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.


Willow WestwoodComment
Notes From Our Kitchen

Over the years I have had parents stop me, wide eyed, in the middle of a sentence when I’m reviewing classroom snack time during our meetings: “she eats three helpings of rice and lentils???” I hear that, at home, these children are incredibly picky eaters and am begged for recipes. My recipes are simple, heavy on the butter, and I’ve shared a favorite below. But there’s also so much more to it than that. Yes, there are a lot of things we do that can’t necessarily be recreated at home: if there’s a bunch of kids, all eating the weird food, your kid will be way more likely to try it. But there are are also some shifts you can make in your home and in your approach to food and feeding your family to make your life easier and help your child to develop healthy eating habits and attitudes that will carry through to when they have to feed themselves.

Establishing a healthy relationship with food

We want children to develop the capacity to eat intuitively, to love food, and to use food as a way of nourishing—not punishing or rewarding or manipulating—themselves. This starts with you, their caregivers, treating it that way for them as well. Just as we discipline children in the way we want them to learn to self-discipline as they mature, so should we feed them with the attitude we want them to develop towards food. If you’re on any type of diet, try to keep it away from the dinner table. That is, try to find meals that everyone can enjoy (perhaps with some slight modifications) so you’re not modeling restrictive eating behaviors. Try not to talk about it with or around your kids, make it a part of your identity, or place values on foods as “good” or “bad.”

A great way to start creating this healthy relationship is to expose children to as wide a variety of foods as possible from an early age. Don’t be afraid to offer weird or new things! My colleague in Sag Harbor will put sunflower (or whatever’s available from the farm that day) microgreens in her class’ vegetable soup, and the children gobble them up because they think they’re noodles. Let your baby (after 6 months) sit at the table and give them whatever you’re having to taste, rather than relying on pures or special baby foods. When they’re older, don’t cook them a separate meal—that’s too much work for you, and they’ll be better off learning to eat whatever delicious dinner it is that you’re making yourself. I love this perspective on cooking for kids from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen:

“I don’t aspire to unlock the Meanest, Most Terrible Mom Ever badge for refusing to be a short-order cook or to turn dinner into a battle of wills. I take this stance because I love cooking and want to protect this love by not burning out from preparing three dinners a night. What I do instead sounds radical but shouldn’t be: I cook what I crave, then tweak as needed to convince the kids to come along for the ride.”

A Few Tweaks

As much as I believe in feeding kids regular food, their growing bodies and developing gut systems do require a bit of extra consideration. When feeding children, I try to design meals that have protein, lots of good fats, and are easily digestible. Here are a few tweaks you can integrate into your cooking to make it more kid friendly:


Cook with butter. Specifically grass fed and organic. Specifically lots. I spread butter on bread as thick as I would a nut butter—so thick you can see you teeth marks in it. Fat is necessary for all of us to metabolize many essential nutrients, and is especially important to children’s growing bodies and brains. It’s also delicious and will get them to eat most anything.

Soak your grains. This is one of the core tenants of Nourishing Traditions, which is a book I strongly recommend to anyone interested in further research. It helps pre-digest them, making their nutrients more bio-available.

Any sort of buffet-style, self-assembly meal is a great way to include everybody in the same meal while allowing for different needs and preferences. Try burrito bowls, loaded sweet potatoes, or grain bowls.

If you notice anything unusual in your child’s behavior, skin, or poops after eating certain things, get them allergy tested. Not eating foods you’re allergic to has such a positive impact on your life and relationship with food, especially for children whose guts are especially sensitive.

Tips for Picky Eaters

“Trying bites.” In response to pushed away food or no-thank-yous, I always say “you can have a trying bite.” even if they’ve had the food a hundred times before and always hate it. It’s a good practice, and so often they’ll try one tiny bite and then gobble the whole bowl.

Don’t bribe or negotiate around food—you’re just giving it weird emotional power it shouldn’t have. No “three more bites and then you can have desert.” Food is necessary for our bodies to function properly. When we eat well, it feels good, and that is reward enough.

If your child consistently refuses dinner, then is hungry again soon after, try just covering the plate when they clear it and then offering it again when they ask for a snack. A simple way to make sure they don’t feel like they can manipulate you into feeding them cheddar bunnies for dinner.

