Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood Chapter Three

We are working our way through Martin Large’s “Set Free Childhood”, published by Hawthorn Press.  We are in Chapter 3, “The Secrets of Childhood Development.”

The author writes, “Parents can benefit from access to practical knowledge about what helps healthy child growth and development, so as both to back up their own good sense, and also to cope with the relentlessly increasing pressures in modern culture.  Such pressures include the withering-away of the extended family – with relatives and grandparents typically no longer living nearby. Gone, then, are our traditional support networks; and a smaller family means that you no longer learn childcare at your parents’ or neighbours’ knees.” (page 34)

Support is so important in raising small children; and so is slowing down. One of the main tenets of this chapter is that children are suffering from stress because they are being hurried, rushed and feel overwhelmed and busy.  The work of psychologist David Elkind noticed this tendency of hurried children and has written extensively about this; where children are forced to take on adult schedules and treated as miniature adults.  In order to combat this, the author takes us on a tour of healthy child development by age.

Children need time and space to grow.  Childhood goes through phases.  The baby is noted to be completely open to noise, bright lights, rough movement, rough handling.  The baby is a giant sense organ and totally dependent upon the care of the parents and the home environment provided.  As time goes on, an infant learns to filter sensory impressions, progresses from horizontal movement to vertical movement.  Infants do not need television or screens to develop.  What they need is to move, to be held and cuddled, and to have a parent who delights in them and plays with them.

A toddler learns through incredible powers of imitation.  They are intrepid explorers experiencing the world through all of their senses. The first three years of life sees a child learning to walk, to speak, and to think.  Language emerges through contact with real speaking human beings – not those in a screen.

Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood Chapter Two

This chapter is subtitled, “Watching Your Child Watching The Television”.  The author starts out by stating whilst people make a big deal about WHAT a child watches on television, sometimes the most overlooked point is the process of watching and what this does.   The reason the “process of watching” is important is because it displaces other activities such as being outside, playing, reading books, conversation, artistic experiences.

“Time and again, parents describe their children watching TV as ‘zombie-like’, ‘passive’, ‘stupified’, ‘mesmerized’, ‘totally absorbed but not interested’, ‘tranquilized’, and ‘hypnotized.’  The exceptions were children watching short programmes with their parents, when there were frequent interruptions by questions and conversations about what was going on.  Even then, parents observed how quickly their children lapsed into the ‘TV trance-state’ of just watching.” – page 17

Parents often say watching a screen is “relaxing” for their child but also describe the burst of energy, tantrums, edginess, nervousness that occur after the screen time is done.  I think it is always worth observing your own child to see “how” they watch  – and what happens when it is turned off.  Are they able to go and play well on their own?  Are they calm and happy?  Or not?

There is a box on page 19 regarding “Guidelines for Evaluating Children’s TV” , including looking at the news, languague, advertising, social skills, comprehension level, and then the suggestion to watch the screen with your child and see if you like what you see.  The author also writes about “Trying the Technical Events Test”, which is very interesting and looks at the technical events it takes to make even a 30 second advertisement.  He ends the chapter talking about screens and addiction.

He remarks that TV can be easily used as an electronic baby-sitter and that sometimes parents see the effects of screens on their children but fail to follow through and set limits on the screens.  His other comment that “the electronic media are extremely powerful, geared to keeping your attention even if you’re not especially interested – so young children need you to switch off the television, and older children also need help with developing their capacity to choose to switch off.” (page 31), really resonated with me. 

How much more pertinent is this chapter today with so many children walking around with television/movie access on their phones?  Children and teenagers need our help in setting limits on this powerful medium.  Here is an article from Forbes about teen Internet addiction and the cycle of  academic burnout and depression.   Teenage boys are most likely to be affected.  According to the article, the most critical time to address Internet addiction and usage is between the ages of 13-15.  So do your teen a favor and set some boundaries!

More to come in later chapters….


Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood Chapter One

We are headed through the book “Set Free Childhood” by author Martin Large in our summer reading.  You can see the post about the forward to this book here.

The  author notes on page 1 that :

Whilst children’s needs remain relatively constant and enduring – for example, for loving relationships, good food, time for learning and play, and a calm rhythmical family environment – the world is relentlessly speeding up.  The result can be that children simply don’t have a childhood any more.

He goes on to mention the ever-present media in children’s lives, from computer software to help babies “increase their intelligence” to computer games aimed at school-aged children to the increased presence of electronic media in schools.  Many parents are concerned about the overload of screens on their children, and for good reason.

I disagree with the last paragraph in this article from Psychology Today, but one thing it points out is that a critical time for brain development is between the ages of zero to three, (and I would argue also during the other periods of known increased neurologic growth) and how using technology does nothing to stimulate what is needed for healthy development.   This article talks about the fact that the neurons recruited during the teen years becomes hard-wired – so, if your teen is mainly sitting around and playing video games, this will be the the cells that survive.  To contrast this, we know that outdoor play and movement are critical to academic success, and Martin Large addresses the increasingly “indoor” population of children in this chapter.

Author Martin Large also  brings up the other difficulties with screens in this chapter: the marketing piece and how children are being inundated with marketing; the information overload in general.   He also discusses the affects of media on  behavior – increased behavioral problems, anti-social behavior, anxiety, sleep difficulties, eating disorders and language impairment.

This book provides many suggestions regarding screen usage that we can explore together in the next chapters.  I look forward to hearing what you think about this chapter!

Many blessings,


Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood

Our summer reading for the next few months is Martin Large’s “Set Free Childhood”, published in 2003 by Hawthorn Press in their Early Years Series.  Today we begin with the forward by Joan Almon, who at the time of publication was Coordinator of Alliance for Childhood.  She wrote a wonderful introduction to this book that you can read along when you pick up your copy. At the publication of this book , in 2003, more and more children were becoming sedentary, obese, and diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  There was also growing awareness that the effects of screens went beyond the physical for young children.  My favorite quote on page v is:  “On the other side, there is  more awareness than before that screen time is unhealthy for children – not just physically unhealthy but also socially unhealthy.  It interferes with children’s desire to move and be active; but it also diminishes their imagination and creativity.”

If you are interested in how many hours children ages 8-18 are using screens a day currently, here are some statistics from 2010 . Also, this is a report from BBC News from March, 2015 with statistics for children ages 5 to 16.  There was also this article from TIME Magazine, 2013.    Tweens and teens are using about six to nine hours a day on screens, according to this 2015 NBC news report. (This also excluded time spent on devices for homework; these numbers were for sheer entertainment).

This book has suggestions for both children under 7 and some suggestions for children over 7. As we go through this book, I hope to keep linking to the most current statistics, research and recommendations I can find and to add in some ideas about teenagers and screen usage.  Hopefully this book and the associated links and research will be a beginning in gathering information for every family so each family can formulate what is right for them.


Connecting With Young Children: Educating The Will–Week Thirteen

This is our last look at this wonderful book, Stephen Spitalny’s “Connecting With Young Children:  Educating the Will”.  Chapter Six is all about conflict resolution with young children.  This is such a useful, practical, warm and loving chapter.  I hope you all are reading along!

There are some very salient points the author makes that become further elucidated in this chapter.  I urge you to read it!  For example, here are just a few points:

