Growing Towards Justice: a curriculum for kindness & inclusivity

17th September 2019

Words by Anna Whitaker // Photography by Sandra Chile on Unsplash

I bloody love it when I meet a like mind. Especially one that’s doing something to actually change the world. That’s how I felt when I came across Jamey Fisher Perkins, a lifelong Montessorian, feminist, birth enthusiast and founder of Their Good Beginning blog.

She believes that the only way we can change some of the most deep-seated prejudices in society is by giving children a different experience of the world. It makes total sense. They’re the future after all (preach, Whitney). So this September she launched a brand new curriculum for parents of kids under six.

It’s a 10-month programme, complete with reading lists and resources to raise our babes in a truly holistic, emotionally nurturing and conscious way. It brings in elements of Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf and Charlotte Mason without staying religious to one, and is designed to complement any other learning environments you’re probably part of, from mainstream nurseries to at-home classrooms.

Each month covers a new theme, such as ‘Having and Giving’, ‘Peace is…’ and September’s subject ‘Feelings’, which Jamey sent to me earlier this month to read through and try out. At just 15 pages long, the reading part took an easy commute into work (about an hour) but the activities and reading lists are ongoing (and probably will be for a lifetime).

What struck me at first was that the course wasn’t aimed at parents helping kids, but at parents helping themselves too. This subtle difference made me consider so many things I’d previously not. Sure, it’s great to talk about your child’s feelings but what about your own? I’m a classic case for bottling up emotions and actually, talking about them to a toddler turns out to be much easier than an adult. By modelling this simple act at bedtime – going through the emotions we both felt at certain times of the day – it gave my four-year-old a new perspective on the mummy he thought was invisible. We could have a conversation about feeling frustrated when we’re in a rush in the morning or embarrassed when tripping up a step (whilst looking at my phone). We feel relaxed and happy when we’re with our friends and sad when accidents happen. This was a particularly good conversation to have after Rudi broke one of Arlo’s new birthday presents. We had a cuddle, a little cry and talked about what had happened rather than a full-on breakdown. I asked Arlo how he felt and how he thought Rudi might be feeling if he could express himself properly (Arlo was sad, Rudi was sorry).

This topic of identifying and exploring emotions was the first of six in this month’s chapter, with the following five covering emotional observation, regulation through movement (great for active kids), mindfulness, expressive colours (for the artists) and self-awareness and regulation. Each one has a range of activities for different ages, which you can take as a loose guide.

We’ve been trying mindful breathing, which has gone down surprisingly well. Essentially just taking five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. This was actually a tool I was given when I went through CBT last year and is essentially a reset button for when the world gets too much. As four-year-olds go, we’ve got a live-wire who can’t sit still for longer than 10 seconds, let alone stop to breathe, so when I suggested he copy me, I was impressed. About five seconds before that, he’d been running around the living room, pulling everything off every surface, flailing his body around and shouting at the top of his lungs. It was overwhelming for us both. But when I sat him down next to me and asked him to put his hands on his knees, close his eyes and breathe, he actually did it. I don’t think he quite made it to five, but we’re getting there. Afterwards I asked if he felt calmer. I think he answered for both of us.

There are breathing exercises in the Yoga Pretzels Deck too, which Jamey recommends as a resource in the topic on movement. I’ve not bought these yet but am looking forward to getting my hands on a set and trying them out alongside Arlo. The goal with these isn’t to turn kids into amazingly proficient yogis by the time they start school but to have a small vocabulary of comfortable poses they can turn to if they ever feel sad, excited, angry or frustrated, helping them to regain a sense of inner balance.

There’s so much more I could tell you about about this course; from the books to take out at the library to the links of each referenced film. But I don’t have the whole Internet to blab on (or enough hours in the day). The bottom line is that this month’s chapter has felt totally intuitive, simple and really quite sensible. There’s so much information telling us how each action will impact our kids’ future that I’m sure I’m not alone in the inconsistency department. This programme takes everything back to basics and just feels instinctively right. There’s no weird flags or voodoo magic, just straightforward activities and resources for raising compassionate and inclusive kids who’ll hopefully grow into self-assured and truly awesome adults. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

Jamey is very kindly offering ToyDrop readers 20% off the course with the code TOYDROP. Just click here to get the hands on the 10-month programme for just £44.

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