Our Kitchari

This is based on a few traditional recipes that have been shared with me over the years, simplified to make it easier to make it the classroom and appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. Tweak the spices as you see fit, or use your favorite curry spice bled. It makes an excellent savory breakfast, and is great for lunch or dinner with some veggies on the side!



3 Tbsp butter or ghee

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground turmeric (+ a dash of black pepper to help with absorption)

1 1/2 cups red lentils

1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice

1 can full fat, thickener-free coconut milk

4 cups water

Sea salt to taste

note: all measurements are quite approximate



  1. Optional: soak the rice and lentils (cover them, in separate bowls, with warm water and a dash of apple cider vinegar, let sit in a warm place for about 7 hours. Drain when you’re ready to cook them.)

  2. In the bottom of a dutch oven or rice cooker, melt the butter or ghee. Add the spices and stir until they start to smell amazing.

  3. Add the rice and lentils and stir until they’re covered in the fat/spice mixture and slightly warmed.

  4. Add the can of coconut milk and water.

  5. Bring to a simmer, then turn down and cover until done. If you’re using a rice cooker, just let it keep doing it’s thing.

  6. Add sea salt to taste, then serve! Grownups and spice-loving kids might like some hot sauce or chili flakes on top.


Willow WestwoodComment
Thoughtful Giving

In this season of consumer madness, I wanted to create a gift guide of simple, beautiful things and experiences—both those that support the work of childhood, and those that will bring some joy and warmth to those grownups who devote their time to children (parents, babysitters, teachers, what-have-you.) I hope that this guide can inspire you, as you search for tokens to show your love and bring some cheer to the cold dark of winter, to give gifts that will not only be thoughtfully given, but have also been thoughtfully made and will be thoughtfully used. Merry merry!


For Children

A warm wooly coat with big buttons so they can practice.

A cup that’s just their size and (usually) won’t break when dropped…

a year’s supply of fancy pink tea.

A few special toys to inspire their play. (Nesting cups, hen, squirrel, crayons)


Warm and waterproof winter boots that allow them to use their feet naturally, made by an Indigenous-owned Canadian company that values the continuation of traditional crafts.

A collection of beautiful, wordless books about the simple pleasures of each season.

A rocker board to help them learn balance.

A wee handmade basket for organizing toys and carrying treasures.

A special handmade doll to practice caregiving.

A gorgeous playsilk to be a cape or a blanket or the roof of a fort.

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A session of Forest School, to help them find nature in the city.

For Caregivers

A gorgeous layer with pockets to hold lots of sidewalk treasures.

A mug to wrap chilly hands around and…

some high-vibe hot drink mix to brighten up a grey day.

A learn-to-knit class, to have a new skill to practice while they play.

A matching pair because big feet get cold too.

One of my favorite books, to learn about life and caregiving from a brilliant woman and the plants she knows well. (try the audio version, her voice is good company on long stroller nap walks)


A natural rubber yoga mat (and a class pass at a favorite studio) to find some balance again.

A beautiful basket backpack for elegantly schlepping to the park and inspiring daydreams of beach days to come.

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Nice smelling new age-y soap to practice self-care giving.

A silk in a more subdued palate (or not, you do you) because they make the world’s best scarves.


Tools to bring more intention and ease to anyone’s work with children, through our Conscious Caregiving workshop series.


A Note on Sourcing:

To make this accessible for everyone, I included mostly things that can be bought online. If you’re looking to shop locally: Acorn is a lovely toy shop in Brooklyn, Art Shack has the most incredible ceramics (and classes for older kids!), Purl Soho has all great natural materials for anyone crafty, and Stonefruit has beautiful plants and planters for your work proximity associates.)

Willow WestwoodComment
Getting started with Family Festivals

Just as we work with daily and weekly rhythms to help the children feel secure and comfortable in the world, we can work with the larger rhythms of the year. It is important to adjust things in response to the changing seasons—longer, looser days in the summer, more structure, earlier bedtimes in the winter. And just as I’ll mark transitions during our daily rhythm with a song or a verse, we as a culture have learned to mark transitions during the rhythm of the year with festivals. These regular, seasonal festivals are powerful for children and help them to feel at home in the universal family of humanity and our planetary ecosystems.

