Getting Dressed: Warmth

Originally posted October 2018, updated October 2019

Warmth is one of the pillars of a Waldorf approach to early childhood, and one of the adjectives I hear used over and over to describe classrooms. We design the environment to envelop the children in warm colors, scents, and sounds; to help them feel safe and loved.

Maintaining physical warmth is just as important, especially given all the time we spend outdoors!



Wool is magic. I grew up with this being drilled into me by my fiber artist, wool loving mother, but never fully understood it until one rainy day in high school when I unearthed and read cover to cover this old National Geographic from the 80’s entirely dedicated to wool. Wool has incredible properties. The exterior layer of each fiber repels water (like from rain) but the inner part is able to absorb up to 30% of it’s weight in moisture before it feels wet. This means it can wick away sweat and keep out rain, and will still keep you warm when it’s wet (unlike cotton, as anyone caught out in the rain with cotton socks on knows) It’s inherently fire retardant, biodegradable, and will keep you warmer than anything else out there. Polyester or cotton might be cheaper, but I will always recommend wool.

“are you warm enough?”

Children have a hard time telling if they’re too hot or cold, it’s as plain as that. Expecting them to know if they need a sweater is developmentally inappropriate. That’s why you’ll see a little one playing in the lake, refusing to come out, until their lips are purple. That’s also why we’re here, to make those decisions for them. After judging the weather, I’ll announce before we get dressed “today is a rain pants day!” or “today is a snow pants and mittens day!” which I find much more effective than making the decision while we’re also trying to get dressed.

Here is my (very) loose dressing guide, for kiddos mostly. If it’s raining or snowing, obviously add a waterproof layer. Another good rule of thumb is that children need to be wearing one more layer than you to be warm—when I’m wearing a jacket and scarf and hat, I’ll make sure the children have the same with sweaters underneath.

60s - long pants, warm socks, wool sweater

50s - add a scarf and a hat and maybe a jacket or at least make sure that sweater is thick

40s - definitely add a jacket and warm pants and maybe rain pants too

30s - warm coat, serious warm pants or snow pants, mittens, super warm socks and insulated shoes

20s - whimper a little, double up your sweaters and socks

teens and below - long johns, wool pants, snow pants, wool socks, wool knee socks, long wool undershirt, sweater, another sweater, giant coat, two scarves, big wool hat, two pair of mittens, fur boots, plane ticket to southern California.

Getting dressed

Children as young as a year can really participate in dressing themselves. All children are different, but I find that given enough time and encouragement even those as young as 2 can do a lot by themselves. Zippers and buttons come later, tying shoelaces even more so, but a toddler’s inability to entirely dress themselves to go outside within 5 minutes is no reason to do it for them. Give them time, make it simple, and make it consistent. A few things that help: a neat, child-height zone with a peg for the day’s gear, a spot for boots, and a stool or bench, and doing things in the same order every time (ie. rainpants, then coat, then boots, then hat, then mittens.)

My rule (in life, actually) is: you can always try. True, you can’t always do it, but you can always try to do it. Therefore, I will help them with their coat or whatever only after they’ve tried to do it themselves. “Show me how you can try!” is a common refrain. It’s amazing because often, when they try, they can do it! Starting this young helps, because they won’t be in the habit of expecting adults to do it for them.

update: I wrote a whole other article about helping children learn to dress independently, read it here!


Chosing Gear

Jackets and Coats

For cold but not freezing weather, a nice wool coat is great because it can allow for a bit more mobility than a full on puffer coat or parka. This boiled wool one from Germany is beautiful, sturdy, and has nice big buttons for the children to practice on. (Bonus: I’ve seen them last multiple years on the same growing child, and then again on a sibling.) Patagonia makes a nice puffer coat for the really freezing weather. As far as waterproof parkas go, these two are nice, especially for older children, but for toddlers I recommend going the full snowsuit route (easier to put on, less snow-up-the-coat.)

Warm Pants

Wool or silk long johns are great, and I personally wear them most days when it’s cold. They can be hard for some children who don’t like the scratchy or bunchy feeling against their skin, or if you’re going to be inside somewhere very warm. In those cases, I often recommend something like these merino leggings that go over regular pants (or tights, for children who really love their skirts) for when you go outside. You can even then put rain pants over if it’s wet and cold. Extra warmth without resorting to snowpants, which are excessive for much of the season here.


In my mind, it is essential that socks be wool. Feet can get so cold and having the extra warmth there is really important. Wool also has the amazing ability to stay warm even when it gets wet, either through snow-in-boots or sweaty feet. My new favorite socks are by Darn Tough—my cousin who runs an oyster farm and is out in the boat all winter swears by them, and that’s the best endorsement I can imagine. They’re also a really ethical company and offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee, which is insane. They make kids socks too, but don’t have much for toddlers or babies yet. I’ve loved and worn Smartwool socks for years, and continue to recommend their toddler socks.


Hats are essential, as we tend to lose most of our body heat through our heads. The best hat is one knit by someone who loves you. If you’re handy like that, this pattern is a classic. My friends at Lynn and Lawrence also have gorgeous alpaca beanies in a similar style knit by women’s knitting cooperatives in England and Peru. I also love a thin merino balaclava, both as a stand alone hat in transitional weather and as a layer under something more substantive when it gets really cold. They keep ears warm (so important!) and don’t tend it itch. For when you have to go all-out, try a thick cap like this boiled wool one with ear flaps and a tie to keep the wind out (that one also has soft cotton lining for littles who don’t like the feel of wool against their faces). Finally: hoods don’t count. They’re great for keeping the rain or snow off your face, but fail as insulators as they let the wind in and tend to fall off.


If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: mittens. on. strings. Children’s hands are smooshy and their metatarsal bones aren’t fully formed until about 7 anyways, which means mittens will often fall off. Lots of people will try to sell you mittens with long cuffs to go under the coat to prevent “gap-o-sis” as my mother says, but I’ll tell you a secret: they’ll still fall off, and then they’re a pain to put back on because they have to go under everything. Plus, they have to go on first, which means the children won’t be able to dress themselves. Just put a string on your mittens and save yourself some hassle. These beautiful hand-knit ones are the best I’ve found in recent years, with a quality gusset at the wrist and a sturdy built-in string.


I usually just wear a silk around my neck, and it works great for kids too. A balaclava-style hat that tucks into a coat eliminates the need for a scarf altogether, which is another real bonus—fewer steps means you get out to play faster!

Shop Some of my favorites

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All children—all people—deserve to be warm in the winter. Support the New York Coat Drive by giving hand-me-downs, cash, or time.

Read More in our Getting Dressed Series

Considering Conflict

Conflict is healthy. Learning how to navigate it is important.

How do we support children through conflicts?


