The Ten Kinds of Play

If one of the hallmarks of the early years through the teenaged years is play, it helps us as parents to know about the different kinds of play and what these look like.  In this way, we can help our children achieve healthy play if healthy play is difficult for them.

The number one thing to do to help encourage ALL of the kinds of play I am listing below includes turning off all screens – TV, computer, video games, etc.  Stop them cold turkey.  This is important for all small children as we offer a gesture of protection, but this is especially important if  your child is having trouble with creative play.  And start to schedule in large amounts of “unscheduled” time.  That sounds contradictory, scheduling in unscheduled time, but children of today are rushed from adult-led activity to adult-led activity.  They need time to just daydream and be – that is the genesis of being creative.

Here are some types of play:

  • Large Motor play – climbing, jumping, swinging,  crawling
  • Small Motor play – Fine motor play might include things such as sorting objects, stringing objects, bringing objects in and out,
  • Rules- based play – You see this a lot in pick –up games led by children.  I saw this this weekend at a 4-H event where I observed a  very large group of children ages 8-14 or so were playing kickball.  They figured out where the bases would be, what the foul line was, how far apart the bases should be after a few rounds, etc.  They were making the rules and changing the rules as they went along.  Children do not acquire this skill in adult-led youth sports.  Youth sports NEED to be balanced out by neighborhood pick-up games that are led by children working together.
  • Construction play – Building play.  We often think of building forts, ships or houses but I would also include older children building ramps for a skateboard or bike.  
  • Make-believe play – we see this often in kindergarten aged up children.  At first props may be needed, but older children, even ages 9-11 often have elaborate make-believe games with characters and scenarios.
  • Language play – Using words for play – telling stories, playing with words and rhymes, circle games and songs…..  This can overlap large motor play in the case of jump rope rhymes or hand clapping games.
  • Playing with art – Modeling, creating music, drawing, making posters and puppet shows are all examples of this kind of  play.
  • Sensory Play – playing with sand, mud, water, gathering natural objects that have different textures. 
  • Rough and tumble play – Animals do this too!  This is how children often learn body awareness and boundaries.  This kind of play often needs to be watched to make sure boundaries are set for how aggressive or how dominant a player becomes, but it is important for children to play like this.
  • Risk taking play – Play can and should involve risk.  You most likely will not find this on a conventional playground, but out in nature and even in childhood games.  In a childhood game, this is estimating risk – can I steal to that base? can I run fast enough to make it to “home” without being tagged?  In nature, this might be how high can I climb in this tree?  Will this branch in the tree or log across this stream support my body weight?  This is an important kind of play.  I think this type of play can easily morph in the later middle school and high school years into things that are active, involve an element of risk, but are generally a safe way to get risk-taking behavior out there.  For seventh and eighth graders and up, think about dirt biking through a Motorcycle Safety Awareness club, a tree obstacle course with ziplines, more strenuous hiking and camping, anything with animals such as horseback riding or dog training, rock climbing, skiing, etc.  Help children develop their own abilities to assess risk.  This is an important skill for life.

What kinds of play are your children doing? Can you think of a type of play that is not on this list?

Blessings,
Carrie

Teens and Behavior: Is It All Just Hormones?

The short answer is no, not entirely.  I have been reading the wonderful, accessible book “The Teenaged Brain” by Frances E. Jensen, MD and Amy Ellis Nutt.  When we look at a teenager from a neurophysiology perspective sees more than just  hormones at work.  Some of the main points I took away from the first few chapters in this book regarding adolescent and young adult physiology follows:

Yes, hormones do rise.  The concentration of hormones does change; however the levels of hormones are not any different than the levels found in young adults.  So, if hormone levels are not any different than young adults, than what is the neurophysiologic challenge adolescents are facing that seems to make them more impulsive, more emotional than many  young adults?   (Although judging by some of the idiocy we are seeing on college campuses as of late, I guess this could be argued! LOL)

Part of the challenge is the way the brain is responding and  trying to regulate hormones  that have been previously dormant.  The brain is changing, and the  receptors in the brain and the neurotransmitters that go with these changes is profound.  Sex hormones are especially active in the limbic system, which is the emotional center of the brain.

Adolescents have an ability to reason that is as sharp as an adult’s reasoning, which is why an adolescent can perform well on standardized testing, for example.  Memory and the ability to learn new information is at an all-time high.   However, reasoning often seems to fall short in real life, for example,  a teenager’s perception of risk often falls far short of the reality of risk.  Why is this?