It’s a fact of modern life that many of us are living far removed from our ancestral heritage, from the indigenous traditions that kept us in touch with these natural rhythms in centuries past. Still, bits of these traditions have wormed their ways into popular culture, and many more of them are available to those who search. It is us to us to find ways to re-integrate and re-create festivals that feel powerful and true to our ancient humanity and modern realities. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Finding Inspiration

If you were raised with a strong festival life, think about the parts of it that still speak to you that you want to carry onward. Did you love lighting candles and singing with your whole community on Christmas Eve, but hate other parts of going to church? Find a way to have a singing and candle lighting ceremony around that time of year with your family, or even open it up to your extended community. As someone of European descent living in America, I like to turn to the traditions of pre-Christian Europe for my own festival life, and to research and appreciate and participate in the traditions of people from other backgrounds when invited.

As you’re creating a festival rhythm, start small and keep track of what you’ve done. The more you work with this the more ideas you’ll come up with, so chose carefully and keep things consistent from year-to-year. Find an organization or place or group of people that holds festivals you like, or is interested in creating some with you. Schools are a great place for this, especially Waldorf schools, as we lovingly create large, community festivals for just this purpose. But it’s also lovely to do a little something just at home, just for your family.


elements of a festival

  1. Food

    Food is one of the most intimate ways we can connect with the earth. Eating seasonal, traditional foods is a big way of marking festivals, especially for children. If you’re creating a new tradition, look at what the earth is producing that time of year—squash and root vegetables in autumn, greens and eggs and cream in spring, naturally preserved foods and root cellar staples in the winter.

  2. Song

    Music marks time. We know how powerful it can be because of how angry people can get if you start playing Christmas music outside of December. Find little songs that feel seasonal to you, and integrate them into your festivals. (Some resources below!)

  3. Ceremony

    Think about the feeling or gesture you’re trying to evoke, and find an activity that holds that feeling. In the dark of winter we often light candles to remind us of our inner light, and light them in community to remind us of it’s power. In the bright ecstasy of spring we make things out of rainbow colors, dance, and work with flowers. Find something, however small, that you can do with reverence and intention.



When finding songs for festivals I often work with the Wystones series—they have one for each of the 4 seasons we experience in this part of the world. All the Year Round is full of bigger ideas for festivals and celebrations and lots of simple, beautiful crafts to share with the children. Both of these selections are lovely, and include general, nature-based seasonal songs and ideas as well as some inspired by religious holidays.

Willow WestwoodComment
Caregiver essentials for Cold Times

In the rhythm of the year, cold seasons are a time to turn inward: to think, to tend to our inner lives, to stoke our inner fires and remind ourselves of our creative capacity. They’re really a beautiful time of year, but can tend to grate on us as the mornings get dark and our toes get cold. One of the things I love about being a Waldorf early childhood teacher is that these rhythms of the year form so much of the basis of our curriculum, giving me the opportunity to work with them really intentionally. At first, I was shocked by the amount of time I was expected to spend out in the cold, and would get miserable after a few weeks because I felt like I was constantly covered in 7 layers of wool, still cold to my bones. After a few years of practice I feel like I’ve developed some pretty effective strategies for staying warm, happy, and available to get in touch with that inner creativity that has so much potential this time of year.


Movement. My yoga studio is a warm, cozy, wonderful place in the cold weather. My body doesn’t like anything too intense, but taking the time to slowly and carefully flow through my vinyasa practice, followed by restorative yoga under lots of cozy blankets, warms me up from the inside and helps me re-set. Find a movement practice that feels good to you to keep your energy from getting too stagnant.

Breathing fresh air and getting some sun on my face. This means getting outside, for as long as possible, every day, especially during the limited daylight hours. I do this every day as part of my work, but try to find some time outside just for myself, as well. Getting out in the cold makes me enjoy it more and feel happier and warmer. Try hiking, or skiing, or just taking long walks around the neighborhood. Bundle yourself up and go sit in the park on your break.

Lighting candles. I buy tea-lights and tapers in bulk this time of year, and light up the house by candlelight in the morning and evening. It’s so beautiful and cozy and feels like a way of embracing the long dark days. I always use beeswax candles, since paraffin wax is petroleum-based.