When children are between 18 months and 3, they’re transitioning from the “parallel play” stage into social play. Energetically, they’re waking up a bit to the realities of boundaries in the world, and understanding their autonomy and separation. This can manifest in a lot of ways but in social settings one of the most interesting clues of this transition is conflict. No longer will the child allow an object to float from their grasp with the dreaminess of a one year old. Suddenly, they notice the hand that is grabbing it from them, and they hold firm. These are the first conflicts, the “I want what they have” and to get to that realization they first need to have an understanding of the separation between “I” and “they.” This is an important marker, and shows us that the child is ready for deeper social learning.

I saw this article in the New York Times the other day with the quote “be a sportscaster, not a referee.” I’ve been quoting it ever since, because this just about sums it up! Narrating children’s actions is one of the hallmarks of RIE parenting, and when done intentionally this simple strategy has a remarkable ability to encourage children’s authenticity and independence (trying to keep up a constant stream of narration, however, can be exhausting for both caregiver and child. As with everything, care and moderation are key.) Faced with new realizations and emotions, children need our support so they can navigate their experience of a situation. What they don’t need, and in fact what will hinder their development of conflict resolution skills, is someone stepping in and saying “you have to share that with your friend.”

Active support

What to do in the moment, ideally when you see a conflict about to happen, or after one has already begun.

1. Ground and calm your presence in the space (I like to sit down cross legged next to them and take a steady breath)

2. Simply narrate what is happening: “I see that you want the block. I see that she has it.

3. Allow them to feel frustrated if they are (after all, that’s frustrating!) and validate their emotions with a sympathetic look or back pat. Feel for yourself how long to let them work through this feeling, and what kind of reorientation they might be needing. Try just letting it play out, staying present to make sure everyone is safe—often initial frustration will transition into a social game!

When they’re first navigating conflicts or if they seem “stuck,” and try…

4. Redirect them to an alternative. “I see there’s another block over there.

Eventually, they’ll start to take over parts of this process, until they can navigate their emotional experiences of conflict with ease. After all, this is essentially the same process I follow when I get into a conflict with an adult! I ground myself, articulate my emotional experience, give myself space to feel whatever it brought up, and move on to a solution.

Passive support

How you organize your space and your days can set you up to help manage conflicts much more easily.

Prepare your space

First, assess your play area and see what you can do to make it more free play-friendly.

Decide what (and where) will be off limits (“closed”) during playdates. Special dolls, etc. often do well tucked away, or perhaps a bedroom is closed and just a few baskets are brought into a communal play space. When the children are older they’ll want to share and show off their “special” things, but with toddlers it’s just too much.

For siblings, likewise decide what special objects will be individual possessions, and which will be shared. You have to feel this out for your own family, but I’d shoot for more shared than not. Open ended toys are so flexible that they can engage children across a wide range of ages!

Have multiples of shared things. It’s far easier to deescalate if they can see there’s another block two feet away they can use instead of the one in their friend’s hand.

Be confident in your discipline in general

Seeing you navigate conflicts and set boundaries with confidence and understanding is such an important model for children as they learn to do this themselves. Get started with Creative Discipline here, or go deeper with our Boundaries workshop.

Consider your rhythm

I have a whole workshop in the works about building and managing your daily rhythm (I’ll update this post when it’s live) but essentially: take a look at your child’s energy and your schedule, and see when would actually be a best time for a playdate, social program, etc. The social world is so new to toddlers that managing it can take all of their energy, and times when you or they are already mentally exhausted may not be the best moments to put them in that sort of situation. If you have multiple children in your household, consider how to balance times of more independent, quiet play with times of togetherness.

A note on hitting

Hitting and other similar behaviors are really a topic unto themselves, but as you work on keeping everyone safe as they navigate conflicts, consider this: toddlers experience the world through all of their senses, and especially touch and movement. They are naturally curious about other beings and want to learn, experientially, about how others feel, move, react, etc. All this to say, toddlers are not malicious, they’re learning. And one of the things they can learn is that we are here to keep everyone safe, so hitting is not allowed. Simply stating that, calmly and gently, while physically preventing the action with a gentle, confident motion, typically works quite well. If their curiosity continues, taking them out of the situation by gently pulling them onto your lap will also provide that sense of safety—for everyone involved.

Felted Soap

And how to help toddlers learn to wash their hands, well.


Part of the classroom component of my approach to potty training is that everyone learns the practical skills associated with bathroom independence (pushing down and pulling up their own pants, sitting on the toilet, washing their hands…) whether or not they’ve made the leap to underpants yet. This helps make potty training easier, and keeps our school bathroom routine pretty consistent as they’re going through what can feel like a big transition—providing a sense of grounding a predictability while they’re navigating a new dynamic. Teaching good hand washing habits is an important part of this process, especially with all of the gross colds toddlers are always going through.

Just like with most things, modeling is a good place to start. At first, you can wash your child’s hands for them, with them, your hands outside of theirs as you make suds. Most little ones really love the feeling of suds between their fingers, and associating that with hand washing can help build a good habit (just be sure to turn the water off if they’re playing for a while so you don’t waste it.) Eventually, you can just stand behind them and hand them the soap or turn on the water as needed to keep them on track without over talking. Be sure you have a tall, sturdy step stool for them to stand on so they can start to be more independent with it, and also check that the soap and towel somewhere they can reach—often moving things to the front of the sink or a little shelf next to it can help.

I’ve found that, in addition to being incredibly wasteful (plastic bottles, shipping something that’s mostly just water across the planet…) liquid hand soap is hard for toddlers to use well: the pump requires a lot of coordination and strength, and they often rinse it off their hands just as soon as they pump it on! Yet bar soap is so slippery and still hard to get a good lather with, and they tend to just soak it under the water for so long that it wastes half the bar.

Enter… felted soap! The felt keeps it from being slippery, makes it last longer, and makes getting a lather more fun and a lot easier. Making the bars is also a simple and compact project to keep on hand for that day when everyone is being annoying and you just need something to engage them for a bit to shift the dynamic. Its also a great introduction to felting! Read on for some tips…


You’ll need

A bar of soap

Be sure to chose one with safe, simple ingredients, for the children doing this with you as well as yourself/the earth. I like Dr. Bronner’s unscented castille soap, and Kiss my Face’s olive oil bar is also lovely. (Bonus: both of these come plastic free!)

Wool roving

Roving is wool that’s been carded but not spun. You can get it dyed or sheep-colored, and in lots of different varieties from different fiber animals. Webs is my favorite online yarn/fiber shop, and they have a great selection.


Warm, preferably.


The essential elements of felting are moisture, friction, and TIME. This can take a while! If needed, break it up over several days so that it stays fun and engaging for the children involved.

Basic Steps

Wrap your bar of soap in the roving

You’ll want to tease your roving apart a bit before you wrap it. Most roving comes in long strands—pull these apart gently until you have a flat fluffy pancake of wool you can wrap around the soap fully.

