Getting started with Family Festivals
 
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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.

 
 

Resources

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
 
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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.

Practices

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.

Potions

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.

Woolies

 
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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.

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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
 
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VOTE.

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.

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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
 
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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
 
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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.

 
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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.

 
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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!

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Wool

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.

 
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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.

Socks

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.

Hats

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.

Mittens

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!

Scarves

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
 
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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.

Resources

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.

 
 
Creative Discipline
 
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The heart can think of no devotion

Greater than being the shore to the ocean —

Holding the curve of one position,

Counting on endless repetition.

Robert Frost

 

Discipline is a way of showing love

Discipline—the work of establishing boundaries and becoming a loving authority in your child’s life—is one of the most difficult and intimidating parts of working with children. Many of us come to this work with trauma from our own childhoods that informs us how not to do things, but that of course begs the question of what to do. And we’ll get to that. But I think the first thing we need to consider is why. Of course, there are practical considerations, safety reasons, etc., but beyond that there is something much more essential to our work as authority figures in their lives. You, as primary caregivers, are the first guides children have in this world. You are the ones who show them what it is to be a human on this earth, and  especially when they are very young and learn so much through doing, showing them what is and is not good to do is the best way to do this.

Children don’t come into this world with the ability to be self-disciplined, or to self-regulate. These capacities will come in time, and the best way we can help them along is by offering external discipline and regulation. A young musician, for example, needs loving authority to help them practice their instrument daily before they can become the adult that wants to wake up early and practice. Likewise, a toddler needs someone to lovingly hold them when they’re sad they didn’t get the toy they wanted, before they can become an adult who will have healthy coping mechanisms to help when they didn’t get the job they wanted. We are literally modeling for them what their higher reasoning will eventually become for themselves—an awesome and difficult task!

Rhythm

 

As our children’s guides through this new world, one of the most supportive things we can offer them is a strong, holistically considered rhythm.

Repetition and predictability are incredibly nourishing and reassuring to young a child’s consciousness. You can see this in their desire to read the same book, over and over again, to sing the same song, to eat the same after school snack. Without our years of experience the world would seem a chaotic, disorderly place: rhythm is a way to begin to introduce sense and find the pattern to what is going on. A strong rhythm can also take the place of a lot of yelling. If you always get dressed and then eat breakfast, or always take a bath before bed, or Wednesday is always the day you go grocery shopping after school, your children will quickly acclimate to this regularity and take it in stride. I amazed at how quickly the children in my class have acclimated to our classroom rhythm over the past few weeks, and where once there was much confusion and a huge need for adult re-direction, there is now understanding and order. Cleanup, rest, eat. Play, have some apple, say goodbye. These orders make sense, with each activity giving the child what they need to thrive in the next, and keeping them incredibly regular allows everyone to relax in the knowledge of what will come next. In this way, especially when adjusting to a new environment, previewing the rhythm can also help children who are struggling with anxiety.

 

Strategies

 
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Adjust your expectations

Make sure what you’re asking of your child--whether it be to sit quietly, to stay by your side in the store, or to play nicely with a friend--is helpful and appropriate for them at this point in their development and also this point in their day. The prefrontal cortex is the most energetically “expensive” part of the brain to operate, so it stops doing it’s important work of judgement if we’re tired, hungry, sensorially overwhelmed, or emotionally overwhelmed. In children, for whom the prefrontal cortex is tiny to begin with, even seemingly small triggers can get them to a point where they “act out” or melt down.

Engage their movement

A toddler especially is still in a place where processing and following verbal instructions is really hard. In teaching them to “listen” and do what you say, it is often helpful to do it with them while saying it. Much easier to say “it is time to clean up now” while handing them a block and the block basket, or to say “time to try the potty” while walking them to the bathroom.

 

Don’t ask questions

So often I hear toddlers peppered with an endless stream of questions—the child ignoring them and the adult growing increasingly frustrated that they won’t respond “yes, I would like to put my coat on now.” This is exhausting for everyone involved, and can make providing boundaries for your child much more challenging in the long run. Think about in which situations your child’s opinion is actually relevant or helpful. Is it up to them if you go out for breakfast? Is it their responsibility to decide what coat they wear? Even adults can get “decision fatigue;” for children this sets in much more quickly. You do not need your child’s permission to make decisions for them, you have to simply be their loving authority. The less of their energy you demand for decision-making, the more is available for learning and play.

At the same time, a well timed question: “where does the (toy) sheep sleep?” can aid in transitions and engage their imaginations more than just “put the sheep in the barn.” But you can see how different this type of questions is than asking, for example, if they want to clean up now.

Follow through

Much of having a healthy relationship with discipline is being confident and sturdy in your role as the authority figure. I like to be able to honestly tell the children “I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” and this means being very careful with what I tell them. Try proposing a small, simple consequence such as: “If you throw the shovel into the bushes again, we’ll have to put it away.” rather than something something broad or non-specific. It will make it easier for them to understand the consequence, and easier for you to follow through on it. Likewise, if you tell them “one more story and then lights out,” then be ready to turn the lights out after one more story. If you’re not ready to follow-through with something, do not propose it.

