Advent for All Ages

Every year, we celebrate a number of feasts along the way to Christmastide, including the Feast of St. Nicholas, Santa Lucia Day, and then through Christmastide itself ending in Epiphany.

For those of you with tiny children, you may be establishing your holiday traditions and how you want to celebrate Advent.  For those of you with older children and teens, you may be re-evaluating what works and doesn’t work.  And, those of you with upper grades children (middle school aged, ages 12-14), may be feeling pulled in the middle that the traditions of the early years and early grades no longer hold as much magic, but you are reluctant to let go of traditions or forge something new.

For those of you establishing traditions, my advice is to take it slow and add a little bit each year.  If your children are so, so small (ie, under seven), they may not even remember things from each year and by the time they are nine or ten and you have traditions in place, they will just consider that “this is how we have always done it.”

I would also encourage you to go simple and set a model of much hand-making of gifts and cooking and baking and helping others.  Some families have Kindness Calendars for Advent.  Some have traditions of things such as baking little loaves of bread and leaving them on neighbor’s doorsteps for the Feast of St. Nicholas.  At any rate, keeping things simple, including the number of gifts a child receives, is really important.   Children do not need to plow through a roomful of gifts in order to have a meaningful holiday and in fact, once the adrenaline high of ripping paper off of packages is done, they are typically disappointed and sad (and the younger ones burst into tears).  So, think carefully about how you would like to handle gifts (and when- throughout the season, throughout Christmastide, solely on Christmas?).  If you would like some more suggestions about gifts, please see this Holiday Gifts for Children and Holiday Gifts For Children: How Much Is Too Much?  Here is a list of gifts up to the age of thirteen.   Lastly, I always found this back post by Christine Natale, with her musings on Saint Nicholas Day and starting new traditions , to be quite reassuring.

Santa Claus is another area that needs thoughtful consideration.  Different families deal with “Santa Claus” in different ways.  Some feel he is an American helper to St. Nicholas;  some feel he has no place in this season of hope and light and is purely a commercial figure, some include Santa and his reindeer as a part of Christmastide.  At any rate, if you do have Santa Claus as part of your family traditions, I am going make a plea that Santa does not give the best or biggest gift.  This is just a personal opinion – that I feel the most special gifts should come from the family – and you may feel differently.  Or some families give gifts throughout Christmastide anonymously to each other.

If you have children in the upper grades (again, around the twelve year change to add fourteen or so), I would be very careful NOT to discard traditions you think might be too “babyish” for your now older child.  Crafting, baking, and slowing down is something that is important for this age.  This may be  easier to do if you actually have younger siblings or cousins about, but sometimes even holding that magic  for a small neighborhhood child can be helpful.    I find some children around the age of 10 or so realize the “truth” about Santa Claus, but I also find that is most cases the child really doesn’t want the magic to end and may even feel sad about this.

I think the other thing to consider even more movement away from consumerism and  toward acts of kindness, toward any sort of volunteering in a community setting if that is available.  The holidays should be about fostering light throughout the world.  I find some children of this age have a tendency toward wishing for a lot of fancy, expensive, technological gifts for themselves.  Some families have no trouble with this; some families coming from a Waldorf setting look to the curriculum and see when these subjects are introduced in a Waldorf School.   In this latter  instance, not only moving toward helping others but providing appropriate boundaries consistent with your family’s values (and budget) without feeling guilty  is of import.  If you would like to think more on this subject, there are a few posts on here about gaming, about introducting computers in general, and about Pondering Portals ( a series of four posts).

Teenagers can be happy with simple things if you have built up your traditions by this time to include slowing down, enjoying the time as a family and in helping others, and limiting a huge number of commercial gifts.  Teens who have developed interests can be easy to create or buy gifts for, and the love of the wonder of nature never goes away.  Christmastide: Forest, Farm, Field, and Stream  and its follow up post  may be of interest to you in this regard.  Planning outside time for hiking, skiing, cross country skiing, (or surfing and swimming depending upon where in the world you live!) can be utterly satisfying for teens – especially if it includes a little bit of the element of something new they have not tried before!

Lastly, for all ages, limiting the calendar to the most meaningful things for your family is important.  There will be more parties, get togethers, and things to do than you can possibly attend.  Limit your calendar to the most important things that reflect your values. It is an important model to show children the truly most important things about the holiday season – being together, sharing your value or religious-based traditions, and enjoying this special time of year in helping others.

Much love to you all,
Carrie

 

Martinmas: Protection

Advent is only five days away, so today we finish our Martinmas posts and move into the Advent season …which also carries themes of light, warmth, and protection.