Get it a little wet.

A quick dunk in a basin or thorough spritz with a mister will do. You don’t want it too sopping—err on the side of less water, then try more if you’re not getting a good lather after a few minutes.

Gently pat the bar in your hands until it starts to foam.

Before wool starts to felt, it actually stretches quite a bit when it gets wet, just like our hair. Your wool will feel loose around the soap when you’re first working, and its important to keep it wrapped around as much as possible so it felts tight. I like to do this part myself, both to get everything started correctly and to model a nice patting/squishing technique for the children, then hand it over once it’s foamy. Once it really starts to felt on, you can switch to more of a “hand washing” motion.

Once the wool felts onto the bar, you can add more layers until its fully covered.

You can turn this into a multi-day project by letting it dry in between layers, or just keep adding them on in one sitting, I don’t think it makes much of a difference.

Wash your hands with it as needed!

The wool will keep felting every time you wash your hands, shrinking as the soap inside does! When the soap is all gone, you’ll be left with a handy scrubber, or you can futz with your felt ball a bit and turn it into a plaything.

Water Balloon Alternatives

Fight Pollution without being a massive bummer.


Let’s talk water balloons, people. They’re a super fun staple of American summer childhood, but also happen to be a pollution problem. They’re made primarily out of latex which, while technically biodegradable, will take years to fully break down. (That’s not to mention whatever other chemicals and dyes go into their production, which may never biodegrade.) When they break into tiny pieces on impact, those tiny pieces that find their way into our environment and the stomachs of marine life. Perhaps some people do track where every water balloon they throw lands and ensure they pick the little bits of broken plastic up off the ground, but walking around in the summer you see these little brightly colored bits of trash scattered around like the turning leaves in November. Only when water balloons flow into our livers and oceans, they don’t decompose into nutrient-rich soil that supports the beautiful circle of life, but float around mimicking sea life and being eaten by fish, turtles, and birds—killing these animals and pollute the entire ecosystem from the bottom of the food chain up. So. Time to find some alternatives.

Yes, doing the right thing can make us into bummers sometimes. No TV, no candy, and now no water balloons? I don’t think “being a bummer” is a good enough reason to continue supporting the pollution of the earth our children will spend the rest of their lives cleaning up. Still, just because we’re not throwing trash into rivers with wild abandon doesn’t mean we can’t have fun! I’ve compiled a list of a few, more eco-friendly ideas for having water fights and cooling off this summer. If you’ve discovered anything else yourself, please share it in the comments!


a hose

Let your little one spray themselves and the garden with a hose on the “mist” setting. Let bigger kids just have at it and spray each-other! Of course, if you live somewhere where water resources are limited, this is super irresponsible, but especially if your garden needs watering anyways this is as fun a way to do it as any! I love these pocket hoses because they’re easier to maneuver (no kinking!) and store, but no need to go out and buy something new: an old leaky host will work just as well for this.

Natural sea sponges

This is a little…weird, but if your kids really want something wet to throw, try getting some sea sponges and a bucket of water. Soak them up, chuck them at the neighbors, run away screaming. All the fun, none of the plastic. (Try also looking for them at art supply stores or in the beauty isle of your local natural foods store.)

Spray bottles

Okay, these will likely really only satisfy little kids, but at least that’s something. Try re-using the plastic or metal spray bottles (glass seems inadvisable for this) that something else came in, or buy new ones. Our co-op sells them empty in the beauty isle.

kiddy pools

For the very crafty and space-blessed among us, I’ve always thought that following DIY instructions for a cedar hot tub, just with much lower walls and no wood stove, would make a great wading pool. For the rest of us, try making like your grandparents and just using a big dish bin.

Water squirters

They’re not the most eco friendly option out there, but when it comes to older kids who really just want to run around the block drenching each other, simple water squirters are a good option. They don’t have as many breakable parts as the fancier models, and aren’t shaped like guns which is important in my book. The downside is that they’re still plastic and they’re not recyclable, so consider them with care and try to find some second hand and/or pass them along when your children outgrow them.

Just go to the beach/river/pond

If you can. Let the kids splash in the water that nature blessed us with and make their own toys from shells and sand. Don’t forget to bring a bag to pick up litter while you’re there!

Learn more about the environmental impacts of balloons here.


As always, we encourage you to use what you have, find things second-hand, and shop locally first. If you do wish to shop online, please note that this post contains affiliate links, and we may earn a small commission on products purchased through them.

Editors note: This article has been revised to note the environmental impacts of balloons more correctly and specifically.

Willow WestwoodComment
Getting Dressed, Independently

Dressing independently is an essential part of children’s daily practical work

Here’s how to help them figure it out


It often seems like the most potent learning moments sneak into the simplest, most quotidian parts of our days. I think of our classroom “cubby room time” like this: so transitional as to be overlooked when I’m quickly writing out our rhythm, yet an incredibly rich learning experience! Having supported children across the age spectrum of early childhood as they learn to put on their own raincoats and tie their own shoes, I’ve come to see providing opportunities for children to develop these skills requires (a lot) of patience and a bit of a shift in how we very practiced adults think about getting dressed in the morning. Just like everything else in the world, putting on clothes is a new experience for young children. They’re going to be terrible at it at first, then they’re going to get better, with tons of mistakes made along the way. That’s just how learning happens, and it can’t be rushed. Below, I’ve shared my top ideas to support this learning process.

Allow time

Time seems to be the biggest barrier to allowing toddlers to dress themselves. I always hear from caregivers that their toddlers want so badly to get themselves dressed, but it takes forever and will make them late so they just do it for them, often resulting in a tantrum of grumpiness. The simplest piece of wisdom I can share with you is to allow more time. Build transitions into your daily rhythm intentionally and allow good chunks of time for your child to try to get dressed. Knowing when to cut them off is another facet of this, and we’ll get to how to offer help in a productive way later. But if you want to help you toddler gain independence, start by giving them the time to work at their own pace.

Create a space

A well-designed, intentional space for dressing will do a lot of the work of holding the activity and helping the child organize their process. This need not be a complicated set up! For getting ready to go outside, I recommend finding a spot by your door to hang one or two child-height pegs, then placing next to them a child-size stool, short enough that their feet can be fully on the ground, and a designated shoe tray or spot. A little rug can be helpful too if your space is more open, both in holding the space and in keeping the rest of your house less muddy! (Try: “boots stay on the rug.”). For putting clothes on in the morning, a designated stool or rug in their bedroom/wherever they usually get dressed will do nicely, as well a basket for you to put their outfit in.

Consider choices carefully

Too many choices are overwhelming for anyone, and for children in particular as their capacity for logic and judgement hasn’t developed yet. As a general rule, the younger the child the fewer their clothes choices should be. For toddlers and nursery aged children, I generally recommend that caregivers just pick out their clothes for them or put out two or three weather-appropriate options for them to chose from. Older children might benefit from having a designated shelf or drawer of “school clothes” that you’ve okay’d for the season, and getting free reign to choose as they please from those (limited!) options.

