Tag Archive | Waldorf

All my Summers

Welcome to the July 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Summer Fun

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about how to get out and enjoy the warmer season as a family.

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I have wonderful memories of summer when I was a child. School summer holidays felt like they went on forever. My earliest summer memories are of making mud pies and grinding “flour” of grass seeds. I remember sitting cross-legged weaving daisy chains whilst chattering to the fairies. When I was a little older summer heralded great freedom.  I usually left the house after breakfast and returned in the evening for dinner. Days were spent with other children who lived on my street in the woods or the park, perhaps creating a den to play in or hanging upside down from monkey bars. There was a small piece of land at the bottom of a lane that we called “The Island” which was covered with blackthorn and which would be defended from potential intruders by bombarding them with not yet ripe sloe berries. My younger brother tagged along with me just as the younger siblings of my friends did and our eight or nine year old selves were fully responsible for the wellbeing of these younger children and we ministered to any mishaps, using dock leaves to ease nettle rash and stemming the flow from cut knees. We somehow knew how to find food for ourselves and neighbours could be relied upon to supply a horde of feral children jam sandwiches before we set off for more adventures. We swam at the beach, we swung on ropes hung from trees and we covered many miles. In the long summer evenings the adults came out into the street and the road became the venue for epic games of rounders or cricket, teams of children taking on the groups of parents with games abandoned when the last light of the day seeped away.

Those summers of my childhood are long gone and I now have my own family made up of three almost grown young adults and a five month old baby. Grown up life with all of its responsibilities meant that for many years my partner and I worked long hours and our children when not in school went to childcare to make our jobs possible. Evenings were taken up by the various organised activities that our children participated in. Our day typically ended about 10pm when we would drop into bed exhausted and I would attempt to find sleep quickly as I would be up again at 5.30am and off to work a fourteen and a half hour shift in my job as a midwife in a local hospital. In recent years summer has become a time of relief for myself and my husband. An opportunity to reduce the constant ferrying our children from school and from one activity to another whilst my husband had a break from teaching that enabled some semblance of order to be created albeit temporarily in the household. This is the way it has been for more years than I care to count and something had to give but although we talked often about how things could be improved when you are stuck on such a roundabout it is so very difficult to work out how to jump off.

In the past year our lives have been overhauled. It began with our decision to have another baby sixteen years after the birth of our daughter. Discovering that I was pregnant was swiftly followed by our sixteen year old son who plays rugby league at a national level gaining a place at a prestigious academy where he would have the opportunity to further his sporting career whilst studying. Suddenly everything was changing. Our son was not ready to go his own way in the world and we knew that we wanted a simpler way of being for our new child.  A decision was made; we would move to Glastonbury, a town which we had visited regularly for years and which was close enough for our son to commute to the academy. We had talked about it often but there had always seemed to be too many reasons not to move.

My partner has left teaching (at least for now) and taken a job with a small charity which enables him to walk to his work which is just five minutes away. My eldest daughter has just completed IGCSE exams as a home educated student and has a place at a very good college for September and my eldest son and his girlfriend have also moved here and live just five minutes away. All of my children have local jobs, and me? Well, I am on maternity leave right now but have made the decision to stay at home with my new baby. I wrote my resignation letter just a few days ago. For now I will not be working outside the home but I have a seedling of an idea for a small creative business which I eventually plan on beginning from home, enabling me to give my youngest daughter a childhood free from childcare facilities and to educate her at home when the time comes for that. In the space of a year our lives have changed enormously. Where we were spending a minimum of £300 per month on fuel to just get to school, work and activities we now rarely use the car at all. Our days are simpler and we have free time for ourselves and time to spend together as a family. It is such a relief. 

Having a baby in the home again has given us the chance to really look at our priorities, to consider what sort of life we want to provide for her. My older children are wonderful people. They are intelligent, interesting and caring. I did my best for them but inevitably I am a different person from the young mother I was to them in my early twenties when I was driven by career and academic ambition. For my youngest I want a simpler life. I have been deeply inspired by Waldorf which is as much a way of life as an educational approach. Waldorf calls for simplicity, natural toys, a gentle childhood allowing children to play freely, delayed (by standards we expect now) academics and gentle rhythms – which brings me back to summer.

