At Spindlewood we always begin the year with a Family Work Party. It’s a bit of a Parent-Child Morning Garden, with work projects, and an opportunity to observe the children out of the corner of our eyes as they imitate our meaningful and cooperative activity.
Yes, I always feel that I am asking too much of young tuition-paying families, so I always have to be reminded by returning parents how much fun it is to meet and chat with other parents while their children play happily (more happily than at birthday parties!). One veteran dad pointed out at our parent evening that he and his son feel a sense of ownership as they see the work they have done. I always make sure to have some real he-man work projects available, and the dads love them.
So, my suggestions:
1- Schedule the work party on the Saturday prior to the first day of school. It is a chance for the anxious child and family to be at school without having to separate. They bring a change of clothes and slippers to leave in cubbies. They find their cubbies, symbols, and learn to use the bathroom that day. Then they are savvy about beginning school!
2- Make it early in the morning, 9-11, good practice for getting up and off to school, and still early enough to make it to whatever else is scheduled on Saturday morning (soccer games, birthday parties)
3- Make it potluck! You only have to make tea, a pot of coffee, and put out cups, napkins and plates.
4- Make a list of jobs and put the clipboard on the picnic table. Have a range of tasks, from fluffing wool which several nursing moms can chat over, to splitting and stacking firewood (a job where dads can show off their prowess.) Be organized and have all the tools and supplies ready to go. After a few minutes of greeting and meeting, parents just grab the clipboard, find the items and set to. (Better than standing around cocktail style.)
5- Having interviewed all of the parents and made home visits to all of the children, you can be the hostess who helps guests to find things in common, initiates a conversation and slips away to listen to a parent who had forgotten to tell you something important about their child and her needs.
6- Wear work clothes and laugh a lot!
7- Send a thank you email the next day and point out how happy the children were to see their parents engaged and contributing to their school.
Susan Silverio is the Director of Spindlewood, a Waldorf Preschool and LifeWays program in Maine.