Read more about choosing clothes intentionally here.

Plan ahead

As much as possible, try to prepare things ahead of time, the night before is best. Check the weather and chose their outfit/options to put in their dressing basket, and select whatever outdoor play gear they’ll need. Put only that gear on their peg. Before dressing begins in the morning, you can give them a head start if they need it by laying things out and unbuttoning buttons, unbuckling buckles, un-velcro-ing shoes, etc.

Have an order

In our classroom, I have a flowchart in my head of the order in which the children get dressed. Rain/snowpants day? If yes, put them on, if no, skip directly to… Boots/shoes. Then coats, if needed… and so on. It’s a pretty logical order that transitions easily from season-to-season. Find an order that makes sense to you and be consistent, so your child knows where to start and what to do next—that mini-rhythm will orient them as they gain independence.

“You can always try”

This is my mantra in the cubby room, and the best piece of language I can give you to support this journey. When a child comes to me asking for help, my response is always: “show me how you’re trying.” Often they need my attention and presence more than my physical help, and trying while sitting next to me will result in them just doing it! Just as often, they’ll say “nooooooo I caaaaan’t!”—they don’t even feel like they can try! For this response, I first center myself because whining is annoying, then tell them: “you can always try. If you try and can’t do it, I’ll be here to help.” Much of the time, when they do finally feel confident enough to try, they can totally do it! It’s much more often a confidence and fear of failure issue than it is a lack of capacity. And when they actually are trying really hard and can’t quite to it, of course I offer a guiding hand, a zipper start, or a sleeve untangle. My goal is that they feel safe trying and feel safe failing, because that is quite literally how learning happens. If they feel confident in trying to start their zipper even though they’ve never gotten it started before, they’ll feel confident trying to bisect and angle even though they’ve never done that before!

Practical tips

(for toddlers, mostly)

Start zippers for them, then hold the bottom as they pull up.

Balancing to put one leg in at a time is hard, the floor or a low stool is often the best place to put on pants.

Lay rain/snow suits on the floor, unzipped, and have them sit in the body while they put their legs in, then stand and do the arms like a coat.

If they’re being pokey or stubborn, hold a coat out behind them like a matire-d and touch one arm hole to their hand—usually they’ll finish the action and put the coat on before they even think about it.

Usually putting the first arm of a coat in is easier, the second (where you have to bend it behind you) is harder. If they’re stuck, try holding the collar so the coat stays up and open behind them while them try.

Hold the bottom of a buckle steady while they put the top in.

Un-do shoes and pull the tongue out wide before they put them on.

Read more in our Getting Dressed series

Let the Children Be

Children are wise beyond measure. Their bodies, their souls, their intuitions know what to do.  You cannot teach exploration or wonder, you can only hold space for it.


Before Groundwork sessions, I send out an email with all of the details for the week, including a section called Expectations. There I write:

“My expectation of the children is simple: that they be children! They will have lots of time for free play and will be invited but not pressured to join during simple group activities... To facilitate the children’s play and exploration, I ask that all adults please try their best to be quiet observers during play, rather than playing with the children.”

To observe play quietly but not get involved is a huge change from how modern caregivers are often expected to interact with children. There seems to be this idea that children need our help to bring attention to what they’re doing, how much they’re learning from play. I think a lot of this is also tied into the amount of cultural pressure put on full-time caregivers to perform, to treat their caregiving like a job, to show results. Doing your own thing and trusting your children to do theirs can feel and look like you’re being uninvolved or unsupportive, even though it is better and easier (in the long run) for everyone.

Here’s the thing:

Your children will learn more and be more well adjusted if you allow them to play free from commentary or query. Trust me. They will learn of the verdant green of new leaves, the brilliant vermillion of the setting sun, the placid blue of a calm ocean without you asking them “what color is that?” They will listen to bird song and dogs barking and be filled with curiosity and wonder, absent an adult asking “what does a doggy say?” They will delight in building block towers or watching a silk dance in the afternoon breeze and discover movement and mechanics all by themselves if you sit back and drink your tea and don’t ask them what they’re making. 

This is not to discount the endless energetic work of holding space, holding rhythm, observing their perfect uniqueness and offering them opportunities to play with it. This is not to promote absentee parenting or a dismissive attitude. It is to promote TRUST. Trust your children that they know what to do, they know what they need. Trust yourself that you are the perfect person to be with them in this moment, that your presence and mindfulness is involvement enough. Our work is to create a safe space for the children, then let them just be in it. 

Springtime Eggs

I eat the same thing for breakfast every day: cream of buckwheat, grass fed butter, a ferment, and usually a fried egg or bacon. First of all, this is delicious and has changed my life for the better. Second of all, and more relevant, I started to notice that when I combined eggs and ruby sauerkraut, the egg whites would turn blue. I noticed, and wondered, but didn’t know what could cause this. Then, as a part of a chemistry block at Sunbridge (Waldorf teacher school), we came into the classroom one day to find dozens of plates filled with a thin layer of cabbage juice. We played with adding drops of lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar, and later even lye and hydrochloric acid, each adding a new color to the rainbow swirl that had become of our purple juice. The next day we shared our observations and “discovered” that alkaline things turned it to blue or green or acrid yellow, acidic things to pink, red, or orange. We had created PH scales! I thought about my eggs anew after that experience, noticing how the acidic fermentation environment turned the purple cabbage pink, and that it turning to blue on my eggs must mean that the egg whites were slightly alkaline.

I thought about this as I considered my annual attempt at egg dying: always somewhat disappointing with the brown eggs I buy and the natural dyes I insist on. I also thought about the beautifully vibrant beet pickled eggs I’ve seen, and wondered if that process could be recreated with other vegetables, maybe minus all the sugar the picking recipes seem to call for. After all, the whites of eggs are always white, no matter the shell, and from my breakfast experiments I knew they take dye readily. A little kitchen playing later and I figured out how to use purple cabbage to make blue and pink and purple eggs, and turmeric for gold (because you’d have to add something very alkaline to cabbage to turn it that color and I don’t think any of us want to play around with lye near our food). Read on if you’d like to try yourself!

Some thoughts on egg dying as an educational activity

First of all, peeling eggs is great fine motor practice for kindergarten-ish aged children. Try with younger ones too if they’re especially dexterous and/or you’re okay with a less than perfect final product. Same goes of chopping, pouring, and grating!

Second of all, though we’re playing with chemistry here, that is where it should remain: as play. You’re planting seeds of experience that can grow with the children, transforming into theories when your child’s mind is ready and eager to understand things that way. A young child will marvel at the colors shifting, wonder at this miracle in the kitchen, and have a full, beautiful experience unhindered by unnecessary explanations. If you have an older child (10+) at home, let them experiment and wonder too—they’ll likely find a conclusion, though not necessarily the one I did, and not necessarily right away. That’s fine. Let this live in them.


