, sweet smelling, fuzzy-wuzzy, but, sometimes it is valuable to STOP and rethink the idea of GIFTS.
Walking through the halls at our Leo Yassenoff Jewish Center's Early Childhood Program, I noticed, among the drawings and projects brightening
all the walls, the saying from the Wisdom of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot- old sayings and guidance):
"Greet everybody with a warm, cheerful and pleasant countenance."
It stopped me in my tracks and started heart pumping rhythms. I hummed the old church hymn, "Tis a gift to be simple..." and told myself I would write you a letter reminding us all of the importance of the most
simple, obvious, natural 'gifts' we can share with each other.
Before my usual twirly thoughts were semi organized, I remembered a beautiful encounter I had years ago with the famed African musician drummer, Montego Joe, who, with his group performed a powerful concert at the Museum of Natural History in my old home town, New York City.
The group began the program with a lively chant and seemingly 'connecting' dance. Montego then said, "Before we begin our program, we wanted to welcome you with our special welcome ceremony, wishing everyone a happy day and hoping that our day together will be joyful. We are so blessed to be together on this day."
After the program, I asked Montego Joe if he always started his concerts with the welcoming dance.
"Of course," he answered, "I would never begin any sharing without a welcome ceremony."
I think these are the greatest gifts we can give each other and our children. A cheerful, warm and pleasant countenance to begin and sustain our time together. Welcoming our youngest students, their caregivers, our colleagues each day with a bright and loving welcome --can make the difference for the rest of the day between life and death. Glad to be together, to share this sacred time with you, to enjoy, learn, have fun with you- what better 'gifts' could we offer? Walk, talk, build, play, read, sing together- kindness to all and each- a learning environment of respect, trust, safety and joy where every child feels valued and honored.
These are the programs children "run to" (I have an article in one of my collections called "Schools Kids Run To") -- Every single one of those schools begins and sustains the day with the special beginning of a loving welcome and celebrates the joyfulness of learning together in the time that follows. It's not a strategy. It's not a formula or a curriculum system. It's the WAY it is when you and your students and colleagues are together. It's the air you breath , the words you speak and every gesture, expression and action. It's teaching in the 'key of life'. I wish I could be a young child again and be a student in YOUR class!
That would be the GREATEST gift!
Love and Peace, Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld
(books: Teaching In Thje 'Key of Life'
Teaching By Heart
Celebrating Young Children and Their Teachers
Creative Experiences For Young Children )