When In Wilderness

Applying wilderness wisdom to navigating the current pandemic

By Karl Johnson M.A.

Our present situation with the novel coronavirus has thrust us all into new terrains – a wilderness of uncertainty. When in a wilderness, it’s easy to feel disorientation and even trepidation – especially if one is unaccustomed to traversing such terrains. The complexity of wild environments and shifting variables, such as weather, all necessitate the need to steadfastly and bravely assess and meet new situations head on with commitment. Being in wilderness can also evoke a feeling of excitement and curiosity. The unknown holds opportunities. A sense of adventure can arise. In life, adventures invigorate us.

Here are some guiding thoughts gleaned from many years of leading wilderness experiences. May these be helpful metaphors in navigating our current, uncertain landscapes.

Orient Yourself to Your New Surroundings and to Those with You

Start to pay attention to what is around you. What resources do you have? Where is your water? What is your orientation to the earth and sky? Who is with you? Being observant, alert, and identifying your essential resources that will help you survive physically, mentally and spiritually. How do we take stock of what useful resources we have with us right now and what is close at hand?. Have we been practicing for contingencies? Do we have a resource of people in our community we can count on? Is there a way to accentuate strengths right now? Are there new opportunities that we see around us in this new landscape? Remember the essentials. Find the “waters” that will sustain you and protect the source. Make sure you keep practicing as a meditant to keep those “waters” flowing. Trust in life and the guidance of the spiritual world.

Establish your Camp

Create a safe shelter. Protect oneself from the elements. Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. Choose your site carefully. A homebase is the foundation of safety in your journey. It allows you protection, support and security. By having a secure base, one can venture forth, but also retreat. There may be dramatic shifts in the “weather,” but you can take shelter in what you have created as a “ base camp.” Safety and security are foundational. Ground yourself nightly in the security of what is your well-made and well-maintained shelter. This can be your actual home, but also the safety and security of one’s nightly practice, which we build up every evening. “Building one’s hut” gives one the opportunity to begin to practice gratitude. Gratitude is the attitude that will change everything.

Quiet your Mind

Stay calm. Mindfulness, on the trail and at home, is key to being resilient, flexible and centered. Remember you are the “decisive element” in this moment in this wilderness. Practice mindfulness and steadfast courage. As the saying goes, “Worry never lessens tomorrow’s problem, but rather robs today of its strength.” Focus on the positive. Take deep breaths. Cultivate a still mind even amid the thunderstorms of the wilderness.

Listen to All that is Around You

Listen intently. Attune to what is being intoned in the wilderness around you. Notice the wind. Listen to the “voices” around you. The capacity to listen in many different ways – to yourself, to your body, to others around you and to the world at large is key to helping you stay focused. This includes all who are near and dear to you. And especially the “quiet “voices that we only hear if we ourselves are quiet. There may be other voices clamoring for our attention. We should learn how to listen carefully to dissenting voices. But learn also how to separate what is “essential from what is not essential.” Seek to hear the quiet voice of inner guidance.

Be Aware of the Sun

When and where is the sun rising? When and where is it setting? What is its arc during the day? Can you orient to the sun and find the right daily rhythms? The path of the sun through our days and regular daily rhythms are essential in new (and even in familiar) environments. In rhythm is strength. Be aware of the “Sun” – the big picture of guiding forces in our lives. Remember there are larger patterns in motion. Through these larger motions, seek to find your rhythms and steadfastly maintain them. Rhythm replaces strength – and rhythm awakens life. We also benefit greatly when we remember that “wisdom lives in the light.” Focus on the light.

Tend Your Fires

At the end of every day, the night will come. Have you gathered your woodpile? Have you kept your tinder dry? Warmth is an essential of survival – whether in the wilderness or in your daily life. Especially when the new technology provides no supportive physical warmth – like a fire that won’t stay lit or burns too small. When the light fades, we can tend our fire. Through the darkness, can we remember our core passions? What actually inspires and motivates us? How do we attend to those motivations when darkness encroaches? Remember, we need some preparation beforehand. Gather and sort the resources of your “woodpile.” Lay your fire well. Start small and feed it carefully. If we are not careful our “fire” can easily become wild. A well-laid and well-tended fire will burn steadily and then, at evening’s end, we can enjoy the abiding, glowing embers of our efforts.

Notice the Stars

When the fire dies away, gaze upward. The stars, which have always been there, will now be revealed. Take time to marvel and ponder. A sense of wonder and awe are not just gifts, but significant aspects of any journey. The stars are always above us at night, but do we take the time to notice? What secrets are arrayed before us in their nightly sweep?

What are the patterns which have “constellated” for us in this lifetime? Can we truly “re-member?” In other words, can we integrate all those parts of ourselves – even from pre-earthly existence – and remember what we said we would do in this lifetime? In so many ways, life is about remembering what we said we would do – before this incarnation – and doing it. The stars can help us “re-member”….

Karl Johnson, presently the Pedagogical Chair for the Santa Fe Waldorf School, is approaching his 35th year as a Waldorf Educator. He has also been an Outdoor Educator for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and founded the Santa Fe Waldorf High School Wilderness Experience Program. If you are planning real wilderness journeys for yourself or for your school or if you need help navigating the strange, new world we are experiencing, feel free to contact Karl for some advice. A guide is always helpful. An experienced mentor, consultant, and trainer, Karl Johnson has mentored and trained teachers at dozens of schools in the U.S. and internationally. He still goes out to rejuvenate himself in the wilderness at every opportunity.

kjohnsoneducator@gmail.com
www.karljohnsoneducator.com

John Marsden’s tips for parents

1. Give children space. Back off. Let them roam. Let them be bored. Don’t over-plan their lives. Cut way back on the after-school activities programs.

2. Keep away from all those ghastly, soulless, sterile playgrounds. Keep away from shopping malls. Look for real places. Wild places.

3. Be an adult. Say no to your children at least once a day. If the role of Adult in your family is vacant, then one of your children will fill it. And it won’t be pretty.

4. Don’t take up all the space. If you are dominating, loud, forceful, your children are highly likely to become passive, lacking spirit and personality … and/or sullen.

5. Believe about 40 per cent of the dramatic stories your children tell you of the injustices, corruption and satanic practices happening at school.

6. Teach them empathy. For example, after their jubilant victory celebrations when they win a sporting match, remind them that their jubilation was only possible because someone else – the losers – have been made to feel awful.

7. Help them develop language skills. Don’t finish their sentences for them. Don’t correct them when they mispronounce a word – they’ll work it out sooner or later. Ask them open-ended questions, that need a detailed answer, not Yes/No questions.

8. Make sure they have regular jobs/duties at home and that those jobs are done to a consistently high standard.

9. Don’t whinge endlessly about the miseries of your adult life. A lot of children now are fearful about growing up because their parents paint such a grim picture of the awfulness ahead.

10. Teach them to be very wary of people who Absolutely Know the Absolute Truth about Absolutely Everything! The colour of truth is always grey. Extreme positions are for the ignorant. Every creature, every person and every situation is complex. The universe is a wonderful mystery.

Autumn Festival

March 21 is the midpoint between the Southern Hemisphere’s summer and winter solstices, it is also known as the autumn equinox and for us, it is when the festival of Michaelmas is celebrated. Michaelmas is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. The Archangel Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence.

The season of Michaelmas asks us to be thankful for the plentiful harvest of the preceding year and to face the approaching darkness of winter with courage in order to meet the darker days and places in ourselves symbolised by the dragon. The fire and fury of the dragon are strong in the world presently and increasingly so with each passing day it seems. We are called to face these challenging times with Michaelic courage to tame the dragon.

Rudolf Steiner said that the outer conflict of Michael and the Dragon was transferred to the inner human being because only in human nature can the Dragon now find its sphere of action. Thus, we are called to face our own darkness with courage and light. It is even time to question: when we find the “enemy” in the outer world, are we just avoiding facing him in ourselves? And also: how can one be a “peaceful warrior,” taking a stand with courage for a higher truth?