Coloring your eggs

Hard boil eggs:

Boil a pot of water. add eggs, simmer for 8 minutes. Dunk eggs in an ice bath immediately after taking them out of the water to prevent overcooking and make them easier to peel. (Also, older eggs are easier to peel, use the ones from the back of the fridge if possible.) Once cooled, peel your eggs.


Cabbage dye:

(makes enough to dye 3-4 eggs)

Chop up about 1.5 cups of purple cabbage. As perfection and evenness are far from the goal here, this is a great opportunity to enlist a little chopping helper! Add to about 3 cups of water, simmer for about 10 minutes. When done, strain out the cabbage chunks and pour into a jar.

For pink/purple eggs, add some apple cider vinegar. The more you add, the pinker they’ll be! I added about two capfuls for these nicely purple ones.

For blue, the eggs themselves will do all the PH shifting for you!

Add your peeled eggs to your jar, then put it in the fridge for about a day, longer for a stronger color. That’s it!

Turmeric Dye:

(makes enough to dye 3-4 eggs)

Finely grate about 2” of turmeric root. Add to about 3 cups of water, simmer for about 10 minutes or until the water looks nice and thickly golden. You could try using powdered turmeric too, just play with the amount until the color is strong in the water. No need to strain, just pour into a jar. Add your peeled eggs to your jar, then put it in the fridge for about a day.

A few notes:

Peeled eggs keep in the fridge for a few days to a week, though it the recommendation is to keep them in a jar of water, changing the water daily. I ate my eggs too quickly to find out, but assume leaving them to soak in fresh water would cause some dye to leech out so, beware.

My “hard boiling” suggestions are really for eggs just short of hard boiled, with a slightly soft yolk how I like them. If you’re worried about feeding slightly raw egg yolk to children (which you can do your own research on), simmer them for 9-10 minutes.

If your eggs are smooshed up against the side of the jar or poking out of the liquid a bit, you might get some lighter spots. You can decide if that counts as a mistake or a design feature!

A MILLION thank yous to George McWilliam, my teacher at Sunbridge and a deeply amazing person, for bringing the cabbage chemistry experiment and not answering my question about why my breakfast was turning blue right away, leaving me to stew and ponder and figure it out myself.

Potty Training

How we can approach potty training in a loving, non-shaming, and effective way that is based on a clear understanding of children’s developmental needs.



Start with self work

One time, a long time ago, I was babysitting a child who was in the middle of potty training. They had taken to it pretty easily and weren’t having many accidents anymore. We were on our way to their playgroup when the subway stopped between stations and they said they had to pee, like right this second. I saw a puddle start to spread over the seat we were sitting on while they stared at me, confused and surprised. It was really one of those defining moments, where the thing I thought couldn’t possibly happen had happened, and I wasn’t prepared. I realized I could either freak out and everyone would notice and this sweet child would freak out too, or I could just let it go. So, I laughed. I laughed and took off my sweatshirt and soaked up the pee and told them it was fine, it’s just an accident, we can change when we get there.

Just like most things where children are concerned, potty training can be humbling for us caregivers. It can be frustrating, non-linear, smelly, embarrassing. Using the bathroom isn’t something little kids are good at yet—that’s fine. If you’ve gone in your pants for three years, suddenly being told that that’s the wrong thing to do can be confusing and disorienting. They’ll get it eventually, but how you react in that learning time is important. Hear me when I say: it’s not about you. Them peeing on the slide (or the subway) doesn’t make you a bad caregiver, it makes them a normal potty training kid. The more you hold on to embarrassment or shame about their accidents, the more they’ll learn to associate those feelings with using the bathroom, which can cause problems down the line and needlessly stress everyone out!

Early Potty use

If you’re working with someone 18 months or younger

Use cloth diapers from the get-go. They’re about 1,000 times better for the environment and allow a child to actually feel wet, which is an awareness you’ll be working with when you switch to the potty. If your lifestyle works for it, follow elimination communication protocols from as early an age as possible (I’m not the best person to teach you about this, but there’s tons out there).

Otherwise, still use cloth diapers, and start offering the potty around 12-18 months, when children are more mobile and will (no matter what you do!) learn where to put their pee and poop. If you offer the potty they’ll learn to go there, if you offer diapers they’ll learn to go there. I recommend looking into Montessori potty learning advice if you’re working within this phase.

(If you don’t have an easy laundry situation or just don’t feel like dealing with that aspect of cloth diapers, Diaperkind is a great cloth diaper service in New York you could look into)

Toddler Potty training

If you’re working with someone 18 months-3

The goal, when you’re working with children this age, is for them to learn their body’s own signals and understand that instead of just going in their pants like they’ve been taught, they should go in the potty. This is a complex endeavor for a little one! If you try to wait until they’re old enough to grasp the logic of it from an intelectual place, you’ll be waiting a long time. Instead, tie their learning to their experiences—give them opportunities to feel wet, to feel what happens when their pee/poop comes out. Give them opportunities to feel “success” (“wow! You peed in the potty! Now your pants will be dry.”) and don’t put so much pressure on accidents: just like learning anything, we all start off pretty terrible and our mistakes are how we learn.


Close to home. In warmer weather ideally. Roll up your rugs.

I recommend that people start by going pants-free around the house and yard. Make a weekend (or week) of it! This can also be a great strategy if you’re on a beach or country vacation where you won’t have to get in any cars for a few days and they can just run around naked. Your kid will pee on the floor. They may well poop on the floor. But they’ll learn much more quickly to be aware of what is coming out of their bodies, and they won’t equate the feeling of peeing in underpants with the “correct” feeling they’ve learned of peeing in a diaper. Have a little potty nearby at all times.

A few starting tips:

Avoid a reward/punishment system. The goal here is that they figure out that not sitting in their own pee is a reward in and of itself! Bribery in general tends not to work to develop habits in the long run, as we learn to associate accomplishment with external motivators, rather than the intrinsic value of the activity. 

If you want to “explain” what’s happening, you can say: "You can learn to put your pee in the potty now!" Saying "like a big kid" works for some kids, but can be a little scary to others who actually are really just fine being a little kid for now! You could mention their friends who have learned to pee in the potty, or just say "like me!"

For children with penises, sitting down to pee is ideal (though some might see a caregiver pee standing up and be really into imitating that, in which case I wouldn't push it.) It takes the "aiming" out of the equation, and often they actually have some poop that has to come out too. Depending on their body, some children might need to learn to gently poke their penis down a little, so they don't pee up. I find that being pants-free can help with this, because they can spread their legs wider and often their penis will hang down more when they adjust their pelvis like that. 

