I would like to thank Waldorf teacher Christine Natale for this guest post chock-full of magical summer ideas. You can find Christine’s book of fairy tales here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/fairy-tales/12093029 and her blog here: http://threefoldwaldorf.blogspot.com/. She also recently wrote an article about the meaning of the classic fairy tale, “The Frog Prince” for Wonder of Childhood magazine here: http://thewonderofchildhood.com/2011/06/the-frog-king-or-the-frog-prince/
By Christine Natale
Sweet, lazy summertime. Our childhood days of swimming, bike riding, exploring the woods and field nearby, helping out on the farm or in the family garden, fishing, a visit to the seaside – remember? No?
Ah, younger generation – where has it all gone? The children that I taught in Kindergarten, including summer programs, are all grown up now and most probably have children of their own. Even a quarter of a century ago, few children really spent their summers as described above. The few that had access to a Waldorf type program or really good summer camp probably had a few experiences out in nature but even back then, day care centers and “camps” were relying heavily on videos, computers and organized sports activities. The fortunate ones had access to swimming lessons. Yes, many families take a week or two vacation and the well off may have beach or mountain properties to go to for most of the summer. But by and large, American children’s Huck Finn days have long gone past. It requires a mighty effort on any parent’s part to provide a good balance of organized activity and the kind of good “free time” that is able to focus on nature and creative play rather than television.
So “hats off” to summer moms who are willing and able to either continue their homeschool activities, albeit with some summer modifications, or to create a healthy summer program for their children.
There is much that can be offered in terms of activities. Summer time is Science time! Whether you live out in the country or in the city, there is some Nature somewhere close by. Summer is the time to go exploring and to really observe bugs, birds, bees, plants, critters, weather, rocks, campfires and fireworks, stars, streams, ponds, bubbles, balloons, kites, fish, frogs, trees and maybe (if you are really lucky) fairies! Add a bit of Fantasy to Science and you have “Fantastic Science”. It is fine to head off to the library (or Ebay) and gather up lots of good books on identifying nature and conducting lots of experiments. I will even go so far as to say that a nature video once in a while is ok. But care needs to be taken to be sure to lead the children into their environment to really see how many bugs and critters they can actually find and to try to lay low and observe their behaviors. It is time to get out back and get some really major bubble blowing done. It is time to find out what floats and what doesn’t in a kiddie pool or creek. It is time to see how many birds we can learn to identify by their calls. It is time to see what grass (if it hasn’t been chemically fertilized or sprayed for weeds) tastes like when you chew on the soft end. It is time to find honeysuckle and taste that miniscule bit of honey in its flower. It is time to pick berries (with mom’s ok) and to eat as much as we bring home.
It is time to sleep at least once out “under the stars” even if it’s just in our own backyard without a tent. Even better if we can take a trip to where the suburban and city lights don’t block our view of the cosmos. To watch the stars move slowly across the night sky until we fall asleep and wake up with dew on our faces.
Our children can draw and paint their adventures with the older ones writing and recording their “discoveries”. There are lots of summer crafts projects that make lovely use of natural materials – pine needle baskets, little clay pots made with clay dug from a riverbank, learning to whittle and to whistle with grass.
We can grow a simple herb garden, even in pots on an apartment balcony and put up a bird and squirrel feeder. We can take a bike or hiking trip even if it is just around a few blocks, fully equipped with our knapsack and “survival” gear. We can learn to recognize harmful plants, bugs and snakes and to know which ones are safe. We can practice a bit of “first aid” on summer cuts and scrapes. Older children might even have opportunities to learn lifeguarding and CPR.
To help weave together the threads of all of these adventures, we can start the morning off with a story, or wait until we come in for lunch and rest (siesta). We can tell tales by firelight and under the night sky. We can make up our own stories about our expeditions, real or imagined. We can read about real life explorers and their adventures by land, sea and air. And we can enjoy fairy tales and nature stories full of the magic of summer.
scroll down for blog entry on Thornton Burgess
My first recommendation for all ages are the amazing books of Thornton Burgess. Mr. Burgess was a real naturalist who wrote stories primarily aimed at young children. These stories were originally published in newspapers around the country on a daily basis and children grew up eagerly waiting for the next installment of the adventures of Peter Rabbit, Johnny Chuck, Prickly Porky, Sammy Jay and many others. See the Wikipedia listing for the extensive list of his books!