At this time stories of good versus evil or light versus dark are often told to illuminate the balance of light and dark that we all must strive towards mastering.

Here are some ideas for observing the festival and the season at home:

• Learn Michaelmas songs and verses.
• Create a Seasonal Nature Table depicting St. Michael and the Dragon. You could display autumn leaves, small pumpkins and gourds to represent the harvest.
• Tell stories about St. Michael or St. George and the Dragon.
• Do fun outdoor activities that require strength, courage and bravery.

As adults, we can use this time to focus on our own inner work and spiritual growth. Take time for meditation and journal writing, and think about the areas in which we would like to grow.

Some verses for children

Brave and True (this is a nice verse to recite while marching out the rhythm.)

Brave and true I will be
Each good deed sets me free.
Each kind word makes me strong.
I will fight for the right,
I will conquer the wrong.

St. Michael

Earth grows dark and fear is lurking,
O St. Michael, Heaven’s knight,
Go before us now and lead us,
Out of darkness, into light.

The Story of St Michael and the Dragon

A Michaelmas Story

St Michael’s Harvest Song

A Michaelmas Song

We wish everyone strength and courage this Michaelmas season, may all your dragons be tamed!

COVID-19 and our existential crisis

By Torin M. Finser

Looking outside at 7:30 each morning, I no longer see the yellow school bus that has appeared regularly for years and years. All local gatherings are cancelled, and many local stores have sold out on basic products. Thanks to various news outlets, we see images of Rome, Madrid and other cities around the world totally deserted.

More than a “news event”, this is an existential crisis that begs a larger question: what is going on?

Waldorf (Steiner) high school students are taught to look beyond the presented information, and practice symptomatology. The human spirit yearns for understanding that goes beyond what is incessantly presented in the news; we are in search of meaning as never before.

The Abyss of Nothingness

Already over the past year, I have observed that many of the old supports are being taken away from us. Waldorf traditions are questioned as never before, finances are stretched to the breaking point in many schools, and basic social norms seem to be eroding. Now in our corona-crisis we see stark images of what has been creeping up on us for some time: an experience of nothingness. The past is being stripped away, and we stand alone as never before. This presents a new necessity: We are at a point in evolution where the “old” can no longer continue, and now everything will depend on our own efforts as single human beings. We now need to create out of Nothingness. That which I have been given is no longer sufficient; I need to create out of myself as never before.

Social Justice and a New Order

Last September, Waldorf Today published my article on The Future of Waldorf Education: Beyond 100. A major theme was the need for critical self-assessment of established practices and the need to change our ways in order to thrive in the years going forward. Waldorf schools have often lived in a kind of protective bubble, sustained by enthusiastic parent support, dedicated teachers/staff, generous donors, and minimal interference from the outside. Our independent and public Waldorf schools have nurtured many, many happy children, and our graduates have demonstrated the many benefits of their Waldorf education (see the new Waldorf publication Into the World, How Waldorf Graduates Fare After High School) Although societal challenges have grown each year, something different is happening in this year of the 100th anniversary. The paradigm has shifted.

You must NOT look on everything as determined, rather it depends on whether or not we allow our actions to be guided by the laws of justice and fairness. New things are constantly being added to our morality, to the way we do our duty and to our moral judgment.” (Rudolf Steiner, June 17, 1909)

The present experience of the abyss of nothingness is a jolt to redirect our inner compass, change our daily routines and reclaim our Waldorf roots in social justice. Change is no longer an option; it is a necessity.

Social Distancing

Schools are all about community. For years, the neighborhood school has been the hub of cultural life, student dramatic productions, festivals, and more. Now we are being asked to practice social distancing. Is this just a blip in time, or can we again use symptomatology? Dis-tancing, dis-location, dis-establishment…all begin with the Latin prefix meaning apart, and bring up other words that speak so strongly in today’s environment: disbelief, discontent, dishearten, disown, discord (Dante referred to the deepest layers of hell as the City of ‘Dis’). Long before our current manifestation of social distancing, we experienced dis-association with traditional leadership roles, with each other and even with the facts.

In so many realms we no longer know where we stand. At times it seems we all need to go back to first grade and learn again what it means to share, listen to others, play by the same rules, in short, to be decent and respectful. The social distancing of COVID-19 asks us all: can we address the soul condition of isolation and disconnection, and how do we want to work together? Deeper down are questions concerning the very nature of the human encounter.

De-institutionalizing Schools

Ivan Illich spoke eloquently about deschooling, and how the institution of “school” encourages conformity: answering the questions in a way that pleases the teacher, lining up in the hall, and so on. Paulo Freire pushed the discussion even further in strenuously arguing that institutions such as schools serve to perpetuate pedagogy of oppression. Those “in control” of social norms, finances, designing standardized tests, etc. have long found ways to make the institution of schools/colleges serve their ends. Those practicing homeschooling have long been part of a larger deschooling movement. Now schools are closed for weeks, perhaps months. What does this mean?

Death can lead to spirit rebirth. Institutions are in themselves always dying, and stay alive only because of the people within them. But one senses that the present time is calling for more radical change. Perhaps we need to re-orient ourselves more around activities that bring life, and focus less on perpetuating the institutional aspects of buildings and budgets.

In the early days of Antioch New England (1960s), students would gather in a large room and the professors would ask: what do you want to learn this semester? Which courses should we offer? Of course, this was before accreditation and federal student loan requirements. Do we dare entertain the conversation: ‘What sort of a school do we want to have next year?’ It’s not easy to facilitate such a conversation (and we risk utter chaos), but perhaps we need to develop a new perspective, that budgets and programs need to follow real needs and interests, and not just serve to perpetuate what has been done in the past.

Fear and the Spiritual Journey

FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President, 1933-1945) will always be remembered for “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He lifted us up as a nation by articulating what so many were feeling, and gave us hope through his example of personal suffering and perseverance. Fear is a symptom of our time. Loss of confidence in our leaders, misguided trust, and unknown medical situations today prompt irrational behaviors, sleeplessness and social tensions.

Many spiritual traditions, including most major world religions, have practices of atonement or preparation for high festivals. Fasting for Ramadan, the period of Lent, and preparing for Yom Kippur call upon participants to change their ways and forego ordinary comforts and habits. Spirit comes before matter. We are being asked today to reaffirm our spiritual roots and put limitations on our desires for material things. We are approaching an unprecedented existential state. We are staring into the abyss: nothingness, dis-connection, dis-establishment of institutions, fear and dread of the unknown.

Out of this moment can come a new sense of freedom. We can choose how we want to relate, what we value in life, and how we want to support educational activities. Our existential crisis is pregnant with potential, if we are awake at this turning point in time. Yes, we all long for a return to some semblance of normality. For me, it is my vocation as a teacher. I look forward to July and teaching a Renewal course on The Human Encounter, a research course for experienced professionals in our Transdisciplinary Healing Ed Program, and welcoming students beginning teacher education whose destiny path has led them to Waldorf education.

I hope we can all go through this dark night of the soul and emerge stronger in spirit. As in Narnia, a stone table that is cracked can lead to transformation because there is “deep magic” in all things human. Death can bring new life.

The Stone Table at C.S. Lewis Square in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Torin M. Finser, PhD, has served Waldorf education for more than forty years, first as a class teacher, then as Director of Waldorf Teacher Education at Antioch University New England, and later as chair of the education department. A former General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America, he also helped found the Center for Anthroposophy in New Hampshire. His research and writings have reached people all over the world, with several books now translated into multiple languages. Torin has served as a consultant, workshop leader, and keynote speaker at numerous conferences. He is married to Karine, has six children, and is now also a very happy grandfather!

You can contact Torin at tfinser@antioch.edu

From The Waldorf  Today Newsletter

COVID-19: keeping schools and learning safe online

As schools around Australia face the prospect of closures and the move towards online learning, it’s important to factor in the online safety of staff, students and the wider school community.

eSafety has pulled together our top tips and resources to help school leaders with this mission. While our advice is directed at classroom teachers, parents or carers initiating home schooling activities may also find some of the information relevant and useful.