Take some deep breaths, this is all normal, we’ve all done it.


Next steps

you have to leave the house eventually

Now comes the transition to underwear. Still be pants-free as much as possible—at home, in nature, at the houses of very understanding friends… Dresses are also great for this transition as they offer some coverage without the need to push them down/pull them up.

First underwear should be "training pants:" underwear with built in absorbency, like period panties but for children and pee. (weird metaphor?) They won't totally sop up a pee like a pull-up, but they help a lot--you usually won't have a pee dribbling down their legs and onto the subway floor. They also learn that when they pee in their pants they get wet, while pull-ups/paper diapers are too absorbent and moisute-wicking for them to feel wet. 

When they do inevitably pee in their pants, don't make a big deal out of it! The phrase I use is "oh! I see you peed in your pants. if you pee in the potty your pants (or the floor) will stay clean and dry!" That way you’re tying in the inherent reward of staying clean and dry, rather than shaming them for messing up in a process that can take a while! Stay casual, chill, and matter-of fact about the whole thing.

When you start venturing out, you need to have a plan for inevitable urgent calls of nature. Children can’t hold it for very long, so searching for a Starbucks when they say they have to go will cause undue stress to everyone and usually result in an accident anyways. Depending on how comfortable you are with such things and where you live, you can just teach them to “nature pee.” You can also get a travel potty (more below) that you can break out anywhere—the side of the road, the back of your car, the corner of the playground…

If your child is regularly waking up dry, I recommend going diaper-free at night too. You can get a waterproof mattress pad just in case and put a little potty next to their bed for a first thing in the morning pee try. For older children, the message of "you want to stay clean and dry so put your pee in the potty, but at night actually it's fine to pee in your pants" can be confusing! Younger children can't always hold their pee all night, and a nightime diaper will save a caregiver having to wake up and help them with the potty a few times a night, which will make everyone happier.


You’ll need potties: one for travel (the foldable “potette” is my all-time favorite), and one for home. When they start using the big toilet, a seat reducer will be helpful (I like this one because it’s built right in, so they can be more independent!) as will a dedicated stool so they can get up and down by themselves (a squatty potty actually works really well for this, tucks away neatly in tiny bathrooms, and helps with grownup pooping.)

When you introduce pants back into the equation, be sure to find some that are stretchy and easy for the child to to push down/pull up on their own—elastic waists are best! Training pants are also essential. If you’re worried about leaks at first even with the added absorbency, you can get/continue to use cloth diaper covers over them, which should really eliminate the chance of puddles. Be sure to carry a wet bag with you for when they do inevitably wet their pants: they’re more functional, less ugly, and more earth-friendly than just using plastic grocery bags. Bonus tip: you can store your used travel potty in one too!

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Simple Bird Valentines

Full disclosure: I did not come up with this idea. There are many tutorials floating around the internet, and I read through lots of them in my planning. But none of them quite worked out how I wanted, so I thought I’d share what I did that worked well.

February is a hungry time of year for our foraging friends. The scattered seeds of Autumn are long gone, the first tender shoots of Spring still weeks away. It’s a good time to feed the birds, to share some of our stored bounty with them as we watch the light return and feel the ground start to wake up. This is also the time of year when, proverbially, the birds start looking for their mates—an observation that forms some of the basis of our modern celebration of Valentine’s day.

At the beginning of the year, a lot of the kids in our playgroup were working through separation anxiety. When they would cry at their caregiver’s departure, I would often take them outside—the fresh air was amazingly soothing and they would quickly be distracted by all the plants and birds and feel safe and secure in themselves and the space. Eventually I transitioned to just looking outside the big window at the birds. Even now, though most separation anxiety has dissipated, they love to go and watch the birds first thing in the morning. For a city backyard, we have so many kinds! Morning doves and bluejays, cardinals and sparrows, and even the occasional hawk all grace our yard.

As I thought about how we’d celebrate Valentine’s day with the same simple, nature-centered approach we take with all festivals, I immediately thought of doing something for the birds—some gesture of gratitude for these beautiful creatures that have brought the children such peace and joy throughout the year. Of course, these don’t have to be Valentines, they can just be regular bird feeders. But I thought that tie-in was cute and a nice way to channel the holiday excitement.

About the ingredients

Millet is a great protein rich grain that lots of birds love and that’s easy to buy in bulk (an important consideration as we try to minimize our waste. Bulk millet I can buy in my reusable cloth bag, bird seed I’d have to buy in a plastic one). If you have a small-grain birdseed that would likely work too, but something like sunflower seeds wouldn’t. Unflavored gelatin is fine for the birds—just don’t get actual Jell-o. It has lots of essential amino acids and is actually a very similar product to the collagen peptides I put in my coffee. When you hang the finished Valentine, make sure there’s another branch right beneath it so the birds have something to stand on while they eat. Also: these might become squirrel Valentines, which is fine IMHO, but something to be aware of.


You’ll need:

Unflavored Gelatin


Heart-shaped cookie cutters

Parchment paper

Some sort of tray (a cutting board or baking sheet works well)

A bowl, a spoon, and a measuring cup


Some patience and tolerance for having millet all over your floor (might I direct you here)

A few notes before you start:

Set everything up before hand. I always skip this step at home, but I can’t overemphasize how helpful it is when working with children. I like to keep my project supplies for something like this in a basket, all ready, covered with a cloth. This helps build some anticipation for the project and will help “hold” the activity more than if you’re constantly getting up and running around to get another ingredient.

Find a low table over a hard floor so they can use their full range of motion as they help.

Most of this, except the boiling water and the careful removing from cookie cutters, can be done by toddlers. The pouring, stirring, scooping, and stringing are all great activities to help them develop their dexterity, practice hand-eye-coordination, and do a whole lot of other developmental movement. Let them take a long time with things and spill a little, it’s all okay. And hot water gets gelatin out easily.

This will make about 4 bird feeders.

Prepare the gelatin:

(I did these first two steps right in a glass measuring cup with a handle, which made for less cleanup and easy pouring.)

Dissolve 1 packet gelatin in 1/4 cup water. Yes, you need to actually measure, I learned this the hard way. Kiddos can stir as the powder dissolves.

Add 1/4 cup boiling water and stir. Obviously be careful not to burn anyone.

Mix in the millet:

Put some millet in a larger bowl. This part I didn’t measure—maybe 2 cups to start? Have more on hand so you can mix until the ratio looks right.

Slowly pour the gelatin mixture into the millet, stirring as you go. Add more millet until the mixture looks more like wet millet than like millet soup. There should be a little bit of liquid at the bottom of your bowl if you scoop a spoon across it, but not much. Stir!

Shape the hearts:

Put some cookie cutters on parchment paper on your tray. The parchment paper is really key here, don’t skip it.

Fill the cookie cutters with the millet mixture, all the way to the top.

