Finding Rhythm With Grades-Aged Children

I think rhythm with grades-aged children (which I consider children in grades 1-8, so ages seven to thirteen or fourteen) can become trickier.  As children grow, chances are that you are not only juggling one grades-aged child but perhaps children that are older (teenagers) or younger (the littles, as I affectionately call them) with children that are in these grades.  There can also be an increased pressure to sign up for activities or increased pressure at school  as a child advances toward high school.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 1-3:

  • Seriously think about how many structured activities you need outside the home!  I wrote a post about choosing time outside the home wisely in which I detail how many activities I really think a child in public or private school, versus homeschooling children need.   Remember, it is almost impossible to have a healthy rhythm if you and your children are gone all the time scurrying from one activity to another.  Children under age 9 deserve a slow childhood with time to dream and just be (without screens) and I would vote for no outside structured activities for these tiny ages.  Mark off days to be solely home with no running around!
  •  Being outside in nature in an unstructured way is so very important, along with limiting media.  I suggest no media for these ages.  There are many other healthier ways for children to be spending their time that promote great physiological and psychological health rather than being a passive recipient. First through third graders need an inordinate amount of time to be outside, to swim and play in the woods or sand, to ride bikes, to climb trees, and just be in nature.
  • For those of you who want to homeschool through many grades, I do suggest getting involved in a homeschooling group or finding a group of homeschool friends for your child.  This usually becomes a much larger issue around the latter part of  age 10, post nine-year change for many children (especially melancholic children and typically girls over boys around the fifth grade year) and for those who are more extroverted.  However, one activity is plenty for third graders in anticipation of this “coming change” as a ten year old. 
  • Rest is still the mainstay of the rhythm – a first grader may be going to bed around seven, a second grader by seven thirty or so, and a third grader by seven forty-five.  This may sound very early for your family, but I would love for you to give it a try. If you need ideas about this, I recommend this book.
  • In short, I do not think the rhythm established in the Early Years should be changing too much in this time period.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 4 and 5:

  • Rhythm begins in the home.  What are you doing in the home? I find sometimes fourth and fifth graders are anxious to go, go, go because there is not much happening in the home.  No rhythm is being held, preparing for the festivals has fallen by the wayside, and they now see being involved in things such as preparing meals and such as work instead of just part of a rhythm of breathing in and out.  This takes time to develop again by being home. Be home!
  • All the things in the first through third grade section above applies. Rest is still very important and fourth and fifth graders may need help in this area – both in resting and in having a reasonable bedtime.  Children this age should be getting 10-11 hours of sleep a night, plus time to rest! Most children this age are still going to bed around 8 or 8:30.
  • I do not believe fourth and fifth graders really need structured outside the home activities, especially for children attending public or private school. I have seen some fifth graders who really relished one special activity.   Many homeschoolers will find their fifth graders really wanting a homeschool community and friends at this point, so I think that might need to be honored.
  • Media!  I have written many posts about media.  Fourth and fifth graders do not need media or their own phones or their own tablets.  Think carefully about this.  There are other ways they should be spending their time that are much more important to development.  The reason media is important in the context of rhythm is that it generally is used as a time-filler – so if the pull to media is strong, that typically means the rhythm is not strong or that the child needs help in finding something to do – handwork, woodworking, and other activities can help that need to create and do.
  • Being outside in nature and developing the physical  body is still of utmost importance. Setting up good habits for physical activity is important in this stage because most children feel very heavy and clumsy when they are in the sixth grade and changing around age twelve.  Having great habits in this period of grades four and five can really  help with that.  
  • This is a great age for games in the neighborhood – kickball, foursquare, etc. – and general physical activity of running, biking, swimming.  Free play is probably one of the most important things fourth and fifth graders can do!
  • Keep your yearly rhythms strong.  This may be easier with younger children in the household, but never lose sight of the fact that a fourth or fifth grader is in the heart of childhood themselves and therefore should certainly not be treated like a middle schooler.  This time is very short, and needs to be treated as the golden period that it truly is!  Keeping the festivals, the times of berry picking and apple picking and such, is the thing that children will remember when they are grown up.  If everything is just a blur of practices and lessons and structure, there is no space and time to make those kinds of family or community memories.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 6-8:

