(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!)
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.
- 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:
- Informed Family Life articles on Home Making
- Christopherus Website-Early Years Section
- Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemaking and her writing for Yes! Magazine. This article in particular:
- The Wonder Of Childhood
- San Francisco Waldorf School Early Education Program
Allison Carrol, Director
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.
Liza, mama to Hannah Simone and Elijah Moon
Thank you Liza, for sharing your experience…
Many blessings to you all,