Click this link to read the full article from the Australian Governments eSafety Commissioner

Talking to Children about COVID-19

COVID-19 is in the news and on everyone’s mind. Our children, unfortunately, are not likely an exception. Even when children are shielded from media, peers, siblings, and overheard conversations can give children just enough information to bring forth concern. Children are also incredibly intuitive to their family’s emotions and will pick up on any fear and anxiety their parents or extended family may be feeling.

So what is the best approach to sharing when it comes to children and coronavirus?

Shielding vs. Communicating

With small children, shielding them from troubling information is ideal. Children in early childhood should be kept from the news if possible. This includes making an effort to talk about coronavirus only when they are not present and not exposing them to televised news. Children in young grades, such as first through third, would also ideally be shielded, but exposure to older children on playgrounds or siblings at home means this is less likely to be possible.

When it becomes apparent that the child has knowledge about the virus, then age-appropriate communication can begin, with the foremost focus being to help the child feel safe and more secure. It’s important to communicate once you know a child has some, even very limited, knowledge of the virus to be sure that they do not awfulize the small amount of information they have in the absence of a parent giving age-appropriate guidance.

Read the full article by the Philly Waldorf School here

In Difficult Times: How Do I Find and Create Goodness for My Children?

by Susan Weber

In difficult times such as these it is not easy to feel the goodness in life. In an external crisis, our urge is often to listen and see the news and to share our feelings with other adults. As a consequence, it is easy for the children around us to be exposed to things that they cannot understand, to become fearful about situations they will never see and cannot change even if we think that the media or adult conversations are not attended to by the children. Even pre-verbal children can sense profoundly the distress in our inner being.

But nothing brings stamina for life and daily wellbeing to our children more directly and strongly than surrounding them and immersing them into an atmosphere of goodness and joy. For us as adults, the message they seek from us is this:
“I am happy to be alive; I am interested in the world around me and I want to find a place for myself within it.”

Children are born with an openness to meet what their lives will bring. Despite their individual destinies and challenges, this openness is present and as the adults in the child’s world, we have tremendous potential to cultivate this openness.

For the child just beginning life, there is one single mantra that needs to guide those early steps and years: the world is good. No other belief will carry him forward through the tumbles and stumbles, through the mysteries of his encounters with confidence and eagerness. Without this overarching rainbow of trust in life around and above them, children shrink back into themselves, lose the shine in their eyes, forgo the impulse to experiment, to see things as the adults around them never have, to imagine new solutions to the simplest experiments – piling blocks, washing a dish, dressing themselves upside down.

The world is good – and therefore I enter into it, explore it, wonder, stop and look, touch, encounter, meet what comes to me with interest and growing confidence.

Fear paralyzes children – it reverses children’s natural gesture of trust, openness, and interest in the world. To develop in any way – cognitively, emotionally, physically – children need to be able to enter easily into life around them. They need to feel welcome, and above all, safe. For who of us is able to take risks, try new things, when we have a question about the safety of our surroundings?

There are times when circumstances beyond our control create uncertainty or worse for our families. In addition, we could also say that our times are, in fact, uncertain times. At the same time, however, our children are just beginning their lives. We owe to them their birthright: the world is good, and I am grateful and happy to be in it. It is a safe place for me to grow in. And later, much later, I will be able to take on its pain and burdens. But give me time, peace, and space in which to discover the goodness in life for myself, in which to grow strong, capable, brave, and enthusiastic for life. Protect me from the challenges of adulthood until I am ready.

How can we do this for them?

Read the full article from waldorfearlychildhood.org here

Something to make you smile

An original animated film by Edward Monkton. Watching it is likely to make you a happier person. Sharing it with your friends is likely to make them happier too. So spread the love & press play.

Watch The Pig of Happiness by clicking this link

2019 Steiner Youth Conference – Waldorf 100

The Australian Youth Conference was a major event at Samford Steiner School in September of 2019 focussing on social renewal as its theme. Students from CBRSS joined in while over 4 days, senior high school students explored pressing issues of our times. These included racism and prejudice; political, religious and economic division; world conflict; indigenous perspectives; minority groups; Australian and worldwide response to refugees; climate change and its impact on our environment; sustainability; education and imagining the future; the role of the Arts; money and ethical business. There were such insightful and passionate discussions that took place amongst these young people and many described it as a life-changing experience.

We are excited to share with you a short film of the event – with the wonderful Waldorf 100 music composed by Samford music teacher Dale Jones as a backing to the film and also a video of the full Music performance.

The 2019 Youth conference Film

Samford Valley Steiner School Youth Conference Music Performance

7 Benefits of Waldorf’s “Writing to Read”

Waldorf (Steiner) Education starts to set the foundation for reading in kindergarten. Learning to read is allowed to evolve for each child in the same form as it evolved from the beginning of humanity: spoken language developed first, then people drew pictures to communicate their ideas, followed by symbols such as hieroglyphics and finally the abstract letters of our modern alphabets. Once there was a written language, people learned to read. This is exactly the sequence in which children master language, and it also is the sequence in which reading is taught in Waldorf schools.

1. Importance of the Spoken Word
At Waldorf schools, from birth to age seven, the focus is on the spoken word.

In kindergarten, the curriculum emphasis is on spoken verses and stories: nature stories, folktales and fairy tales. Teachers are ‘storytellers’ and are careful not to “dumb down” or simplify the language of fairy tales. The teacher is careful to use clear speech and to enunciate well as this immersion in literature is the basis of literacy. This immersion in the spoken word will also help children later when it comes time to learn to write and spell.

2. Repetition Helps Retention
The same sequence and stories are repeated in daily circle time for weeks at a time. Children learn these stories, songs and verses “by heart,”. Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education, stressed the importance of repetition when he developed the first Waldorf school in Germany in the 1920’s. Current brain research confirms that repetition aids a child’s brain development. The connections of billions of neural pathways in the brain are strengthened through repeated experiences.

3. Writing Begins Holistically
Waldorf Main Lesson BooksIn the first grade of Waldorf the alphabet is formally introduced in an imaginative, pictorial way. There are no photo-copied worksheets here! Each letter of the alphabet is presented as a picture representing an element from a story the children are told. For example, they might hear the story of a knight on a quest who had to cross mountains and a valley. The children will then draw a picture with the letter “M” forming the Mountains on either side of the “V” for Valley.

In this way, the child develops a living relationship with each letter rather than going straight to the abstraction of the alphabet letters themselves. These ‘pictures’ can be described as the rainbow bridge between the pictorial thinking of the child and the abstract thinking of the adult.

After learning all the letters, the next step is to copy the teacher’s writing into their beautiful ‘main lesson books’, the books that children in a Waldorf school create themselves. These first written sentences and stories come from the children’s own experience and the children’s first practise of ‘reading’ is the reading of their own text.

This progression can be illustrated by the following typical activity: the teacher will write a poem on the board that the children already ‘know’ by heart. Through joyful recognition of familiar sounds and words they begin to ‘read’ the poem and then write it in their books.

4. Reading Starts Naturally
Waldorf Class 6 Advanced ReadingThe final step is learning to read, which generally starts in second grade and continues into third grade. It is important to know that reading requires decoding skills that develop in children at varying ages. In Waldorf education we understand that learning to read will unfold naturally in its own time for the vast majority of children, when given the proper support.

Just as a normal, healthy child will learn to walk without our teaching her, and just as a child miraculously learns to speak her native language by the age of three without lessons, worksheets or a dictionary, so will a child naturally learn to read when she has a positive relationship with the spoken and written word and has been provided with the necessary tools and skills.

5. Classic Books Expand Vocabulary
Once students are fully reading providing them with age appropriate, well written literature will keep their love for reading alive.

6. Avoids Risks In Pushing Reading Too Early
Much research has shown the negative impacts of pushing “academics”, such as reading, at too early an age. Forcing children to read too early often hurts their self-confidence and general passion for books. This research clearly indicates that kindergartens and preschools should focus on age-appropriate activities such as playing, exploring and socializing. Finland is a great example of this, given that its schools lead the world in education standards. Finnish children generally don’t start kindergarten until age 6. And kindergarten is focused mainly on play and socialization, there is no reading or writing. Additionally, their school days are not more than 4 hours long.

