If I could distill the essence of Sunflower down to one phrase, it would be this one from our mission statement: “We empower children to find their own unique voices through play and the arts.”

In their time at Sunflower, my daughters have constantly lived this lesson–through messy-fun child-directed art projects, playing with friends, problem-solving and negotiating relationships on the playground, singing, creating stories, dreaming up plays… I love that children here are treated with respect. Their thoughts, opinions and feelings are truly listened to and taken into consideration. Sunflower is a community, and the children are just as much a part of it as the adults.

Over the years, through Sunflower, I’ve been empowered and encouraged to find my own voice as well–as a parent, as a writer and artist, just generally as a person with things to say. I think the adults in our community value being heard and respected just as much as the children do. We don’t always agree with each other, but we’re all learning (through Share & Learn parent discussions and Parent Toolbox classes, for example) to really listen and communicate productively with each other.

Susan, writing down children’s stories at Seedlings

Writing Stories
One of my favorite things that happens at Sunflower is when we adults (teachers and parent helpers) sit down with the children and write their stories. Stories can be anything the child chooses: something from their imagination, a real life event, a dream, a poem, a song. As adults, we don’t judge or edit what goes down on the paper. We just sit down and take dictation. And listen. Sometimes we ask, “what happens next?” Sometimes we read the stories back to the child, or not, depending on what the child wants to do.

Like many things at Sunflower, this is all about the process, not the final product. Many times the children spin their stories out on paper and they’re done with them forever. Other times they illustrate them and staple them together and take them home as special books. Either is fine.

Writing down stories is a simple exercise you can do at home with your own children. Even school-age kids who are already writing on their own can benefit. Not having to think about the sometimes tedious mechanics of writing itself helps to free up their imaginations and, when you or they read back what’s written, they’ll be able to clearly ‘hear‘ their own voice. Talk about empowering!

Below are a couple of songs my daughters had me write down recently. I know I said it’s all about the process… but a mom can be proud, right? 🙂

The young authors. Two people who definitely know their own voices!

Angels Up Above
I would never let you go
if you really have told me so.
And really, and really, be sure that you will be so smooth.
Because I know that you are gonna see that you can be more better than me.

So now that you are an angel up above
you can sing sweet rhythms while the raindrops pour
and you’ll really always be singing that ‘I’m here. I’ll love you everywhere, even when I’m up here in the skies’
‘So now you know that I’ll never go;
once I’m up here, I’m stuck.
But you’re down there and you’re still with me.’
–Suzie (6)
Aug. 10, 2011

Everywhere I See Rain Is Finished
Rain is falling down
on elephants and
and the zebra
and the zoo, and every kind of place with you.

On your houses,
and on the trampoline
and on the sea where the blue mermaids live.

The plants start to bloom;
the trees start to grow

And everywhere, everywhere
we see you wake up from your your bug’s nap.

They camouflage, they camouflage, they camouflage everywhere.
They fly, and they fly really fast.
And that’s the thing we love best–flying.
–Sierra (4)
Aug 10, 2011

What are some of the ways you encourage your children to find their own voices? Post here and let us know. We’d love to hear about it!

© Jaime Greenberg and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011