Pennie Brownlee – The Young

What follows is a sort of re-blog. I subscribe to Pennie Brownlee’s newsletter…Here is a copy of it in full. I find her and this writing to be an inspiration of clarity, strength, tenderness and beauty. I hope you get as excited and moved by what follows in this newsletter as I have done this morning. If you’d like to contact Pennie, her website is
I have her ‘Dance with me in the heart’ book which is a treasure, and a lovely gift for a baby shower or ‘welcome to our world’ gift to new babies.

Autumn Harvest Greetings (by Pennie Brownlee)

I suppose it depends where on these islands you live, but here the guavas are fatter than ever, the feijoas are as delicious as ever, and the birds are in apple-heaven. Those of you who have grown fruit and nut trees in your ‘place of learning’ will be harvesting the rewards – lucky you and lucky children. Beavertown in Blenheim is one centre where the children make jams and chutneys for their pantry with the fruit they pick from their garden. Then they have their own delicious home-made jams and jellies on the scones, bread or piklets they make every day of their year. How lucky is that? That is true Life Long Learning: learning as you live and go about real work, no matter what age.

School days – the best days of your life
If you snorted with laughter when you read that, you are not alone. There were some good things about school, and there were long periods of ‘exemplary mediocrity’ – it couldn’t have been more mediocre, (and I have a former life as a primary school teacher). When I workshop with primary teachers their own memorable things about school, the answers are interesting: “I was allowed to take the goat home in the holidays.” “We were allowed to wash the dishes in the staff room and we pinched the biscuits.” “We did ‘Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat’.” “School camp.” “We went skiing one year.” “We had this teacher who let us do art every Friday.” “Calf club – pet day”… and never once (so far), anything about lessons. The nearest thing to memories of lessons were the warm memories of a teacher reading them “The Hobbit”, or “Danny, Champion of the World”.

Holidays suck
Just joking. I don’t know how it was for you, but every child I know, including me, was always excited when it was holidays. Holidays meant uninterrupted play, pretty much. It meant there was time for real projects and expeditions: making tree huts, playing monopoly for the whole day, making bridges and dams across the big drain by the house, eeling, tree climbing, birds’ nesting (I know, not kind to the birds), making tunnels in the hay-barn… We weren’t learning ‘about’ something as we did in school, we were living, and when you Live Real Life you learn. No wonder we looked forward to the holidays, learning ‘about’ something is exemplary mediocrity, especially when it is not something you have chosen in the first place. Apply this to yourself: if you want to learn how to use a new computer programme (say), you will find a way. If someone tries to teach you ‘because it will be good for you’ but you have no interest or use for it – there you are, smack bang in ‘Irrelevant City’.

The other real blessing of the holidays is that there was no bell to interrupt real work, we could go at it until we had finished. There are clues there for us, and they do not include the ‘table-top activities’ and ‘mat time’ that are school-mimicry. Neither one of those matches what young children need to unfold the inherent-genius-potential that all human children come with. It is in the design. That is why it pays to know the sublime ‘Pattern of Life Unfolding’ which is genetically encoded into every child – often referred to as human development.

Pre-service training gaps
I thought about looking forward to the holidays when I was in a centre in the holidays just gone. At first, I didn’t believe it when someone told me that many school teachers leave their little ones in care while they themselves are on school-holidays. But I have since been reassured that this is a very wide-spread practice. I didn’t believe it because I thought trained teachers would have looked at human development in their teacher training, and they would know the developmental needs of their young children. Seems not. Not their fault, they paid student fees expecting to learn ‘that stuff’ but obviously were short changed. It would still work for our children though if we as parents remembered back to our school days and our holidays, and then treated our children from our heart-knowing.

Watered down school
Lately I have been getting clearer and clearer on the effects of school on early childhood. Almost every early childhood establishment in this land is a de-facto ante-room for school, and it appears the Ministry and the ERO are more comfortable with that, they have set it up thus. The building looks like a school on the inside: the walls are covered in alphabet friezes, counting charts, know-your-colours charts and token te reo charts – most of of which are of dubious aesthetic quality, providing neither beauty nor learning for the children. Many teachers refer to their rooms as classrooms, which follows when you call yourself a teacher, and some groups of older children are in the ‘pre-school’. School is the model we use to set up places for young children and I want to put forward that it is an inappropriate model if we are looking after the mental health, spiritual health, physical health and long-term academic prognosis of youngest children.

I know the government is citing statistics where early childhood education makes a difference (measured in relation to school achievement – not the short and long-term mental health, spiritual health and physical health of the children), and when it does make a difference there is always a parent education component in there. The family makes the difference. I repeat that in case you read over it so quickly and it didn’t stick – the FAMILY makes the difference. Rocket science? Doubt it. Look at any local secondary school – the ones who succeed are the ones with their families behind them expecting them to succeed in the system – think of the new immigrants who are up there in disproportionate numbers every prize giving. If we are going to make the difference in our children’s lives long-term, we have to offer our families more than a model of watered down school. We have to offer something to the families that feeds and nourishes their growth, something that nurtures them.
This fascinating TED talk that addresses early childhood provision from economic point of view – and note there is that ‘nourishing family component’ in there just as there is in the highly successful British Penn Green. This is community building.