7. Does Not Rely On Phonics
It is interesting to note that as much as 60% of common English words cannot be easily sounded out. English also has 205 ways to spell 44 sounds! Many words have the same sounds but are spelled differently or contain silent letters. Learning such a language takes a long time and requires many abilities that develop over time.

Being able to decode words is essential for beginning readers. However, decoding isn’t just about sounding out words. It involves taking apart the sounds in a word (“segmenting”) and blending the sounds together. Another important skill for beginning readers is learning to recognize words at a glance. Kids need to build up a large group of “sight words.” and this takes time.

The Waldorf approach, in its own way, sets the foundation for reading starting in Kindergarten. However, reading is not rushed before writing and soon Waldorf students are typically reading at or above government standardized levels and with improved comprehension. Most importantly, children who read when they are ready are able to maintain a passion for stories and love of reading further into their older years.

From The Nelson Waldorf School

The majority of 11-year-olds own smartphones. And experts are worried

When you raise the question of not giving kids phones at all, parents balk. ‘How can we do that?’ they ask. But what alternative is there?

A report released by Common Sense Media on Tuesday found that by age 11, 53% of kids in the US have their own smartphone. And 69% do by the time they’re 12. This surge in phone ownership and the increased screen time associated with it comes amid growing concerns from experts and people like me that phones are bad for kids.

I’ve traveled the country over the last few years talking to parents and teachers about kids and social media. I’ve heard stories about everything from non-consensually shared nudes in their schools to smartphone addiction – kids can’t seem to put their phones down, which teachers say is disrupting class time and causing innumerable fights and misunderstandings. Everybody wants to know: “What do we do?” They’re all for limiting screen time – though it’s hard, they say; their kids act like addicts when you try to take away their drugs – but when you raise the question of not giving kids phones at all, they balk. “How can we do that?” parents ask. “Our kids will have no social life. They won’t be able to function in the modern world.”

Leaving this received wisdom aside for the moment, let’s look at all the other things kids won’t be able to do if they don’t have a phone. They won’t be able to be part of a group chat, the site of hours of distracting discussions which arguably would be better had in person, where face-to-face interaction would elevate the quality of the conversation and deepen social bonds. They won’t be able to send or receive nudes, which has increasingly become their first introduction to the world of sex. The exchange of nudes at a young age (I’ve reported it happening as young as the sixth grade) is thankfully no longer being normalized as just a “new kind of flirting” any more, now that it has become clear that it often takes place in an atmosphere of pressure or coercion – not to mention the real danger of nudes turning into revenge porn, the source of ruined lives.

Phones enable kids to surf the internet unmonitored; most I’ve spoken to know of ways to get around the parental apps watching over their devices. And frankly, many parents are too distracted themselves or too trusting of the presumed innocence of social media to even check what their kids are doing online. I remember the dad in St Louis who argued: “My [14-year-old] son does not watch porn.” I hear that a lot. He later emailed to tell me that, when he actually checked his son’s phone, he saw that he was watching porn several times a day. Whatever your view of the effects of porn on children (studies say it can cause an increased tolerance for sexual violence in both girls and boys), we have agreed as a society, by our laws, that they should not watch it; and yet with phones, they can watch it whenever, wherever. I’ve heard from girls about how common it is to see “boys watching porn in school”.

Explicit content doesn’t have to be porn. It’s readily available on YouTube and across all social media platforms. A kid with a phone will inevitably see something his or her parents would be appalled to know he or she has seen. “Consumer groups caution that despite promises to police inappropriate content, YouTube continues to show violent imagery, drug references, racist language and sexually suggestive content that reaches children,” reported the Washington Post. The Common Sense Media survey reported that twice as many kids are watching mostly YouTube videos every day as they did four years ago, and the average time spent watching videos has about doubled, to an hour each day. And yes, often these are just videos of their favorite pop stars or clips from their favorite TV shows; but sometimes they are videos of the most horrible things imaginable.

This type of exposure is not without its emotional effects; nor is the constant pressure that comes with a phone to broadcast one’s life – one’s inauthentically perfect, happy, glorious life. This pressure is particularly toxic for girls, who in study after study in recent years are seen to be struggling with rising rates of anxiety and depression and even suicide connected to the use of phones and social media.

But sure, go ahead and buy your 11-year-old a phone.

What could possibly go wrong?

Nancy Jo Sales is a writer at Vanity Fair and the author of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers

From the Guardian

Tik Tok: Should I Be Worried?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Kik, Snapchat, WeChat, the list goes on. Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more social media apps for your child to use… enter Tik Tok. With its recent merge with Musical.ly, Tik Tok is ready for its breakthrough into Western markets from China. In the UK, Musical.ly is no stranger to controversy, with reports of children being groomed by pedophiles and explicit or disturbing content being prevalent on the app.

With this in mind, is Tik Tok any cause for concern?

Tik Tok – New Kid On The Block

As much as we try to wrangle our kids away from their phone, it’s nearly impossible. It’s an all-too-familiar scene: whether it’s in the car on the way to school, in between bites at the dinner table, or sneaking in a last-minute snap right before bedtime, social media is now so entrenched in the lives of our kids that it is impossible to ignore. Every new social media app comes with its own unique set of opportunities for communication and self-expression, but also new obstacles.

Videos of kids lip-syncing to songs? Sounds innocent enough. But, in an app where over 13 million videos are uploaded a day, it’s impossible for parents to filter out all the inappropriate or dangerous content, without being accused of being a “helicopter parent”. We know parenting is hard as it is. You don’t need, or want, the extra worry about what content your child has access to on a day-to-day basis. To simplify your job, we share three main areas you should pay special attention to when exploring Tik Tok in light of this new merger.

Dad, Am I Ugly?

A 2017 study by the Royal Society for Public Health and (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement (YHM) found Instagram and Snapchat to be the most detrimental apps to mental health. It’s not hard to see why – since both platforms are image-focused, they are more likely to stir up feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in teens. Although neither Musical.ly nor Tik Tok were named in the study, Tik Tok is also an image-focused app, with the core feature of the app being the viewing and uploading of young users lip-syncing to popular songs or quotes from movies or TV shows. It’s hard to believe Tik Tok won’t share the same destiny as its face-loving competitors.

A quick scroll through Tik Tok reveals a mixed bag of content, ranging from the more innocent content of kids (still dressed in school uniform) choreographing dance routines in their living rooms to slim, young, scantily-clad children showing off their hourglass figures and thigh gaps dancing provocatively. Not really the sort of content we’d want our impressionable youngsters to be bombarded with every day, is it?

The Ugly Side of Social Media

Jokes aside, the statistics are shocking. Studies demonstrate that more frequent social network use is related to increased body dissatisfaction over time in children. A 2014 study by the University of Florida found a correlation between social media use and eating disorders. A recent “makeup removal challenge” went viral on Tik Tok earlier this year, where young girls posted videos showing their beauty transformations. These often involved false eyelashes, colourful contact lenses, wigs and even chin and nose prosthetics. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with using makeup, these videos could be potentially detrimental for young girls who already suffer from body-image issues. Put yourself in the shoes of a 13-year-old girl, just starting puberty, scrolling through video after video of perfect, plump pouts and impossibly thick, long lashes. Definitely a space where negative thoughts could be reinforced.

Rated “R”

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) recently carried out an investigation on the content available on Tik Tok. Essentially, the Post found that there were at least 100 active users of primary-school going age on the app. This, despite that fact that users must be 12 and above. They were identified through their school uniform, real names or phone numbers. Shockingly, videos featuring simulations of sexual acts, self-harm and even a dead body were found on the app. The investigation uncovered several suspicious adult users using the platform to stalk and groom young girls, often through “likes” and “comments” praising their videos. Growing up, I recall my parents constantly warning me against talking to strangers whenever we were out. With apps like Tik Tok, strangers have 24/7 access to our kids. How can we support our children to build resilience and healthy digital relationships?