“Time ins”

When a child—for lack of a better word—misbehaves, our anger can make us want to send them away to “think about what they did.” If you’re feeling really angry or like you might want to hit your child, then by all means give yourself some space. But often what the child really needs is a moment to take a breath and reconnect with you. Social worker Kim John Payne has the saying “there is no such thing as a disobedient child, just a disoriented one.” Spending time sitting next to you and holding the ball of yarn as you knit, for example, and spending some time in observation can often provide the re-orientation needed.

Further Reading

 

The Soul of Discipline by Kim John Payne

This is one of my favorite books on the subject of discipline. It’s long and can feel a bit dense if you’re looking for right now solutions, but it gives a beautiful overview of the role of the caregiver as authority—and how that authority changes in nature—for the first 18 years of life. Throughout, Kim uses examples of families he’s worked with, which is both illustrative and helps us feel less alone in our problems! In one of my favorite chapters, he reviews discipline “fads” of the past three generations, which is incredibly helpful when trying to step back and look at any trauma you might have from the way you were disciplined as a child that might be impacting your comfort as an authority figure now.

 
 

No Drama Discipline by Drs. Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Much more easily digestible, I often hand this over to parents lost in the throws of some new, confusing behavior or challenge at home. The authors use the neuroscience of child development, explained in simple terms, to explore why children act the way they do and give you guidance on how to respond. Helpfully, it uses comics to illustrate some points, making it a great choice for visual learners or anyone trying to review it on the fly.

 
 

Your Two Year Old by Drs. Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg

For caregivers of toddlers, this book is awesome (it really covers 18 months-3). I review it regularly when I need a little perspective into behaviors or a reminder of what’s to come. The authors are both serious experts in child development and guide you through common behaviors while offering suggestions on how to structure your 2 year old’s life so they’ll thrive. The chapter “Techniques” is particularly helpful when considering discipline.

A note that my copy is from the 1970s, and while most of the outdatedness is funny there are also a lot of ridiculous gender norms that I sincerely hope they’ve edited out of more recent printings.

 

Much thanks to Maggie Touchette of Our Sons and Daughters School for helping me plan the talk that inspired this blog post, and for teaching me so much about discipline.

Recomended Reading

A weekly-ish gathering of articles, etc. that I find interesting and relevant to our mission of working lovingly and mindfully with children.

 
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Introducing Recommended Reading!

Last week I realized I had an entire window on my computer dedicated to articles I wanted to share, full of open tabs. Rather than let them languish there when they could be of some help, I’ve decided to select my favorites and share them here on (most) Mondays. If you find or write something you think I should share, let me know and I’ll give it a look!


About being present when you’re with your kids, and why adults need to be more conscious of their device use around children: The Dangers of Distracted Parenting. From The Atlantic

In case you missed the memo, play is essential for children’s development: Five Proven Benefits of Play. From NPR. (Quick Read)

On expanding our ideas of what “boys” should be like, and what we can do to support gender creativity: Imagining a Better Boyhood. Also from The Atlantic

A pair of articles about the gender chore gap:

A “Generationally Perpetuated” Problem: Daughters do More Chores. From The New York Times

On My Son and Daughter Doing Chores. by LaTonya Yvette (Quick Read)

 
 
Willow WestwoodComment
Care for Caregivers

How I support myself through the emotional and energetically draining work of caring for young children.

 
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Now that we’re getting into the flow of the school year, I’m once again finding my way through the self care practices I work with to support my work as a teacher. While summer self care looked like a lot of time spent on the beach, eating a lot of fresh vegetables, letting go of an obsession with linear time to instead flow on my intuition, with Autumn comes a real shift towards routine and nourishment, and taking the wisdom I found in the freedom of summer deep into my inner life. Each Autumn I reinvent these practices to serve my ever evolving ways of being, and this year especially—with the potentially hustle-inducing process of launching a new project—I am finding lots of small ways throughout my days to find peace, center, and flow.

While I think self care is a deeply important part of being a person no matter what you do, working with children (whether you get paid for it or not) is so particularly intense that I see a real need for caregivers to devote extra time to it. Children are high drama and energetically and physically draining. They don’t have the same energetic or emotional boundaries that adults do, so they lean on and borrow from our energy to move through the world. Caregivers need to be SO strong and SO centered to manage that without breaking down and we don’t get that way by accident: it takes work.

Practices

Telling people to do yoga and meditate isn’t exactly groundbreaking—but trust me, DOING IT is. I’m sharing what I do in the hopes that it will offer the inspiration or information needed to spur you into action in some new way.

 

I’ve practiced yoga since childhood, and have maintained a practice (in different forms) for over a decade now. I take classes, but last year began giving myself the time to maintain a home practice as well which has been a real game changer. I take this as an opportunity to connect with my intuition and really tap into what my body needs on a given day. If you want to let someone else plan the class for you, Yogis Anonymous and Gaia both offer subscriptions to access online classes that people I trust love. Beyond it’s importance as a part of a self care practice, yoga supports my work with children by reminding me to find my breath in challenging situations. It also supports my physical body, which is worked really hard in the classroom. I’ve learned how to move in a way that keeps me flexible and avoids injury, and have used yoga to work through whatever overuse injuries I sustain.

