Are You Overthinking The Toddler and Preschool Years?

Sometimes toddlers and preschoolers do funny things, and parents ask, “Why is it that I can’t get Little Jimmy to drink anything but chocolate milk with his school lunch?”  “Why is it Little Abby only has worn cowboy boots for the past three months every day?”

And then there are mothers of older teenagers and sometimes their list of worries can be much more serious and upsetting:  sexting, driving home with a drunk driver, car accidents, drug and alcohol use, graduating high school, teenage pregnancy, getting into college, saving money from a job so there will be something to start out in life with, the possibility of rape;  the list goes on.  Even if we have total confidence in our wonderful teenagers and their abilities to make great choices, the list can still be there in the back of our minds.

It is an interesting juxtaposition.

Thinking about some of the bigger issues that older teenagers can face makes the issue of chocolate milk and cowboy boots seem what they are – small issues that will pass in time. It is not that these topics don’t deserve thought and consideration.  Not at all!  But sometimes it can be helpful to hear and see older children in action.  The older child and teenager is where your toddler and preschooler someday will be.

This is not to negate the really important job of raising a toddler and preschooler because these years are the foundation of the years to come.  You may really not be over-thinking it, but just building a long-range perspective can take years.

I remember being a new mother and I DID feel like a deer in the headlights with my toddlers and preschoolers.  Now I have an almost 14 year old and a five year old, with a ten year old in between,  and I am starting to understand where mothers of the older teenagers are coming from with some of their worries and a bigger picture than picky eating or sleeping (although those things are super important at the time and when you are in the middle of it!). I am forever humbled at every turn.

Going back to basics always helps.  SOCIETY makes parenting toddlers and preschoolers MUCH HARDER than it should be.  We have forgotten what tiny children are all about and what the media and often even what  mainstream groups that cater to toddlers, preschoolers and their parents show us as “normal” is actually a version of adulthood brought down and made over for these tiny ages – and  so much of it is commercially driven, at least in American society.

The rules of parenting the toddler and preschooler should simply revolve around rescuing your toddler from near-death several times an hour (exhausting!), rest and sleep, trying to get a toddler to eat and potty train (exhausted yet?), helping guide a toddler’s wants and needs,  and playing!  Where society makes it hard is that it is not child-friendly, and with all the “experts” out there, mothers have forgotten how to be the expert on their own child. Also, there are no longer  great support networks for new parents that provide the “real deal” as to what these tiny ages are about!

Remember, the way to get these things “done” with a toddler or preschooler is

  • Rhythm  – Rhythm and consistency, not over- talking and over- explaining, is the KEY to discipline!
  • Outdoor time
  • An unhurried, happy life
  • Rest and sleep
  • Not feeling as if a tiny child constantly needs bigger, better, to be pushed, more stimulation, more classes outside the home – RESIST the urge to bring the adult world to your child. Ask yourself, did I do this when I was a child of that age or did I do it in middle school and high school??
  • The idea that childhood should be PROTECTED
  • Free yourself from the idea that a small child needs to be entertained.  They need meaningful work and  over time they need to develop the ability to occupy themselves in the home environment with play

Developing a long-term understanding of the development of the human being can be a helpful guide in a society where developmental stages are not valued.  I am so grateful for all the parents out there that do try, that do worry, that do work to help guide their children.  Thank you for being such good parents!


May Day In The Waldorf Home

Here’s a branch of snowy May,

A branch the fairies gave me.

Who would like to dance today,

With a branch the fairies gave me?

Dance away, dance away,

Holding high the branch of May.

–Traditional May Day Song

May Day is such a beautiful day full of cheer!  There are many beautiful cultural and folk traditions around this special day.  One often thinks of the image of dancers around a Maypole.  In the book “All Year Round”, the authors remark that originally the Maypole was a tree, sometimes up to sixty feet high, cut and stripped of all its branches except the top (which then symbolized new life).  It was decorated and set up in an open space.  Ribbons were often added, and then the dancers around the pole move in such a way as to plait the ribbons in patterns.

May Day brings promise:  to the farmer, the promise of kind weather; to the girl who washes her face in the May Day dew, the promise of a fine complexion; to the young people weaving the pattern of creation around the Maypole, the eternal promise of the future.  – From page 84,  “All Year Round”

Some beautiful ways to celebrate the promise of May Day:

  • Make a May Pole and invite children to dance!  Yes, there are May Pole dances on You Tube if you have never seen one in person!
  • Play games – “Celebrating Irish Festivals” recounts that sports at the May Day festival included smearing poles with grease and seeing who could climb to the top the fastest, races on foot, sack races, blindfolded races, wrestling, hopping and jumping contests
  • Make ankle bracelets with little bells that ring when you walk and braided wreaths of flowers for the heads of the children you love. 
  • Make a special May Day cake with a small maypole on the top!  Sponge cake is rather traditional.
  • Learn music for May Day. Here is a link with some song ideas, including one May Day song from the Appalachian region of the United States!
  • Get up early and wash your faces in the morning dew
  • Make beautiful May Day baskets or cones and fill them flowers – leave them on your neighbor’s doors
  • Decorate your own house with wreaths, garlands, ribbons
  • Pick herbs and dry them
  • Go on a picnic – “Celebrating Irish Festivals” has suggestions for food
  • Some parts of Europe hold bonfires – consider a bonfire!