Protection is exemplified in the story of St. Martin as we see St. Martin cut the cloak to protect the beggar from the cold and the elements. How do we pull a cloak around our own children in this day and age?  Steiner said to love the times in which we lived, but we also consider the age and the developmental stage of a child and we lean toward protection.  This is why we look at no media lifestyles, holding a strong rhythm, keeping children in a land of innocence and gratitude and goodness.  It gives the child time to develop and mature and come to life on Earth in a way that in time, they too will be able to love all of humanity and stand for truth for all peoples.

In Waldorf Education, especially in the Early Years, we often use “protection stories”.  I believe this phrase may have first been coined by Suzanne Down of  Juniper Tree Puppets.  (If this is incorrect, my apologies, but it is where I first heard the actual term).  A protection story is essentially one where a shelter of some sort is presented – a shell, a mitten, a little hollow of a tree that is tiny – and usually a family or little characters come along and live in this shelter in peace and harmony.  The development of the story and the characters makes a small child feel safe and secure.  You can probably think of many of these little stories from your own childhood.  All shall be well, we all shall be well if we are together with love.

I think an extension of protection that often extends into the early grades are the idea of gnomes.  There are quite a few jokes sometimes about gnomes in Waldorf Education ( in the vein of gnomies are my homies), but those aside, consider this verse from Autumn Wynstones by Jarman on page 26, entitled “Gnome King”:

Good friends, you have more work to do,

For yonder on the earth I know

Summer is fading and the winds do blow.

Your next task is with the seeds so small,

To see them safely in this hall,

Away from Jack Frost who would do them harm.

My Queen and I await them.

I think there are solid developmental reasons in looking at the Waldorf Curriculum and matching it to development to extend protection to our children.  Remember, there is not only a developmental shift around six/seven years of age (frequently talked about), a nine year change (somewhat talked about), a twelve year change (mentioned), and a change around sixteen (hardly ever mentioned).  If you would like some guidance on this, please do look at the back posts on development (use the header bar, click where it says development and then choose from the drop-down menu by age) .  You can also see this series about “Pondering Portals”.

We also can protect ourselves as adults.  We can choose how much of the mainstream world we want in our lives, how much energy we want to exert outside of our homes, how much  energy we want to exert on family members and friends.  We can choose to rest and to laugh and to have joy.

There is a song in the Winter Wynstones about Mary weaving a garment of silver and gold threads for the Christ Child, and I often think of this care and protection that begins in Martinmas and extends all the way through Advent and Christmastide. Let us care and protect our own sparks of light and that of our children’s.

Many blessings,

Carrie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martinmas Warmth: Rhythm

Did you ever think of rhythm as a carrier of warmth for children (and adults)?  I consider holding rhythm one of most important ways of conveying warmth to my children.   Rhythm assures us that we are making time and space for the things that are most important.  This could be warming meals, it could be just time together; it could be the stability and repetition that children and teens thrive upon. Rhythm frees up the child to have energy for growth, for emotional evenness, for play, for boredom and dreaming, for doing what we love.  With this scaffolding, children don’t have to spend time wondering the order of things, or when lunch is, or what happens on Mondays.  They can live in greater freedom.

A school setting naturally helps provide some of this structure for some families.  However, in homeschooling, we have to create and hold this scaffolding and patterning of rhythm ourselves.  Some parents feel as if they are hopeless with rhythm and can never stick to anything consistent.  However, I often tell parents they most likely DO have a rhythm as to how they do things in their household, even if it is only the meals or sleep times. Even if we start with just meals and rest/sleep, we can start from a place of strength to create the other pieces of our life.  It also gives a great backbone to gentle discipline as rhythm cuts down on chaos.  For those of you with mainly tiny children under the age of 9, this is very important!

Rhythm does have occasion to change with development, season, and homeschooling as one moves up in the grades.  For example, as children grow into the teenaged years,  things change,  but perhaps surprisingly, much of the basic structure remains intact.  Meals probably stay about the same so long as you are not out every night at activities and miss family meals together.  Bedtimes may expand a bit, but I notice the patterns set as children still are extending into our older children.  None of our children sleep particularly late, and we have always had such an emphasis on sleep and earlier bedtimes that they are not ones to usually stay up super late either.  Just my experience; yours may be different!  Our priority on being in nature and outside also has remained unchanged.  We may have more to do in school than in when my oldest was only in first grade, but we still go outside, and we still have a no to low media home.  Sunday is still church day, Mondays is still horseback riding day.  These things have not changed for years.