The original illustrations are a bit unfortunate due to the fact that the animals are “dressed” in human clothes. But the descriptions of their physical appearance in the actual stories are true to life. And even though they “talk” and there is some humanizing, what they are actually doing and how they are relating is true to nature. So much so that anyone can learn a lot about the natural world from these stories. I have been collecting older editions for quite a few years, but most are in print as inexpensive paperbacks and they can also be found on Ebay and, of course in your local library. The library is also a treasure trove for collections of nature stories. It is best to stick with what is true to nature rather than the silliness of animated films such as “A Bugs Life” and “Finding Nemo”. These movies may have entertainment value for older children (9+) but younger children benefit more from staying grounded in the real adventures that Mother Nature has to offer.
Summer is also a great time for real classic children’s literature. I must insist here – get the original versions!!! Do not go for the Disney or cartoon versions! You will discover treasure upon treasure if you stay with the original works. Reading “Winnie the Pooh” and “The House at Pooh Corner” aloud will amaze you with its beautiful language. Much is even “over the heads” of the younger children but hearing the stories aloud will enrich their souls with poetry.
“Wind in the Willows” is also beautiful linguistically but I would wait until 7 or 8. In Kenneth Grahame’s stories, the animal characters are totally anthropomorphized which is not good for younger children (even, to a certain extent, Beatrix Potter). The younger child needs to first become grounded in the true nature of what is animal and what is human before mixing them up story wise. The animals (and even inanimate objects) can “speak” but what they are “saying” should be true to their own nature. Rabbits don’t ride bicycles and toads (except for Mr. Toad) don’t drive cars!
Very young children really love the simplest of nature stories – the mother bird who works so hard to feed her babies until it is time for them to learn to fly; the mother rabbit who makes a cozy nest for her babies; the spider who spins her web. Note, please save “Charlotte’s Web” for the 8+ crowd. It can be a bit weepy. Four to seven year olds are still very much in the Fairy Tale world and there are so many to discover. I would suggest “The Little Hut in the Wood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Toads and Diamonds”, “Little Brother and Sister” and the Russian fairy tale “The Frog Princess”. There are so many others. Summer can be a nice time to explore folk tales from many lands and Native American stories. A word of caution, however – many folk and indigenous stories were never meant for children and may not be age appropriate. Parents and teachers should definitely read them before sharing with children to determine their appropriateness for their age group.
Hans Christian Anderson stories are wonderful, especially the summer story, “The Little Mermaid.” Another note of caution! The original story is best for older children due to the fact that it ends sadly, not like the Disney version. In the original, she does not “get” the prince and does not get a human soul. She is returned to the waves to be an undine on the sea foam. Also, Anderson’s stories are often fairly long and can be too long for the younger child.
“Mary Poppins”, “Mary Poppins Comes Back”, “Mary Poppins in the Park”, and “Mary Poppins Opens the Door” by PL Travers are totally summer stuff! The real Mary Poppins is so very different from the Julie Andrews version. She is vain and proper and even a bit severe with the children. Yet she leads them on cosmic adventures – a visit to Mrs. Corry and her daughters who take the gold paper stars from the gingerbread they sell and paste them in the sky. They create a miniature world in the park grass and go dancing with the zodiac on Mary Poppins’ birthday. It is a real tragedy that most people see the movie but never read the books. Let’s rectify that situation as soon as possible!
For older children there are “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”; George MacDonald’s “The Princess and the Goblin” and “The Princess and Curdie”; Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, “The Wind at the Door” and “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”; CS Lewis “Narnia Chronicles” (read, please rather than watch the movies); Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”. Yes, you will have to deal with the racial issues but older children can understand the reality of the past and maybe even more appreciate the gains in social awareness of the past century.
Reading out loud is such a wonderful activity for a family to practice. The older children can do some of the reading and it can be a great experience for them. I really believe in summer “Siesta Time” during the hottest part of the day (around 1:00 – 3:00). Even if the children don’t sleep it is a perfect time to rest and to listen to lovely literature. The best outdoor activity time is the morning when the sun is not at its height. Lunch at noon and then siesta. Swimming and beach time is great in the later part of the afternoon when it is hot, but the sun is not its strongest. Chores, dinner, then more stories and family games, singing and music make for sweet summer nights.
Come With Me
Come walk with me, come walk with me
I’ll follow you, you follow me
To find the magic fairy tree
Come down the hill, come down the hill
A long way down, I’ll follow still
We’ll wander down and down until
We find the magic fairy mill
Come dance away, come dance away
We have to go, we cannot stay
We have so much to see today
We’ll find the fairies where they play
Come to the stream, come to the stream
Where fairies dance and play and dream
We’ll chase each afternoon sunbeam
Until it’s time for tea and cream
Come home again, come home again
All brave explorers homeward wend
And tell your fairy stories then
To mother at your journey’s end
Photo by Danielle Epifani
Margaret’s Garden, Berkeley, CA
Many blessings, and thank you Christine!