It doesn’t stop there with the controversy. Recently, the Indonesian authorities banned Tik Tok due to the presence of “pornographic, inappropriate and blasphemous content”. The ban lasted a week. After this, ByteDance, the Beijing-based technology giant that owns Tik Tok, agreed to clear all indecent content and enhance security functions of the app. This included setting additional restrictions on all users under 18, and raising the minimum age requirement from 12 to 13. This still doesn’t sound like the kind of platform I am comfortable with my kids using without my support.

By Ida Lassesen

Read the full article at kindaba.com

Music Participation Is Linked to Teens’ Academic Achievement

Music students have higher academic exam scores than their non-musical peers.

Students who participate in music-related activities between grades 7-12 achieve significantly higher scores on science, math, and English exams in high school than non-musical classmates, according to a new large-scale study. This research by Peter Gouzouasis and colleagues at the University of British Columbia (UBC) involved a cohort of 112,916 public school students in Canada. These findings (Guhn et al., 2019) were published on June 24 in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

“Students who learned to play a musical instrument in elementary and continued playing in high school not only score significantly higher but were about one academic year ahead of their non-music peers with regard to their English, mathematics and science skills,” Gouzouasis said in a statement. These exam-based statistics were consistent across the board, regardless of socioeconomic background, gender, ethnicity, or prior learning in science, math, and English.

The authors sum up the educational significance of these findings in their impact statement:

“This large-scale study identified evidence of positive relationships between school music participation and high school exam scores in English, mathematics, and science. The findings suggest that multiyear engagement in music, especially instrumental music, may benefit high school academic achievement. In light of this study (the largest of its kind to date), as well as supporting evidence suggesting music learning in childhood may foster competencies (e.g., executive functioning) that support academic achievement, educators may consider the potential positive influence of school music on students’ high school achievement.”

Interestingly, the researchers found that the correlation between music education and better academic achievement was most significant for students who practiced instrumental music. According to the authors, these findings suggest that the skill set required to master playing a musical instrument transfers to other types of academic learning in high school.

“Learning to play a musical instrument and playing in an ensemble is very demanding,” the study’s co-investigator Martin Guhn stated. “A student has to learn to read music notation, develop eye-hand-mind coordination, develop keen listening skills, develop team skills for playing in an ensemble, and develop discipline to practice. All those learning experiences, and more, play a role in enhancing the learner’s cognitive capacities, executive functions, motivation to learn in school, and self-efficacy.” Guhn is an assistant professor in UBC’s school of population and public health and Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP).

Read the full article from Psychology today here.

What can parents do to help their child’s teacher? A ‘recovering’ teacher’s term one wishlist

We really value the relationship we have with parents and the role we have to play, working together in the best interests of the children in our care. We also recognise the challenges of parenting in such a busy world. Having said that, there are some great tips and ideas in the following article which may make our work together just a little more productive……

by Gabbie Stroud. ABC News.

For many parents and students there seems to be an exciting “freshness” that comes with the advent of a new school year.

There’s all the new “stuff” that’s been purchased: uniforms and shoes, backpacks and lunchboxes, stationery and tech. Then there’s all the new possibilities: different teacher, different classroom, different classmates.

The summer yawns away as families prepare to return to their routines: parents look forward to reclaiming their time and students look forward to seeing their friends.

For teachers, there’s also a sense of anticipation, although it’s often more likely to be laced with anxiety than optimism.

Teachers are also thinking about new “stuff” as the year commences: new students, changes in the leadership team, a new syllabus, an upgraded app with which to communicate with parents, a newfangled software program for collecting data, a new policy reviewing committee and, in turn, a new meeting they’re required to attend.

This year, after catastrophic bushfires flamed throughout the summer, raining ash, razing communities, taking lives and shrouding skies in smoke, many teachers are returning to face a uniquely new challenge: how best to support and teach a collective of young people who have experienced significant trauma?

And — as an aside — how to manage your own feelings around that experience, while still making yourself accessible to the students in your class?

A better understanding of the challenging and nuanced work teachers do is certainly needed in Australia today. As the new school year begins, there’s an opportunity for parents to reconsider any preconceived ideas they might hold about the role teachers play.

And, rather than asking what the teacher will do for their child, parents should consider a crucial new question: what could I do to help my child’s teacher?

Parents, do the work of a parent at home

There seems to be a common misconception held by parents (and politicians and policy-makers) that schools and teachers can cover everything; almost as though you can drop your child at the school gates and return years later to find the job’s done.

Teachers are expected to address everything from mindfulness to manners, recycling to robotics, subtraction to cyber safety. They’re working through an overcrowded curriculum with overcrowded classes while repeatedly being told they need to do better because high-stakes standardised test results are declining.

The fact is our schools — and teachers — are doing too many things and none of them well.

It’s time we took stock of this situation and considered the opportunity it presents parents to contribute their child’s learning. Parents are the first and lifelong educators of their child and it would take a huge load off teachers if parents stepped into that role more completely.

Rather than expecting the school to teach children basic life skills — personal hygiene, using manners, cooperating, coping with failure, being resourceful, using initiative, engaging in conversation — parents could reclaim that role.

As a kindergarten teacher I’ve taught more children to blow their nose than I care to recall. There was also a three-part series of lessons on jumpers. Phase one: removing your jumper without getting stuck. Two: turning said jumper back in the right way. And three: folding jumper to place into school bag.

Even with older students, teachers are forever coaching on all manner of life skills ranging from managing disappointment to keeping a working environment clean and tidy.

Parents need to do the work of a parent at home so teachers can get on with doing the work of a teacher at school. What a powerful education our children would receive if all their teachers — parents and classroom teachers — were each fulfilling their roles.

Read the full article here

Gabbie Stroud is a freelance writer and novelist. After almost 20 years in education, she describes herself as a ‘recovering teacher’. Her book about her experiences in the education system, Teacher, was published in 2018. Her latest book is Dear Parents.

So Your Kids Are Stressed Out About the Climate Crisis – Here’s how to help

BY MARY DEMOCKER | JAN 25 2020

                

When my nephew, Sam, was four years old, he said to his mother one night before bed, “Mom, I don’t want to be alive anymore.”

His mother pulled him onto her lap and asked, “Why?”

“The animals are all going to die, and I don’t want to be here when everything’s dead,” he answered. Mind you, this scene played out in 2005, long before the world watched as 1 billion animals died in Australia’s bushfires.

I’ve been thinking about this incident a lot lately as I read media reports about children suffering from eco-anxiety. For their whole lives, our kids have absorbed terrifying stories about what’s happening to our planet and the creatures that inhabit it. Worse, more and more of them understand that when it comes to doing what it takes to avoid future hell-on-Earth scenarios, adults are, on the whole, failing them. No wonder so many of them, from preschoolers to college students, are freaking out. How might we help our kids deal with their feelings in ways that are age-appropriate, empowering—and honest?

I started pondering this question long ago when my own children, now 20 and 23, began showing signs of anxiety about the climate crisis. The following suggestions grew from my observations of what helped them, what helped other families I’ve interviewed, and what professionals have to say about a problem that’s not going away any time soon

Listen

“First, it’s important to validate the young person’s experience and emotions,” says Dr. Patricia H. Hasbach, a psychotherapist who specializes in Eco-therapy. “Find out what it is they’re worried about.” Some, like Sam, may grieve the generalized—and very real—extinctions happening worldwide. Others fear their own demise in hurricanes, floods, or wildfires. One 12-year-old survivor of California’s 2018 fires panics now every time the Santa Ana winds kick up. My own kids describe an “always there, back-of-the-mind type fear of the future.”

In Sam’s case, his mother didn’t dismiss his worries. After her son’s stark pronouncement, she told him, “Wow, that’s a big feeling. Tell me more.” Then she stated other things that are also true, like, “The earth is strong. Lots of people are working to protect animals, and we can help them.”

“OK,” he said. Then he rolled over, fell asleep, and didn’t raise the issue again.