Part of this stems from the maturation pattern of the brain and part of it stems from the fact that a teenager’s brain gets more of a sense of reward than an adult brain because of the increased amount of dopamine that is released. 

The brain matures from the back to the front, and the parietal lobes mature late and the  frontal lobes are the last area to mature.  This is important because the parietal lobes help regulate being able to switch between tasks and help the frontal lobes to focus .  The frontal lobes help send inhibiting messages to the reward centers of the brain – but they are not fully developed and develop last.  They also function in prospective memory – the ability to hold in your mind the intention to perform a certain action at a certain time in the future.  (This skill is almost physiologically stagnant in children ages 10-14, so please don’t just expect them to remember!)Also, the prefrontal cortex that processes negative information, doesn’t work as well in teenagers’ brains.

When we crave what the brain perceives on a physiologic level as a “reward” and we get  a dopamine rush, the teenaged brain is less equipped to deal with shutting the dopamine reward of risky behavior down because of the less developed brain physiology.  Remember, the teenaged brain is about 80 percent mature and teens are hypersensitive from the standpoint of brain physiology to dopamine rewards.  The teenaged brain also releases more dopamine in response to a potential “reward” situation so it can be particularly difficult for a teen to resist situations, especially if negative consequences are never experienced, or if negative consequences are experienced, they are less likely to learn from the situation because they do not process negative information in the same way as a mature adult.  Therefore,  they are more likely to keep repeating the behavior.   This can help explain, for example, things such as addiction in teenagers is more strongly “stuck” in an adolescent’s brain and risk and reward system.

Based upon the above, we know the adolescents consistently disregard risks associated with sexual activity, alcohol, drug use.  We can add to this mixture a society that has devalued sexual activity and the peer role in risk-taking behavior.  Social isolation for girls and a lack of extra-curricular activities for boys increased risk-taking behavior (page 113).  This has nothing to do with the physiology of the brain per se, but we know environment and physiology always mix.    Mood and emotions also can be of profound importance in decision-making moments in teens as well.   

Lots of food for thought in this book.  I highly recommend this as a great read to help you understand and parent your teenager!

Blessings,
Carrie

Ideas for Easter Baskets

I know many parents who are starting to gather together some small treats for Easter baskets.  I wanted to share with you some ideas I have collected over the years for baskets, including ideas for older children.

First of all, if you are looking for organic, fair trade or allergen free candy, you can try some of the suggestions listed here: here

If you are looking for a healthy alternative to those marshmallow Peeps, try this recipe

Ideas for baskets:

  • Bubbles/cool bubble wands
  • Small balls with different textures
  • Seed packets/gardening tools
  • Jump ropes
  • Pool or sandbox toys
  • Wooden animals or gasp, plastic animals if they are going to go live in the sandbox or a pond of water
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Kites (older children love these as well!)
  • Pinwheels
  • Supplies to build a fairy house
  • Accessories for bicycles  like a bell for the bike or a bike basket
  • Pool goggles, swim shoes, snorkles (older children as well!)
  • Play silks
  • Clothespins and braided yarn ropes –they can be so many things!
  • Stuffed animals – homemade felt or knitted animals – or Waldorf dolls
  • Clothing for dolls, yarn “leashes” for stuffed dogs
  • Playmats that roll up for small animals, figures or tiny cars.  Many of the playmats are easy to sew.

For older children:

  • Books
  • Craft kits
  • Paper dolls to cut out
  • Small model sets that will fit in basket
  • Woodworking or leather working tools
  • Yarn, knitting needles, crochet hooks or supplies for cross stitching
  • For older teen sewers, the book “Sew Fab” might be nice.  (My teen has been eyeing it.  It is geared towards teen girl clothing). 
  • Card games
  • Watches
  • Art supplies
  • Gift cards (sorry, but older teens love gift cards)

For religious items, you could think about icons (there are even small laminated print icons), Bibles or other religious books, necklaces or bracelets with crosses.

What are your favorite things to put in an Easter basket?  Please leave the age of your children with your item in the comment box! 

Blessings,
Carrie

Wrap-Up of Week Twenty-Four of Seventh and Fourth Grade

I am trying to post a little wrap-up of each week of grades seven, four and five year old kindergarten year throughout the 36 weeks I have planned for school this year.  I hope this will encourage mothers that are homeschooling multiple children (or who want to but are worried!), and  encourage mothers that even homeschooling children of multiple ages who are far apart in age is doable.  You can find week twenty-three here    and further in the back posts you can find a post pertaining to the first two days of school this year which gives insight to our general daily rhythm.