  • Young children learn through imitation.  Respond from a calm, centered and loving place.  Choose your response rather than just react.
  • Understand that you, the adult, need patience.  Children will do the same things and you will need to respond calmly, gently, in the same way, over and over.
  • Always remember the foundations of solid rest and warming foods for the child (and for yourself!). 
  • The longer you let behavior “slide”, the harder it is to change. The child is always imitating you, so responding in a true and beautiful way, repeatedly, is the key.
  • Punishment, coercion, threats, bribes, ordering, demanding, nagging are not effective ways to help and guide young children.  Nor is scolding, lecturing, threatening, moralizing, reasoning, explaining – read the chapter to learn more about this and why these are not effective.
  • We CAN use mantras – there are some great examples in this chapter about wording when we don’t like something,  what to say when a little friend doesn’t like something, about how kindergarteners especially can use their words to solve problems.
  • Learning requires the will forces.    Just having a child apologize really doesn’t do anything to engage the will forces; I always think of this as the will forces that need to be involved in restitution.
  • Conflict resolution requires much more than just blaming and shaming;  again, what can the child do to help resolve the challenge?

I urge you to read this chapter to assist you in your own parenting and to help you guide all the children you have in your care.

Chapter Seven in this book, is my favorite chapter.  This chapter is entitled, “On the Self-Development of the Adult.” How do we develop the qualities we need to work with young children?  How do we develop patience, persistence, calmness, thinking ahead,  intuition, imagination?  This is such a big topic!

Self-awareness is the beginning of developing all of these qualities.   Rudolf Steiner’s Ruckshau exercise can be helpful in this regard.  Developing the ability to truly see the other, without judgment or labeling, is another developing capacity for must of us as parents and teachers.  I think these sections are a true strength in these chapters.

Another aspect of consideration the author writes about is of Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogical law.  Steiner felt that the teacher’s life forces were helping to educate the child’s physical body during the first seven years of the child’s life; and that the adult’s  astral body, or soul, of the teacher was working with the child’s life forces in a child aged 0-7.  This may be new to some of you, so you can do your own background reading to find out more about this aspect of Steiner’s pedagogy.  Therefore, for us as parents and teachers, nurturing our etheric health, our own life forces, is very important.  Our own sleep, clean and healthy eating, our own ability to have our environments clean and organized, our own sense of balance are all important in our teaching. 

Steiner also gave instructions for meditative exercises which may be of interest.  There are other wonderful suggestions on pages 150-161. I especially enjoyed the section regarding finding and capturing joy, and how we need to deal with fear and pain in our lives.  Chapter 8, the very last chapter of this book, details how to put things together to start afresh,  start anew in order to become an “expert-in-the-becoming”, in the author’s words.

I hope you have enjoyed this book as much as I have.  I return to it again and again and always find something new to ponder and guide me. 



Giveaway! “Parenting In The Here and Now: Realizing the Strengths You Already Have”

I am so excited to have author Lea Page with us for a giveaway here at The Parenting Passageway.  For those of you who don’t know Lea or her work,  Lea Page  has been counseling and mentoring Waldorf parents for over a decade.  She was a La Leche League Leader for many years and also homeschooled both of her own children.

This year, she  published a wonderful book called  “Parenting In The Here And Now:  Realizing the Strengths You Already Have”.  Her book is about parenting in the here, right now, and how to manage emotions and cultivate the calmness in the chaos of the moment rather than become overwhelmed.  Please leave me a comment in the box and YOU could be the winner of Lea’s new book on Friday!

I am honored to share a wonderful piece that Lea wrote with you all.  It first appeared  in The Elephant Journal. Thank you, Lea, for your wise words and wonderful perspective.  I know all of us want to win a copy of your new book!  Here is Lea: 

What Can Nature Teach Children About Resistance?

Children engage in play with wholehearted dedication. They sink into imaginary worlds with an intensity that is hard for us as adults to match. They can also, frustratingly, apply that same intensity and dedication to resistance—to not getting in the bath or not getting dressed in time for the school bus.

Children can discover a sense of power in resistance. In the ensuing struggles, parents often feel stuck between letting the child have his way or overpowering the child with some combination of yelling, threats or rewards.

The problem with power struggles, besides all the misery, is that both parent and child learn to equate will with power (willfulness). But healthy will is not about power. Healthy will is devoted action: our thoughts and feelings and choices manifested in our deeds.

