More About How To Create Meaningful Work For Toddlers

 

“We have to remember that there is nothing more “enriching” for a young child than exploring his own world of home, filled with natural playthings and the work of caring for a family – housework, laundry, cooking – and exploring his own backyard.” – From Sharifa Oppenheimer’s “Heaven On Earth:  A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, page 19

 Liza wrote such a beautiful post here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/06/28/guest-post-meaningful-work-for-toddlers/  and I hope it was inspiring to those of you who have toddlers as your oldest children and you are trying to create your family life “from scratch”.  I have a few things I would like to add as well to this meaningful post. 

 If you are wondering where to begin, Continue reading

Guest Post: Meaningful Work For Toddlers

(I asked my dear friend Liza to write this guest post because she has experience in weaving a life full of meaningful tasks that her twin toddlers do to help nurture their home.  What a wonderful experience they are having, and I thought her experience could help some of you out there who might be wondering about what kind of work toddlers could do!  Enjoy!)


Dear Friends,

I am a new mom, almost three years into parenting twins, and am humbled each day by what my children teach me.  How it is the simple things that bring them the most wonder:   the slow and steady journey of a snail’s trek across the patio, grandmother moon shining bright on a sunny day, how every flower on our morning walk is met with reverence and a deep inhale.  From them I am learning to slow down and settle into the sweetness of their early years.

I have also come to learn that time spent with my children at home is ultimately the most rewarding, for them and for me as well.  It is better than a visit to the playground, an organized class, or family adventure.   A bowl of sudsy water and a cup is like a trip to the ocean, dawdling around in our urban backyard feels like foraging through the forest and work- real work done with their hands (and mine) is deeply enriching. So we nest a lot, building and strengthening our home, caring for the objects and animals that surround us and attending to our rhythm.  Basically…doing lots of things with our hands.

When Hannah and Eli were born I joined the Christopherus Waldorf at Home Forum and there (enter angels singing and skies parting), was a group of mothers whose wisdom, humor and intelligence cradled my nascent mothering soul. Carrie was one of these inspired mothers/mentors.  I brought to this group my deepest anxieties, my ‘silliest’ questions, my fears and self doubts.  And trust me, there were a lot. But ultimately I brought to them my children to help me nurture, support and love more fully.

The sub-forum for those with children under seven was a particularly lively and active group.   We discussed everything about living with small children- from the practical aspects of coordinating nap-time, to building rhythm into our days, to finding love for your children when they do not seem so lovable. Overwhelm, burn out, and irritability came to the forum most days, right along side sibling conflict, strong emotions (formally known as tantrums), and whining.  From beneath the words of encouragement showered on each mama’s struggles you could almost hear the soothing siren song of this unspoken mantra:

slow down sweet mama,

take a deep breath,

you are doing a great job.

look gently within (take responsibility for what you might be contributing

and then forgive yourself),

connect back in with that little spirit who wants only to be loved.

And find some work to do with their hands

And so while the first four tasks are surely all parents’ karmic work (we have chosen the ultimate “path of service” it seems- the one that gives us access to expansive love…and a whole mess of other feelings), I leaned into the challenge of finding jobs for my children. And you know what?  It works.

At eighteen months we started small: stirring mama’s tea in the morning, grinding daddy’s coffee beans, making the morning eggs.  That bowl of sudsy ocean water soon had spoons and a sponge in it- a towel on the side to dry them with. The spray bottle entered our world and washing windows began- bliss was known.  Folding laundry became a game of discovery, an opportunity to run through the house delivering missing washcloths to the bathtub and napkins to the napkin drawer.

As time passed we found more work to do.  We stirred pancakes, made endless batches of muffins (and delivered them to the neighbors promptly lest they were all eaten by mama), made soup, pickles and bread.  The salad spinner is just as likely to be found on the countertop as it is the floor, the back deck…the living room.  Did you know you can spin almost anything?  We learned to pour with a pitcher, cut with a knife, peel with a peeler, use the cherry pitter, cheese grater and whisk.

We wash woolies in the bathtub, then wrap them in towels, stomp on them like grapes and hang them from a makeshift line under the kitchen island. That is a full morning’s work.  Bringing in the groceries one by one down our long apartment hallway to the kitchen still ranks high in the ‘fun things to do with daddy’ category- running fast like kitty cats with the apples, slow like turtles with the eggs.

