Monday, September 28, 2015

Hello Autumn!

Oh, it is that time of year again, the air is crisp and cool, the nights have become so pleasant for sleeping, and for being out of doors with no mosquitoes. 

Last night’s moon was spectacular - a blood moon, what a name. It was too magical to try and capture with a photograph. I just enjoyed it, by the fire under the stars.

This is what is happening here...

the trees are beginning to put on their dresses of red and gold...
the lanterns are glowing...
the wild flowers are in full splendor...
 the sumac is pulling its forces inward...
the grapes are ripe and sweet...
the mice are seeking shelter...
 the calendulas and marigolds are in full bloom...
and the human has not given up her bare feet, yet is cloaked in wool.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Sense of Warmth and Warmth in the Kitchen

Registration for enrollment in October’s eCourse is open!

The Sense of Warmth with Warmth in the Kitchen is a 31 day odyssey into the sense of warmth, on the physical, emotional, developmental and spiritual realm.
Rudolf Steiner described the sense of warmth as one that mediates between the inner and the outer worlds of the human being. We’ll explore this sense and its role in growth and development.

We’ll spend four weeks learning to cook simple meals, mostly one pot, with Stocks, Soups, Stews, and Curries with ingredients that are seasonal and warming. 
It’s like two courses in one, yet interwoven with the practical and the more esoteric.
Recipes can be easily adapted for vegetarian diets and I include vegetarian stocks as well as chicken and beef.

The fee is $35 to keep it accessible to everyone.

If you’s like to enroll, sign up here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

More on Handwork in the Early Years

Oh my goodness, I had no idea that the article I put up yesterday, called Handwork in the Early Years, would spark so much interest, curiosity and personal response. This is a topic of our times.

Notes have come in from all over, some are simple, “Great article, thanks!” “Yes, I totally agree,” and others are more detailed with questions about small motor development, hand-eye coordination, following directions, and how dare I criticize the macaroni necklace and “What’s wrong with Mr. Potato Head,?" as well as questions about the role of beeswax in Waldorf education and, “Are you totally anti-crafting in early childhood?"

I’ll try to answer all of your questions and since there are so many, it’s likely to take a few days.

When I sat down to write yesterday’s piece on handwork in the early years, my intent was to convey three messages regarding children under seven:

1. to advocate for self initiated play and movement over planned pre-determined sit down activities
2. to reassure parents that their child need does not need to be doing all the crafts seen on social media platforms
3. to validate that healthy development that takes place in the course of an ordinary day in the home and situate handwork within the “ordinary” everyday activities of home life

I guess I really missed the mark with my post, and I apologize for that. I suspect I may have generated confusion. Lots of it. So I’ll take the next few days to attempt to clarify what I sat down to convey in the first place.

A warm thank you to each person who wrote to me. I appreciate your comments and willingness to discuss this topic and share different perspectives.

I’ll begin with the question, “Are you totally anti-crafting for the child in the early years? ”

I am wholeheartedly for making things with our hands. I love to cook with my hands, garden with my hands, draw and paint, write, knit, sew, give back rubs and massages, hang laundry on the line and fold clothes. I love making toys and puppets. I love to dye fibers. I love the handmade and seek it out over the alternatives. I am all for handwork. It is more of a question of what and when and why and how.

I’m very much for “everything in its own good time.”

The first seven years of life are a time of enormous development for the human being, of faster and greater development than at any other time of life. In the first seven years, the child is developing a physical body, growing organs. The child learns by doing, through activity. The limbs, the arms and legs are nearly always in motion, from the newborn’s turning of the head toward voices and the breast, to the seven year old delighting in tag. The body is in motion. One of our tasks as parent/teachers is to help support the development of the limbs, all the way down to the tip of toes and the fingers, to help the child develop into the body.

Movement is essential. Free self initiated movement. 

When we look at the four foundational senses of the human being, we see movement as one of the four senses that are so important in the first seven years of life. They are:
  • Touch
  • Life
  • Movement
  • Balance
Children are spending less and less time in free play and movement and more and more time indoors, in front of screens and on the move, doing errands and going places. Fewer children are around during the day and able to go out and join in play with other children. The ability to play, with free self initiated movement and exploration is getting lost, while anxiety, sensory issues and learning challenges are on the rise.

How many children have enough time each day for free, self-initiated free play, everyday?

Here’s an article by pediatric occupational therapist, Angela Hanscom, via Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post on the importance of play and its decline, The Decline of Play in Pre-schoolers and the Rise in Sensory Issues.

Let the children play!

Keep the rhythm flowing!

If there’s a choice between crafting, and free self initiated play, I’m for play.

If the choice is between crafting and doing something that supports the daily rhythm, like chopping vegetables or kneading bread, I’m for chopping and kneading.

We’re talking about the first seven years of life, for the child.

I am not against crafting at all. I am concerned about what is being displaced by crafting.