We engage the will with action, not arguments. When parents attend to the activities of home life with warmth and care—sharing meals, pursuing recreational/creative interests and doing chores together as a family, they model healthy will for their children, who are natural imitators. A strong family rhythm that establishes a reliable pattern of events as the day or week unfolds can also go a long way towards creating a harmonious flow with fewer day-to-day power struggles.

But there will be resistance, even in the most balanced of households. The power to resist isn’t always negative, but children need to learn when and how to apply it so that their will develops in a healthy manner.

Is there a way to teach children about the forces of power and resistance without inviting power struggles or modeling an unhealthy will?

Yes. By going to the source: the forces of nature, specifically, the four elements: water, air, earth and fire. Not only are these forces life sustaining, they have lessons to teach our young children, who learn primarily by experiencing the world through their senses and through their actions.

The following are just a few ways in which children can experience these forces, outside and inside the home.

Water is deceptively heavy and remarkably persistent. Water finds a way around an obstacle or wears it down slowly.

  • · Swim (with supervision) in pools, ponds, lakes, the ocean, etc.
  • · Haul buckets or other containers of water for gardens, flowerpots, inside plants, etc. Spray indoor plants with a mister.
  • · Pour from one container to another, a pitcher to a glass, a bucket to a tub.
  • · Snow—anything involving snow.
  • · Float sticks or folded paper boats in puddles (or in the sink or tub). What else will float?
  • · Stomp in puddles. Try to catch water from a rainspout.
  • · Go out in the rain. Get wet. Get really, really wet.
  • · Wash dishes by hand. A sink full of warm soapy water has magical qualities.
  • · Wash bed linens or quilts in the tub. Get in there and use your feet as if you were pressing grapes.

Air can move anywhere along the scale from whisper soft to howling gale. Air hides in stillness. It holds heat and coldness and can carry smells and even physical objects when it is moving enough. It touches us but is hard to grasp.

  • · Go outside in all weather (when safe)—feel the breeze, the gust, the gale.
  • · Take a large trash bag as a cape and lean into the wind. Be blown.
  • · Fly a kite.
  • · Blow dandelion fluff and soap bubbles.
  • · Make paper airplanes or tiny parachutes out of tissue paper and dental floss.
  • · Blow up balloons but don’t knot them and let them rip (air can be funny).

Earth is so implacable, so generous. It can be heavy or light. One can move earth, but one must be willing to sacrifice energy and sweat in order to do so. Earth can hold water or release it. Dealing with earth requires patience. It holds secrets.

  • · Sow seeds in a garden, in containers or pots, inside or out.
  • · Dig. No child should go through life without the satisfaction of digging a really good hole. Encourage all manner of excavation and construction. In dirt and sand, dry and wet.
  • · Collect rocks. Move rocks. Build sculptures with rocks.
  • · Attempt to dam a flow of water.
  • · Mold real clay.

· Buy the cheapest 25-pound bag of beans (after your children have finished putting small objects in their noses, etc.) and fill a bucket or basket with them. Hide small objects like spoons or little toy cars in the beans and let your children dig around for them. They can use their feet, too. Try this yourself after a stressful day.

Fire is missing from most children’s lives. Fire can be so powerful, but it too has such a range: the heat of fire can consume wholly, and the light of a flame can glimmer with tender subtlety. Fire mesmerizes, soothes and engenders courage. Fire draws us to it and drives us away.

  • · An outdoor fire pit is a true luxury. Some parks have spaces for these.
  • · Involve your child in collecting wood, building the fire, striking the match, tending the fire and even roasting or cooking on it.
  • · Take a walk with candle lanterns. Make one with a glass jar, some wire and a stick. And the candle.
  • · Light candles for the evening meal. Let your children light them and blow them out.
  • · Spend at least one night a year with only candlelight in order to experience true darkness and the power of even the smallest fire.