There is a pride that emanates from a little one who has just accomplished a task they have watched you do over and over.  You can see it in their faces, their bodies and their spirit.  When they ask, “Mama, I do it!” I nudge you to let them try.  It is indeed messy, there is of course some risk, you may need to come back later and do it over.  But really, the rewards are huge.

I am still working to “de-mechanize” our day so that my daughter, whom I keep close to my side lest she finds her very capable hands pulling her brother’s hair or knocking over his carefully constructed ‘hayride’, is included in my housework.  Then my son who is only sometimes interested in working can play nearby and join in when he is inclined- apparently they have an agreement that he has claim over the salad spinner when the time comes to use it. And so it goes that sibling conflict is greatly reduced when we are busily working.  Self-esteem and positive exchange between all family members swells.

I recently bought some special wool felt to make a banner for the children’s play space- an attempt to add crafty to my day.  I put this little project in a basket in the living room so that I could attend to it when there was a free moment- idealistic I know.  When my daughter happened upon the basket of carefully folded rainbow felt she exclaimed, “my laundry!” as if it had been missing for years.

Yes, love, that is exactly what it is.

She has since added some kitchen towels, a couple of matchbox cars…a wooden chicken.  I often find her in the window folding her laundry and singing a little song. “Just a moment,” nodding over in my direction, “I am almost done folding the laundry”.

And so it is that imagination trips on the heels of imitation.

The forum ended a few months back and I missed the chance to heart-fully thank the women for all they had given me, to my children…to our family.  When Carrie asked me to write something up about work and toddlers I thought- what could I, fledgling mama, share with you?  And then I heard that siren song and I remembered the mantra, the trick that helps me shepherd two  often cranky toddlers through the day… and helps them back into their much more important work of play.  Thank you Carrie.  And thank you mamas.

Here are some ideas for including toddlers in your work…and play.  I would  sure love to hear what you are all up to!

  • Load/unload the dishwasher with supervision
  • Wash silverware ( in a little basin)
  • Learn to use a sharp knife; grating
  • Practice pouring into a glass
  • Stir, pour, play with flour/dough, etc.
  • Make coffee for daddy- press button on grinder
  • Spread butter on toast
  • Pick the leaves of kale, tear lettuce, spin in dryer
  • Shell peas
  • Scramble eggs
  • Unload groceries
  • Spray and wipe windows and bathroom walls
  • Wash tub with sponge and baking soda
  • Polish wooden toys/furniture
  • Hand me items from the laundry basket as I fold and then help carry to each room/drawer OR I have a basket ready in each room and I hand the kids an article each from the clean laundry and they deliver it to the appropriate room.
  • Sweep
  • Help take out garbage cans/bring back in
  • Get napkins and silverware for table
  • Water plants outside
  • Dig hole for new plants
  • Practice training dog with treats
  • Learning to iron
  • Polishing silver
  • Help make bed

Some additional resources have supported me:

Allison Carrol, Director

http://www.sfwaldorf.org/programs/earlychildhoodprogram.asp

And this verse by Steiner:

Into my will,

let there pour strength.

Into my feeling,

let there flow warmth.

Into my thinking,

Let there shine light.

That I might nurture this child

with enlightened purpose,

caring with heart’s love

and bringing wisdom

into all things.

With love,

Liza, mama to Hannah Simone and Elijah Moon

Thank you Liza, for sharing your experience…

Many blessings to you all,

Carrie

Top 10 Referrals For The Past Week and Lovely Links For The Weekend

Oh, first a few goodies!

And, for my top ten referrers this week, I thank you from the bottom of my heart:

Continue reading

Joy In Parenting

Happy Tuesday of Easter Week!  Today’s post is based on inspiration from The Collect for today found in The Book of Common Prayer, “that we…may be found worthy to attain everlasting joys”.

Do you have everlasting joys right now in this place and in this time?

Almost every day I get asked through email or in consulting about “how can I enjoy being with my children?”  We live in such a fast-paced world, and one in which many parents are entering parenthood at older ages and many are coming to parenthood with an approach akin to starting work at a large company. 

The only problem with this is that you don’t really see the results of your “project” for many years.  Oh, and your “project” has their own ideas about the project, LOL.  It quickly becomes obvious to those parents open to this possibility that parenting is not like working at a company.

Parenting is 24/7.  It involves you coming face to face with whatever baggage you have been carrying around from life. How scary and how exhilarating!  It involves you personally growing.  It involves you making decisions, being an authority in your own home, and it involves you being able to discern your most essential priorities.  These things can be challenging for many parents!