Rhythms are the patterns which make up your day, your week, your seasons and your years. In Waldorf you will hear about breathing in and breathing out times as part of the rhythms of the home. This means that children go through alternative periods of concentration and expansion, like taking an in-breath and out-breath. The Waldorf home life should be developed with this in mind and the rhythms which you create whether this be daily or seasonally should contain a balance of both kinds of activities. Summer time is an invitation to breath out. The days are long and are a call to play, to rest and to rejuvenate the tired spirit with plenty of sunshine. See your children’s days as they might and think about how you might bring a balance of in-breath and out-breath activitiesinto daily life. One element of rhythm is tradition. What summer traditions do you want to create for your family? How do you want your children to remember their summer days when they look back? Family traditions for the summer might include trips to the seaside, barbecues, picnics or hikes. It could be setting up a paddling pool in the garden or visiting an outdoor pool. You might like to go kayaking or canoeing. You could have a late night family trip away from the lights of town to view the night sky through a telescope or perhaps go berry picking. Create traditions for your family that reflect your interests.

Summer of 2015 heralds a new opportunity for my family. We have been blessed with the arrival of this beautiful little soul at the time when my older children take their first steps out into the world and this has inspired us to overhaul our lives. This summer we begin to create new traditions and build new memories. I don’t yet know what these will be but I look forward to finding out. What will I remember from this summer? We are sitting beneath a silver birch tree, my daughter is laying on a wool blanket on the earth and she is chattering away to something only her innocent eyes see. I close my eyes, taking in the beautiful baby chatter. I don’t disturb this moment for her. My attention expands to take in the wider sounds around me – children are playing, birds are calling and I feel the sunshine warming me. The spell that held my child’s attention is broken and she turns her smile towards me. She is the beginning of a new journey and my heart knows that anything is possible.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Morning Rhythms

I love mornings. Waking up with a four month old baby fills my heart with joy. Each morning she greets us with the most incredible smile which lights up her entire being. Lately this is followed by her rolling over, investigating her world from this recently discovered vantage point. We usually spend some gentle time together, the three of us. My partner may read a story from one of the books we keep at our bedside. I usually get up then and head for a shower or bath and my partner spends some time chatting with our daughter. She then gets to spend some time on a blanket on the floor as we make the bed and so on. During this time she is so vocal. She is really beginning to find her voice and her chatter usually draws one of her older siblings in to play with her if they are at home.

My partner usually dresses our daughter for the day whilst I put clothes in the washing machine, hang laundry out and vacuum. We then go out to take our dog for his morning walk. I carry our daughter in a wrap or sling. If it is Sunday we go for a long walk so we will be out for two or three hours. When we get back she sits in the kitchen in her bouncy chair and we talk and sing to her while getting breakfast ready. We try to make breakfast a shared family meal though our son leaves the house at 6.15am for college a number of times a week so he doesn’t always join us. In around two months time our daughter will begin to try some solid foods and we’ve decided that breakfast will be the meal at which she will first have foods introduced. We have a fourteen day rotating meal plan so breakfast is always varied. The plan will change seasonally to reflect how our food preferences vary throughout the year. Our current breakfasts include pancakes and bacon, homemade bread, fruit and preserves, superfood muffins and a smoothie, eggs royale and blueberry scones and fruit. 

After breakfast my partner walks to work. After clearing up and dealing with more laundry we usually do some baby yoga and floor play. Floor play mostly involves repeatedly rolling over, her new favourite thing and her early attempts to crawl. She sometimes plays for a little while in a baby bouncer or with simple toys. By around 10am she is ready to take a nap so we settle down for a breastfeed which normally settles her to sleep for an hour. She sleeps cuddled on me so I use this time to catch up on social media, to write or read.

Rhythm is not the same as routine though it may contain elements of it. The rhythm of our mornings is not set in stone, it varies if appropriate and it is inevitable that it will change with seasons and as our daughter gets older. Rhythm is intuitive. This is what works for our family right now. What does your morning rhythm look like?

Far and Away Over the Rainbow Bridge: Berry’s Story

This is my daughters story. It is inspired by the Feri creation story and the Waldorf birthday stories. This is how she came to be.

