When my mentor, Judy Frizlen, Director of the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center in Buffalo, New York, first asked me what I wanted to do for my final LifeWays project, I was convinced that I should write a paper on a Steiner educational theory as it related to Early Childhood Development. Feeling as if I wanted to flex my intellectual muscles, and that I didn’t understand the details or specifics of some of Steiner’s philosophies, I thought “Ah-ha! Here is a chance to really dig myself deep into the books. I’ll create an outline, a thesis, citations, and then I won’t feel like an imposter Waldorf teacher!” To my surprise, Judy asked me, “But will that bring you joy?” She reminded me that in the next few months, more would happen in my life than I could expect – surprises, or crises, and that in order to really care for myself, and to live life as simply and joyfully as possible, she suggested I pick an artistic project. Why? Because I love making things – art projects bring me joy.
Throughout the Lifeways Training process, I’ve learned more than I could write in one small paper. In fact, I could probably complete a novel if I was feeling very ambitious. The lessons learned through this program are worth every dollar, hour traveled, and time I sang a song I didn’t actually feel like singing because I was too tired and the coffee maker wasn’t working yet. But if I have to pick one thing, as it is expressed through my final project, it’s that I should probably, almost always, try to make choices in my work with children that bring me joy. After all, the children are watching. I want to help raise children who believe that life is good, filled with hard work that can bring us joy, a sense of accomplishment, and pride.
I chose to make four Seasonal Nature Ladies so that every season, when I prepare my nature table, I can remember my LifeWays training. I can remember the food we ate, the way we were nurtured and cared for, the supportive web of powerful women around me, and the many skills I learned or honed during that time. I can remember each trip to the beautiful Kimberton Waldorf School campus and getting to see it change through each season; the walks I took; and the incredible sense of peace I found through living life with such a healthy rhythm and nourishing relationships, content, conversation, and fun.
When making each doll, I was able to reflect on what the season meant to me. I knew I wanted my dolls to be round, full ladies, who help recall for me the plumpness of warm, maternal love. Despite my strong feminist bent, I came to terms with dressing them in aprons, because I want to accept it as a symbol of nurturing care.
I also considered what colors represented the mood of the season, what small emblems could represent those periods of time. The winter doll, who looks almost exactly like my aunt, is carrying a candle to help remind me of the light inside of us during the dark days of winter. The spring doll is wearing pink and green, with small flowers in her hair. My summer doll is not wearing an apron because summer is a time to relax and not to work. She is holding an ice cream cone in her hand, flowers in her hair, and a butterfly on her shoulder. For me, summer is a time for abundance, happiness, and celebrating. The autumn doll is orange and maroon, and holding an acorn in her hand. Though it was winter when I made these dolls, I knew that if I searched in the pockets of my fall coat, I would certainly find an acorn hat, and I did! I am always collecting these gifts in my pockets.
These dolls will remind me when working with my children that joy is a daily choice, as well as a spiritual discipline. It is a way of life that I select when I choose a moment of silence during a chaotic day. A way of life that I lean into when I take care of myself first, and encourage others to do the same. It is a lifelong discipline of believing that life is good, that laughter is the most important form of communication, and that I can choose the things that I love simply because I love them.
Laura Phillips is an artist and teacher working at The Waldorf School of Pittsburgh’s Little Friends program in an old victorian Yellow House. She has been working in Early Childhood Education for over ten years. She is a proud member of the 2016 graduating LifeWays class from Kimberton, Pennsylvania. She is currently fixing up an old house, and enjoys hiking, creative processes, poetry, and laughing.