The Lovely Feast of St. Nicholas

Did St. Nicholas come to visit your house yesterday morning?  We have been celebrating St. Nicholas Day for many years now, first as part of the cycle of the year in Waldorf festivals in addition to our Germanic roots, and now as part of our liturgical year in the Episcopal Church.  Such a lovely day!

I love this little quote from Sarah Ban Breathnach’s “Mrs. Sharpe’s Traditions” about St. Nicholas Day:

For parents who feel frustrated by the fact that Santa Claus’s visit inevitably overshadows their religious observance of the birth of Christ, a visit from St. Nicholas can help tremendously.  For modern children who no longer believe in Santa Claus (and to Mrs. Sharp’s dismay, it seems they get younger with each passing Christmas), a celebration of St. Nicholas Day can satisfy a deep desire in children to believe in a benevolent and generous gift giver who rewards the good.

The author goes on to discuss her little treats of choice: seasonal cakes (such as iced gingerbread, lebkuchen,), a small bag of gold foil covered chocolate coins and one longed-for gift.  From Waldorf resources, “Festivals With Children” by Brigitte Barz actually has no mention of St. Nicholas Day (but does cover St. Barbara’s branches!), but Freya Jaffke covers the role of St. Nicholas in the Waldorf School setting quite extensively.  She writes:

St. Nicholas brings another true and resonant image to children on their journey through Advent…Legends about St. Nicholas describe how he emanated love and benevolence and was willing to sacrifice himself. Thus he becomes a figure who prepares and heralds the Christmas festival, at which the birth of Christ can be renewed in us each year.

When St. Nicholas visits a Waldorf classroom, he often carries a large golden book and offers the events of the past few days for small children – Jaffke writes that he does not judge, but  does expresses pleasure at things for the small children.  Only after the age of seven could one expect children to begin reflecting on their actions and perhaps undertake to improve anything or change something.  The author goes on to describe three traditional gifts – the apple (knowledge); nuts (strength!) and sweets such as gingerbread (warmth).  The author writes a lively description of the morning of a St. Nicholas visit  to a classroom with order of events.  Most of all, St. Nicholas becomes an inner preparation for the Advent season for adults and children alike.

In our home, we focus on stories of St. Nicholas and  the life of St. Nicholas.  In the past sometimes we have done homemade gifts and sometimes it was a more major gift-giving day.; sometimes we gave out nuts and fruit and made iced gingerbread.   This year we had gold foil coins and one gift plus a little set of Nativity Icons to color as ornaments for our Christmas tree (which we will get this week, I think).  I didn’t make a golden scroll or note from St. Nicholas, which I have done in past years as well, but we did go to church and celebrate again.   I have kept things as simple as possible this year to just relax and have fun with our children of widely different ages, especially when a Feast Day falls on a day where we will be at church, which is a busy day of the week for us.

This week marks the second week of Advent and tomorrow I will be sharing with you the things I love in the second week of Advent.  Please share your traditions, successes, and joys.

Many blessings,
Carrie

The Quiet of Advent

In 2009, I wrote a series called, ‘The Inner Work of Advent” and it featured twelve posts.  You can see the posts in this series in this round-up post.  This year, I would like to approach Advent through the topic of calm and quiet.  I think most people intuitively know this is a time of year to prepare, to wait, to anticipate, but somehow along the way it gets hijacked by commercialism, materialism, busy, too many end of year parties and holiday festivities.  I have fallen into that trap myself, and would like to encourage all of us toward some time of re-centering toward what is important in this time of year.  Creating light to prevail over darkness. Wholeness to prevail over brokeness.  Health to prevail over illness, in body and mind and spirit.

In order to do this, we must carve out time to be at home and not running off somewhere. We must carve time to be in solitude and think and re-center ourselves.  What are our priorities?  What are our values? What is our vision for our family, our mission (more on that soon).  If we homeschool, perhaps we might think, without even putting a label of what “methodology” it is – what do we value?  How do we connect to others in meaningful ways? How do we shine light in our corner of the world?  How do we find ourselves and our joy?

These are big topics, but I hope to dive into these swirling depths over the next few weeks during Advent.  Won’t you join me?