Lanolin is the best lip balm, face balm, chapped cheeks treatment, hand cream, everything. Sheep produce it to help insulate themselves when wet, and I swear it does the same thing for me. It smells a little… barn-y, but its magical abilities to keep my skin soft and warm more than make up for it.

A hot drink to carry with you everywhere. I love my insulated Kleen Kanteen because it keeps my coffee hot for so much longer, whether I’m outside in the freezing cold or just drinking it really slowly because children keep needing me. A hot drink will warm you from the inside out and do wonders for the spirit. I switch over to Earl Grey or adaptogenic coffee in the afternoon to keep myself awake past the 4pm sunset without getting too wired.

Elderberry syrup of some sort for keeping sniffles at bay. Mythic Medicinals makes arguably the best around, but it can be hard to get your hands on (she sells out fast!). Here’s a recipe to make your own, and some elderberries to get you started.



I know I sound like such a Waldorf teacher, but trust me: you need long underwear. You know how you’ll be outside on a cold day and your legs will be freezing even though you’re wearing your coat and boots? That’s because denim isn’t warm—you need something to insulate your legs! (This took me longer than I’d care to admit to figure out.) I wear these silk long underwear on all but the coldest days, when I switch over to a merino pair. They’re warm but thin enough to wear under skinny jeans, don’t itch or really feel like anything at all, and won’t leave you sweating when you go inside.

My feet are always cold from about October on, so wool socks are non negotiable. Darn Tough makes the best around—they’re super warm and guaranteed for life. Don’t try to make it through a New York Winter wearing cotton socks, that’s just mean to your toes.

My number one Waldorf teacher hack is wearing a playsilk as a scarf. They’re super soft and light as air and just a little scrap around your neck will warm you up a lot.

A good hat, and a good way to prevent hat hair. You lose a lot of heat from the top of your head, and a hat will keep you warmer than a sweater (so says my mother, who is generally correct about such things.) I love the hats my friends at Lynn and Lawrence make—they’re the perfect, simple beanies, hand knit from super warm alpaca by women’s knitting cooperatives in England and Peru. As for hat hair, I like to throw my long straight-ish hair into a low braid before going outside. Solana has very curly hair and will wear braids or twists, then curl them into a low bun before she puts a hat on. Braids, etc. will also protect long hair from the harsh cold and wind, preventing breakage and helping with the midwinter frizz.


Conscious Caregiving

In this ongoing series we will share with you the tools you need to bring more ease and intention into your relationships with children, whatever they look like.

Willow WestwoodComment
Recommended Reading


VOTE. For the love of Oprah, vote. Vote like your freedom, health, planet, and children depend on it. Vote like other people’s freedom, health, planet, and children depend on it. Vote because these decisions will impact a lot of people who don’t have a say in them because of institutionalized racism and voter disenfranchisement. (If you want to vote and can’t, that’s awful, I’m sorry. As I told a 14 year old when I was text banking yesterday: get other people to vote. Volunteer. Register as soon as/if ever you can.)

Find out if you’re registered here. Find your polling place here. Learn more about your ballot here. Lean about NYC ballot initiatives here. Volunteer (from your couch while your kid naps) to get out the vote here. Chalk the vote here! If they try to turn you away, they cannot, under federal law. Request a provisional ballot. More here.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming:

I was reminded a few times this week of this old article by folk herbalist and mother Amber Magnolia Hill, offering a beautiful, honest perspective on the value (for the whole family) of helping babies learn to sleep. From Mythic Medicine

On the importance of rhythm and routine for parents, too. From Latonya Yvette. (Quick read.)

Tips for nurturing gratitude in growing children. Much of this is aimed at older, school-aged children, but No. 2 (and 7) especially is so on point for even the youngest children. From Cup of Jo.

Oh, and VOTE. (Why? Because I said so.)

Willow WestwoodComment
Recommended Reading

A WEEKLY-ISH GATHERING OF ARTICLES, ETC. To share, ponder, and inspire.


Kim John Payne (I love and constantly recommend his books) on how children respond to violent tragedies, and how to help them. Written in the wake of the Sandy Hook School Shooting, this is sadly, heart wrenchingly still very relevant. From Waldorf Today.

A sweet, honest take on cooking for and feeding young children, plus a yummy, easy, weeknight dinner recipe. From Bonne Appetite. (Quick read.)