For more ideas see the following books:

  • “Celebrating Irish Festivals”
  • “All Year Round”
  • “Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions”
  • “Festivals, Families and Food”
  • “Spring” – Wynstones
  • You Tube for videos of May Pole dances
  • I have a small “May” Pinterest board that has some ideas as well.

Festivals for small children are in the doing, so please do choose something and start your traditions!




“Sitting Is The Smoking Of Our Generation”

This is a brilliant saying from Nilofer Merchant’s Huffington Post article Huffington Post article  and corresponding  TED talk .  As a pediatric physical therapist and movement advocate, I fully agree.

What can we do as parents?

  • Limit your screens!  Turn those things off and get moving instead!  National Screen Free Week is May 4th – May 10th!  I urge you to participate in this starting on Monday  if your family is not already screen free.  Here is their Facebook page:  Go and check it out!

Here are the tips for screen free week.

Here is a list of 101 Screen Free Activities  Activity is the font of life!

Keep moving!  Here are a few more ideas:

  • Stop sitting so much ourselves.  Cooking, cleaning, gardening, active pursuits all count. Choose walks in the morning and afternoon, less time in a car overall.   Show our children we can DO.  Be the role model!
  • Plan time to get outside every day.  Look for playing and meeting other parents in streams, creeks, large expansive meadows, hiking trails and beaches.  Get children on their bikes (many children CAN learn to ride a bike with no training wheels by 3 and a half if they practice and use a balance bike first!).  Swim, pick berries, walk.
  • If you live in a neighborhood, let your children play outside with other children.  Talk to the other parents in your neighborhood!  Yes, even if you have to put dinner in a crock pot and stand there outside with them all and yes, even if you have to show grades-aged children how to play kickball or freeze tag.  Don’t laugh; I have met children that had no idea how to play either or these games.  Pull out jump ropes and help them draw hopscotch. 
  • If you are homeschooling, schedule in ACTIVE time.  Not just active movement in the “warm-up” part of the day, but during the main lesson itself.  Can you also plan a very active outing each week in addition to being outside each day as well?  Can you kayak, canoe, snowshoe, ski, hike, snorkel one full morning or afternoon a week?

Share your ideas for cutting out or down media and staying active with children in the comment box or on The Parenting Passageway Facebook page!



Choosing Time Outside of the Home Wisely

I think choosing how we spend our time outside of when our children are in school –whether that be in public, private or homeschool – is an important topic.

If your children are in public or private school, I know many families who choose to do no extra activities outside of school.  This gives children time to come home, relax and play, get homework done, eat with the family and go to bed on time.  I know families that adhere to this even when their children are teenagers, despite pressure to “do lots of things to put on a college application.”  If any activities are chosen, it might be one activity at a time that has a short life span – ie, an activity that might span 4-6 weeks and then culminate in an event.

I know many  homeschooling families that will only choose activities that the entire family can participate in (or least all the grades-aged children and therefore the younger children coming up to this age will eventually do). I find this to be especially true of families with four or more children. If the family is very large, for example, I have known homeschooling families with six to twelve children, they may choose two activities such as soccer and dance and the children divide according to their interests.  Even this can start to get a little dicey because of age requirements for different levels, but it still is a way to limit.

I think the families that are running around the most that I see in the homeschooling communities are actually those with one to three children!  There is this idea that every child needs their separate things to do.  Sometimes that is true.  However, I think it takes really careful thought and consideration so it doesn’t turn out that each child has there “own three separate things” so therefore you are running nine places between three children!

I don’t know as children below 12 need much in the way of outside, adult-led, structured activities, dependent upon the child’s temperament and extraversion levels.  Young teens  of 13-15 sometimes struggle because it seems as if many of the activities for “children” are up to age 12 and therefore those ages 13-15 need to be in a teen group of some kind.  My almost fourteen year old often feels left out in a group of older teens at this point and I have noticed this across the board in observing the 13-15 year olds. So I have tried to look for activities that still can include her with her sister and children her age (because 13-15 year olds often seem to feel left out with only smaller children as well) or activities that especially include a good grouping of 13 to 15 year olds.  This sort of grouping  also makes sense to me based upon Steiner’s pedagogy of the sixteen/seventeen year old change.