Blessings,
Carrie

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: Advent Week One

Happy New Year!  Today is the first day of the New Year in the Church Calendar (in the Western Christian Church; in the Episcopal Church, part of the Anglican Communion we are in Year C of a three year cycle but it is still our New Year too!)

For some odd reason, I feel like we are actually organized for today, this first Sunday in Advent (this rarely happens).   We have lights up outside, and we found our candles for the Advent wreath., we have a Kindness Advent calendar up as well.  We have many of our decorations up (no tree, as we do that later in Advent so we can enjoy the tree through Christmastide) and last night we went  to enjoy the festive lights at our local botanical garden.  

I would love to hear what you are planning for Advent.  There are so many wonderful ideas out there and people have so many inventive traditions!  For those of you who wrap a book a day during Advent (and these can be from the library; you don’t have to buy them all!) I thought I would share the  titles we will be reading this week from our “wrapped” pile.  We have a whole week of St. Nicholas stories leading up to his Feast Day.  We also have the wonderful book by Jacob Streit, “St. Nicholas” to read daily.

1- Come and See:  A Christmas Story by Mayper for the First Sunday in Advent (today)

2-  Country Angel Christmas by Tomie dePaola  (Monday, November 30)

3 – The Baker’s Dozen:  A Saint Nicholas Tale by Shepherd  (December 1)

4- The Gift from Saint Nicholas – Lachner

5- A St. Nicholas Story or The Fiercest Little Animal In the Forest by Reinhart for the littles, and for the older children, The Legend of St. Nicholas by Demi

6- Saint Nicholas:  The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Stiegemeyer

7-  Snowflake Bentley to go with the traditional Waldorf themes of rocks, stones, crystals, bones.   (Also, don’t forget Tiptoes Lightly for some sweet Advent stories as well).

If you need more help with St. Nicholas books, please see this post regarding favorite stories for St. Nicholas   There are also wonderful stories on the St. Nicholas Center website as well that has many stories!  If you need help in celebrating St. Nicholas, please see this post about celebrating St. Nicholas Day in the Waldorf Home

If you would like  to be close to  the Waldorf way of Advent with a focus on rocks, stones, crystals, bones, I will also be reading some stories from “Light in the Lantern” and the books “The Snow Speaks”, and “The Star Tree” this week, so perhaps some of these stories will resonate with you.

Our Advent Calendar includes Christmas activities that are free and also acts of kindness.  So this week we are cooking dinner for a neighbor and collecting food for our local food pantry.  We have a field trip scheduled to an antiquities center that actually should be interesting at this time of year since it focuses on life during Biblical times, complete with Biblical meals.

Other favorite things for this week:

  • For inspiration,  Christine Natale’s post about starting new holiday traditions
  • Adult Christmas Coloring pages – everyone in the family enjoys them
  • Being at the barn several times this week – having fun with the horses
  • Hot chocolate
  • Making a surprise gift for the youngest member of our family
  • Wrapping some of our gifts
  • Looking at the lights in our neighborhood
  • Organic Candy Canes
  • Dancing to Christmas music and singing!  Our daughters are preparing Christmas music to sing in Church and have some more complex parts, so they are very excited.  Smile 
  • Making window stars out of transparency/kite paper
  • Helping our little one make St. Nicholas ornaments
  • Coloring in shrinky- dink type Nativity Icon ornaments  to mark all the Saints of Advent.

Tell me a few of your favorite things for the first week of Advent!

Blessings,
Carrie

Seventh and Eighth Grade Life Skills: Resources

I wrote a little post awhile back regarding life skills for seventh and eighth graders (and development of these skills and capacities could easily be extended into high school and beyond, of course!).  I promised to share some of the resources we used as we go along, so hopefully this post will help elucidate that.  I feel you could follow these general themes by grade, and then find resources that fit into your family’s culture.  Some of my resources are Christian, some are specific to the way we eat, so it may not work for every family, but again, hopefully this can spur you to think about what you want to teach when and find great resources to help you along this journey.

