Lifeways Week in England, A Heartwarming Experience for All Ages
Guest article by Mary Lee Plumb-Mentjes
"There is a Lifeways Week held each year in midsummer at Emerson College in Forest Row, England. I had heard that that this event really succeeds in keeping all family members engaged, and this past summer I went to see how it was staged."
In America the word, “Lifeways,” is associated primarily with providing care for the child between infancy and three years of age, when it is not feasible for the very young child to be at home with a parent during the day. In England the emphasis of Lifeways is the encouragement of individuals all ages from the young child to teenagers, from young and old single adults, to parents and grandparents, to join together in the celebration of Life.
Many fun books related to the Lifeways impulse have their origins in England, e.g.,” Festivals, Family, and Food” by D. Cary and J. Large, as well as “All Year Round” and “The Birthday Book,” both by A. Druitt and C. Fynes-Clinton, providing inspiration for simple imaginative activities for how parents can “own” their family celebrations rather than “buying” them.
In addition, there is a Lifeways Week held each year in midsummer at Emerson College in Forest Row, England. I had heard that that this event really succeeds in keeping all family members engaged, and this past summer I went to see how it was staged. On my first day there I was impressed by the many parents who told me how their children loved coming to camp there. Still more impressive to me was the fact that most families have been coming for years! Some first attended the event as a child, then as a counselor, and now as parents of children.
There are activities and groups for every age. The young children attend a morning crèche with a parent (like a Waldorf nursery school), doing “circle” with stories, simple crafts with natural materials, and watercolor painting. The child from 4 to 6 years old attends a morning program like a Waldorf kindergarten, where parents leave once the child is settled; children from 7 to 8 years attend a morning program similar to the Waldorf Main Lesson. Older children from 9 to14 years have a sleepover tent camp where the only adults that are allowed are the camp counselors. All children gather on Emerson’s lovely lawn to spend tea time with their parents and enjoy some free play.
The adults have a great parallel program with a wide variety of workshops during the day; this year’s offerings ranged from acting techniques to making willow baskets to building a trail through the woods, from trying one’s hand at creative writing, discussing relationships, or studying natural landscape. The day starts with call and response singing for all interested participants. In the hour following tea break, a choice of topics was offered ranging from puppet shows for children, to talks for adults, e.g., on bees, how our feelings affect our health, or the Mayan calendar. After supper (featuring Biodynamic produce) adults could attend the evening presentation, which could be a lecture, or storytelling, or a presentation of the various talents of the conference participants, or a country dance on the lawn.
Lifeways Week itself began in 1986, but traces its roots to a peace conference held in 1984, the initiative of the then head of Emerson College, the late John Davy, who was taken aback by the numbers of children arriving with their parents at this center for adult education and pleaded with his wife, Gudrun, to “do something” with all the children. She immediately took hold of the situation and soon handcraft workshops, games, and other activities were in full swing. From that spontaneous beginning this family-friendly event took off, and now has over 200 individuals (singles, couples and families) attending each year.
My conclusion is that this Lifeways Week is indeed worthy of imitation in America!
First published in for Lilipoh Magazine (USA) 2014
Visit our Emerson Lifeways website page to download this year's brochure.