Rhythms can also change with the seasons. Right now, we are in this beautiful season of Martinmas warmth, light, and protection.  These themes also carry into Advent, which begins one week from today.  This time of year leads me to more cleaning up, changing seasonal focus in our home, creating, cooking and baking , and crafting.  I am so happy to be home and cozy this time of year!  Spring feels much more exuberant and we just want to be outside and enjoying greenery bursting into fruition.

And lastly, the piece of rhythm that is how to get multiple children and their schooling accomplished does change as all the children grow simply because the children’s school takes longer and they have more subjects. My high schooler has much more work to do than my first grader, but it is still my job to use rhythm to provide balance.  Rhythm in this case is an aid, even if it needs frequent tweaking.  I just wrote a little watercolor paper schedule solely for our homeschooling hours and hung it up in our schoolroom.  It might change next month, but each time I do it, it reflects our priorities for that period of time.

Rhythm is warmth and love, and something special unique to each family.  Please, look at it that way and not as something to be endured.  Rhythm is an extension of love and nourishment.

Wishing you all a few more happy Martinmas days before Advent, with Martinmas protection and Advent posts to come this week!

Love and blessings,

Carrie

 

Martinmas: The Light of Compassion

This week, as we continue to celebrate Martinmas, let us show the light of Martinmas as compassion that begins in our own families.  This beautiful light that begins here can then radiate out into the world.

Compassion begins first and foremost with ourselves. I speak with mothers every day who are so hard on themselves.  They are constantly thinking, “Am I doing enough for the children?  Too much?  Do I have enough boundaries or am I spoiling them?  Am I modeling a million things correctly for them so they will grow up to be good people?”  So many things to consider, and sometimes we lose the compassion for ourselves in the process.  How can we authentically model this for our children when we cannot shower ourselves in compassion?

Compassion requires listening.  It requires being open enough to really hear not only the words, but the subtext beneath the words.  Modeling this is how small children learn. Actions are the shining path of compassion.  We work on our mistakes with restitution.    We show our forgiveness and we admit our mistakes .

Kindness in the family is the first line of compassion in our entire society.  Some further ideas include this posts that I liked about the Family Kindness Project  over at My Little Poppies.  I have written about kindness in parenting as a journey back in 2009.  All it takes is a few first steps to start, to get back on track, or to consider kindness and compassion as a top priority in your home.

Let’s all use this week in celebrating Martinmas as a way to shine our light in our families.

Many blessings to you all,

Carrie

 

 

Martinmas: Warmth, Light, and Protection

 

I love this time of year.  Martinmas is nearly upon us, and it brings an entire season of warmth, light, and protection that extends all the way through Candlemas and the very first inklings of spring.

St. Martin was (and is) an exceedingly popular Saint – the patron Saint of vine-growers, winemakers, beggars, tavern keepers. It was traditionally a time of great harvesting – the wine was ready from the summer harvest, grains and vegetables were ready to be made into porridges, the larger animals were slaughtered for winter food, and the community came together and reminded themselves what we all know: that to dwell in community and unity is protection through the long, cold, hard winter nights.  This was actually a time that perhaps we in America more associate with Thanksgiving, where the fruits of the harvest were showed off (goose was the traditional meal, and in the United States this extended to turkeys),  there were games and dances and parades.   Barns and larders were filled, and the people were thankful.

Today, we recount the story of St. Martin.   St. Martin, a Roman solider, who saw a shivering beggar outside the city gates. He cut his cloak in two and used half to cover the beggar.  Later that night, in a dream it was revealed to him that the beggar had been Christ himself.  This experience, and experience is one way that we learn about faith, became transformative and set St. Martin’s life on a course of compassion and light toward the most down trodden  and poor.   We carry lanterns in a meditative walk to remind us of the light we all possess inside. And we carry lanterns in community as we shine our collective light out into humanity.

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about warmth, light, and protection as we shore ourselves not only against winter, but against division, fear, coldness and uncaring.  Instead, we will be talking about ways to nourish ourselves and our families toward warmth, unity, joy and openness, and caring.

Many blessings to you,

Carrie

 

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: November

November is one of my favorite months – the colder temperatures, the crisp air and falling leaves that crunch under my feet, the birds coming to the feeder, the wonderful hiking, bonfires and hot chocolate.  Yay for November!

This month we will be celebrating:

November 1 – The Feast of All Saints

November 2- The Feast (Commemoration) of All Souls Departed

November 8 – The Presidential General Election (We already early voted but will be watching the returns and perhaps we will even make an Election Cake!)