It also can be joyous.  With all the things mentioned above comes freedom and the shaping of how you want things to be.  Small children (and many of us!) do best in a rhythmic, unhurried environment with lots of time outside.  That can be so freeing and joyous, to marvel together at the smallest wonders of life, to laugh like only a small child can.

If you are missing the joy in your life, how can you capture it?

Joy is an attitude of the innermost heart.  It is something you can ask for in your prayers and meditation, it is something you can do as you go through your day.  Can I slow down enough whilst I am washing the dishes to really feel the soap bubbles on my hands and the warm water and hum?  That is joyous.  Can I stop in the middle of the day and hold my child close and smell his or her hair and look at that child’s chubby little thighs and just love them and feel joyous that they are here, that I am the parent?

Can I discern what I need to feel joyous, but also can I just “do it” even if the things going on around me are not what I think I need to be joyful?  Can I grow and stretch in this way as I become a more mature parent?  Can I be joyful at three A.M. when I have had a night of waking up all night long with a reflux-ridden infant or a teething toddler?  Can I be joyous as I clean or cook or attend to my child’s needs?  Can I be joyous?

Joy can not only replace fear, but it can also provide a gateway to a peaceful and calm heart.  If raising children who are peaceful and who can grow up to be peacemakers is important to you, then you finding your own joy in your life and showing this in your every task and in your being is the place to begin.

 

Many blessings,

Carrie

The Sacred In The Ordinary

Happy Easter Monday to you all!  In the Collect for today from The Book of Common Prayer, there was a part that said, “…that we may behold thee in all thy works….”

I started thinking about seeing the sacred in the ordinary.  Do we really do that?  I like to think that as mindful parents we really do; that we take that time to really look at our children and their joyful faces or to see the sunrise or to look at that ant or that flower.

But sometimes, life with small children can become one giant to-do list if we let it.  A list of places to go each day, chores to do each day, days of doing the same things over and over and over – diaper changes, feeding children, cleaning up.  And starting all over again.

I wondered for myself,  if just for today, I could pause long enough to see the sacred in the ordinary.  Could I really counteract that feeling of irritation or frustration of having to “do that again” with joy and gratitude? 

I have a beautiful family;  I have a lovely home.  Things are not perfect in my world, and I bet they are not perfect in yours.  But why should that stop our gratitude in the moment?  Why should that stop us from taking our work and offering it with love to our families?

Just for today, let us see the beauty and joy in our world with love and with reverence.  Our children will surely notice and follow our hearts and attitudes.

Many blessings,

Carrie

A Round-Up Of Blog Posts and Blogs To Enjoy

Oh, I am so enjoying this:  a “craft-a-long” blog to go with the book “The Children’s Year”:  http://wwwthechildrensyearcraftalong.blogspot.com/ 

Here is a lovely blog post by Sarah Baldwin over at Bella Luna Toys regarding rhythm in the Waldorf Kindergarten:  http://blog.bellalunatoys.com/2011/waldorf-kindergarten.html#comments

Here is a post with beautiful pictures and words of wisdom from one of my very own readers and her experience with being mentored by a Waldorf Early Years  teacher:  http://bendingbirches2010.blogspot.com/2011/04/waldorf-nursery-observations.html

This article is by Elizabeth Foss, whom many of you know from her wonderful Serendipity website and her Kind Conversation network.  Here is an article from her about ending her school day with tea-time.  I love this and plan to incorporate it into our school day:  http://charlottemason.tripod.com/tea.html

And finally, Ann Voskamp’s “10 Points of Joyful Parenting”:  http://www.aholyexperience.com/10-points-of-joyful-parenting-printable/  I am sure many of you are familiar with Ann’s bestselling book!

As for me, I have been spending my nights reading about St. Benedict and slowly starting to homeschool plan for fall.  My oldest just took her standardized test for the year (required in my state), so we have a few blocks of school and feel relieved that is out of the way.

What are you engrossed  in recently?  I would love to hear from you in the comment box!

Many blessings,

Carrie

An Ordered Outer World For A Peaceful Family

This is an interesting phenomenon:

Bring order and warmth and beauty to your environment.

Use that order to bring order to your inner world.

Integrate your emotions, thoughts and actions as much as possible for peace.

We see this idea over and over again in Waldorf parenting and education.  If a little person is having a hard time at snack in a Waldorf Kindergarten, one of the first things a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher may do would be to straighten up the placemat, napkin, chair, glass, silverware around the child.  I believe there is a description of this in the book, “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge”, for those of you who may have that book.