Now, this is essential, put another layer of parchment paper on top and smoosh the millet down into the cookie cutters. Really smoosh it. Kids are great at this, remind them to use their palms rather than their fingertips. If the level of millet sinks down a bit below the top of the cookie cutters as you do this step, you can add more and repeat.

Once they’re nice and smooshed, take a stick or a screwdriver or a pencil or something and poke a hole down through the middle. If you do this too close to the side the whole thing will break when hung. With the hearts, I did it in the middle of one of the lobes at the top, which worked well.


Put them in the fridge for a few hours, preferably longer. Don’t use the freezer to speed it up.

When you take them out, remove the cookie cutters carefully. You also might have to re-poke the hole a bit.

String some string through the hole and hang them on a branch for the birds to enjoy!

Raising Environmentalists

How do we raise environmentally consciousness children without instilling anxiety?

How do we teach children that the world is good in the midst of a climate crisis?


Spend time outside

The more time children spend communing with the natural world, the more they’ll grow to value it and learn to respect it, nurturing the innate connection to the natural world they are all born with. Even a simple daily park outing will be a huge help! Helped by their natural inquisitiveness and unique ground-level perspective, toddlers will notice the subtle beauty of changing seasons and the millions of other species who share this land. I urge you to find the wildest possible place nearby and let them explore with as few boundaries as possible. Let them get dirty, roll around, pick up bugs…

Model environmentally conscious habits

Hopefully you’re already doing a lot to minimize your carbon footprint, but let the children be the motivation to shift some habits if you need to. In addition to biking, using cloth bags, composting, etc. make sure you’re also engaging in the politics of environmentalism. Call your representatives, march in the streets, make subversive art. Right now, we need to live with a fair amount of privilege to have the time/money/education/opportunity to change our habits. Without change in our policies, the responsibility to change will remain on the level of privileged individuals, the climate destruction of big companies will continue to be disowned by them. You don’t need to bring your children with you, but simply doing these things will make you embody the values you want them to carry with them through their own lives.

Make things

Consumerism is a huge cause of climate change. By making and growing your own things you’ll help your children see the work and resources that go into creating the objects we use every day. You don’t have to do everything, but give them a taste of it. If you can’t plant a garden, grow herbs in your window and go visit a working farm. If you can’t sew and knit your own clothes, mend them yourself and find a crafty friend they can watch. If you can’t build your own furniture, then fix things, hang paintings, assemble your own IKEA, and take them to see a sawmill or wood shop! Also shameless plug, send them to a Waldorf school! Practical arts are a huge part of the curriculum for just these reasons.

Save big talk for when they can process it

Melting icebergs are so far outside of a young child’s consciousness, your talking about them will either go over their heads or create a lot of anxiety. Phrase things simply and center them around the good people are doing and actions you all can take to help. Instead of going off about all the people using plastic straws and littering and how turtles are getting these things stuck in their heads and dying, say “let’s help the birds in the park by picking these up so they don’t think they’re food!” Simple, close to home, and centered around a helpful action.

Intentional Playthings

So often in meetings I’ll hear a familiar story: “we have so many toys but my kid still complains about being bored!” “my child doesn’t play at home, they just throw things around!” “My kids are always fighting over toys but never actually playing with them!” “your clean-up time sounds so easy, ours is impossible!” My response is usually to have them look around the room (I have family meetings in my classroom): “What does their playspace look like? Do you have more toys than we have here?” “Yes.” They reply. “A lot more.” At home these children are faced mountains of toys, stuffed into chests and hidden under beds, strewn across the floor with half the parts missing. They’re so overwhelmed that they can’t focus on playing with anything for too long and become disoriented, causing stress for the whole family. The type, the quantity, and organization of playthings in the home is important for children’s healthy development and families’ general quality of life. No one means to cause harm by giving a child a toy, but alas, intentions aren’t everything. I urge caregivers to feel empowered as gatekeepers for the things coming into their children’s lives, not hopeless in the unending onslaught of consumerism.

Simple, Beautiful, and Few.

That is my mantra when selecting or recommending playthings. It helps me be a wise gatekeeper with what I choose to bring into the children’s lives, and is also helpful in deciding what should go.



Toys should be minimally detailed and as open-ended as possible. Things like blocks and cloths are perfect examples of this—they don’t tell you what you should do with them, so the children have unlimited options with just one object! Also consider how open ended more inherently “fixed concept” toys can be. A simple wooden block with wheels can be a car, or a truck, or a taxi, or a racecar… whereas a more detailed toy car already tells the child what it should be, limiting their imagination.


Aesthetics are not frivolous. Children’s boundaries between themselves and their environment are thin, so when we fill that environment with beauty they feel it. They are highly sensitive—a toy that is obnoxious to us is doubly so to them, they just don’t always know how to process that! Toys should be made of natural materials so the experience of touching them is pleasant and natural. (My exception to this is plastic things like legos or magnet tiles for older children, as they’re amazingly open-ended and great for creativity, and easy to find second-hand.) Materials should also be considered for their environmental impact—we aren’t doing the children any favors by polluting their future home. Lots of small toymakers are using up-cycled materials these days, taking garments out of the waste stream and avoiding the impact of manufacturing new textiles!


Toy overwhelm is a real problem for a lot of kids these days—having so many options that it’s hard to stick with anything for long enough to play deeply and always being able to turn to something new to stave off boredom rather than having to get creative and build grit. Too many sets beautiful wooden blocks is still a problem. Perhaps less of one than too many whirring plastic do-dads, but still overwhelming and not conducive to healthy, creative play. Try putting away all but one or two things in each of the toy categories listed below and see what happens over the course of a few weeks. You can always add more back in later if it seems their play would be deepened with another doll or set of smaller blocks for detailed castles.

Categories of playthings

None of these categories are mutually exclusive, nor is this guide meant to be limiting! Rather, this is intended to help you look at your toys to ensure a diversity of play opportunities are available. I’ve linked to some favorite playthings below!

Big Play

Big play is a broad but simple category that basically includes anything where the child’s body is a part of the play. Babies and toddlers naturally engage in this and will turn anything into big play-climbing on dollhouses, throwing wooden animals, etc.

A few essentials in this category are: a rocker board or boat, ropes or rolly polies, logs, big cloths, and something to climb into or under. Additionally, make sure to offer things for:


Construction on a larger scale. Big hollow blocks, cushions, playstands, stumps, lumber, sheets… This is also a great type of play to direct outside.

Dress up/big imaginative

A few pieces of cloth can be plenty for dress-up, especially for younger children! Older children might benefit from a few simple hats or crowns, and perhaps a vest or cape. Ropes or rolly polies can become tails, scraps of cardboard or rocker boards shields, sticks can become swords or canes. A “fireman” or “princess” costume is so limiting—let them design their own!