Usually I sit to meditate after I’ve come into my physical body through yoga in the mornings. I started out using Headspace, which has awesome guided mindfulness meditations that I recommend to anyone looking to get into a daily practice. Giving myself just 10 minutes a day for a few months to meditate was a relatively small shift, but it measurably improved the way I worked with the children and my overall mental heath. If you’re looking for more guidance or support, Michelle Mankins is offering a 6 week mindfulness series on Wednesdays, just upstairs from Brooklyn Morning Garden!

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Last year I had the blessing of an incredible outdoor shower that I used through November. I also had access to the beach every day after work (and even went some mornings before work). This year, back in the city, no such luck—but I do have a bathtub! Being with water is so powerful and profound when done intentionally, so I’ve made a point to do it every day, even if just in my tiny Brooklyn bathroom. In the morning I take a cold shower, slowly turning the knob from lukewarm to freezing over the course of a few minutes. It wakes me up and is a huge exercise in patience and mindfulness. In the evenings, I often take a very hot bath as well, to re-center myself after a long day.

“Earthing". This one is also harder to implement in the city, where we don’t all have beautiful lush meadows just steps away. But, especially when I’m feeling nervous or out of myself, it’s always worth it to bike to the park and take off my shoes and just breathe. Urban life can be literally so ungrounded, with lots of us spending our lives floating in steel towers, that the simple act of feeling the soft earth beneath our feet can be a big deal. (And yes, I do this even in the Winter.) I return from these outings with a renewed sense of perspective and calm, and often with inspiration on how to solve some problem or another. This is also something that’s easy to fit into your day with children, and good for them too! Obviously in the city you want to check the ground for broken glass, etc., but on the whole I’ve found both Prospect and Fort Greene Parks fields to be much cleaner than I was anticipating.

Not to counter everything I just said or anything, but all this self care stuff can get really heavy and exhausting. We can spend so much time taking care of ourselves, trying to fix ourselves, that we forget who we are and why we’re worth caring about. So I’ve also been giving myself permission to do the fun, silly stuff that’s maybe not so on brand. Lately I’ve been binge reading Harry Potter, taking a lot of spontaneous CitiBike rides, and listening to Santigold really loudly in my car. My partner is also really into games and we’ve been playing Fairy Tale Fluxx (a weird card game that comes in all sorts of different themes, like Star Trek and Anatomy and Pirates) and Gin at night rather than watching TV or both getting sucked into email.

Potions

 
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One recent change I’ve made is to switch my afternoon coffee over to this mushroom coffee. It is definitely coffee, and is caffeinated, but is chiller and strings me out less than my traditional protocol of undiluted cold brew concentrate. This switch has helped me stay productive through the afternoon, rather than burning out and having to take a nap/stare blankly at the wall. Like the millennial I am, I doctor it up with collagen peptides and oat milk.

I’m also in love with infusions, nettle in particular. I am anemic, and I find that when I am drinking nettle infusions regularly I feel much stronger and have more energy. Much like a tea, but stronger, infusions are the best way to extract the medicinal value out of herbs like nettle, oatsraw, or raspberry leaf. I make mine in a french press: one ounce dried plant to every quart boiling water (eyeballed), let sit overnight or for at least 4 hours, then plunge. Nettle is best chilled with a pinch of salt, IMO.

Basically everything Moon Juice does is magic, and I’m there daily when I go to LA. Their dusts are fun, but I’m personally really bothered by even the tiniest bit of stevia, so I don’t take them anymore. BUT they just released SuperYou, which is super (lol) supportive of people living with daily stress—aka anyone who works with young children. It’s made out of a blend of

 

researched adaptogenic mushrooms and herbs and helps normalize cortisol levels, which can get out of whack in the face of all the stimulation our nervous system faces in modern life.

Monk Oil is made by a Brooklyn-based Waldorf kindergarten teacher, who formulated it to help those of us in cities develop loving fortitude. It’s made out of cedar, lavender, and yarrow: all powerfully protective herbs. I cover my heart chakra with it before entering into a potentially overwhelming situation (like the subway) and have used it daily to support boundary work with children.

 
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With all of this guidance, I want to acknowledge that it can feel exhausting to have to take care of yourself on top of everyone else. I remember at one point in my career breaking down in tears because it felt like all I ever did was take care of things: the house, the classroom, the children, and then at the end of the day myself! I’ve made a lot of structural changes to my life since then and have been able to now shift my perspective on self care to be something I do out of love for myself, rather than something I feel obligated to. For me, this shift required some massive prioritizing of how I spend my energy, and for me to make the decision that I didn’t have to hustle to be happy and successful. This is a larger evolution that I am too close to to offer much advice on, but if you’re feeling that way please believe me—I understand.

If you’re reading this, know that my biggest wish for you is that you learn your own worth and find comfort in this life. No matter the pressure you feel to do things perfectly, one of the most important things you can model for the children around you in a deep love of and care for yourself. The core aim in my life of these practices and potions is to allow myself, especially on hard days, of my inherent worth goodness and to find moments of comfort in my skin.