From the River Drop-in:

“There was a child who went forth everyday, and the first object he look’d upon, that object he became, And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, or for many years or stretching many cycles of years…”
Walt Whitman—Leaves of Grass

As a mother of a toddler, I ponder the wise words of Walt Whitman and have come to believe there is much truth to his reflections. We become what we are surrounded by and what we are exposed to through our environments, our immediate families as well as our spiritual communities. It was a belief in this truth that lead me to seek out a like minded play group and community to share with my daughter, Adelaide.
During those early days of motherhood, I went to all kinds of local play groups to see what Victoria had to offer. All these play groups had many toys available to the children randomly scattered around the room which were mostly a vast array of plastic toys of primary colours. At first glance these environments seemed to offer a plethora of experience, and yet when I looked more closely I realized that the bright plastic toys, although in many different forms, were essentially the same from the experiential view point of the child. Cold hard plastic feels the same regardless if it is in the shape of a block, toy truck or doll. I was disappointed in those early days as I wanted to give Adelaide the opportunity to play and engage with other children in an environment that was loving and warm, full of a diverse and rich sensory environment where her imagination could flourish and she could imitate the daily activities of life.
I had given up hope of finding such a space for Adelaide when I stumbbled upon ‘The River’ at St. Barnabas Church. The first time I walked into the River I knew I had found what I was looking for. The room was warm, inviting and full of life. Here was a play environment to nourish all aspects of her physical, intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual development. The toys were ordered in groupings such as a wooden play kitchen where the children could play at cooking with a bowl of felted vegetables, and assortment of utensils. Near the cooking area was a small table with four chairs, a pretty table cloth perfectly set ready for someone to be served a hot plate of some imaginary delight straight form the wooden kitchen. Nearby was an area set up for washing cloths complete with a play washing machine that allowed the children to open and put a colourful array of silk and cotton cloths into to the wash, next to the washing machine was a small wooden ironing board complete with a small play iron. There was another area set up as nursery complete with a tiny bassinet covered in sheep skin, a cradle and several soft baby dolls with a wicker basket of cloths. There was a small table with beeswax crayons and four small chairs where children could draw and chat as they created beautiful works of art. On a lovely carpet was an assortment of blocks made from various shapes of wood. In the corner was a small cozy reading nook where a child could go to have a little quiet space to read or observe the other children playing. In the kitchen a group of children were baking bread with the help of a few adults. The warmth and nurturing qualities of the parents, director and her assistant as well as the children present permeated the environment and I knew I had found what I had been looking for.
Since that first day, we have come to depend on The River as a regular part of our weekly routine. The consistent predictable rhythm of free play time, followed by a light snack and circle before a little quiet time is a structure we have since begun to follow at home. Within this morning cycle there is also a greater sense of the cycles of nature and the corresponding religious holidays which brings much depth and nurturing to the entire community.
Every time I leave The River I feel I have enriched my daughters life and have shared in a community that not only supports her developmental needs by fostering the opportunity to engage in free imaginative play, I also feel I have given her an opportunity to experience the subtle qualities of gratitude, reverence, wonder, joy, humour and happiness. It is a great service that St. Barnabas Church provides by offering this outstanding play group, one that I hope will continue and expand as the years progress.

With Deep Appreciation and Gratitude,
Heather Sanche