November 11 – Martinmas

November 24- Thanksgiving Day

November 30 – St. Andrew the Apostle

plus this month marks my husband’s birthday!

Wonderful things to do this month with the children:

  • Tell favorite Autumn stories!
  • Make Autumn crafts – dipping leaves, making beeswax candles, leaf and bark rubbings, splatter painting around leaves
  • Read the book Cranberry Thanksgiving  and make Cranberry Bread
  • Go hike and be outside
  • Rake leaves, fill bird feeders and bird baths, take care of the all the winter gardening chores
  • Start deep cleaning the house in preparation for the holidays
  • Stock up on all the woolies for warmth – If you need a re-fresher as to why warmth is important, try this back post on “Warmth, Strength, and Freedom”
  • Make lanterns for Martinmas!  Even teenagers enjoy making a new lantern.  You can even buy the biodegradable sky lanterns as a twist to the traditional Martinmas Lantern Walk for teens.  This can be wonderful for older children who have done a lantern walk for years  and years and who would like something different to mark the season.
  • Have a coat drive; collect food for your local food bank.
  • Start traditions of gratitude for the month of November . Some have a gratitude tree where the leaves become a gratitude for each day.

Homeschooling this month:

  • Our first grader is deep into drawing, painting, and modeling the alphabet.  More on that to come!
  • Our sixth grader is finishing up mineralogy and moving into European Geography and Roman Studies.  This promises to be a fun time that will carry us until Christmas.
  • Our ninth grader is studying High School Spanish II, Biology, Algebra I, and a block on Comedy and Tragedy.  We are following the Christopherus book, “Comedy and Tragedy” and just finished with Sophocles’ Electra.  This week we will be moving into Noh Theater.  I ended up switching biology textbooks and hope for going through the basic concepts of biology that we already covered in our eleven weeks of school and move into our new material soon.  I feel confident this is going to work out well for our ninth grader.

Holidays:

I am already starting to think about making gifts.  And I am thinking about a post-holiday get-away. 🙂

Inner Work/Self-Care:

  • I have been attending a series at our parish regarding dismantling racism by a reknowned professor.  It has been wonderful and also the focus of a Bible study I am persuing right now.  My head is full. 🙂
  • I am finding it difficult to get up super early to head to the gym at 5:30 , so hope to get back into the swing of things this week.
  • Feeling gratitude for all the local farm fresh food available in our area.

I would love to hear about your plans for November.

Blessings and love,

Carrie

 

Darkness and Freedom

This time of year brings the impetus for the nourishing spiritual work that will sustain us through the darkness and cold of winter.  As the light fades away, we ask ourselves where is the light in our souls and how is this shining into humanity?  How do we not hurt others with our thoughts, words, and deeds?  How do we live with what we have done and by what we have left undone?

The only true answer to this is inner work.  Inner work requires an awakening.  It requires looking at the dark places that are inside of us. Sometimes our irritation is with those that we see outside of ourselves, and perhaps that is a good signal to look inside ourselves. Examining the darkness is what leads to freedom.  Awakening and asking the questions is the beginning.

The great Master Waldorf teacher Else Gottgens had a checklist she used at the end of each day of teaching in grades 1-8.  She would ask herself if she had given the children real and appropriate images or pictures (not  judgements); had she used the night wisely; did every child make an effort; did she translate the main lesson into movement; did she make the children laugh; did she address one or more of the temperaments; did she teach them something new? Then she would go back and make a lesson plan based upon the observations.

I think the outer observations, if we can slow down and look, are the easier parts.  I have not made a little checklist like Else Gottgens’ for my days of parenting children ages 7-15 at home, but I have some thoughts in my mind.  Things that would govern my days like:  did we laugh together; did we find moments of reverence and wonder toward God and nature; was I kind; did I succeed in guiding ideas, perceptions, or behavior with appropriate boundaries or discussion; did I put forth a love of all people in humanity today; did I put forth a love of all of Creation; did I instill an attitude of capability, accountability, and responsibility in my children?

The harder part is the inner attitude.  What did I do that was wrong or left undone?  Where was my perception completely wrong?  Where was the Divine nudging me and I ignored?  Where did I need to forgive myself or others?  Was I humble?  Was I generous?  Where are the dark places inside of me that need rooting out?   What am I modeling and is it reflective of my innermost thoughts? Is my outward time and activities reflecting what is inwardly most important to me? I find a practice of a spiritual path to help explore and face these areas in love is a necessity.

Thinking as the days grow shorter….

Blessings,

Carrie