I think many Waldorf homeschooling families start thinking about relationships and healthy sexuality with the beginning of the seventh grade physiology block, which many Waldorf homeschooling families seem to schedule in the spring.  Up until this point, perhaps more of the “life skills” you are teaching are more hands-on or concrete, but hopefully you have layered some comments and thoughts about treating each other kindly, respect, and other things as life has gone along.  Still, I think this topic marks a departure into something a little more abstract: how do we relate to The Other?  How do we love and care for one another in an intimate way?  How do we love and care for ourselves before we can hope to care for another?

So, in seventh grade, I covered practical hands-on things ( which, for us, included cooking, sewing and other hand arts, baking, money management, Babysitting course which included child development and infant/child CPR through our community), but then added two more abstract things:   healthy relationships/healthy sexuality and my second idea was the idea of positivity.  Only you know your child and can decide whether or not they are ready for something as abstract as this, or if these subjects are even needed for that particular child.

For healthy relationships/sexuality, you can see my post regarding seventh grade physiology for the resources used.

For positivity, I used some of the following resources:

  • Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life For Teens – read it first; I had to edit parts out that weren’t really applicable to us and keep in mind my child was almost 14 by the time we hit this book.  Your child may need to be older for this book depending upon when their birthday falls.
  • Battlefield of the Mind  for Kids –Christian,  for whatever reason, we didn’t really enjoy it and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you get it from the library and read it first  (sorry!)
  • Speak Love – Christian, enjoyable

Some of you wondered what we were using for our Christian faith. I think for us, this still has mainly been attending liturgy, singing in the choir (where you get to pray again and sing Scripture!), prayer, and I used a little Orthodox Christian book about the ten commandments for teens (which I can’t find at the moment, so I am unsure of the title).

I think the other important way we work with some of these seventh grade topics is through biography and stories.  So we used plenty of biographies and stories in different blocks that focused on positivity and “overcoming” during  the seventh grade year.

This year, in eighth grade, we are focused on four key areas outside of continuing practical skills:  the art of conversation and manners; nutrition; stress management/ healthy sleep, movement and nutrition habits to support stress; and prayer.  I will be happy to post resources regarding these topics at the end of the year. Also, in conjunction with attending La Leche League meetings, we have talked a lot about gentle discipline this year and childhood development for babies and toddlers.  This also ties in with babysitting capacities.  I have seen some teens babysit and they really have no idea how to re-direct a toddler or preschooler and you can see the frustration mount in the teens who are in charge.  It is really important that both boys and girls have these skills for when they are a parent one day.

Only you know your child and what they need, so take the time to think about what you would like to bring either in the tail end of seventh/eighth grade or if it needs to wait until the beginning of high school.   My plans for ninth grade include more focus on positivity; self-respect and self esteem (healthy relationships with ourselves and others), conflict resolution skills and to keep developing the “doing” of maintaining a nourished home and family.

Many blessings,
Carrie

Hearts of Thanksgiving

In a world that often seems shattered, broken, and perhaps beyond repair….

Let us give thanks in our hearts for the light we and others can bring to the world.

Let us give thanks for our best attempts to be kind, compassionate and caring to ourselves, our children and the world.

Let us give thanks for all the good things we model for our children.

Let us give thanks for all the helpers in the world.  There are many.

Let us give thanks for all that we have, and all the ways in which we can help others.

Let us give thanks for the beauty of the earth and skies and seas.

Let us give thanks for the animals and plants and the diversity of all human beings and cultures around the world.

Let us give thanks for peace and show the world love.

Happy Thanksgiving to my dear readers,

Carrie

Anticipation and Preparation: Advent

The wonderful season of Advent is almost upon us.  I am looking forward to another season of fasting, kindness, and waiting with hope.  I thought I would share a few of our plans for this week and the first week of Advent that is coming up.

I think it helps to think of Advent as the season of preparing, waiting, anticipating and Christmastide as the season for the twelve wonderful days of Christmas.  We can give ourselves permission to slow down and enjoy this time.  Our general plans for Advent involve making gifts, baking, decorating, attending church and doing some random acts of kindness.  I hope to have books to unwrap each day for Advent and also some acts of kindness we can do each week for others.   I also hope perhaps we will have an Advent Spiral at one point during this time (or perhaps we will have a Winter Spiral later).    You can see more about an Advent Spiral  here .

