Once you have the basics of going to bed, waking up, naps and food happening around the same time each day, you can now look at planning perhaps the most important part of the day: how you will spend time with your children if you are the parent of small children, or how you will set up your homeschooling day if you have children in the grades (or a combination of children in the grades and small children not yet in the grades! ) This post is mainly about the Early Years, with food for thought for the grades.
Rhythm is something that I think is not only very European in raising children, (for example, if I ask my Dutch and German friends about raising children, they usually reply something to the effect of rhythm, cleanliness, repetition) but rhythm was a strong part of American parenting culture until the late 70s or early 80s. When I asked my mother-in-law how she survived with Dad being gone in the Vietnam War on two separate tours as a supply officer, she said simply, “All of the military wives had a very strong rhythm and schedule. We had to as many of us had four children or more and were single parenting for years and years. We also had to stick together as a community.” There are still American parents who value rhythm (of course!), but I find that the prevailing view of the small child being a miniature adult has seeped into the idea of not “imposing” a rhythm on the child, and we all seem busier than ever; our own lives are irregular, so how can we hope to bring this to our children?
I always planned our rhythm in the Early Years with an eye to lots of movement and sensory input, the idea of meaningful work, circle time and stories and community. I will be very honest and say that I probably brought less than many mothers do in terms of finger knitting or wet on wet painting, sitting down and drawing etc until the six year old year, unless it served the very practical purpose of preparing for festivals. We did do a lot of baking, gardening, singing and lots and lots and lots of movement. We spent our time riding bicycles outside, swimming daily as the weather permitted, hiking and balancing on logs, wading in streams, building forts and other kinds of free play and building up a community of friends. I myself did knit and paint and learn how to play the flute – these early years are wonderful for your own skill development! However, I strongly push for the development of movement, movement through work, being outside in all kinds of weather, and a strong rhythm with circle time and stories in order to really nourish the foundational parts of the child’s twelve senses. There are many back posts on the twelve senses and the role these play in education, so I will not go into all of those details here!
The point of the kindergarten years, to me, is not to be running around on errands and endless things your child will not even remember in a year, but to really show your child strong, real, seasonal work, how to care for a home, and that beauty, safety and goodness that is home! We made our house a home with loving meals, scraggly picked flowers from the fields and garden, and friends and family. A Waldorf Kindergarten in a school emulates a home, and you can do this at home, but you need to think about how you will bring real work to your child and show your child home. What does that look like to you and your family, in your culture?
I think the Early Years are also where you set forth being a loving authority. You set the rhythm, you keep the rhythm, you help your child in a loving way be respectful to himself, to others, and to the home. This, to me, is a HUGE part of the Early Years, and one that should get more “press” within the Waldorf homeschooling movement. There is lots of talk about how to bring “handwork” to a Kindy-aged child (and by the way, handwork in the Early Years, if you ask a Waldorf-trained Handwork teacher, would be playing in the sand, playing with bread dough, etc! I have a back post on Handwork throughout the curriculum on this blog if you are interested!) , but not nearly as much as to how to handle the developmentally normal things a child goes through or what to do with disruptive behavior!
Authority and carrying that, being able to hold the space, actually make decisions (NOT, what do you think, tiny four year old?) is so very important. Children deserve to have the security in knowing that the adult knows what they are doing, and this is a large basis of schooling in the grades, when children of ages 7-14 really, really, really need and want loving authority to help guide them. Imitation and example, along with rhythm, are the most powerful tools we have in the Early Years for authority and discipline. We also realize that the child will need help doing the “right thing” over and over and over.
Please do not let the child do things that would be harmful to himself or others, or when what he wants to do is destructive or disruptive . Do not ignore these types of behaviors until you just “lose your temper”! Intervene at the first sign of these things, and re-direct, but remember that correcting the action does not mean the child will not need you to intervene in the same situation again and again. It is really around the age of five that a child just starts to “get” right and wrong. Also, find out what your child is trying to do! It may be more positive than you think, and they just need help! Love your child, show them a united front between two parents who are really BOTH parenting, and have fun!
And lastly and MOST IMPORTANTLY, do not kill yourself trying to ‘”do it all”!! I have seen mothers really burn out in the Early Years trying to make everything so beautiful, so lovely, so ….well,you know, it is just rather over the top! Then these mothers totally burn out when they hit first grade or before!
This all has to be something you can actually live with! Pick the pieces of what you can do, and add more over time – maybe right now all you can start with is homemade meals and being outside in addition to good sleep and rest times! Okay then! Build on that! It doesn’t all have to be wooden toys, handmade underwear you knit yourself for the children, music from a wooden flute you carved yourself from a tree on your own property, etc. Relax, live, enjoy your children! Get together with your neighbors daily and have tea outside in the afternoon – your children will remember that far more than anything else!
There are some resources out there to help you with the idea of rhythm:
1. Marsha Johnson has free files here in the Kindergarten section of her Yahoo!Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorfhomeeducators/
2. Lisa Boisvert Mackenzie has a whole section about rhythm for each day of the week, including a sample flow to the day and such here: http://www.celebratetherhythmoflife.com/2012/01/basic-elements-of-daily-living-with.html and here: http://www.celebratetherhythmoflife.com/2011/10/rhythm-waldorf-style.html and one of my favorites here, with sample recipes: http://thewonderofchildhood.com/category/domestic/ Lisa also has a paid program available per month.
3. Melisa Nielsen of “A Little Garden Flower” has a paid program that many mothers have seemed to be happy with here: http://waldorfessentials.com/thinking-feeling-willing/ with samples of the lessons available.
4. There are also sample rhythms of each day for children below the grades available in the book “Beyond The Rainbow Bridge” and also in the Christopherus Kindergarten book: http://www.christopherushomeschool.com/Kindergarten-With-Your-Three-To-Six-Year-Old-p/chr0005.htm, along with good articles on the Early Years here: http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/early-years-nurturing-young-children-at-home.html
5. Some mothers use Little Acorn Learning, which was created for natural-leaning daycares. http://littleacornlearning.com/
I am not affiliated with any of these products, and am just passing on what other mothers have found helpful. It is up to you to use and to choose what speaks to you!
Hope you find that helpful; you can also look through the back posts on Kindergarten under the Homeschooling tab on this blog. Next post, we will talk about a rhythm for the grades, for multiples grades, and how to combine Kindergarten-aged children with grades-aged children.
Many blessings to you,