Wool Felt and Drift Wood ~ Toy Making with Young Children by Tracey Harrington

Now I walk in Beauty…. Navajo chant

Beauty and the sense of the sacred go together. Beauty has to do with the way
the light comes through things and plays with the shadows and tones in and
around us. Quietly we are invited to pause for a moment and open our heart. It
nourishes our senses. As young children are playing or making their handmade
toys, attention and connection shines through them.

One day during the northern wildfires and the long two weeks of inside playtime
due to air conditions, we crafted. The children made felted sunflower wands with
dried sunflower stalks and polished ocean stones. Working with our hands and
holding the rhythm of the day for the children carried us through those weeks.
There is beauty in the act of attention.

As the air cleared and we could go back outside, there was so much joy in the
play garden. We played parachute games, made mud pies in the play kitchen
and some children created a bughouse with bark, berries and collected colorful
leaves. One child asked if we could make airplanes. Rob worked on wooden
airplanes from driftwood with a few children. Their enthusiasm created an airport
in the sand garden. The soft edges, rustic textures and simplicity of these
wooden toys have a timeless beauty.

Our Lantern walks each fall are in a small nearby forest, we end by gathering
around our lanterns, nestled in a circle. We sing and send our light out into the
world. This is especially meaningful for families with young children, during these
challenging times. It is important to gather in simple ways under trees with our
light shining out.

Beauty is a story told with handmade materials and created together. In mid
winter, we worked on a puppet play, creating puppets for the story,“The Child of
Light”. Throughout the year we create puppet plays and act out the retelling of
seasonal stories. The children are inspired to make up their own puppet theaters
with handmade large peg dolls and a variety of building materials during their
open playtime.

This month a flock of red-breasted Robins harvested the wild berries from
bushes surrounding the play garden and flew over with great enthusiasm,
cheerily singing their bird song. The children made wooden sculptures from
scraps of wood and driftwood collected on the shore that day. There is a sense of
being connected to what is around us as we are playing and working together in
meaningful ways. There is a feeling, at moments, that we are keepers of
“childhood”, with all its wonder.

Last Spring, our assistant Catherine harvested the Cecily Bruner roses to
decorate our braided May Day crowns with the children. We painted silk for
ribbons and over a few weeks braided our crowns. Rio, our cat helped with the
May Day crowns, taking a nap in the raffia basket in the late afternoons while the
sun came through the window.

We gathered in the morning with a small group of children around a miniature
May pole, singing our spring songs with the birds, the trees and flowers all
around us. We found ourselves connected in a wheel of colored ribbons, and a
bit of a tangle. The imperfections found in children’s play have a pure and
innocent beauty.

As we prepared for summer, Rob spent several weeks carving a wooden dolphin
for the children. They used their child safety files and sand paper to soften edges
and made boats and rafts from collected wood and bark. We put sea glass and
shells in a water bin and floated them. In the evenings I felted crowns. We had
great fun acting out the story of Animal Family together.

True beauty is a healing force of love that reveals itself in the quality of our
connection to the gifts of the Earth and each other. Through making natural
playthings for and with the children, we are connecting our hands and hearts in
an ongoing transformative and ultimately joyful process. This is how we love the
Earth wholeheartedly.

Here are pictures of moments with the children in our care throughout the
seasons. Most of the children have been with us for two or three years. As we
are engaged fully in the moment and everything is in motion and continuously
changing in children’s play, it can be a bit blurry. These photographs capture
precious small moments in the rich, open ended, creative playtime in our
LifeWays home. We celebrate with you this panorama of our year.

NOW I WALK IN BEAUTY, beauty is before me, Beauty is behind me, Above
and all around me…. (Navajo chant)


Tracey and Rob Harrington have a LifeWays program in San Rafael
California, The Garden School play garden. They have been working with
children and families for over 25 years. They live with their cats Rio and Ezra.

This is a photo from 21 years ago when their children were in The Garden School
of Santa Barbara CA. Their work is dedicated to their two daughters Amber and Emily Harrington.