I would love to hear your thoughts.  How do you handle outside activities?  At what point do you feel children really, really need something to do outside the home?  Not to generalize, but many mothers of 11 and 12 year old girls have told me that is when they really felt their girls needed something more and many mothers of boys told me their boys didn’t care so much to do something until they were closer to 14.

Tell me how many children are in your family that are grades-aged and how you handle outside activities! Let’s have a discussion!


The Unsupportive Spouse

One thing I have heard frequently in parenting and in supporting other parents is this area of the “unsupportive” spouse.  Whether it be breast-feeding, co-sleeping, homeschooling, eliminating media – it seems like this comes up a lot.  “I would like this, but my partner is not supportive.”

I can only offer you a few suggestions from other mothers  that I have heard over the past fourteen years or so…

1.  Remember your spouse is a parent too.  Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have been breastfed/have been raised with no media/were homeschooled ourselves.  Then we bring that to the table as part of us, and our future spouses and partners KNOW this about us.  However, many of us were only exposed to these ideas AFTER we had children and now it is almost like changing the rules of the game in a sense.  We feel as if we have better information and knowledge to make a better choice for our families, but we are bringing something totally new to the table for our partners or spouses…which leads to….

2.  Communication; have the honest dialogue. Communication is really important. If you set it up as “I am right and you are wrong in “X” parenting matter” ….well, you probably aren’t going to get very far.  But a heart-felt conversation in which you address your partner’s fears, assumptions, wishes in a respectful way…that can go a long way.  Be a team together.  Share information and support each other.  Talk about how you came to the conclusion you are now holding as truth; maybe that will help your partner’s journey as well.

3.  Can you respectfully compromise?  There are two of you, and you have to parent like it.  Are there baby steps?   

4.  Can you offer alternatives that  protect your child?  What compromise can your spouse make to help meet you? 

5.  Give it time.  Some families start out with a specified time frame to try things out – three weeks seems like a good time frame – and see what happens! Is everyone happier? 

If the time passes, and your spouse is not happy but overall the family seems more happy, ask yourself:  is this a parenting problem or a relationship challenge?  In other words, is this really about breastfeeding/cosleeping/media-free/homeschooling/etc. or is it really about something else? See point #7 below.

6. Be respectful.  Mothers often are the ones researching things and wanting to move things in a certain direction; be respectful and again, allow communication and time for your partner to work on this issue that you have raised.

7. How is the rest of the relationship?    I read an article once about “The Unsupportive Spouse” by Gregory Popcak in “The Nurturing Parenting”  (1996) and he wrote about how we cannot use these issues as a shield to avoid each other or not work on our relationship with our partners.  If you need help, get help. A great therapist or counselor can be the wonderful third party and objective sounding board.  You may grow even closer having worked through some of the challenges inherent in parenting!

I would love to hear your stories….how did you and your spouse handle big issues that you disagreed upon?

Blessings and love,

Differing Expectations Between Waldorf Curriculums

The last post I wrote about language arts through the Waldorf homeschooling curriculum  brought out some terrific comments by veteran homeschooling mothers regarding finding differing expectations between Waldorf homeschooling curriculums.  One of my long-time readers wrote this brilliant comment:

Thanks again, Carrie, for your thoughts on this. There can be such a discrepancy not just between what’s done at school or home but also in comparing home ed. curriculums. Looking at Live Ed, say, or Path of Discovery, and then comparing it to much of what Christopherus suggests is do-able at a certain age for example. The expectations of the child, not just in language arts but in all areas, are quite different.
I agree with what you say about home educated children – I think they develop to their own individual time-tables, regardless of what experts might say or what other children are doing.
Perhaps being allowed to linger in a stage of development allows them to really complete it in a way that being hurried on to the next thing does not.

Yes! Oh, yes!

So always go back to basics:  read  Steiner’s lectures and  look at your child.  Know the general ideas of artistic and academic goals for each grade and know that if you are using curriculum, they do vary fairly significantly at points.  Most of all, look at the child in front of you because when it comes down to it, that is what you have:  the child in front of you and where they are and you can only build from there!  That is the reality of teaching!

Why is it that  you often hear about children in the homeschooling environment (and not even just Waldorf homeschooling, you  ofen hear this across homeschooling methodologies  unless a child is really being pushed in the academic areas or the child is just naturally brilliant) is  that sometimes a child didn’t read until 12, or they just didn’t get math until all of the sudden when they turned 14, etc. ? I think this may, like my reader suggests above,  have to do with the  time and space that homeschooling affords.  In my experience, it seems that many times the only children that meet many of these  “pre-set milestones”  are the eager beaver first-born girls.  Maybe in a group some of these children would be the little ones sort of ahead of the class in general or who get it easily and help their classmates.  Maybe  it has to do with a more esoteric reason, such the guiding hand of Spirit over  homeschoolers as a group across the land.  I don’t know, other than it just seems to be.