  • Rest!  Rest and sleep are very important components of rhythm.  Sixth graders who are twelve are generally sluggish, and teenagers have rhythms regarding sleep that begin to change.  This article from the New York Times details many of the changes for teenagers (seventh and eighth grade).  In order for these children to get enough sleep, and since the starting time of public school middle school may be later (but probably not late enough!), I highly suggest limiting late night activities.  Again, choose your activities outside the home carefully and with much thought.
  • This is a prime time to nurture life skills and responsibility around the home. If you are running everywhere, this time of learning, which is really the most important thing when children grow up and have to live on their own, cannot happen.   Life skills and home responsibility deserves a place in daily and weekly rhythm.
  • Media is harder to keep at bay for most families.  Remember, media impacts rhythm and vice versa.  It is often a time filler, and can prevent middle schoolers from solving their own problems of what to do when they are “bored” (or just being bored; there is value in boredom as well!)  and tapping into their own creativity.  It can derail any kind of “doing” rhythm.  Hold strong standards about media!  Some ideas:  use a Circle to manage time and content across devices ;  strongly limit apps (because every app you add generally leads to more time on the device) and do not allow social media.  We introduced the  computer in eighth grade (which I know is not always feasible for public or private school students who are using technology as part of school from an early age)  as a tool for school work more than a plaything, and I think that attitude also made a large difference.  If you allow movies/TV shows, I recommend using Common Sense Media , but I also feel this needs to be strongly limited (and I would vote toward not at all or extremely limited for the sixth grader/twelve year old) since these middle school years are  ages where children feel heavy, awkward, clumsy, and don’t particularly want to move.  So, more than anything else, I think watch what you are modeling — are YOU moving and outside or are you sitting all day on a screen?  Modeling still is important!   If they are sitting all day at school and with homework, it is important that they move vigorously when they are home from school and on the weekends!  With both things that unstructured in nature and as far as structured movement..
  • This is a great age to pick up sports if that hasn’t already happened, although many children will say they feel they should have started much earlier. Again, this is such a symptom of our times that everything earlier is better, which I often find is not actually the case.  There is a big discussion right now about sports burn-out for middle schoolers who have started in elementary school.    If you want to see more of my thoughts about sports, take a look at this post that details the last pediatric sports medicine conference I attended.
  • I find the artistic component often needs to be increased in these years to really counteract some of the headiness of school subjects and media exposure.  It is a healing balm for middle schoolers, even if they complain they are not good at drawing or painting or such.  Keep trying, and do it with them or as a family.  Keep art and woodworking activities out, provide craft ideas and help them harness some of that creative power!  That can be a part of the weekly rhythm for your middle schooler.
  • Remember that your middle schooler is not a high schooler. The middle schooler does not think, move, or act like a high schooler. Please don’t force high school schedules onto your middle schooler.  There should be a difference between the middle schooler and high schooler.

Last tips for rhythm with children in grades 6-8:

  • Where is the family fun?  You should be having tremendous family fun together.  Family is where it is at!  Family is more important than peers – you can look back to the book, “Hold On To Your Kids” by Neufeld and Mate if you need further confirmation.  Family fun can be part of all levels of rhythm – daily, weekly, and yearly! It is an attitude and an action!
  • Where is your rest, and your inner spiritual work?  I think you need this, especially as you enter the middle school years. Children can have a lot of emotion during this time period, and you have to be the steady rock.  If you need a reminder about boundaries and parenting, try this back post.
  • How is your home coming along?  By now, with children in these upper grades, there should be pretty steady rhythms and routines regarding the home and the work that it takes to maintain a home.
  • How is your relationship with your partner or spouse?  This is the time to really start thinking about date nights if your relationship thrives and deepens on that.


Talking to Children About Healthy Sexuality and Sex

One often hears the horror stories about parents trying to give “the talk” to their children, complete with mumbling, inaccurate terminology and a look of relief when their child has no questions for them and both parties can flee from the room.

In the United States, 13 percent of teens have had sexual intercourse before the age of 15.  Seventy percent have had sexual intercourse by age 19.  We live in a country founded by people who thought sex was rather evil, and we as a nation are obsessed with sexuality and sex in our media.   It is an odd paradox to say the least.  Our children are bombarded with messages about body image daily.  The freedom of the Internet and media in many families has led the average age of children to see their first pornographic act on the Internet at age 11.

These are serious facts, and the discussions about healthy sexuality and healthy relationships to counteract the messages our children receive every day can only begin with YOU by layering in talks about these subjects from an early age in a healthy, developmentally appropriate way.

First of all, like all things in parenting. these discussion have to start with YOU.  How do you feel about Continue reading

Girls On the Cusp of Puberty


With two girls in our house, I have spent a bit of time thinking about girls on the cusp of puberty. It also is a pretty hot topic amongst my parent friends who have girls this age, and is getting quite a bit of attention in even the mainstream media.  Here is one article from the NY Times called, Puberty Before Age  10:  A New Normal?  I believe the study of over 1200 girls mentioned in this article is this one in the medical journal “Pediatrics”.

We can argue all day long about the causation of early puberty.  Is it the estrogens, phytoestrogens, and other hormone disrupters in our food, water and environment?  Is it the levels  of different things within our own bodies at the time we got pregnant with the children who are now growing up to be girls on the cusp of puberty?  Is it something we just haven’t figured out yet?

