Cultivating Rhythm: The Inner Work of Advent

I hear from many mothers of small children who are concerned about their ability to homeschool because their lives are “chaotic” without much rhythm.  They wonder, can I homeschool if I am hopelessly disorganized and lacking in rhythm?

My first answer to this is to be easy with yourself.  If you have three or four small children under the age of 5, know that your life will look so much different than when those same children are much older.  Be easy, forgive yourself.  Sometimes it really does deserve a medal just to get through the day with everyone fed!

However, my second answer to this is yes, think how one can cultivate order and rhythm out of chaos.  Please don’t just throw up your hands and give up and not try.    Children by their nature are often irregular and need your help to obtain some kind of rhythm to their days and weeks.  And yes, Waldorf homeschooling in the grades will certainly be much more successful if you have basic rhythms for rest, food, outside time in place!

In Waldorf, rhythm is extremely important. Steiner recognized 12 senses (if you need a remedial on this, please hit the “12 senses” tag in the tag box).  We look for development for the lower four of these senses during the first seven year cycle in particular and rhythm is important in developing three out of these four senses – The Sense of Life, The Sense of Movement, and The Sense of Balance.   The Sense of Life is the Sense of Well-Being, of feeling “all is well with the world”, a sense of wonder and awe, an inner flexibility.   On The Association for A Healing Education website, Nettie Fabrie, who I believe is a Waldorf Remedial teacher on the West Coast, was quoted as saying that children who do not have this Sense of Life/Sense of Well-Being often have feelings of being unsafe, of fear and of guilt, sometimes with heightened addictive tendencies.  The Sense of Life/Well-Being has direct correlation and development to the Sense of Thought later on.  The Sense of Movement provides qualities of industry, purpose, healthy purposeful movements, connectedness to the body and knowing where one’s space is and ends. I am a physical therapist, and in one sense we would call this the proprioceptive system, but it also is so much more! The lack of  Sense of Movement can manifest itself in children as failure to pick up nonverbal or societal subtleties, depression and inwardness, inattentiveness and fidgety movements.  The Sense of Movement is intimately connected to language later on.   The Sense of Balance provides a feeling of inner balance, an ability to move between tension and rest, a sense of appropriateness, the ability to calm oneself, the ability to give focused attention.  An obvious lack of development of this sense would include impulsivity, inability to slow down, inner agitation.  The sense is connected to the Sense of Hearing later on.  Obviously, this is a glance at this topic, but something to consider and think about.   A sense of rhythm is one thing that is very important to developing all three of the four of these lower senses! 

In practical terms, the foundations we lay are the foundations that our children may keep later on and come back to, even if they are rejected at points as the child grows.  I liken this to this small example:  I had one child who dealt with sleeping in a sling a lot with no set nap schedule, and one child who had a consistent nap schedule.  Guess which child took naps longest?  The one where it was part of the routine.   I am not saying rhythm is the only reason why this was so, but rhythm certainly can be your helpmate.

Rhythm can provide you with a balance.  If you never take time to care for yourself, always going from one thing to the next until you fall over at night, how will your children learn balance?  They are watching and imitating you!  Remember, rhythm is not about a Schedule with Checkboxes.  But it is about a general order, a general flow and that balance of rest and energy, tension and ease.

Here are some open-ended questions regarding rhythm:

  • Do you have rhythms set around mealtimes and rest and bed times?
  • What is your rhythm for  your own inner work, your own work you may do for pay, and other roles you may play besides Wife and Mother?
  • What kind of rhythm do you have for spending time with your partner? 
  • Do you have a general rhythm for taking care of your own health?
  • What is your rhythm for homeschooling?
  • What is the rhythm for balancing being home and being outside of your home?  Are you always going, going, going?  Do you find it difficult to say no to outside things?
  • Do you have seasonal rhythms?  What festivals speak to you –why and why not?

Perhaps as part of your work during this Advent, you can meditate on the concept of rhythm and what that means to you, what it means to your children, and how what rhythm means to you and your children may change as your children age.

Many blessings and peace on this wonderful Advent night,


12 thoughts on “Cultivating Rhythm: The Inner Work of Advent

  1. Thank you for posting this! I am needing Rhythm in my life and our homeschooling!!! It seems like this past year has been hectic with adding a little boy to our homeschooling mix. My husband and I were talking this morning of this exact thing and are planning to discuss and “plan” our daily ritual/rhythms out this evening! I am new to the Waldorf method but am extremely interested in adding more of these philosophies in our every day! I am loving your blog!

    • Don’t forget to hit the “rhythm” tag in the tag box to see back posts that involve rhythm! Thanks for reading this blog!

  2. Carrie, thank you for your insights and your warmth, I am learning so much…we are a “new” Waldorf family at the Whidbey Island Waldorf School (near Seattle) and I am finding your site to be a needed dovetail helping me in our transition from our previous non-Waldorf school: we moved here this fall specifically so that our son could attend a Waldorf school, undertaking one of those life leaps despite the current economy and uncertainty on what we know is our intended path (no matter how crazy it might seem to family and friends!) Blessings to you with much gratitude!

  3. Carrie,

    I am having a hard time introducing these principles because of our already bad habits! Due to just finding Waldorf we are trying to slowly declutter and such but its been hard with my children being older to get rid of certain toys. I would love to know if you have any suggestions or sites regarding starting Waldorf with older kids. I have a boy age 5 and girls ages 8 and 9… its never to late though right 🙂

    • I have several posts about coming to Waldorf late; I will round them up for you…I think A Little Garden Flower also has a coming to Waldorf late radio show archived and a planning CD.

  4. Any pointers on helping a child develop the sense of well-being and a sense of wonder/awe? My four yr old can be pretty negative and doesn’t seem to express much wonder at the world… just today, she said, “St. Nicholas doesn’t put things in our shoes on St. Nicholas Day… he’s in heaven, so he can’t do it! I KNOW it is the parents that do it!” She just doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of fantasy…

  5. Carrie – I just discovered your blog recently, and am loving it. Thank you for taking the time to write.

    I was wondering if you would consider adding a tab (or doing a round-up) of all posts for Waldorf beginners. The concept of a daily rhythm, choosing rhythms of the home over outside excursions, the Waldorf 12 senses, etc – these are all pretty new to me. In many of your posts you mention “for more info, please search 12 senses”….but your site has so much content that when I search, the older posts that covered the basics are so buried that I can’t find them.

    Many of your posts talked much about breathing-in and breathing-out time periods. I would love to see your posts on this topic.

    Thanks so much!!

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