Living With The Seasons:   We are still in Lent and enjoying the beauty of this quiet season.  I was in a family Sunday school class last Wednesday night.  We gathered on the playground and  then the children climbed to the top of several different playsets in order  to gaze at the beautiful full moon.  We talked about the Cherokee names for the full moon, prayed for the children’s needs, went to the Memorial Garden (a contemplative garden) and by flashlight read a hand-cut paper book based off the song, “What a Wonderful World” and prayed again with each child holding a prayer stone.   Several children knew that song and sang the words.    What a lovely night, and a quiet, still time of year to feel close to God and His creation. 

I transitioned our Winter nature scene to St. Patrick and his deer.  What a joy to remember St. Patrick’s words and life this season. 

Kindergarten:  We are back to Suzanne Down’s “Old Gnome Through The Year”.  Our son said he missed Old Gnome and his friends, so for March we are doing the story, “Old Gnome’s St. Patrick’s Day Fun”, and a movement journey for circle written by Nancy Blanning called “A Pot of Gold” .  The weather has been mostly nice, and there were opportunities to play with friends many days this week out in nature, so that was nice.  Painting, drawing, cutting and coloring rounded out the week.   

Fourth Grade:  We have moved beyond the head-trunk-limb classification of animals we began in the first Man and Animal block, and now past the metabolic-limb/nerve-sensory/rhythmic system classification we started in this block into categories of animals.  We have done birds and spent a good deal of time here looking at classifying birds in a way that would make sense to a ten-year old (you could do just land/water birds, songbirds, birds of prey but I had a few more categories of birds).  We looked closely at the eagle – in Kovacs’ book, but also in Jim Arnosky’s “Thunder Birds” and Jean Craighead George’s “The Eagles Are Back”.  With help, our fourth grader composed a little report about eagles, which she dictated to me and I wrote on the board.  We corrected it, and she copied it.  We also spent time looking at and listening for our state bird, the Brown Thrasher.    I then used the description of birds and fish found in Roy Wilkinson’s little booklet “The Human Being and the Animal World” as a gateway into the land of fish  and some of the ideas in the Christopherus “The Human Being and the Animal World” book to look more closely at fishes.  We are moving into the talking about the watersheds of Georgia and the fishes of our state, particularly the bass family (the largemouth bass is our state fish), that lives there , and then we will talk about the oceans off our state’s coast and our state whale. 

Seventh Grade: This was a big week in learning about the human sexuality and the reproductive system.  The main resources I used included Linda Knodle’s “Human Fertility” book and the wonderful ebook from Rick Tan over at Syrendell, “Let’s Talk Biography and Biology” (see Syrendell for more details  http://www.syrendell.com/).  I also used some of the ideas in my  back post about sexuality, and a document from the Antioch Orthodox Church regarding friendship and deeper topics here:  http://www.antiochian.org/PVC   I especially enjoyed the part about genuine versus artificial friendship and the different levels of friendship.    More about this block in a separate post as it really is too long to discuss here.

Blessings,
Carrie

Wrap-Up of Week Twenty-Three of Seventh and Fourth Grade

I am trying to post a little wrap-up of each week of grades seven, four and five year old kindergarten year throughout the 36 weeks I have planned for school this year.  I hope this will encourage mothers that are homeschooling multiple children (or who want to but are worried!), and  encourage mothers that even homeschooling children of multiple ages who are far apart in age is doable.  You can find weeks twenty one and twenty two   here   and further in the back posts you can find a post pertaining to the first two days of school this year which gives insight to our general daily rhythm.

Living With The Seasons:  In our home, this is the season of Lent.  We have been at church more, and I have been doing some extra inner work.  Things have been peaceful and calm in Lent, (even with extra choir practices for the musical!).  When we really put the extra effort into ourselves and our own inner work, it really does radiate out into our families. 

Kindergarten:  This is the last week of our “King Winter” circle and our “The Rabbit and the Carrot” story.  Next up will be a Spring circle and the “The Little Red Hen” (the Irish tale in which there is a mouse, a cat, a little red hen and a fox).   We have been painting, whittling, and taking long walks in the morning with the nicer weather.  There has been an upswing in play and being outside overall.