WebMD details a few of the possible medical causes and signs of puberty and notes that the difference between early puberty and “regular” puberty is not in the signs , but in the timing.  I find it interesting that in this article the signs of puberty for girls is detailed solely as breast development and the onset of menstruation, but when I talk to parents about the signs of puberty they are worried about it can be about breast budding as well, but many times it is more about the moodiness/fluctuating emotions, talking back to parents that may be presumed due to hormonal change,  pubic hair developing or body odor or even just their daughter wanting to wear a bra.

Here is what I am finding most of my parents friends and readers to be doing: Continue reading

Puberty Part One

Often on Waldorf lists and groups, I see threads regarding puberty.  These threads typically concern the outward signs of puberty, or perhaps issues not of puberty but of sexuality, such as a discussion on what to tell a six-year old or a nine-year old about sexual relationships.

I have already discussed in an earlier post how the development of the child during something such as the nine year change is viewed from a spiritual place that looks at the development of the soul, and how the curriculum and parenting in a Waldorf way meets the child during this point whether outward, physical signs of puberty are taking place or not.

This is one of the best articles I have read regarding puberty Continue reading

The Nine-Year-Change and Puberty

I have gotten some private emails lately regarding the nine-year-change and puberty, so I wanted to write something for this space for other parents searching for support and information during this time.

In the view of Waldorf Education, the soul is coming down into the body.  However, I think the outward manifestation of puberty (odors, even breasts budding or getting hair in private areas) doesn’t change the course of the curriculum, nor really the developmental level that you are parenting in.  A nine-year old is still a nine-year old, whether she has started her menstrual cycle or not.    Puberty is an outward manifestation of the body, but the nine-year change is more an inner crisis of the soul and of middle childhood.

I hear a lot from parents of eight year olds and they are sure they are in the nine-year change.  Well, the child could be, but what I often find is that Continue reading

Attachment And Individualization

I think as homeschooling families, one of our  main goals is always the connection of the family and how we stay attached to each other in a society that sometimes doesn’t seem to value that at all.  Some of the homeschooling families who read my blog, many of them, are also what has been termed and made popular in the common literature by Dr. Sears as “attachment parents.”

But what I want to talk about today is the development of the independence of the child  within the context of attachment.  I don’t think attachment and becoming more of an individual, more independent and more capable are mutually exclusive at all – we can still be attached but have separate psychological identities.  In fact, I would argue,  in order to become an adult that has a meaningful role within their own family and and as a citizen of the world, this has to happen.  We have all heard the jokes or seen instances of people whose adult lives were totally enmeshed with their parents.  It is funny for a television show, but not so funny in real life.  Enmeshment prohibits a child and an adult from reaching the fullness and freedom of who they are.

I think healthy attachment starts not only with connection, lots of connection and including but not being limited to extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping, but with loving authority and boundaries.  I think if you have read this blog for any length of time I have made that abundantly clear.  I think I have also talked a fair bit about boundaries.  Boundaries, in its essence, is not just how “strict or loose” your parenting style is; it is about how you GUIDE your child to HEALTH as a growing, developing SEPARATE individual.  It is also about creating balance, and creating opportunity for right growth, especially for those children where self-growth and self-development are not initiated.

Separation, to me, starts around the child is age three and says “I” for the first time.  That is the beginning, the spark of recognition that “I am myself.”  I may not know or understand all that means yet, but I am me.  Bernard Lievegoed, author of “Phases of Childhood,” marks this as a stage of self-awareness.  This can also be a phase of negativity from the child; by pushing against the outside world the child begins to develop the self.

It continues with the six/seven year old change.  Some parents write me and say, “My child went through the six/seven year old change.  They slammed doors, said they hated me, said that I was not the boss of them.  Then they were done.”

Okay, but let me put this out to you:  the six/seven year old change, to me, is not just about “you’re not the boss of me.”   It is about finding a psychological identity that is separate from parents – that they have a role in the family or at school, they know what that treasured and valued role is, and that they do  feel accepted and loved but also a bit “separate”, a bit ready to take a view on something…there is a shift toward the child having real opinions about the world, that may be different than the parent’s view, and that in this view that the child has a continuous self and therefore can participate in learning.   At this stage, children in the six/seven year change usually  also are interested in having friends, being a friend, in having community outside of their family.  I think many times this is neglected and not mentioned in Waldorf Educational literature, because the assumption is the child is at the school in community.  I think this is an important point for homeschooling families when looking at the development of their child.  To me, turning outward toward community and peers and not just within the family, is a hallmark of the six/seven change.

This process can take up to a year and a half, I think especially for sensitive children who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to be around  other children, or just children who develop a little bit slower.  They may not be as interested in peers until the nine –year change, but then I have personally observed that that change may be a much more difficult one than the six/seven year change.