The four elements have a tempering quality on the will of children. When our children have the opportunity to experience these elements using their bodies, they begin to develop a keen respect, not only for the forces of nature, but for the power of their own inner forces. By recognizing and honoring the forces of nature, we can bring the forces of will in our families into more balance.

Thank you so much, Lea. Please leave me a comment in the comment box in order to be entered for Friday’s giveaway!



Connecting With Young Children–Educating the Will: Week Nine

This week we are looking at Chapter Four, entitled “Imitation, Life Activities, and the Role of the Adult as Example and Guide.”  What a great title!

This chapter begins with a lovely quote from Rudolf Steiner:

The task of the kindergarten teacher is to adjust the work taken from daily life so that it becomes suitable for the children’s play activities.  The whole point….is to give young children the opportunity to imitate life in a simple and wholesome way.

Imagine if that was the point of every kindergarten in North America! Just imagine!

So, in creating this type of environment at home for the kindergarten (ages 3-6) child, we need rhythm in daily life activities, safe and healthy boundaries, and adults’ consistency in maintaining the boundaries and rhythm.

These can all be very difficult things for the adult who is homeschooling.  We don’t live as rhythmic a life as in the past due to advances in technology and more urban lifestyles.  You will have to work on this.  However, as the author also points out, is that WHO we are is what is most imitated and has the deepest impact on the child and any attempts we make to better ourselves becomes important and worthy of imitation.  What we DO in response to given situations is what the young child imitates. 

Young children are about doing  – the older kindergartener will help and participate, the younger children imitate the activities in their play.  This is healthy.  It is worthy for you to do the work even if your children don’t participate.  The author writes, “If you are simply doing something so that the children will join in, and then when you they don’t you put away materials and tools, then clearly it was not something important that needed to be done.”

Suggestions for work in a “kindergarten home”:  washing, cooking, ironing, sewing, planting, weeding, pruning, repairing chairs, tables, dolls and other toys, making toys for the kindergarten and more. (see page 65).  In the homeschooling “kindergarten home” we could add in things such as care of pets and plants, cleaning with scrubbing and dusting, homesteading activities – the list is truly endless.  These tasks must be attended to with love, joy and care.  Our inner attitudes matter to the children!

As kindergarten teachers, we believe that imitation helps form the physical body.  This is part of the wisdom of the ages streaming down into the child, it is part of the spiritual work of the adults in the environment, it is part of what we show children through our habits .  We teach our children habits for health and hygiene, and also habits for resilience and how to handle challenges or when things don’t go quite right. 

A child’s education is rightly done when the child achieves something for himself.  We create situations where the child develops his or her own capacities.  This is so closely linked to the environment, and this is where lazured rooms, wooden toys and such come in to create a warm and engaging environment full of possibilities.  We may not have this in the home environment.  The most important thing is to have open-ended things to manipulative into different possibilities – things from nature, such as acorns, shells, seed pits from fruits are all ideal.  We also create spaces where a child can touch, climb, and just be without hearing “don’t” all the time. 

Plenty of time for free play should be worked into the schedule, along with time for nourishing songs and stories.  Quiet and silence are also very important.  No stream of consciousness humming or constant singing!  The author interestingly notes on page 73: 

The adult must be sparing with their attention and with their “I” contact with  young children, as it can easily overpower the young child.  The adult has a strongly developed sense of self, and the young child does not.  For some children, eye to eye contact is intimidating.

I think this is the area where most parents I know stumble.  The infant has a biologic need to have every need promptly attended to and met in a loving and gentle way.  However, once the shift comes to “Wants” versus “Needs” I think many parents of today continue patterns established in infancy and toddlerhood and do not provide the three to  six year olds enough time and space in silence.  How do we encourage resilience in our children by having our child play by himself or herself?  This is very difficult for some children.

We will come back to this theme and the rest of Chapter Four in our next post. If you need to see what we discussed in Chapter Three, please see the back post here.