KULANU (Hebrew meaning “All of Us”) brings together nature-based Jewish tradition and festival observance, and Zen mindfulness practice, into an outdoor Waldorf Lifeways environment in Sebastopol, California. When I started KULANU in the summer of 2013, my vision was to help nourish a year-round experience of growing in community together–for young children and their families. (See Lifeways Summer Newsletter 2016 – Featured Lifeways Representative Program.) While KULANU Playgarden blends the spaciousness and loving attention of a daycare program with the engaged, creative play of an outdoor Waldorf preschool, it is really more like hanging out at grandma’s country home and, also, being part of a sangha on a mindfulness retreat each day.
Last March, with the coming of the pandemic I decided to close down KULANU. I thought it would be for a few weeks or so, and I welcomed the much-needed break from a program that had grown beyond what felt sustainable for me. At that point, we had 14 families and four assistants, all with different schedules! We were open year-round, four full days/week, with eight children/day–families could choose to have their children come two, three or four days each week, paying various rates. I also made it possible for some young children who were new to KULANU to just come half days for the first months, and for a couple of family friends to just bring their children one day/week. It was like playing Sodoku juggling everyone’s schedules and slots available!
Ages ranged from infants to kindergarteners and, to accommodate everyone’s needs, I had one assistant in the morning (who was here 8am-1pm to help with setting up for the day and stayed through helping the children settle in for nap time), and another who was here 11am-5pm (who helped prepare lunch and stayed to help clean up at the end of the day after the children were picked up). And these shifts alternated on different days between three different people. In addition, another assistant came from 1-3pm to engage the older children who weren’t napping in some outdoor adventure or nature-based crafting. As much as I loved all of the children and their families, and all of the assistants I was blessed to work with, the complexity of coordinating everyone’s schedules, needs and personalities had become quite an endeavor!
As the weeks of sheltering in place turned into months, I wondered if I would ever re-open at all. At age 65, I reflected on what the path forward could be for me in terms of my work and sharing my gifts in the world at this stage of life. After considerable reflection, meditation, and several extended group conversations via Zoom with the KULANU parents who were interested in having their children continue on together in some revised form, I very tentatively welcomed back six families into the newly envisioned “KULANU Playgarden” in June of 2020.
We all agreed to basic guidelines of care and became a pretty tight pod together. There were some significant changes in the structure of KULANU Playgarden, as well as many small and large adjustments to the rhythm of our days together, including the following.
The Group – There are now only six children total. All six children come all three days/week. Currently, there are two 2 year-olds, two 3 year-olds, and two 4 year-olds. We no longer have any full-time assistants. Happily, my adult son moved onto our property last year to build a yurt cabin, and he spends time with the children as well during the day, sharing in the journey of holding these children with love and, also, allowing me to take breaks as needed.
Enjoy THIS VIDEO of impromptu chanting as the children are planting seeds in their pots in our garden on the Jewish festival of Tu b’Shvat, The Birthday of the Trees.
Days & Times – We are now open only three days/week (instead of four), Tuesdays-Thursdays. Before the Pandemic, our hours were 9am-4pm. All children were to arrive at 9am but, on any given day, one to three children arrived between 8:00-8:30am (for an extra fee). When we re-opened, we began with half days 8am-1pm, with children invited to arrive any time between 8am-9am, and everyone getting picked up at 1pm. This spring, we expanded our hours back to a full day, beginning at 8am and ending at 4pm, allowing for a greater feeling of spaciousness and ease. Little by little, the familiarity of the rhythm of our full days is returning.
In THIS VIDEO, children at KULANU happily feed apples to the neighboring sheep.
Fees & Schedules – I used to make allowances and adjustments in fees for families when children were sick or families went on vacation. Children who came less than 4 days/week could “make up” a day, as the schedule permitted. The policy evolved and became more complex, asking families to give at least two weeks notice for time away of more than one full week, with a maximum of one week per month. It was a lot to keep track of! Currently, families may take one week off/year without paying. All other weeks are paid in full, even if a child is home sick or the family is away on vacation. With everyone coming all three days/week, there are not make up days to track.
Parent Gatherings – Where we used to have evening Parent Gatherings in my home every other month, we now have monthly Parent Zoom calls (Monday evenings, 8:15-9:30pm) for parents to check in, and for me to share what is happening at the Playgarden. To frame our discussion, I also offer reflections on where we are in the season and on our journey through the sacred Hebrew calendar. Although we have all been missing being able to gather in person to share from our hearts, Zoom has made it possible for us to meet a little later and more often. Meeting via Zoom has also allowed parents to be able to keep their evening rhythm with their children without having to make childcare arrangements or needing to drive up and back from my home at night.
As we prepare to celebrate one full year of KULANU Playgarden’s newest incarnation next week, along with the Summer Solstice, I am filled with gratitude for our evolving community and all of the ways loving support, encouragement, beauty, resilience, and wonder fill our days together.
Yael Raff Peskin completed her Waldorf Foundation training through Rudolf Steiner College in 1993, and did her Lifeways Training in Hawai’i in 2012-2013. In 1993, Yael was also ordained into Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing where she was given the Dharma name Tenderness of the Heart. In 2017, Yael was the San Francisco Bay Area’s recipient of the Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education. She is the mother of three adult children and the grandmother to one of the most delightful people she has ever met!