Tell the Truth (Carefully)

In climate discussions with children, parents are tasked with balancing age-appropriateness with honesty. My husband and I didn’t offer climate tutorials to our preschoolers, but we did talk about protecting the earth and animals, and we showed them what that looks like: rescuing worms from puddles, composting food waste, and advocating for environmental protections.

As our kids matured and encountered more information, often frightening and overwhelming, we listened and—after acknowledging bad news and processing their feelings—reminded our kids of the bigger story, just as Sam’s mom had done: “Yes, it’s a time of peril. It’s also a time of incredible energy and innovation.” We assured them that apocalypse isn’t inevitable and that scientists say we have the time and the technology to avert catastrophe.

“There’s so much bad and overwhelming odds all the time that it’s hard not to just get defeated,” says Sam, who is now 19 and an environmental studies major and activist. “But if you look at it another way, we have an opportunity to influence the outcome of humanity and civilization, and be righteous warriors in the fight of our lives.”

This may be the most helpful truth to share, if kids don’t already know it: Youths worldwide are using their moral authority to demand bolder climate action from leaders. Adults are starting to listen, and that’s helping alleviate some anxiety. Greta Thunberg’s father recently told BBC News that his daughter, who suffered severe climate anxiety and depression before beginning her climate strikes, has become “very happy” because of her activism.

Get Kids Outside

Dr. Hasbach also asks parents to consider whether a child’s anxiety may stem from disconnection from nature. “Young people spend an average of four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play, and nine hours in front of a screen. That’s a problem.”

Getting an anxious child of any age outside to garden, skip stones, or play in the park may reduce anxiety of any kind. Nature immersion, says Hasbach, also helps kids love nature “before they have to do the hard work of trying to save it.” They need a “deep, sincere connection to that part of themselves, recognizing that they are the natural world.”

Facilitate Agency

Dr. Hasbach says that it’s important for parents to help children feel a sense of agency in the climate crisis, but that few parents actually do this.

“Remind children, ‘Here’s what some people are doing to help address it. Here’s what we’re doing in our family and why. Here’s what else needs to be addressed.’” Then, brainstorm together. What sounds fun or interesting? An easy first step might be a family challenge to reduce food waste by 20 percent. Or, students could do school research projects about the kind of energy their local utility uses, and who gets to make that decision.

Families could explore what’s happening locally with forest restoration or fossil fuel resistance, and decide how to support those efforts. Our family helped launch a youth climate action club at our kids’ high school, with parents providing logistical support and pizza.

And of course, the 2020 election cycle offers everyone a chance to make big changes at the highest levels of our government. Families can research candidates together: Who supports a Green New Deal? Who supports fracking? Teens can volunteer at candidates’ offices or join Get Out the Vote campaigns.

“Help teens get involved in social activism,” Dr. Hasbach says. “Doing research, letter-writing campaigns, protests, or clean-ups in group settings is particularly impactful, because the peer group is primary at that age.”

Sam, who volunteered on a 2018 congressional campaign and recently joined the Sunrise Movement, agrees. “It’s really exciting, working with all of these young people doing all these amazing things. It’s really high energy because the stakes are so high.”

Be a Role Model

But Serena Orsinger, an 18-year-old climate leader in my community with whom I spoke last year, warns that adults shouldn’t leave young people holding the bag, climate-wise.

“If we’re not seeing the urgency and, quite honestly, the fear from the older generations that we’re feeling, that can be upsetting, because it’s such a big weight to carry. And if it’s not spread throughout the generations, it can be discouraging. But when we’re all bearing the load that is climate change, it’s more empowering and doesn’t feel like as big a burden.”

In his BBC interview, Greta Thunberg’s father reported that Thunberg got “energy” when her parents, at her urging, changed their own behavior.

It’s important to recognize that some lifestyle changes might mean more to your kids than others. As Sam puts it, “When I say ‘change your life,’ I mean ‘think about giving up some—or a lot—of your time. If you have the financial stability, maybe work a couple of days less a week and volunteer for a congressional campaign, or some activist group like Sunrise or 350.org.”

He recently asked his mom to trade one work day for activism. “She said ‘that’s a lot to ask,’ and I said, ‘This problem demands a lot. Think about my children and what kind of life they’ll have.’ That really resonated with her. She said she’s going to try to get more involved politically now, and my dad is thinking of early retirement so he can too.”

When I asked how he felt hearing that from his parents, he said, “I feel better whenever I see people actually weighing the facts about what we’re up against and making conscious decisions to do more.”

Then he grinned. “It’s inspiring.”

From the Sierra Club, click for links to resources on this topic.

An inspirational speech

On the night of the 2019 Australian Geographic Society awards, Conservationist of the Year Albert Wiggan’s speech moved everyone in the room.

“It is country that can tell you who you really are.”

Watch/listen to his speech by clicking this link.

A traditional owner and Bardi-Kija-Nyul Nyul man from the Dampier Peninsula of Western Australia, Albert Wiggan is passionate about culture, country and Indigenous science. The 38 year old is an Indigenous ranger with the Nyul Nyul ranger group and manages the delicate relationship between Western science and Indigenous teachings to preserve the sparkling waters of Boddergron (Cygnet Bay) and the ecologically rich lands across the peninsula and beyond it. When the government tried to build the world’s largest LNG gas export terminal at James Price Point (a vital marine sanctuary, home to songlines and dinosaur footprints), Albert lobbied the Supreme Court and fronted a blockade until the developer withdrew from the project. He is also Deputy Chair of the Kimberley Indigenous Saltwater Science project and is the Nyul Nyul representative on the board of the Kimberley Land Council.

Wholesome Ways to Prepare for Christmas with Children

By Annie Bryant

Christmas is all about the journey, and here’s some daily rituals and activities to help bring wonder, patience and joy into your family home during the festive season.

Even if you’re not ‘into’ Christmas, it’s very difficult to avoid the busy energy and consumeristic onslaught that unfortunately dominates the Western culture in the lead up to December 25th. I think it was my own massive aversion to this unsavoury aspect of the season that inspired me to research and create wholesome ways to bring Christmas to my own children.

Children LOVE Christmas, and it just didn’t feel right to me as Mother to deprive my boys (or myself) of the wonder and joy and beautiful messages that can be found within the Christmas stories from around the world.

By consciously celebrating the lead up to Christmas in a meaningful way, I find it helps immensely in grounding and connecting our family at a time when packed schedules and neverending to-do lists can otherwise scatter all of our energies!

Read the full article by clicking this link

Finding Christmas – An Australian Christmas Story by Annie Bryant

Where do you find Christmas in your family?
Is it hidden within the pages of your favourite story book?
Maybe it’s wrapped up in a gift made especially for someone you love?
Or perhaps, it can be found amongst the delicious smells of a Christmas feast?
Well, this is the story of a little boy who went on his own search for Christmas….and you’ll
never guess what he found!

Joey had looked everywhere, but still had found no signs of Christmas.

They were staying on his Grandparents farm, way out west for the whole month until after Christmas – and while Joey usually loved the tractor rides and farm adventures – this time he couldn’t help but think about all the ‘Christmassy’ things he was missing out on back home.

First, there was the Christmas Market & the end of year school Concert.

Then, there was the Santa sleighs and giant candy canes and bright lights up and down his street, not to mention the fake snow and happy carols playing in all shops.

But out here on the farm there was no shiny tinsel or red hats to be seen and he was starting to worry that maybe Christmas just wasn’t going to happen at all?!

And he also missed Dad.

Dad was coming to meet Mum and Joey and his little sister May at the farm on Christmas Eve and it felt like such a long time away.

When they chatted on the phone one night Joey whispered his concerns about Christmas and Dad reassured him, “Don’t worry mate, you’ll find Christmas out there – you just need to know where to look.”

But so far, he hadn’t found anything.

So, before bed that night Joey asked Lil-Ma & Jo-Pa in a very serious voice, “Do you know where to find Christmas on your farm?”

His grandparents looked at each other with mischievous smiles before Jo-Pa turned to Joey and replied with a wink, “I think we might have a few ideas.”