An intense perspective on the addictive nature of screen-based-media and the importance of imposing strict limits for children, from leaders in Silicon Valley. “The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.“ (this whole series is good.) From the New York Times.

Inspiration for simple, fun, zero waste halloween costumes for kids. From Reading my Tea Leaves. (Quick read.)

Have you read anything good this week? Please share!

Willow WestwoodComment
Getting Dressed: Shoes

Shoes are an important, and often overlooked, part of children’s wardrobes—especially in New York, where we walk so much, and especially in any very active, outdoor focused program like our playgroup. I always recommend the most minimal, spacious shoes possible, while still protecting feet from snow and broken glass and such. Our feet are incredible feats of evolution, with many tiny muscles and bones. When given the freedom to do so, our foot muscles will become strong enough to support themselves and our entire bodies with grace and balance. Overly “supportive” or constrictive shoes, especially for children, prevent those muscles from developing properly and working naturally, leading to things like collapsed arches and impairing the vestibular system.

A note on “correct” feet: some physical therapists find that the sensation of wearing shoes on opposite feet is actually comforting for some children, and engages their balance in a way they are seeking. For children who consistently and intentionally do this, I don’t make a big deal out of it. When I think it was just an oversight, I say “I see your shoes are on opposite feet.” and they usually switch them themselves. I also try not to say “wrong” or “right” feet because it feels judgmental and confusing (do you mean correct or the opposite of left?).

I’ve shared some favorite choices shoe throughout this article—click the image to shop! Some links are affiliate, which support our work by earning us a small percentage of each sale.


Inside Shoes

In our playgroup, the children wear what I call “inside shoes” or “classroom shoes”—soft-soled, fitted slippers or moccasins that keep their feet warm without being slippy, but still allow them to use and articulate their feet as if they were barefoot.

I’ve always recommended Softstar Moccasins for this purpose: they’re well and ethically made, designed very intentionally, and have a sheepskin footbed that adds extra warmth on cold floors. They’re also pricy, so I’ve found Yallion Moccasins to be a great alternative, and much cheaper. Whatever you choose, look for something with natural materials and minimal ornamentation that will stay on through skipping, rolling, somersaults, etc. and is easy to put on.


Outside Shoes


When we venture outside, I want the same things for the children’s feet: warmth, traction, protection, and the opportunity to work naturally. All of these needs can be amplified in the outdoor environment, and we also have to think about waterproofness and stepping-on-broken-glass-proof-ness.

For sneakers, pay attention to closures, keeping in mind that most children don’t develop the dexterity necessary to tie a shoe until at least 4, and that even zip closures can be a challenge for toddlers who don’t have a lot of strength in their pincer grasp yet. When a child can put on and fasten their own shoes, it goes a long way towards dressing independence, which is my main goal when working with toddlers. Once a child is used to putting on their shoes (and coat and hat) by themselves, they’ll have the habits and grit necessary to learn to tie laces. But one thing at a time.

Softstar makes a slip-on outside shoe with a rubber sole that’s really nice in fair weather and will allow for the most natural foot articulation—especially good for early walkers. Plae shoes are designed to solve a lot of problems I see in other velcro sneakers: they have a functional pull tab, the tongue opens all the way out, and the straps don’t get un-threaded. These ones by Camper (also available here) are especially cool: they have a velcro tab and elastic laces which allow for a snug fit while being really easy to put on. Vans are surprisingly great as well: they’re minimal, have good grip, and really do allow the foot to work (which makes sense if you think about how much skateboarders need to be balanced and in touch with the small movements of their feet.) Here are some with a velcro closure, if needed.

I’ll get into winter boots and such in another post, but if your kid is our in the mud a lot, sneakers won’t cut it. Blundstones are a good choice for older children—toddlers might be weighed down too much, and the heavy sole doesn’t allow for much movement of the foot. Angulus makes a similar style boot with a lighter crepe sole that’s great for toddlers (and it comes in colors other than pink metallic, although that does look fun)

Pumpkin Carving

Over the past week, every time I welcome the children in the morning, at least one is proudly hoisting a little pumpkin—a gift to our classroom. I ask families to participate in this fun Autumn ritual, and specify that the bring a pumpkin no larger than their child’s head (because that’s cute, and because it means they’re faster to carve.) Slowly every available surface gets a pumpkin: tables, windowsills, my desk, the table. Yesterday, I began carving.