(I’ll be back with more on this topic.)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Handwork for Children in the Early Years

today's post is a response to a question on handwork for children under seven, it was originally posted, by me, on March 27, 2011, in my Yahoo group, Waldorf Early Childhood ~ Bringing it Home. It is adapted and edited for clarity of meaning.

Knowing why we do what we do and doing it with intention....not arbitrarily following a theme for the week or the month, but discovering within what resonates, and knowing why, how it serves the developmental picture of the child, is a lesson from one of my mentors, that deeply touched me then and has remained with me through the years.

The Waldorf kindergarten curriculum is based on the seasonal and festival life of the year, the inner and outer gestures of the turn of the year. This is the foundation. 

When it comes to handwork in the nursery and kindergarten years, there are always questions about what to do with the children. We live in a broader culture that values gluing food on paper and making items that have no beauty and no practical use, to show that the children were given something to do, to keep them busy. We see so many images online of crafts.

And we wonder... 

What Handwork to do with the Young Child?
So much with Steiner -Waldorf education is a question of timing, the approach to handwork is based on the developmental picture of the child. You can read more about that bigger picture here.

When we turn to the early years, we can look outside our windows for inspiration, and look within for the inner gesture of the season. What are we experiencing? Expansion? Contraction? Warmth? Cold? Movement? Stillness?

Mother Nature brings a rhythm of her own that the child can experience first hand. There are apples to pick and eat and make things with in autumn, snow in winter, maple syrup in spring and food and flowers galore in summer. Mother Earth provides for her children. There are squirrels to watch, busy gathering nuts, geese flying south, snow falling, snowmen and snow forts to build, birdies building their nests. Nature provides.  Abundance.  Bounty.  Beauty. Inspiration. Movement. Action. Doing.

Crafting is not necessary in early childhood. Crafting is great for parents who want to make toys for the children, decorate for the season or holidays, make gifts, clothing or beautiful things for the home. The work of the adult provides an example of doing, of engaging the will, of process, of completion, for the child to experience inwardly. Don’t sacrifice movement, time in nature and the gift of participating in daily life, daily care of the home, in the name of craft making for the child to do. They’ll be time for that later. Plenty.

On beeswax in the early years. I have come to see how it has become misconstrued and misunderstood. Poor beeswax. The emphasis on beeswax as a staple of the Waldorf curriculum and the forming of particular objects with  putting tops and spots on things, and adding eyes and arms, as if it were a Mr. Potato Head, oh the poor misunderstood gesture, please let that wait. The form is meant to arise from within the whole. And later in the grades, with conscious leading out, of fine art. Read Michael Howard’s, Educating the Will, a wonderful book for a deeper understanding of sculpture and modeling in Waldorf education, as a process of leading out. My personal plea for the beeswax is to let beeswax be the foundation for the fine art of modeling rather than a Mr. Potato Head type craft.

What to do to model and sculpt? Knead dough, make homemade dough. Do fingerplays. Tie shoelaces. Wrap presents. Make bows. Let daily life and practical needs define the activities. Let’s give the beeswax its proper place as a fine art and treat it with respect and care and understanding of its place and important role.

The handwork of under sevens is the homemaking work:
  • washing food
  • chopping food
  • stirring food
  • whipping cream by hand
  • making yoghurt
  • making bread ~ measuring, kneading, resting, forming
  • dusting
  • washing the table
  • washing dishes
  • hanging the laundry
  • polishing furniture
  • mending broken things
  • sweeping
  • raking
  • shoveling
  • digging
  • watering
  • harvesting
this is the handwork of early childhood. 

Add moments for scissors and tape, and homemade play dough and making bundles and tying laces and building from cardboard boxes, what a magical world exists for the young child in there! 

The young child does not have a developmental need to create an end product that is physical, that is the work of the adult. Tying shoe laces, wrapping gifts…the child’s natural inclinations tell us a good deal about the child’s developmental needs.

The child's end product is completing the task, seeing it through, the doing. Buttoning the sweater. Pulling up the zipper. Making good habits that involve the use of the hands. Doing tasks that we do over and over and over again. Every day. This may feel monotonous to us, but to the growing child, it is rich with opportunity to practice and learn through daily life.

It might be putting the boots on the mat, clearing the dishes after a meal, imitating the adult in sweeping the floor after a meal, this is the child living into life with movement and connection to life and to humans, the first connection to other humans.  

If you knit or sew, do woodworking, or other types of work with your hands, your child may want to join you. By all means, gently guide him or her in with simple projects. It may be sewing simple stitches on burlap or fabric from the rag bag. Or hammering nails into a stump. 

If you want to make a gift for someone, this is something the young child may join in or do on his or her own quite spontaneously, and by all means support that.

Just don’t feel you need to set him or her up will all sorts of busy work and craft projects. Let life be the curriculum with the daily work of caring for the self and the home: sweeping, washing, folding, raking, shoveling, harvesting, stirring and chopping, let this meaningful and productive work be the handwork of the young child.