Read the full story from talesandsongs.com here

NAPLAN: How Northern Rivers schools performed over 5 years

By Geoff Egan

THESE are the Northern Rivers schools that consistently top the state’s NAPLAN results.

An independent analysis of five years of NAPLAN results has revealed the schools that performed the best in the Year 5 and Year 9 tests between 2014 and 2018.

Over that five-year period, Bexhill Public School, in Bexhill, had higher Year 5 yearly results than any other school in the state, scoring an average of 2740.2 each year.

The top performing Year 9 school was Cape Byron Rudolf Steiner School, in Byron Bay, where the average yearly result was 3010.0 for the five years.

To find how each school performed between 2014 and 2018, their average scores for each year were combined and the yearly average found.

Special schools, schools with fewer than 20 students enrolled in either year, and schools that did not report any results for NAPLAN subjects in either year were excluded from the analysis.

The figures were independently compiled from the Federal Government’s MySchool website.

That revealed Emmanuel Anglican College, in Ballina, had the second highest results for Year 5s over that period, with a yearly average of 2652.6.

The third best performing Year 5 school was Holy Family Catholic Primary School, in Skennars Head, with five yearly average results of 2637.6.

The second-best performing Year 9 results were at Emmanuel Anglican College, in Ballina, where yearly results were 3000.6.

Shearwater the Mullumbimby Steiner School, in Mullumbimby, had the third highest average results between 2014 and 2018 with averages of 2982.8.

Read the full article from the Northern Star here

Celebrating Advent

Advent starts this year on Sunday the 1st of December and is celebrated for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas until Sunday the 22nd of December. Advent is frequently celebrated by people of every religious background, every faith, every spiritual path as part of the festivals of the cycle of the year.

In the Southern hemisphere, Christmas falls near the Summer Solstice when the light is at its strongest and we celebrate the triumph of light at its greatest point in the yearly cycle. As the year draws to an end we increasingly spend time outside enjoying “the sun in the heavens”. With the long warm days, intense light and balmy nights we are drawn out into the elements rather than into “the sun in our hearts”.

It can be challenging to develop a sense of inwardness, patience and contemplation when the Spirit of the Earth is on its outward breath. To balance this we can consciously choose to “receive the light” and celebrate what is both universally human and universally spiritual. Celebrating Advent can provide an opportunity for some quiet ‘breathing in’ during this outwardly busy time of year and help your children to practice preparation, reverence and patience through the ritual of counting the weeks and days to the special celebratory event. The lighting of candles each week also reflects our own ‘Divine Light’ and helps to bring us a little inward contemplation.

Traditionally Steiner schools and families celebrate Advent by looking each week at the natural kingdoms on Earth: minerals the first week, plants the second week, animals the third week and humans the fourth week (see verses below).

Here are some ideas that you might like to include in your own advent celebrations:

  

An Advent verse
‘The gift of the light we thankfully take, But not shall it be alone for our sake, The more we give light, the one to the other, It shines and it spreads, growing still further; Until every spark by friends set aflame, Until every heart, the joy to proclaim; In the depths of our souls, A shining sun glows.’

Advent Wreath  – on a special table made with greenery and seasonal flowers, four advent candles to light each consecutive Sunday of Advent.

Advent Garden – assembled and added to each Sunday of Advent with the four kingdoms celebrated each week try adding tiny crushed shells (collected from the beach) in a spiral pattern for the spiral on which Mary and Joseph figures walk.

Advent Crib – a nativity scene of the four kingdoms, adding a different one each of the Sundays- Crystal Kingdom, plant kingdom, animal and human kingdoms.

Advent calendars are available from Rudolf Steiner Bookstore by following this link

Verses for the 4 weeks of Advent

Week 1: Crystal Kingdom
The crystal kingdom comes first and is honoured by decorating the wreath or garden with crystals, seashells, stones or little bones you may find.

Week 2: Plant Kingdom
In the second week the plant kingdom is honoured by adding little dried flowers, seeds and pine cones and greenery.

                     

Week 3: Animal Kingdom
The animal kingdom, in the third week, is honoured by adding little wooden animals or beeswax creatures the children make.

Week 4: Humankind
The fourth week sees us honouring humankind by adding a little felted or beeswax child and figures.

      

Additional Reading:
Our library has some Advent handouts available.
Possible stories include The Star Money from the Brothers Grimm, (and if you have the book “Rose Windows”, there is a lovely idea for a window transparency in there); craft ideas in The Children’s Year and Families, Festivals and Food. Other stories include the ones from “The Light In the Lantern: Stories for Advent” from Wynstones Press; Advent Sunday Stories, Collette Leenman; Mary’s Little Donkey, Gunhild Sehlin; Advent and Christmas Stories, Estelle Bryer and Janni Nicol.

Advent & Hanukkah stories

Some lovely stories for Advent and Hanukkah by Eugene Schwartz available by following this link.

Gamified Childhood: Are Digital Devices Replacing Traditional Playtime?

Digital play versus free play: Mott expert addresses the differences and the potential impact on child development at American Academy of Pediatrics session. By Beata Mostafavi

Blocks, books and bikes used to be the staples of childhood.

But as more kids grow up with a seemingly endless menu of virtual activities offered through digital media, child development experts worry about the wane of traditional playtime.

One pediatrician at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, who is addressing the topic at the national American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in New Orleans, has even coined the phenomenon “gamified childhood”.

“Free, unstructured play promotes interactions that boost vocabulary, nurture parent-child relationships, and encourage social skills and creativity. Play helps young brains develop,” says Jenny Radesky, M.D., a developmental behavioral pediatrician and researcher at Mott who is leading the AAP session.

“But mobile devices are becoming an almost unavoidable part of children’s worlds. We hope to demystify the design differences between technology and classic toys and help parents increase open-ended play experiences for their children.”

Radesky says there are some benefits in “shared” technology experiences, such as watching a movie together as a family and discussing it or looking up new recipes to cook together. But children are increasingly on devices alone as parents see them as tools to pacify tantrums, keep children occupied during mealtime and even as a way to take a break from parenting.

“Early childhood is a vulnerable time for exhausted parents, and they may find relief in technology,” Radesky says.

“But both children and parents need experiences with play that provide a sense of self-efficacy and living in the moment.”

Radesky highlights four key differences between the classic and tech-supported types of play and why parents and pediatricians should take notice.

Child’s Autonomy: In digital games, the app designer is in control, Radesky says. Many apps and games are simple, cause-and-effect puzzles or races with a design that constrains a child’s behavior. They have a “closed loop” design that decides for children what they are going to do next, rather than letting the child’s brain take the lead. “The designs behind much of children’s digital technology does not support the autonomy, self-realization, and parent-child interaction that traditional play allows,” Radesky says.

Another part of autonomy is learning self-control. However, many parents are using mobile devices to keep children seated at the dinner table, calm on brief car rides or to settle them to bed. These habits may inhibit their ability to learn how to self-regulate emotions and be counter-productive when it comes to good sleep.

Unstructured play, on the other hand, puts the child in control. “Child autonomy and control is at the core of unstructured play. The child thinks up what to do, how to do it, and what to do when things don’t work out,” Radesky says. “This is where imagination really allows a child to push past old ideas and create new ones, handle strong feelings, and figure things out for themselves.”

Hooking Kids in Different Ways: While digital games are attention-grabbing, unstructured play is attention-building, Radesky says. In some apps and games, “there are so many over-the-top interactive enhancements” that children mainly pay attention to these exciting features, rather than understanding the concept the app was trying to teach. But it can be difficult to screen for appropriate apps. Radesky’s research analyzing apps and games marketed to young children found that most of them came with a misleading ‘educational’ label that they may not deserve.

“The natural and social worlds are rarely going to be as attention-grabbing and ‘shiny’ as online games and apps are artificially designed to be,” Radesky says. “But this allows the child to determine what they want to direct their attention towards, and to think clearly without artificial distractions.”