Fourth Grade:  This week we finished up our look at the human being and animals through the lens of the metabolic-limb, rhythmic and head and nerve-sense systems. For this, we looked at the American bison and the cow for the metabolic-limb system, the dog and the lion for the rhythmic system, and the eagle for the head and nerve- sense system.  Our exploration of the eagle has now led into birds.  We are looking at groupings of our feathered friends, we have read the book “For The Birds:  The Life of Roger Tory Peterson”.  We spent some time looking at the general characteristics of birds, the different environments in which birds live and how they adapt, our own state bird, and the prairie and water birds.  We have done a good amount of drawing, painting and poetry to go with this week.

We are still reading “Thorkill of Iceland” as our read-aloud and are also painting different scenes  from this book.  Spelling has come from our main lesson and also sight words.  In math we are still working on subtraction, addition, multiplication and division.  Lastly, we have started a new handwork project.  Our daughter also earned one of her levels in choir and was very happy to see her hard work pay off.  Practices for our church’s spring musical and a play with friends are continuing.

Seventh Grade:  We are hard at work on our physiology block.  I discussed this in a separate post.  This week we finished up the digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems, spoke in length regarding nicotine addiction, and are now moving into Human Fertility and the Reproductive System. 

Our daughter has been working on math quite a bit and has finished the Key To Geometry books 1-5, Key To Algebra 1 and 2, and Metric Measurement 1.

Choir, church musical practice, 4-H and horseback riding are still going along…

Would love to hear what you are working on this week.

Blessings,

Carrie

Parenting Toddlers: A Hands-On Adventure!

Toddlers (which I deem ages one through three, with ages three and four being “nursery school” aged, and ages 5 and 6 being kindergarten aged) are in a very special place in life.  They are all about movement and doing!  They are developing speech!  They are discovering their world.

Parenting toddlers is a hands-on adventure.  It is not one to be embarked upon by yelling from the sofa, “Don’t do that!”  Get up and get moving with your toddler.  A toddler needs constant supervision and reasoning, and punishment does not have a positive effect. Spanking is harmful!  This  is a bulletin from 2012 from the American Psychological Association regarding spanking.  Thirty countries have banned corporal punishment in all settings, including the home. 

There has been much debate in the parenting of older children regarding the use of  rewards or even punishment in terms of  the use of “taking something away”.  (Of course if there is a safety issue with an object, it may need a boundary and a rest!)   I bring this up now, because if you are parenting a toddler for the first time, you are figuring out your parenting style and learning what works and what doesn’t.  You can see an article about the link between materialism and this style of parenting  here.  Here is an article about  “Rewards and Punishments” from the Natural Child Project.  Alfie Kohn has an article about “The Risks of Rewards”  here.   However, if one also searches Pub Med and other places for articles regarding the effects of rewards, I have found the research to be more conflicting and much of the research to be associated with either food/diet related or with children with ADHD.  More work is clearly needed in this area as it applies to real, in-life, parenting.

So, back to the present moment of living with a toddler who in turn is mainly  living in their physical body and who is exploring everything in the world new.  Here are some tools that may be of great assistance:

An Ongoing Loving Relationship with YOU.  That is huge.  Children need to feel connected and loved.   You are not going to do everything right in parenting a toddler, but you can still hold your child and love your child.  You can tell your child positive things, and you can actively respond to your child’s needs. You can listen!   Here is a bulletin from 1991 from the Pediatric Clinics of North America regarding active listening, natural consequences and logical consequences:  the importance of active listening and natural consequences.  Consequences are harder with toddlers (ie, rarely is a toddler refusing to brush their teeth choosing to get cavities and rarely is a toddler who won’t wear a jacket wanting to be cold or get sick), so we also need strong doses of loving limits housed within the following areas….

A Strong Rhythm to your day.  This means that you, as the parent, should be getting up at the same time each day, going to bed at a rhythmical time, providing meal preparation and meals about the same time each day and having a routine that your toddler can settle into. Work, play, rest and love are so important.

The Environment.  It is important that you look at the things in your home with an eye for beauty, order, and yes, putting things up you don’t want a toddler to get into unsupervised up.  Simplicity is key.  Toddlers do not need a million toys, but they do  some open ended toys along with doses of love, sunshine, work, play and rest.

Work.  Toddlers love to work and they need to move their bodies.  Everything will take more time, yes, but what else are you really doing?  Many parents whose toddlers watch a good deal of media have told me they do it because they need to fill up the day with something.  There is a beautiful post here about working with your toddler.

Play outside.  Going outside in the  morning and in the afternoon is not too much for a toddler – (and not just in a stroller or being worn either, let them run and play and get energy out and move!