Carving a pumpkin is one of the great joys in life, in my opinion. To children, it is nothing short of magic. All you need is a pumpkin (though any squash will do if you want to get creative), a pocket knife, a soup spoon, a tolerance for pumpkin-covered hands and acceptance of imperfection. (see this week’s Recommended Reading.) If you want to get thematic, Tasha Tudor’s Pumpkin Moonshine is a sweetly illustrated classic that is fun to break out around pumpkin carving time.

I sit down on the ground (for pumpkin carving is best done outside) and cut off the top. Opening the pumpkin and scooping out the seeds is always terribly exciting for children, and I let them stick their hands into the goop if they’re interested. Sorting through the pumpkin gets to get out the seeds can is super fun for (many) children, and will help develop their fine motor skills to boot. I try to save as many seeds as possible to toast later! One it’s all scooped out (this is where the soup spoon comes in handy), I begin to carve. Sometimes a happy face, sometimes a moon and stars, sometimes who knows. Never anything scary or complicated. Never anything perfect. In pops a candle and there you go—a shining gourd friend to light your path. It’s a simple, achievable creative task, with impermanent and fun results.

A few tips:

  • When making stars, cut them just like you’d draw a five pointed star—it’s easier to get the points to be the right size and angle.

  • Watch the angle of your knife, and aim to make the shape/hole bigger on the inside of the pumpkin than the outside. More light will get through this way.

  • If you plan on keeping your jack-o-lanterns inside, try putting them in a cool place like the fridge at night or whenever possible—it will extend their life significantly.

  • Obviously exercise caution when using a knife around children (and in general). Use proper knife safety protocol yourself so they have a good model, and teach them to give you some space when you’re using a knife.


Toasted pumpkin seeds un-recipe:

(Try to buy an organic pumpkin—an heirloom variety is even better if possible. The seeds will be better. So will the planet and farmers and you.)

Save the seeds from a few pumpkins, depending on their size, until you have enough to lightly cover the bottom of your baking tray.

Rinse them and let them dry— a salad spinner will speed this up and is a good way for the children to be involved.

Once dry, toss them on a baking tray and give them a light coating of olive or avocado oil, a sprinkle of salt, and a dash of whatever spices you want to try and have on hand. I like to use a “curry” spice blend, but try anything!

Toast in the oven at 350 until they turn golden brown and yummy smelling, taking them out giving them a toss every so often.

Willow WestwoodComment
Recommended Reading

A weekly-ish gathering of articles, etc. that I find interesting and relevant to our mission.


Guys baking bread with no idea how to bake bread: the results likely won’t surprise you. The Try Guys Bake Bread Without a Recipe. Partially, watching this made me think about how happy I am to pass down the art of baking to a new generation, but mostly it’s just a dose of comedic relief. (Yes this is a a 20 minute YouTube video, yes I think it’s work it to watch the whole thing for the laugh therapy.) From the Try Guys.

An organization in Boston, trying to close the achievement gap between children of different socioeconomic conditions, has broken down ways use play to support toddlers’ healthy cognitive development into five simple steps. 5 Things to Encourage Brain Development in Your Little One. From NPR. (Audio Available)

An important reminder, if you need one, on the life-long importance of getting enough sleep as a toddler. Study flags later risks for sleep-deprived kids. From the Harvard Gazette. (Quick Read)

About how being bad, trying, failing, and all those unpleasant things montages don’t show us are an essential part of the learning process. A Willingness to be Bad. From Austin Kellon. (Quick Read)

See Also: Carol Dweck on “Growth Mindset.” Her work has deeply informed my teaching from the beginning of my career. Simple and profound. I recommend her amazing Ted Talk, and her Book.

Willow WestwoodComment
Getting Dressed: Warmth

With the chill of the past few days having come seemingly out of nowhere, I am suddenly busying myself with getting all of my warm clothes ready for the coming season. 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 the appropriate gear. 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 make sure that sweater is wool

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

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, 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 consistant. 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.


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 one is beautiful, sturdy, and has nice big buttons for the children to practice on. 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.

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 with sensory issues, or if you’re going to be inside somewhere very warm though, so I also often recommend something like these that go over regular pants (or tights, for children who really love their skirts) for when you go outside. You can even then put rainpants over if its 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. 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.