There once was a little soul spark. She lived very happily, held gently in the embrace of She from whom all creation sprang. The little spark knew nothing of days or nights. She knew nothing of seasons. She knew only that she was a tiny part of all that is, was or ever would be. That was until she began to feel something different, the tiniest awareness of another soul reaching out to her. The little soul spark didn’t know at first what it was that seemed to touch her being but soon she began to dream about a place that shone blue and green and there, in that place, was the soul that she had felt reaching out to hers. She caught glimpses of that other, a soul in the form of a woman.

The little spark felt this other one. She felt the love of the woman and heard her whispered wish for a child and gradually something awakened in her, and it seemed that she must answer the call of that other soul. As she rocked gently in the embrace of the creator this feeling grew and grew until at last she decided to seek the guidance of the Holy Mother. Holy Mother smiled when she heard her little one tell her of her need to reach the one she saw upon that blue-green sphere and she told her something of the tremendous journey she must take if this was truly her wish. The little spark thought hard but she knew that this was the path she must now take.

Holy Mother gathered the little one to her. She spoke of her great love for this little spark of her creation which had emerged from within her. She reminded the little soul to remember always that she was greatly loved and then they set out together to begin the great journey. Holy Mother first took the little soul to meet a special star and out of the dust of it she created a physical form that the little soul spark would inhabit. “Remember always that your body is sacred” she told the little soul. Next she took the little soul to meet Sister Moon. Sister Moon gifted the little soul with the rhythms of her life-force and a little flowing and a pulsing arose in her newly created star body. Holy Mother took up the little soul one more time and together they went to visit Father Sun. Father Sun gifted her with the heat of his body and her little form grew warm.

Now they came to the rainbow bridge. Holy Mother explained to her little one that this was the final step and that should she step onto the bridge she would have a long rest before awakening to her new life. The little spark must now be sure that her path was to join that other soul. The little one thought for just a moment and took one tentative step onto the path of many colours.

She rested then. She floated gently, a soul inhabiting a tiny new body in the warm womb waters for many months as Sister Moon waxed and waned, and waxed and waned. Then one day she awakened and knew the time had come to be born to her mama. The womb of her mama worked so very hard and she was propelled along on surge after surge until, from somewhere, she heard a cry such as only a birthing woman can make and her world was forever changed. 

Little soul blinked open her eyes and the very first thing she saw in this new world was her mama’s eyes gazing into hers. At once they knew one another. Soul met soul. At once a love was born. The little girl was held in loving arms. She sighed upon a new breath and settled in close as her rosebud mouth sought her mama’s breast. She was home. 

The Waldorf baby: A baby in her natural world

I am only recently beginning to discover the Waldorf approach to family life and education. From all that I have read it seems to fit very neatly with my own ideals and parenting approach. Being connected to nature means being grounded in the land in which you live and the natural cycles such as moon phases and seasons. I believe that at birth babies are a part of nature and that this natural state of being is quickly lost as the child grows, spends the majority of time being shielded from the elements and has her imagination stifled through exposure to technology, the media and early academic learning. Children have their need to play overlooked as they enter the classroom environment at a young age. Natural curiosity for discovering the world through free, unstructured and imaginative play is stifled and the toy box is filled with noisy, battery operated toys that bombard the senses with information. Gradually the child loses the precious connection to the natural world. So how do I go about helping a four month maintain her connection to nature and how do I plan on taking this forward into her toddler years?
  
First and foremost we go outside virtually daily. We aim to spend outdoor time every day but life with a small baby sometimes means this doesn’t always happen. We mostly spend our outdoor time at this stage in Glastonbury Abbey. This is such a lovely place, a real sanctuary in the middle of the town. Despite if being a tourist attraction which gets quite busy at times there is always some suitable place for quiet time. I love that the Abbey grounds consists of a number of distinct environments so that we can experience something different every day of the week if we choose. There is the wildlife sanctuary which right now is a tangle of nettles which for the moment hide the badger tunnels which can be seen here in the winter. There are two separate pond areas which are home to fish and water fowl. There is the apple orchard, the parkland and the ruins itself as well as the herb garden and the numerous trees, many native alongside the more exotic. On these visits I carry a bag with a thick wool blanket so that I can let her have some time on the earth. If it is dry enough then she will lay on the grass. Often this is time spent beneath a tree where she can feel the earth beneath her, watch the movement of the branches in the breeze, hear the sound of the wind in the leaves and feel the sun reaching her through the canopy. Through this simple time she gets to experience each of the four elements which are considered so important in the Waldorf approach. During this outside time I try to ensure that for at least part of the time I allow her to simply be present with herself and the world around her. As tempting as it is to respond to her chatter with the trees I’ve seen how doing so has the result of breaking her connection with whatever it is she is observing. I have learned to just wait quietly and let her be. In her own time she will decide to engage with me once more. I anticipate this outdoor time increasing as she gets older and more able to explore and engage with her environment. I intend this to be year round and regardless of the weather. Children love to play in puddles and to crunch in snow.