External versus internal rewards: Apps and games provide many external rewards, such as tokens, candies, virtual toys, or piggy banks every time children get an answer correct. This is intentional because designers know that young children are driven by rewards, Radesky notes. What can be problematic is that “children may get over-focused on consuming and collecting.”

She points to examples, such as balloons, fireworks and parades that “reward” a child for completing a simple task in a digital game. This type of digital design, known as “persuasive design” is a strategy used to maximally engage a user.

“We need to help parents understand this tricky type of design and how inappropriate it is for children and teens who are so susceptible to social feedback,” Radesky says. “We don’t want children to see play as just collecting and hoarding virtual things.”

The rewards of traditional play, however, are internal and social. “When children struggle with a new challenge and figure out a solution, the reward can be subtle, with a sense of satisfaction and self-efficacy,” Radesky says. “Providing children with praise for hard work is appropriate, but it shouldn’t be over the top. Otherwise children can get used to always needing external validation.”

Solitary play versus social play: Most apps and games are designed in a way that assumes there will be only one user, and children tend to use tablets and smartphones with a body posture that can nudge out social interaction with others, Radesky says.

“In our study comparing play with traditional toys to play with tablets, there wasn’t really that space for parents,” Radesky says. “Children created their own solitary space and cocoon around the tablet. It was rare for a child to look up and say ‘look at this!’ Parents feel this difference in play, so it’s important to help them know it’s not their fault, it’s an intentional design feature of the tablet.”

Meanwhile, toys, nature, art, and music allow for shared experiences.

“Social play creates space for multiple people to take part, have back-and-forth interactions, and see each other’s faces and emotions,” Radesky says.

“Parents are familiar with playing with toys and books because they probably grew up with them. They probably get their moments of strongest connection and feeling effective with their children when they are playing with well-designed toys. As pediatricians, we can help parents carve out spaces for the traditional play that feels good to them too.”

From labblog

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and start raising kind ones.

As anyone who has been called out for hypocrisy by a small child knows, kids are exquisitely attuned to gaps between what grown-ups say and what grown-ups do. If you survey American parents about what they want for their kids, more than 90 percent say one of their top priorities is that their children be caring. This makes sense: Kindness and concern for others are held as moral virtues in nearly every society and every major religion. But when you ask children what their parents want for them, 81 percent say their parents value achievement and happiness over caring.

Kids learn what’s important to adults not by listening to what we say, but by noticing what gets our attention. And in many developed societies, parents now pay more attention to individual achievement and happiness than anything else. However much we praise kindness and caring, we’re not actually showing our kids that we value these traits.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that kindness appears to be in decline. A rigorous analysis of annual surveys of American college students showed a substantial drop from 1979 to 2009 in empathy and in imagining the perspectives of others. Over this period, students grew less likely to feel concern for people less fortunate than themselves—and less bothered by seeing others treated unfairly.

It’s not just that people care less; they seem to be helping less, too. In one experiment, a sociologist scattered thousands of what appeared to be lost letters in dozens of American cities in 2001, and again in 2011. From the first round to the second one, the proportion of letters that was picked up by helpful passersby and put in a mailbox declined by 10 percent. (When the same experiment was conducted in Canada, helpfulness didn’t diminish.) Psychologists find that kids born after 1995 are just as likely as their predecessors to believe that other people experiencing difficulty should be helped—but they feel less personal responsibility to take action themselves. For example, they are less likely to donate to charity, or even to express an interest in doing so.

If society is fractured today, if we truly care less about one another, some of the blame lies with the values parents have elevated. In our own lives, we’ve observed many fellow parents becoming so focused on achievement that they fail to nurture kindness. They seem to regard their children’s accolades as a personal badge of honor—and their children’s failures as a negative reflection on their own parenting.

Other parents subtly discourage kindness, seeing it as a source of weakness in a fiercely competitive world. In some parenting circles, for example, there’s a movement against intervening when preschoolers are selfish in their play. These parents worry that stepping in might prevent kids from learning to stick up for themselves, and say that they’re less worried about the prospect of raising an adult who doesn’t share than one who struggles to say no. But there’s no reason parents can’t teach their kids to care about others and themselves—to be both generous and self-respecting. If you encourage children to consider the needs and feelings of others, sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t. But they’ll soon learn the norm of reciprocity: If you don’t treat others considerately, they may not be considerate toward you. And those around you will be less likely to be considerate of one another, too.

Parents’ emphasis on toughness is partly an unintended consequence of the admirable desire to treat boys and girls more equally. Historically, families and schools encouraged girls to be kind and caring, and boys to be strong and ambitious. Today, parents and teachers are rightly investing more time and energy in nurturing confidence and leadership in girls. Unfortunately, there isn’t the same momentum around developing generosity and helpfulness in boys. The result is less attention to caring across the board.

Kids, with their sensitive antennae, pick up on all this. They see their peers being celebrated primarily for the grades they get and the goals they score, not for the generosity they show. They see adults marking their achievements without paying as much attention to their character. Parents are supposed to leave a legacy for the next generation, but we are at risk of failing to pass down the key virtue of kindness. How can we do better?

Read the full article from The Atlantic here

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. He is the author of Originals and Give and Take; a co-author of The Gift Inside the Box; and the host of TED’s WorkLife podcast.
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Allison Sweet Grant is a writer and the co-author of The Gift Inside the Box.

RRISK = Reduce Risk – Increase Student Knowledge

The RRISK program aims to reduce adolescent risk taking associated with alcohol and drug use, driving and celebrating.

RRISK is a resilience building program that is relevant to the social life, developmental stage and concerns of adolescents. It extends the school based drug education and road safety curriculum by providing opportunities for senior high school students to develop knowledge, attitudes and skills to reduce risk taking and develop safer celebrating strategies. The program includes a well-designed, multi-strategic seminar day, preceded and followed by a range of in-school activities. It incorporates factual presentations on risk taking, alcohol, drugs, safe celebrating, safe driving and vehicle safety and is enlivened by drama, life stories and role models.

Year 10 Students at CBRSS participate in the RRISK program each year.

We have some comprehensive parent information available from RRISK we encourage all parents of adolescents to make time to read this, you can access it by clicking this link

Halloween

At school, we don’t celebrate Halloween and at home, there can be tremendous pressure to join in “trick and treating”, even if it doesn’t wholly match your family values, we warmly encourage you to withstand this pressure and instead find inspiration below to celebrate with reverence.

In ancient times Halloween was believed to be the time when the veil was thin between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Our ancestors could return to visit us, to give help and advice. People set lights in the hollowed out turnips to guide the spirits of the dead, and put out food as an offering. You no doubt have noticed that in modern times a materialistic aspect has crept in and celebrating and honouring our ancestors has been lost.

We’d like to offer some other ways to acknowledge this festival day and to have a wholesome and in context opportunity to discuss death and family ancestors.

  • Create a family altar: symbols of the season, pictures of beloved dead relatives and special things that may have belonged to them. In Mexico during the Day of the Dead, altars are made for particular family members and include their favourite food and objects of theirs, alongside cut out paper stars, clay figures and bread shaped like people.
  • Tell a story, one that you could repeat every Halloween, for example, Vasilisa a Russian Fairy Tale that includes that old witch Baba Yaga or the Little Hobgoblin which you will find by following this link.
  • Have an Ancestor Feast – prepare a meal that is traditional in your family from your heritage. Before you eat you can take a little from each dish and put on a plate in front of the picture of your relatives.
  • After the feast, or around the altar, you could light a candle,  sit back and tell a story about your ancestors. This could be a personal story about someone in your family or a traditional folktale or myth. You could pass around photos and recall memories. Who were your ancestors? Where did they come from? Did you ever meet your grandparents or great-grandparents? Talking about where we come from instils a sense of belonging and security in the children and also gives a healthy context to acknowledging death.
  • Baking and craft opportunities include carving turnips and pumpkins, making apple chains to represent the Isle of Apples (Celtic tradition) or have a go at making sugar skulls.

Halloween provides a wonderful opportunity to connect in meaningful and reverent ways both as a family and to our heritage.

For more information about Halloween and it’s true significance please read the article further along in this Bulletin.