This is a beautiful week to create an Advent Wreath and light the first candle on Sunday. Next week, during the first week of Advent, we will  celebrate the Feast Day of Bishop Nicholas Ferrar, and make stuffed star ornaments and straw star ornaments and prepare for the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas on December 6th.

Here are some back posts about the first week of Advent:

https://theparentingpassageway.com/2013/12/04/the-first-week-of-advent-2013/

https://theparentingpassageway.com/2013/11/29/expectation-anticipation-and-the-holy-mystery-of-advent/

https://theparentingpassageway.com/2012/11/25/celebrating-the-first-week-of-advent/

https://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/11/26/plans-for-the-first-week-of-advent/

I would love to hear what you are up to in preparing for Advent.

Many blessings,

Carrie

Regulation of Emotions in Children–Part One

So, tis the season of licensure renewal!  So far I have been to a course on neuroprotection and development (you can go to my back post  to learn more about one of the those sessions), a conference regarding the latest advances in pediatric orthopedics (you can see this post to learn more), a breastfeeding conference that focused on the anthropological and biological facets of infant sleep and sleep in the mother-infant breastfeeding dyad, and a course on the emotional regulation of children who have anger, anxiety and ADD/ADHD; children who are in the autistic spectrum were also addressed.  This information was of course, not just valuable for those working with children with differing needs, but for ALL people who come in  contact with children.

This course was aimed at therapists but also at teachers.  The incidence of children with anxiety and anger issues is skyrocketing and the schools are really scrambling to catch up and create a culture that teaches children how to deal with their emotions.  Many of these children have special needs involving the sensory system.  One of the latest statistics I have heard is that one in every 45 children now can be diagnosed along the spectrum.  The public schools have a large job in front of them, and quite frankly I am connected with families almost every day who have pulled their children out of school because they did not feel their children’s needs were being adequately met.

There were several things this course centered on.  First of all, one has to understand the brain and how we nourish these three [oversimplified] brain levels.  The major thing is to keep everything CALM and predictable because if the physical body heads into fight or flight, even at a very low level,  then no learning can take place.  If the body is in fight or flight, then we are “downshifted” into using only the more primitive parts of the brain – typically the “primitive” brain and the limbic system of emotions.  When this occurs, memory, speech, expression, and  the development of neural pathways all decreases.  Hyperactivity increases.  The body goes back to muscle memory and autonomic reflexes.  So, with children who have challenges with emotional regulation, keeping things calm and predictable is vitally important and can be harder and more challenging than one might think, particularly in a busy school environment.

Talking about RYHTHM was a big part of this course.  The more anxious or upset a child typically gets, the stronger the rhythm needs to be held.  Visual aids for rhythm were discussed, along with how to prepare children for when the rhythm would be different that day.  Many schools are now making books with photographs of the children doing each part of the day (this was mainly focused on elementary aged children of grades one and up), so the child can flip through the book as they go throughout his or her day and follow along and know what is coming next.   Also, accommodations – does a child need to eat lunch not in the busy, over-stimulating cafeteria?  Can the teacher have the child sweep or run an errand to reset what is happening?

The other main part of nourishing the brain is connection and love.  Emotional safety, in whatever setting the child is in, is a very large part of keeping the body and brain in an optimal state for learning.  Physical movement, hydration, and nutrition are also important, along with natural and full spectrum lighting (the buzzing from fluorescent lighting can put some children’s bodies in a fight or flight mode).  Sleep and attention are large parts of nourishing the limbic system, as are the use of music, games, drama, storytelling and celebrations.  Lastly, movement and time in nature is a huge piece in emotional regulation and learning.  All of this is validated by research.  The decade of the brain was actually in the 1990s, and much of the research from then until now is just starting to seep into greater society. 

These are all things that were talked about in order to keep things on as even a keel as possible.   You might be wondering what was recommended when things went out of bounds, so to speak.  What to do when children are having real difficulty in that moment in regulating?   I will try to speak to that in Part Two of this post.

Blessings,

Carrie