I think one way we can gauge where are children are in the six/seven change is to look at their play(see the many, many back posts on play on this site about how play changes during the six/seven year old change), and to  look at their drawings of human beings, a house and a tree.  Here is an interesting, brief look at drawings made by two thousand German five and six year olds prior to school entrance, comparing drawings made by those who did and didn’t watch media, those who did and did inhale passive cigarette smoke, and those with psychological disturbances:  There are whole books on working with children’s drawings in Waldorf Education; you can check Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop for those titles.

For the nine/ten year old going through this change feels utterly and sometimes desperately alone, apart from humanity, out of the Garden of secure family.  They have an experience of self and it is a tragedy; there is no shelter of the family or of being with friends. Therefore, I believe firmly that children who do not have a strong sense of community and belonging built up through early childhood through family, extended family and strong friendships can have an even more fragile nine year change.  Boundaries and loving authority can also make this change better, along with loving connection.  The child is becoming an individual.

From the viewpoint of Waldorf Education, three things are traditionally seen as helping a child become an individual:  childhood diseases, what author Edmond Schoorel in his book “The First Seven Years: Physiology of Childhood” calls “naughtiness” (which made me chuckle!), curiosity, and we develop memory.  One that Schoorel mentions briefly, and that Bernard Lievegoed discusses further is that of the force of antipathy.  “Very often there is the tendency to concentrate only on positive feelings.  This is impossible.  It destroys  the drama, the basic law of feeling.  Any attempt to present only positive feeling results in superficial sentiment.  Feelings are brought forth from contrast and the nature of their polarity…It is not a matter of guarding children  from negative feelings or denying them as such, it is a matter of presenting the feelings as opposites in the correct way.” (Lievegoed, page 170).

I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I do want to leave you with a few teasing comments by Edmond Schoorel:

  • “Children do not need to understand everything; it is even better when they don’t..It is essential for children to have the opportunity to ask questions; yet they do not need answers on the level of their understanding.  Mysteries are interesting because we do not have an answer.”  (page 260)
  • “When children have too little curiosity, we face the question:  can we stimulate curiosity?  I think that we can do this only in an indirect way.  When weakness has to do with the child’s constitution, we may have to work with movement development.” (page 248)
  • “Naughtiness can be a first exercise in waking up.  With naughtiness, the child turns away from the order of which he or she was a part.  It is a first step toward freedom and individuality.”  (page 246)

And this process of connection to others, and connection to ourselves,  continues as we grow and change throughout our lives. And sometimes we realize, yes, our circumstances and such may have been specific to us, but the tumult of different ages was by no means unique but being part of the human race.

Many blessings,



Friends, I have been hearing from a lot of you recently via email and many of you are struggling with boundaries in your lives.  I am not a counselor, and I am not a psychologist, but I wanted to tell you a few things I have learned about boundaries along the way in the experience of my life and I hope it will be helpful to you. I encourage you if you are having challenges with this to go and talk to a qualified counselor.  This can be so helpful in getting your life, your family and your parenting going the way you want it to!  What a wonderful way to start the New Year!

Boundaries, to me, are a skill that many of us have to learn.  Perhaps our ability to set boundaries was damaged in childhood or early adulthood.  Perhaps we are not even sure what a boundary is or why we would want boundaries.  Or perhaps we have too many boundaries and have erected relentless walls in order to keep the world out.

Yet, healthy boundaries are so necessary.  A boundary is something we set in order to separate ourselves from other people; it tells us how far a person can go with us and how far we can go with another person.  It keeps us from becoming enmeshed with another person:  enmeshment is a complete state of feeling so empathetically with that person that we take on the other person’s feelings, responsibilities,challenges and problems completely and wholly as our own.   As parents, we are separate from our children; we are different people. And, boundaries not only separate us from our children, but it also shows how we are linked together in familial roles.  We are linked together, but we are not the same.  We are the adult.  The relationship is not an equal one.  We have more experience and more guidance, more logic and reasoning to bring to any situation.  We also have a duty to honor the developmental stage of our child and we can do this with boundaries.

Relationships without boundaries cause dependency and stunted emotional growth for both ourselves and the other party involved.   If we have too many boundaries, no one can get close to us at all and we end up isolated and alone.   With good boundaries, we learn to develop an appropriate sense of roles amongst family members and the other people in our lives. We learn to respect ourselves and others.  We can trust and listen not only to ourselves, but to others.

Specifically in parenting, boundaries allow children to feel safe and secure.  Boundaries helps children learn self-control and how to function with people outside of their immediate family. Parents who set good boundaries for themselves and for their children are modeling for the children, how, in turn, to set emotional and physical boundaries for themselves.  If we can be calm as a child tests out what the boundary and line in the sand actually is, then we are modeling for our child how to handle this in their own lives.   We help them learn how to function in the world.

For parents who have trouble setting any boundaries for their children, out of “respect” for the child,  I often will ask the parent: Continue reading