And when things go wrong?

Distraction can help.  Distraction with singing, humming and moving through things can be helpful. 

Time-in for tinies.  If a temper tantrum ensues, try a  time in for tinies

Have strategies before the time of a melt-down.  Think it through.  Almost every toddler challenge known to man is listed in this back post, along with  ways to solve them.

Movement and singing.  If you want your toddler to put on his or her coat, try helping your toddler’s arm into the coat whilst singing a song about going outside. 

Always go back to the basics of sleep, rest, hunger.

Respect the need for protection for your toddlers.  Toddlers are not miniature adults.  They are wide open to the world and as such do not need a lot of stimulation.  Being in their own homes and neighborhood is enough of a world for a toddler.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

Third Grade Old Testament Stories

There always seems to be some kind of controversy on the Waldorf Facebook groups or Waldorf Yahoo Groups regarding the stories of the Old Testament in third grade.  Some curriculums refer to this block as “Stories of the Hebrew People”.  Some go as far as to try to make the third grade a “Hebrew Year” to go along with this.

I think the title “Stories of the Hebrew People” may be done just  to emphasize that Steiner saw the place of the Judaic stream within Western Civilization as a profound shift of the consciousness of humanity. It was a time when humanity turned inward.  We can look at Moses and the Burning Bush and see how God was in the bush, loudly speaking to Moses, and how the Old Testament prophet Elijah found God not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the “still, small voice” after the fire.  In Steiner’s view, this represented a shift from a group consciousness carried by the Patriarchs to a more individualized consciousness.  There are other ideas Steiner had to be examined regarding Creation and the concept  of time within the Jewish psyche of this time that he felt was important.  These may be the details that speak unconsciously to the nine-year-old in an important way.

I think this block can be challenging for some families because despite what anyone says regarding the fact that this is part of the soul development of a nine year old in the  nine year old change that needs to hear stories about separation, loss and redemption; despite the fact that these stories are important literary and foundational references within Western Civilizations, it inevitably brings up for many homeschooling parents things associated with  religion.  It is especially hard when there are associations for parents with negative religious experiences, even if this is not supposed to be a religious main lesson!  In this day and age, however,   I would not expect less examination.  And because in homeschooling each home is like a world onto itself, and because whilst homeschooling is alternative and Waldorf homeschooling may truly be the alternative of the alternative, I think it often makes the diversity of opinions even greater.

Teachers in the school setting  have to work and struggle with the material as well, but in a classroom one may have an entire class of children from different spiritual and religious experiences there and that perhaps reminds the teacher of the archetypal journey of human consciousness of these stories, whereas at home, there is one parent (usually) leading the block with whatever background  and experiences the parent brings.  In some ways I think this makes it harder!  Some religious homeschooling parents (and there are Christian and Jewish families who use Waldorf homeschooling as their educational model!)  struggle because as part of their religion, these “stories” are not just “stories” but full of meaning, wonder and promise within their religious life; however  the goal of this block is not to have these stories associated with religion but with the development of humanity. As a Christian in the home environment, I know I look at the  Old Testament as not just part of the consciousness of humanity shifting, but through a lens of redemptive love found in the New Testament.  So that can be not so much a struggle, but a particular background to deal with.   Some parents struggle due to past negative experiences.  As I said before, this block is  not in any way meant to be a religious main lesson.  You can see more on this in the Christopherus post  on this subject here and also a small mention of this in this post over at Math By Hand.

I don’t know as there is any other answer than for us as teachers, as homeschooling parents,  to do the work.  I have known some homeschooling families that never really came to a place to bring these stories; I don’t think that can be nor should be forced.  The blocks need to flow out of who the teacher is.  It is worth it to look at this and see why it doesn’t flow, and see different points of view, but at the end of the day, all you can do as a teacher is bring what you think would work best for the soul development of the child in front of you and what is in your own inner work.  People ask for recommendations for “substitutions” for this block but I don’t know as there is any really.  You can certainly bring in more of the Native cultures from your area as tied in with the practicalities of the third grade curriculum; some families do creation stories from around the world but I am not certain that that really gets at the heart of why Steiner considered these stories important for children of this age.  It doesn’t mean that doing a block of Creation stories is wrong, I just don’t know as it is a substitute for what Steiner seemed to have intended…..

I don’t have the answers, but just a few thoughts to share on a situation that often challenges the homeschooling parent.

Blessings,
Carrie