The specific craft projects will come in first grade and a very rich curriculum unfolds in Waldorf education for the child. 

On the other hand, the older kindergarten child, at age 6 and older, maybe ready to join you with craft projects. Rather than set it up for the child to do, let the child come alongside you and initiate joining in. If it involves an apron, have one ready for the child. If the child needs a step to reach the sink, have it available. Have sturdy child size tools, a rake, a shovel for dirt, a snow shovel, have one for each child. No need to tell the child anything, just have the tools out and the child will find them.

What the child mostly needs is the adult to provide time and space to be outdoors with plenty of opportunity for self initiated movement and for daydreaming and boredom for it is in the boredom that the imagination is kindled.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The First Day of First Grade

The first day of first grade is a very special day, it's a threshold day, a crossing from one stage of life to another. It’s a very special day for the child, as well as for the homeschooling parent- teacher.

For Waldorf homeschoolers, the first day of first grade is important as it marks the beginning of a new relationship between parent and child, as well as the start of actual main lessons in which the parent, as teacher, introduces the child to lines and curves, writing and reading, and ultimately to the beauty and wonders of the world. You might like to begin with a verse for the teacher.

I encourage you to take time and create a picture of how you want the day to feel and what you want the day to look like.

Imagine it.

Be with this picture you have created in your mind, the mood you want to bring, and give special attention on how you will convey this on the first day of school. Let it unfold in your mind.

Give yourself time to practice how you will introduce yourself as “teacher," and the process of home education that will unfold, so that you are fully ready and comfortable in your role as authority and teacher.

Perhaps you’ll have a picture on the chalkboard as well as a list of what you’ll be doing that day, or maybe images in the list too.

Perhaps you’ll make your child’s favorite food for breakfast, or put a special flower on the table.

Perhaps you’ll take a picture of your child in front of the house door.

Decide if you want to wear special first day of school clothing, something to mark the day, a little celebration.

Maybe you’ll have your child draw a picture of him or herself. You might do that too, a picture of yourself. Then put it away. Keep these and make the pictures of your child into a booklet for your child at the end of eighth grade, or twelfth grade, if you can pull it off in the high school years too. You can see your growth as well, in your self portraits, as well as your child's growth and development through the years.

After your special breakfast or special table, you might light your candle and “open” the day together with this verse from Rudolf Steiner for Grades 1-4, used in Waldorf schools around the world and as you do, you can remind yourself that Waldorf education was begun to educate the child and for bring about social reform. You are not alone with your endeavors as a Waldorf homeschooler, you are part of an worldwide movement, not only to educate children but make the world a better place for all, out of human freedom. Keep that in mind.

The Sun with loving light
Makes bright for me each day.
The soul with spirit power
Gives strength unto my limbs.

In sunlight shining clear,
I reverence, O God
The strength of humankind
Which Thou so graciously,
Hath planted in my soul.

That I will all my might
May love to work and learn.
From thee comes light and strength,
To thee rise love and thanks.

You might follow it with a talk, the first grade talk, suggested by Rudolf Steiner, about learning all different sorts of things, from others, how to write and read, to count and calculate with numbers, maybe a little sweet tidbit about your own experience of first going to school. 

"It is very important that you should speak to the children somewhat in this vein: “You have come to school, and now I am going to tell you why you have come to school.” This act of coming to school should immediately be drawn to their attention. “You have come to school in order to learn something. You have as yet no idea of all the things you will be learning in school, but there will be all sorts of subjects that you will have to learn. Why will you have to learn all sorts of different things in school? You no doubt know some adults, some grown-up people, and you must have noticed that they can do things that you cannot do. You are here so that one day you will also be able to do what grown-ups can do. One day you will be able to do things that you cannot do yet.” It is most important to work through this network of thoughts with the children.” ~Rudolf Steiner

Of course as homeschoolers, we are more likely to say, “We are beginning our lessons,” or “We are beginning our home study, or our home schooling. ” Whatever words resonate with you to describe the process of learning at home.

Give your child just one new item. Save the flute and the knitting needles, yarn and such for later. Begin with what you need to use on the first day only, and then over the days and weeks and months, you’ll have time to create a story to introduce the flute, and the knitting and the other supplies you are going to present to your child. You might even hold off on the beanbags and introduce them on the second day to have something new on day or even week two. 

When we hold back and introduce materials one at a time, we have the opportunity to make each one special and create joy and interest in the new material as well as in using it. It helps us to appreciate what we have, and feel grateful. This builds the foundation for gratitude and reverence. More about the gift of anticipation here.

If you have already begun and introduced them, no worries, you can re-introduce them in time and create a very special story context for presenting to your child, to make the materials you are working with special and appreciate. You might talk about the bees and the wax they make that is in the crayons.

Show your child where the school materials belong. Be sure to take good care of your own supplies and put them away with care each day, and lead your child to do the same, by your example.

Now are you ready with your circle and first Main Lesson for the first day of first grade?

Blessings on your school year!

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