Bring order and beauty to the child, and let that sink into giving the child order within.

In the book, “Awakening Beauty the Dr. Hauschka Way” by Susan West Kurz with Tom Monte, the author writes:  “Another simple way to experience your inner rhythms and to bring order to them is to create order in your environment.  Often when I feel my life is getting out of control, I organize my office, clean a room in my house, or arrange a drawer or my jewelry box.  It sounds mundane, but the act of creating order around me puts me in touch with the order within me.  It also helps me avoid trying to control everyone else around me.”   This book was recently given to me as a gift from a dear friend, and it really is a wonderfully nurturing book about the spiritual and physical foundations of beauty.

Order to create harmony.

I truly believe if you can tame your physical environment by paring down, and then add a healthy dose of rhythm on top of that, along with your own inner prayer life, you are well on your way toward creating a home life that is healthy.

With small children, less is more.  The environment should have less.  Children are very small, they are impulses and whims and giant sensory organs with no filters.  Think small, simple, beautiful.

Rhythm for small children also needs to have space and time to breathe.  Some families come to me and say they have no rhythm, but they really do.  Those “things” you see on the beautiful blogs, the art and the creating and such, are not necessarily the hallmark of rhythm when your oldest is five and under.  The hallmark there is bodily care, warming foods, warming touch and singing, practical work.  When your oldest children are in the grades and your younger ones are kindergarten aged, you will have much more of a centered rhythm and space and time to bring those other elements that one may associate with a Waldorf School.  Home is not school.  Home is a warm, peaceful and nurturing place.

You might be asking where to start with the physical environment.  If you truly find your environment out of control and need to start somewhere, please speak with your spouse or partner, your family members and plan several weekend afternoons when you have help with your small children. There is nothing so difficult as cleaning out things and watching your piles be carried all over the house by a band of small children.

I think children’s rooms should be havens for rest and sleep.  There is not need for many toys or books in the bedrooms.  The kitchen and dining area should be places of organization – how many glasses do you really need? how many plates?  how many gadgets?  Do you take your recyling and composting out promptly or do you have things hanging all over your kitchen waiting to go somewhere else?

Then look at your play areas and homeschooling areas.  Are things in baskets?  How many toys do you really need out at one time?  How many books do you need?  How much in the way of art supplies and such?  And how are these things organized – can your four year old pull up and chair and get down the stapler or glue or paint when you are not around?  Think ahead in the environment so as to avert disasters!

What is warm in your home?  What warming colors are there?  What things of natural beauty are there?  Are there plants and flowers?  Some things that are well-loved and worn? Those, to me, are beautiful.  Do you have religious objects that are inviting and comforting and calming?  Lovely.

To me, for small children, think about 14 outfits with outerwear for the elements.  Books?  About 6 for each season, rotated on the equinox and solstice dates for the beginning of each season.  Toys?  Not many, and those that are available; open ended.  Think practical work – does your child have the tools to help you with that?  “Gross motor toys” – bikes, scooters, jump ropes, are important. 

Pare down and bring soothing order to your home and your family life.

Many blessings,

Carrie

The Antidote To The Overwhelming Year

Some of you may well recall my previous post regarding “The Overwhelming Year” here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/02/23/the-overwhelming-year/   In part I wrote:

“In spite of times that are sometimes overwhelming, I  do not wish to  have a simple life.  I doubt my life will ever be simple; I am too enmeshed with raising small children and  helping mothers and  a myriad of other things for life to be simple.  Sometimes I  wish for balance, I always hope and look  for connection, but I do not  wish for things to be so simple that there is not striving.

If you are experiencing a complex year, an overwhelming year, I encourage you not to find the nearest exit and crawl out, but to work and strive to let these times mold you and shape you.  I encourage you to find humor, joy, truthfulness goodness and beauty.  I encourage you to find support in real-life people, not just the Internet.  I encourage you to become the expert on what YOU need and to become the expert regarding your own family and your own life.”

So, if you are experiencing an overwhelming year, a year of striving, a year of challenge, I thought I would share with you a few tactics I have been taking lately in order to move forward:

1.  Acknowledgement that you really cannot do it all, nor should you, and why would you want to?  I have spent the past several months cutting back on commitments outside my home the best that I could and that has helped me immensely.