The best hat is one someone who loves you knit. If you’re handy like that, this pattern is a classic. Otherwise, my friends at Lynn and Lawrence sell gorgeous alpaca beanies in a similar style knit by women’s knitting cooperatives in England and Peru. I like hats like these that have an extra layer over the ears. When it gets really cold, something with ear flaps and a tie is great for keeping the wind out. These are warm and well made, and have a soft cotton lining for littles who don’t like the feel of wool against their faces.


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 are nice and wool and already have the string attached!


I usually just wear a silk around my neck, and it works great for kids too.

Rain gear

I dedicated a whole post to this! Read it here.

Shoes and boots

These, too, deserve their own post. Coming soon!

Share the love

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.

Practical Work with Children No. 3: Dishes

If you spend much time in a Waldorf classroom, one thing you might notice is the children washing their own dishes after snack. Different classes do it differently: in some each child washes their own dish, in some a few helpers stay and do it as a service to the classroom community. In our playgroup, when it’s not too cold, we take the dishes outside with us after snack! I first discovered the brilliance of washing dishes outside at Farm Camp, and am continuing the practice here in Brooklyn. Being outdoors means no worrying about splashing water or slippery floors, and means no one has to stay behind inside to do the dishes while their friends go outside to play. Lest anyone worry, we always take another pass at the dishes to sanitize them after the children leave.

Our Classroom Approach

Children clear their bowls, spoons, and cups. With the help of a teacher sitting at a low table, they scrape their uneaten food into the compost bucket and place the dishes in a large wash basin.

Once outside, a teacher fills the basin with soapy water. One or two helpers, with sponges, sink their hands into the water and scrub the dishes, splashing and pouring water all the while.

Eventually, they begin to take the washed dishes out of the basin and sort them to dry on the table. A teacher pours out the basin, sometimes pausing to blow the bubbles on top into the air to the children’s delight. The helpers go off to play, and a teacher fills the empty bin back up with dishes to take inside and sanitize.

At home, you could recreate this experience in a stopped sink with a safe stool to facilitate independence, or in a basin on a low bench outside.

Water and Sensory Integration

The power of dishwashing for children is not limited to, or even really about clean dishes. When they get older the habit of being responsible for the task will carry with them and they’ll start to gain greater competence, but especially for children younger than four it’s really an opportunity to let their senses interact with water. Have you ever seen your child’s fascination with a puddle, or a stream, or a bucket of water? Water is a powerful element that has tremendous power to engage scattered attention and calm anxiety. For adults, this often looks like taking a bath or a swim after a long day, and these are opportunities we should give the children too! For a middle of the day centering exercise, washing dishes is an excellent choice.

In home and classroom settings, I have seen dishwashing calm and center the most disoriented children. It has a way of bringing them back into themselves. Build it into your rhythm during a part of the day where your child often struggles to self-regulate—say, when they’re getting tired but it’s not quite time for nap yet, or when they’ve just gotten home from school and need to integrate what they’ve learned, or during the infamous “witching hour,” whenever that falls for you—and it can almost magically bring quiet and peace. (pro tip: in the evening before bed, a bath can have the same effect so long as you take measures to make sure your child can turn inward: lower lighting, simple bath toys, leaving them alone if they’re old enough that that’s safe.)

Take it Further

Beyond sensory integration, there are lots of other habits around dishwashing that you can build to support independence and responsibility, as well as children’s physical development.

Emptying the dishwasher (especially the bottom rack) strengthens their core and teaches them to bend and straighten, builds sorting skills (early math) and offers an opportunity to practice their finer motor skills when carefully pulling out the cutlery. Though it won’t be a good idea for all children at all ages, consider keeping dishes on a shelf that is accessible to allow them to be more independent.

Setting and clearing the table are excellent responsibilities to give to an older child, and younger ones can at least learn to clear their own plate and cup. Keep your expectations consistent. Having an area of household management that is solely theirs helps children feel a sense of ownership over their work and like they have a way to contribute to the community.


I’ve included links to some products I’ve found helpful when washing dishes with children, curated based on their functionality, beauty, and environmental impact. Some links are affiliate, which support our work by earning us a small percentage of each sale.