"Carrying the Rhythm" for Early Childhood Parents
Maybe you're new to Waldorf education, or maybe you're a returning parent who is still working to find your stride in your household, but what most of us probably have in common is the awe that we share in watching those angelic Early Childhood teachers as they sweetly shepherd many young children through peaceful and cooperative daily rhythms. "How do they do it?" we ask, as we drop off our children and observe the cheerful hum of the morning classroom. "They never do this at home" is a phrase I've heard more than once, as a parent observes their child settling into a classroom activity with confidence and purpose. I have one word for you — rhythm — and I want to talk about how you can incorporate this into your home and change your parenting experience from adversarial and frustrating, to smooth and cooperative.
First, I accept the reality that, for most of us, some days there are things that just need to get done and unfortunately don't allow us the flexibility to listen to our bodies' needs fully. But I encourage you to look ahead at your week or evaluate your responsibilities and ask yourself what you might be able to re-arrange or re-prioritize to enable you to bring your children into your work (and play!) for the day, or bring you into theirs! Take note of tasks that cause frustration or may not be developmentally appropriate; for example, my two-year-old may not be able to fold his own shirts as we work through the laundry mountain for a family of five, but he can fold washcloths slowly and methodically as I sit by him and model the task. Then observe their beaming sense of pride as they present you with the most beautiful and lopsided little folded washcloths! There are many simple tasks we can engage them in, and if you need some new ideas, I encourage you to check in with their teachers as well.
Now, let's talk about rhythm in those activities. A day in the Waldorf Early Childhood curriculum has a distinct rhythm of "breathe in" and "breathe out." Tuning in to these breaths will change your experience as a parent and bring out the very best your child has to give for that day. Think about the activities in your day that require focus, inward energy, and concentration: drawing, washing dishes, baking, crafting, etc. These are the "In Breaths." Now think of the outward energy activities your child engages in, such as free play with toys or exploring outdoors, helping to clear yard brush, or stacking firewood — the more demanding of their bodies in developmentally appropriate scale, the better! This is the "Out Breath." It"s just plain unrealistic to take most young children to see a play at the theater in the morning, followed immediately by tea at their grandmother's house, and have them sit calmly and contently with her best china in hand. However, if you allow them a bit of free play on the snow mound outside the theater before you go in, and then shovel the snow off the sidewalks at Grandma's together before heading in for tea, you're breaking up those "In Breaths" with "Out Breaths" and setting the children, and therefore your family, up for success.
Now, one other layer to this that I want to touch on as you go through these In Breaths and Out Breaths, is how you connect with your child throughout, and especially in the transitions. Two things that have really introduced partnership into previously adversarial moments for our family are, first, getting down to their level physically, and purposefully playing with them or working together for periods of time, and then parting to do separate tasks (maybe you're loading the dishwasher while your child(ren) play in the playroom or draw at the table on their own for a bit). When you make a point to give them your complete attention as you work or play together, it often gives them the sense of security and confidence to part ways for a bit and work separately. I tend to share with my children that "Now this is my time to do my good work," and they have the opportunity to do A, B, or C (playroom time, drawing, reading, etc.). If they are starting to melt down excessively as you go through these rhythms, make sure to check in with yourself mentally on if they might be overdue for a snack, meal, or rest time, as these are usually our signs!
My second handy trick, and I know some of you may be a little shy here, is to sing! Yes, make like Snow White and sing your instructions to them ("Henry, please come here and put on your boots!" ♫), sing as you work ("This is the way we clean the table, clean the table, clean the table!" ♫), or sing when it's time to leave and get in the car ("Here we go, shoes on your feet, coats on your bodies and in our seats!" ♫). You might feel a little silly, but it's a whole lot less silly than trying to force your Olympic champion of the car-seat-avoidance competition, with no shoes on, into their seat. And let me tell you: for some reason, when you sing about the work at hand, kids perk right up and join in like it was their idea! As an added bonus, I find it really helps me regulate my feelings of frustration and stress about the situation if I sing as I go with them, and humming works too! They will pick up on your energy, so do your best to make it good energy to share.
And don't forget — you know your children and you know their signs. Trust those gut feelings when things are starting to get a little rowdy, and begin to transition with the early signals so that they still have a little gas left in their tank for cleanup or goodbyes to close the activity and move on. Don't be intimidated, and be sure to reach out to their teachers if you need any support in getting ahead of the energy changes, or in finding good tasks to embrace the breaths. It will make all the difference to flow with this rhythm instead of against it, and you might just find your children have a better relationship of connection and trust with you as they start to navigate their next developmental stages.
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