I am also finding ways to engage her with each of the elements. I am writing about this in a series of posts which began with connecting to earth. Earth, being the most physical and tangible of the elements has seemed the most easily accessible to a baby of this age. In my next post I will write about ways we have been working with water.

“The four elements, earth, water, air and fire, are the basic elements which children are nourished by and from which they grow. No shaped toys-be they wood or plastic-can compete with these materials. The seriousness with which the children play, the deep concentration speaks for itself, and shows how important this “playing” is.” – You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin Dancy: p184.

meeting a copper beech tree at just a few weeks old

In the Waldorf approach children aged under seven are considered to be naturally connected to the world around them. At this age it is seen as important to nurture this and to avoid actively engaging them in activities which detract from this natural state of being and which shift them prematurely into their head-space. For me this means no television, minimising technology by choosing simple toys and later on by choosing not to allow computer games. According to Rahima Baldwin Dancy, author of You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, babies are sensory beings without the ability to filter or choose what they engage with. This means that they take in everything around them and through these sensory experiences they are sculpted into the older child and adult they will become and learn about the world they are born into.  When considered fully, the implications of this are enormous. It places us as parents in a position of tremendous responsibility. We must be the filter through  which our baby meets the world. We must be responsible for what sensory information our baby experiences in these first special years.  So, consider, what do you want your baby to feel, hear, taste, touch, see? Rudolf Steiner taught that there are in fact twelve senses rather than the five conventionally recognised, a subject for another post.  I know that I want my baby to experience beautiful, natural sounds and sights. I want her to hear my voice gently singing her to sleep and the birds calling. I don’t want meaningless flashing images on a screen to be her early visual experience. I want her rather to see my smiling face and to see the movement of tree branches in the breeze. I don’t want her feeling hard, cold plastic or have her skin stifled by plastics and chemicals. I choose instead natural toys, cloth nappies and organic wool and cotton clothing where possible.

Simple toys can include those made of natural materials. We have play silks which are pieces of silk fabric which I have dyed using natural colourants such as beetroot, a natural rubber giraffe and a wooden rattle. There are online shops which sell incredibly beautiful hand made and natural toys, often at premium prices. None of these are really necessary but you may choose to create a list of lovely things that you can provide to friends and relatives wanting gift inspiration. You can draw upon any skills you have to create toys yourself or learn a new skill. Currently I am trying needle felting for the first time and am making my daughter her first ball out of washed raw wool. Toys for toddlers and older children can include those which promote imitation and of course, nature herself provides plenty of playthings. Natural objects such as pine cones, shells and pebbles can be collected to help bring nature indoors. Sand play, modelling and water play provide further opportunities to engage with natural materials. We plan on providing a nature table on which our little girl can place objects she has collected herself. A seasonal display can be a focal point in the home.

“Young children are close to the realm of nature because they are natural beings. Because their consciousness is not yet parted from the environment, because they still live in the consciousness of oneness, of unity, they still belong to the natural world.” – Heaven On Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, Sharifa Oppenheimer: p99.

enjoying a simple silk cloth

My role as a parent is not so much about connecting my baby with nature – she already IS nature. Rather it is about protecting this connection in any way I can, a task which is not easy in the modern world in which we live. I see this as a sacred undertaking. These first years are precious. My theory is that she will be better able to learn about the world and how and why things work by first really knowing how to be in this world. I believe that there is far too much emphasis on learning from the head. Perhaps our earliest learning needs instead to come from our heart and soul. Our little ones must be allowed to hear the wisdom of nature spirits, to have their senses protected and to fully incarnate before they are tasked with moving into the world of schooling and adult priorities.