Right place, right time
The Brainwave Trust has done a great job at increasing our awareness of early development of the young child with a focus on the brain – but we haven’t got it yet. If we had, our places for young children would not look like a school at all – they would look more like a warm, comfy, homely-home. Emotional nurturing is the number-one thing young children need to lay the optimum foundations for later higher learning, so it is a nurturing environment we need to be creating. Homes can easily be set up so they nurture the all of the senses and the soul – but school classrooms very rarely fit that criteria. You will know if you have your place set up so that it is nurturing and nourishing – you will want to take your sleeping bag and sleep there for a night or two because it is so lovely. That means there will be an adult size snuggly couch (or two) just like a home, a couch that tired children can snuggle up on with cuddly blankets and read and relax – just the same as in a nurturing home.

House Home and garden
And the outside will not look like a civic playground either – that is not what young children need. The Germans got it right with ‘Kinder Garten’, a children’s garden. Sure, there will be things to climb on, hide in, swing on – but they will not be plastic, neither will they be fixed. Not if you are wanting to give your children the best foundation for their later ‘academic life’. The garden-playground will be planned with full knowledge of the patterns-of-unfolding (schema) which are genetically encoded into every human child so that there is provision for ‘Life to unfold Itself’ through the play patterns. Most NZ civic playgrounds are built with the focus of ‘letting off steam’ and with a mind to upper body strength, and early childhood has appropriated that model. We can do better than that for our children.

How would I like it?
So here is a challenge for all of us who work with young children: Is the inside of your place so lovely and nurturing to the senses and the soul that you would like to ‘camp’ there for a night or three? Is the garden so beautiful that you would take honoured adult guests there for a leisurely champagne picnic? If you can answer yes to both questions – lucky children. You are probably making apple crumble with your children as you harvest your fruit in your garden.

Courses to light your fire

Dance with me in the Heart • Level One
We are halfway into Dance with me in the Heart – Level One, number 23, and I am always awed by the genius of both Dr Emmi Pikler and Joseph Chilton Pearce. They both have so much to teach us in the respectful care of human beings. I can wholeheartedly recommend this course if you are looking for the keys to Peaceful Respectful Practice both personally, and in your workplace. The next occurrence is at the beautiful Tauhara Centre in Taupo: Module one Oct. 1st – 4th and module two Oct. 22nd – 25th. Email me if you would like a brochure.

Dance with me in the Heart • Level Two
You have to have completed Level One to attend this course. Kimberley Crisp of The Nest and I co-facilitate this course and it focuses on the sublime ‘Patterns of Life Unfolding’ as they relate to infants’, toddlers’ and young children’s play, and to their ‘people literacy’ or social skills. There is only one occurrence a year, and this year it is in the beginning of June, 4th to the 7th. Email for a brochure.

2 Workshops in Auckland
I am facilitating two day-workshops for the Kohia Teacher’s Centre later this month.
Wednesday 23rd May: Every Child is an Artist
Thursday 24th May: The Urge to Play
To enrol in these courses contact Alison Miller:

3 Workshops in Johnsonville
I am facilitating three day-workshops at the Childspace Institute in June and the posters with all the details and the registration form for each of the workshops is attached to this mail.
Tuesday June 12th: The Nature of Creativity
Wednesday June 13th: You’re Not the Boss of Me
Thursday June 14th: The Sacred Urge to Play

The Winter Sacred Urge to Play Conference
There are only about 7 weeks to go to this conference which will definitely light your fire, well that is what the people who came last year reported.

Links to kindle your imagination

Beautiful Children – a montage from Pikler Videos
Set aside 4 minutes 23 seconds if you want to see beauty in children.

Children’s play
It is amazing what children can do with a ‘blank canvas’ of a playground and open-ended materials.
Set aside 9 minutes and forty five seconds if you want to see what unscaffolded, uninterrupted play can look like. This is with school age children but it works the same for younger children too.

The Universal Baby Language: the five words that all babies say – with Priscilla Dunstan
This is a clip, 16 minutes and 27 minutes long, of Australian Priscilla on the Oprah Winfrey show. This is about us learning to tune into babies, they have been talking to us like this for ever – and we haven’t been listening. Listening to what the BABY has to say has not been a cultural priority for us, but we are waking up.

A whole magazine of Pikler
Our daughter Clare has been researching Pikler to support her and Nick in their parenting with Scarlett. And this is one of the gems she found:
Clare is building a website which is called The Pikler Collection. It will have all the material about and by Pikler that has been translated into English with links to books, articles, journals and video clip. It is not be live yet, Clare thinks she will have it up and running in two or three weeks. I see it as a treasure trove for those of us who want to learn more about this remarkable woman and her approach.

Enjoy gathering pumpkins, picking apples and collecting walnuts ready for the Winter,
and warm Autumn wishes to you wherever you are,


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