Small Play

Small play is usually done while sitting down on the floor, manipulating something small with one’s hands in a deliberate way. This is usually more popular with older children (think: 4 and up), but even toddlers will benefit from having some small playthings on offer.

A few essentials in this category are: cars, animals, blocks small enough for your child to fit in one hand, and small cloths or silks.


On a small scale, specifically. This category includes blocks, legos, etc.

Small scale imaginative

A toy barn is an amazing jumping-off point for imaginative play, and could be as simple as a wooden box where the toy animals “sleep.”

Imitative Play

Toys in this category are often less open-ended, but can be hugely important for older children looking to “play pretend” as well as younger children who are new to free play.


Dolls are a special category all their own, though a special stuffed animal that the child practices nurturing could also be included. Expressions should be neutral and details minimal.


A toy kitchen is not an essential, but many children do love them. Make sure you at least have some open-ended toys that lend themselves to pretend cooking, tea parties, etc. (The Grimm cup stackers are great for this!)


This category does not include storybooks, the reading aloud of which I don’t consider play. Rather, look for a few (sturdy!) books with few or no words and engaging pictures so the children can imitate reading and practice telling their own stories, and save story time for special “in breath” moments in your daily rhythm.


Organizing Playthings

How toys are organized is nearly as important as what they are. To encourage the freest play possible it’s essential that toys be accessible, and to support the rhythm of your day it’s important that they be easy to put away and “close” when needed. Start by looking at where your child plays. Playrooms (or bedrooms with toys) are great for older children, but toddlers often want to be near the action, so storing their toys in another room is impractical and will hinder clean up time. Wherever your child typically plays, try to consolidate toys in that one location. Or, depending on your rhythm, keep a few options for a more limited playtime in a public space, then the majority in a playroom for big free play time.

I generally find that a low bookshelf if the best bet for toy storage, anywhere in the house. You can even use the bottom few shelves of a larger bookshelf in a living room, or stack apple crates for a cheap and modular solution. Small toys can be sorted and stored in baskets or wooden crates on a low shelf, and can be covered with a cloth when “closed” if your child needs that visual reminder. Sorting is key—don’t keep all your toys in one basket or stuff the animals in with the blocks. Play books should be treated with great care and have a special home. Larger toys should be few to begin with, and all have a designated home. Perhaps the hollow blocks all stack on a certain wall, and the rocker board goes on top. If your child has any “furniture” such as a small table or kitchen or playstands, think about when you want them to be open or closed and how you can communicate that visually. I recommend against using kid furniture to store toy baskets when possible, as it often leads to toys being dumped off of the furniture so they can use it, then being walked over or otherwise not valued. When choosing baskets, chose ones that are flexible or sturdy—delicate baskets tend to break quickly when accidentally stepped in.


Here are a few of my favorite things to support free play. Some links are affiliate, which support our work by earning us a small commission. You can also look at your local natural toy shop—I love Acorn in Brooklyn, share in the comments if you have a favorite in your area!

Being Worthy of Imitation

“Being Worthy of Imitation”

As a new teacher, I remember being told that the children would imitate everything I did, so everything I did had to be worthy of imitation. I was 20, and didn’t know how to do this—I was so shaky in my sense of self already, was I going to have to change who I was to be a good model for them? Who am I to show them how to be in this world? As the years have gone on, I am eternally grateful to that initial advice and the unrelenting pressure of the children who never let me fake anything and who’s trust imbues me with the confidence to be worthy of it.

Start with Self Work

Do what you need to do to truly embody what you’re bringing them. Unpack your programming, do the yoga, meditate…

Young children learn through imitating the actions of others, adults especially. They will imitate your speech patterns, your mannerisms, the way you answer the phone, the way you sweep the floor. But they will also see subtler things, like the way you communicate with your partner or the way you respond to disappointment. As they imitate, they internalize the behaviors and take them as their own. They are so eager to learn how to be in this world, and they trust us to show them the way. As the adults who spend time around them, that leaves a lot of pressure on us to be worthy of their imitation, to embody the values we want them to hold. This is why the answer to many questions I am asked is to start with self work. 

An example

I am terrible at being the “nap teacher.” I worked in an aftercare program for a year, where the children were expected to nap or rest quietly for a good hour and I could barely get my group to sit quietly for a half that time. Even later, when my kindergarten class would have a 10 minute rest time, they would be so squirmy and chatty and restless and I couldn’t figure out what it was! What I realized (with the help of more experienced teachers) was that I was not embodying restfulness. I was so anxious, my mind was racing, thinking of what was coming next and what I needed to do. I wasn’t resting on the inside, and they were imitating that! So, I tried to feel restful during rest time, I tried to deepen my breath and feel sleepy on the inside. And still, nothing really happened.

Interestingly, the same thing would happen to me at home when I tried to go to sleep. My experience of going to sleep was one fraught with struggle and anxiety—no wonder they picked up on that. It was only a year later when I started meditating and learning to drop into that restful, quiet state when putting myself to sleep that I was able to model true restfulness for the children in my class and get them to rest.

In this situation, I needed to change my entire experience of rest in order to understand how to embody it fully. My own childhood experiences of rest and bedtime certainly informed what I was bringing to the children in this time, and having never learned how to put myself to sleep I had to start there. Meditation was a tool for that, as was understanding that falling asleep is a skill that can be learned.

Start by asking yourself: what am I modeling for them in this situation? What is preventing me from fully embodying the gesture I want them to imitate? Then you can see where your actions are misaligned with your inner life and intentions, and you’ll know where to direct your work. This isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but thankfully the children don’t need us to be perfect. They need to see models of human beings who are striving for goodness—and by starting with self work you’re doing just that, and being worthy of imitation on that deepest level.

until I can truly trust myself in that situation—


If you don’t feel, on a deep level, like your authenticity is worthy of imitation, then it won’t matter how you speak or sweep the floor.

All of that work can feel like an opportunity to change yourself, to contort yourself to be what you think an ideal caregiver would look like. That won’t work. You already are an ideal caregiver, the children are with you for a reason. Yes, we all have unconsidered habits, unexplored beliefs, things that we need to work out, but all of that should be in pursuit of being your most authentic self, not an attempt to mold yourself into some angel goddess in a pink skirt who likes singing in the pentatonic scale all the time (unless that’s your jam, then more power to you).

In fact the highest, most valuable thing we can model is authenticity, being secure with ourselves on a deep level. If you fake it, they’ll learn that inauthenticity is the way to success—they’ll learn to bury themselves and be whomever the world pressures them to be. Let this be your permission to be yourself, and the kick in the ass you need to figure out who that is and love it deeply. If you don’t feel, on a deep level, like your authenticity is worthy of imitation, then it won’t matter how you speak or sweep the floor. That is really the key to this, and where some of the hardest work lies. Once you trust yourself to be imitated, the rest will flow.