2.  Don’t forget the physical body.  I am a big believer in the non-traditional things such as  homeopathy and using  flower essences but also in the traditional things such as eating and drinking enough, exercising, getting enough sleep in order to really recuperate.  I once read in reference to really exhausted and depleted Waldorf Teachers that perhaps the teacher would  need three or four months of really good sleep to fully recover.  Doesn’t that give you pause for a moment and an idea to put sleep as a priority?   A good complete physical by a conventional doctor is typically not a bad idea as well!

3.  Order your outer life so you can order your inner life.  I saw this principle profoundly and beautifully expressed here:  http://www.studyinbrown.com/writing/2011/3/22/order-and-routine-making-straight-paths-for-peace-part-2.html

Go read this, it will give you a lump in your throat  because it is that wonderful.

4.  Prayer, prayer, prayer.  Mothers who read this blog who do not have a spiritual life, a religious tradition, a prayer life, probably get tired of reading this suggestion on my blog.  But, I ask you, how do you intend to do all this business of raising a family, setting the tone in your home, all the things that family entails without these pieces?

5.  Art is life.  Paint, sculpt, write, read, play music.  I have heard it said that art sends light into the soul, need I say more?

Many blessings on your striving,

Carrie

The Overwhelming Year

Has anyone else been experiencing the Overwhelming Year?  It has been an interesting school year for us; it was hard for us to settle into a rhythm the first half of the year and then when we were finally settling in  my husband started to travel and I was solo.  It was the year when it became apparent that the activities my oldest child was involved in ramped up to levels that were beyond what I was capable of sustaining with the other small children. It was the year many of our friends’ family lives unraveled.  It was the year that things I wanted to get off my plate still remained.  It was the year I got asked back to work in physical therapy twice and I had to make the very difficult decision to not do that.  Twice.    It was the year things were not smooth; they were not always wonderful.

Yet, there were pockets of joy.  There have been times this year  I have acknowledged my weakest areas and met them head on.  There have been times of learning and growing and finding out about myself and delving more deeply into my values.    There have been times of connection and community that sustained me.  There have been people who have loved me just for being me.   I thank them.

In spite of times that are sometimes overwhelming, I  do not wish to  have a simple life.  I doubt my life will ever be simple; I am too enmeshed with raising small children and  helping mothers and  a myriad of other things for life to be simple.  Sometimes I  wish for balance, I always hope and look  for connection, but I do not  wish for things to be so simple that there is not striving.

If you are experiencing a complex year, an overwhelming year, I encourage you not to find the nearest exit and crawl out, but to work and strive to let these times mold you and shape you.  I encourage you to find humor, joy, truthfulness goodness and beauty.  I encourage you to find support in real-life people, not just the Internet.  I encourage you to become the expert on what YOU need and to become the expert regarding your own family and your own life.

Always striving, live big!

Carrie

In These Dark Days

January can be such a difficult month in parenting.  The days can be dark and long.  Much of the U.S. has been under sub-zero temperatures, and that can make days with small children rather long indeed.  This can be the kind of month where mothers are feeling tired, cranky, even depressed or overwhelmed.

This is a good month to focus on the importance of warmth: warm thoughts, warm deeds, warm and gentle hands, quiet voices, warm clothing, warm foods. 

This is a good month to make sure you, Mama, are at  your peak physical and mental health.  Get those Vitamin D and thyroid levels checked; get screened for depression if you think that may be a possibility; menu plan for nourishing food.

This is a good month to tweak your rhythm or change it entirely.  What will your older child do whilst your younger one is trying to go to sleep?  What will you do to get out physical energy if you are stuck in the house because it is literally that cold? 

This is a good month to revisit singing and music to warm the atmosphere of the home.  Some of you have emailed and asked about music resources.  Here are a few of my favorites (if a book, also includes CD’s because I know some of you may not be able to read music!):

This is a good month to do some story-telling.  Try Suzanne Down’s Juniper Tree Puppetry website and sign up for her email newsletter:  http://junipertreepuppets.com/blog/

For inspiration in story-telling, how about this book by Nancy Mellon called “Body Eloquence”?  http://www.amazon.com/Body-Eloquence-Power-Awaken-Energies/dp/1604150289/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296213082&sr=8-1

This is a good month to do some some art with your children.   Pink and Green Mama reads this blog and has 400 projects on her website here:  http://pinkandgreenmama.blogspot.com

This is a good month to get ready for February festivals!  How about getting ready for Candlemas (http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/29/the-magic-of-candlemas/),  Chinese New Year (http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/02/09/chinese-new-year-in-the-waldorf-home/) or Valentine’s Day? 

Many blessings,

Carrie