So, be careful with curriculums.  They can be a great guidepost to help brand-new mothers who have never seen a Waldorf classroom nor heard transition verses nor seen main lesson books.  However, I notice many mothers coming up are buying ALL the curriculums. ALL the different curriculums on the market! Are you the type of the mother that can sort through all of this?  Is there one that really matches your family better and where your child is?

At the point you are sorting through all of this, why not buy resources and make your own curriculum since the curriculums are all different anyway?  Yes, each curriculum has its gems, each one has its own voice.  But so do you! You have your own voice, your own style – and this is EXACTLY what happens in a Waldorf classroom with a teacher.  Every teacher is different and brings their own twist to the subject material.   Every teacher will design a block in a different way.

Being a homeschooling parent means being a teacher.  You are learning to be a teacher, and it will come.


Progression of Language Arts Through The Waldorf Curriculum

This is a big subject as entire books have been devoted to this matter.  I recommend that Waldorf homeschooling parents first of all read Steiner’s lectures regarding language arts. The lectures compiled in “Genius of Language”; lectures also found in “Discussions With Teachers” and “Practical Advice to Teachers”.

In the Waldorf homeschooling world, we also books of secondary pedagogy such as “Living Language” from Christopherus Homeschooling Resources, Inc which I think is very helpful for grades one through five if you are putting together your own blocks, the smattering of lessons for grades 2 through 8 such as Dorothy Harrer’s  book “An English Manual” (free as an ebook over at Rudolf Steiner Library On-Line) which includes mainly grammar (but not so much writing or progression to writing).  Also, brand new this year are little grammar workbooks from a Waldorf perspective for grades four and up here (but I think only grade four is out right now).  Unlike “Waldorf math” where a scope and sequence is laid out by such authors as Jarman or York, I have not found a true scope and sequence for language arts (writing, spelling, grammar, punctuation) other than “Living Language” (– especially for the upper grades, since, again, “Living Language” covers grades one through five).

All of this is important because, after all, in Waldorf homeschooling, we have those summaries (I say this partly with my tongue in cheek – read on).  You know, the summaries that run through all the grades in trying to summarize information in the upper grades and sentences in the lower grades.  We do use what we write to learn to read and to practice our letter and word –finding abilities in the lower grades, and in how we work with grammar and punctuation and spelling.  We find this work  in our rhythm of practice, in recall, a deepening of the subject using art as the vehicle and yes, writing as an academic piece.  (Not that this rhythm of “material-drawing-summary” should be the way to do every thing!  Trying to decide what to put in the main lesson book is part of being the teacher, and not everything has to go in the main lesson booktrying to put everything in there is a sure recipe for burn-out on both your part and the student’s part!  Is the goal of Waldorf Education writing summaries? Is art the secondary step to get to the summary?   NO, I say emphatically!)

I find that writing in and of itself is an activity that involves much thinking, and therefore I believe we really see the maturation of writing when we see the maturation of the human being.  Being able to think about a subject and write  about it clearly in order to communicate to other people involves the twelve senses – I think especially in the choosing of words, punctuation, grammar, how we phrase things, how we analyze things and can synthesize this on paper – this involves being able to put ourselves in the place of another “I” on so many levels, to be able to communicate with the “other” in our audience and in our clarity.  To me, good writing is part of the hallmark and culmination of  these senses.

In the homeschooling environment I think this takes place later than in the school setting from what I have seen and heard in working with other homeschooling families.  Therefore,  I am always a bit baffled by this push for more mature “writing” in composing summaries in the grades four and below – to me, this is more the realm of copying sentences and then copying summaries  of a paragraph or two, dictation in perhaps end of fourth and yes in  fifth grade, yes, perhaps working together to go over ideas orally first in these grades so the child can get a sense of how to start compiling things….and then composing summaries gradually and gently in middle school with excellent writing towards the end of eighth grade and in high school.  That is my  own progression in my own  homeschooling, but certainly every child is different, and you as a homeschooling teacher will need to figure out what is right for your family.

I hope to write a series talking about language arts in each grade with a few ideas.  As I have pointed out, there are many books on these subjects and it is worth your time to think about the progression normally found in Waldorf Education and how your progression will be at home. My vote and inclination is that the things we find in Waldorf Education often, again, happens later in the home environment, especially for the very active boys and girls. 

Just my two cents!