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

Bridging the Divide – Conversation with Lisa Romero and Jonah Evans

Jonah Evans and Lisa Romero dive into essential questions for our future: the human heart and being of Christ; the moral forces of our humanity in relationship to technology and the spiritual beings connected to it and how this impacts the future of human culture and the earth.

Please click to listen

Online safety tips for parents to keep their kids safe this holiday season

Whether your child is receiving their first device, or they may be online more over the holidays. Remember you wouldn’t give your child the keys to the car and let them drive off down the highway without lessons. It is the same with devices. Here are a few tips which will help you to support your children in navigating the online world better.

1. Talk as a family about what is ok and not ok to share online.

For example:

· Whether any member of the family shares a photo of the house or pet’s name online.

· When to share family holiday photos and what photos can be shared.

· What is not to be shared online.

If your child is receiving their first device, make sure that you get them to do a little presentation or write a small project sheet on cyber safety in the lead up to their first social media apps on the device.

3. Respect the age recommendations; it is not illegal for a child to use social media under the age of 13yrs with their parents’ permission. But they need to remember to update their age on any site that has asked for it when they turn 13yrs. This way, the app will not think they are older. As an extreme example, if your child signs up to use Facebook when they are 10yrs, and they have to lie and say they are 13yr, by the time they are 15yrs, if not corrected, the app will think they are 18yrs. Then they can get a Tinder account as it relies on Facebook for verification!

4. Respect the classifications on games. The average age of a gamer is 34-36yrs old. Classifications are there for a reason. It is not ok for a child under the age of 18yrs to be playing R Rated games even with their parents!!! If your child is playing online games, set healthy boundaries around time playing as well.

5. Teach your kids to think twice before they accept a friend request or chat to a random stranger through a game. Just because someone is a friend of their big brother or sister or cousin who goes to another school does not mean they should let them into their life. Also, talk to them that online, someone may ask to be their online boyfriend or girlfriend (we hear this a lot from primary school-aged children at the moment). If this happens, they need to tell you immediately so that you can help block and report. They never know who they are talking to.

6. Know how to block and report on every app and game your child is using so that you can help when things go wrong if you don’t know how to sit with your child and learn together.

7. Put healthy boundaries in place. Don’t ban them from their device if they forget to do a household chore or are naughty for something unrelated to their device. Do not take it off them if they speak up about something that has happened online because you are scared. This is the quickest way to drive all the conversations that you want to be having underground. Instead, if you have a healthy boundary like all devices are banned from the bathroom or bedroom. So then, if they are caught with their device in either place, you ban them for a week. This way, they will learn that it is safe to speak up about what is going on online without punishment unless they break the rules about device use.

8. Be a good role model. Keep your screen time in check and set a good example for your children. Teach them to review who they are following often and unfollow accounts that make them feel bad about themselves. Teach then to follow accounts that inspire them, health, happy and creative is always a good place to start.

9. Please help them to check and manage privacy settings. Set all of their accounts to private. This is something you can do together when they are younger by making it a shared experience.

10. Ensure they are not being moved from another social media site or game to another by someone they don’t know. This is a big one that I hear about far too often. Particularly for kids under 13yrs, but it may happen to older teens also. They make “friends” in games such as Roblox. Their new “friend” suggests that they connect on TikTok. Once they are both following each other, they can message each other for free. This includes sharing videos. This can become every parent’s worst nightmare in the blink of an eye.

11. Teach them to look for the verification symbol there is verification symbol on all social media sites proves it is the actual verified celebrity or group. On most, there will be a little blue circle with a white tick in it next to the name; on YouTube, it is a grey circle with a white tick, and on Snapchat, it is a yellow circle with a black star. No tick, no follow. Predators can set up fraudulent accounts with a small spelling mistake or a similar version of a celebrity name.

12. Encourage your kids to speak up. Kids need to understand that an adult can help when they know what is going on and will help them without the worry of being banned from their device or game for speaking up.

13. What are they looking at? You may never know what they see, and there is a lot of graphic content, porn, and other inappropriate content online just an accident click away. Ensure they know to get off the app immediately if they see something that makes them feel uncomfortable or worried.

14. Know how to take a screenshot. In case you need it as evidence. This is a great tool to teach kids as young as possible.

15. Teach them not to give away any personal information. Use a fake username like “popcorn fairy” or something. Teach your kids never to give away things like name, address, age, phone number, where they go to school, etc.

16. Watch out for what is in the background. It is easy for people to determine a location, take a screenshot, and zoom in on a certificate on the wall.

17. Turn off location tracking in your device settings, turn location tracking off for major social media apps completely.

18. Set time limits and be very clear about how long they can be online, or they can be watching all kinds of stuff for hours!

19. Teach them the importance of a strong password and not to use the same password for everything.

20. Strategise with your children. Most young people would first turn to their friends for help. We need to teach young people how to support their friends, and while they are young, they must understand that the best way to keep their friends is to speak up. By default, we are teaching them what to do to help themselves at the same time.

Ask them questions like these:

· What would you do if a friend came to you because they are cyber bullied?

· How would you address your friend who is sharing too much information online?

· What do you do if a friend shares an inappropriate photo of themselves? Then define inappropriate.

When you feed this information to a young person so they can support their friends, at the same time, you are teaching them that they can be a leader and someone their friends can count on. As long as they respond to any of those questions with “I would tell you,” you are winning.

However, with older teens, you must always advise when there is absolutely no other option other than to get a parent or a trusted adult involved when the issues are:

· Friends sharing inappropriate photos.

· Friends are going to meet someone they have met online.

· Someone is self-harming or talking about self-harm.

This way, you are giving young people a lot of authority and autonomy, but you are also defining healthy boundaries.

21. If bullying occurs:

· Make sure your child knows not to respond

· Take screenshots or screen record

· Block and report the bully to the app that is happened on

· Support your child

· If the bullying material is not removed within 48hrs report to esafety.gov.au/report or straight to your local police or Crime Stoppers crimestoppers.com.au

From safeonsocial.com

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Celebrating Advent

Advent starts this year on Sunday the 29th of November and is celebrated for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, Advent season ends on Christmas Eve. 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.

Creating a World of Wonder: The Gift of Developing Imagination

In Waldorf (Steiner) education, early childhood teachers give children a great gift — the time and space to live fully into their imaginations. Fostering children’s imagination and awe allows them to master their will and develop empathy. But how?

We spoke to Patricia Cornelius, Early Childhood Teacher and Faculty Chair at The Waldorf School of Philadelphia to learn how Waldorf education’s focus on imagination benefits children for years to come.

She says, “Essentially, Waldorf education is founded upon the idea that we educate the head, heart and hands of our students. This equates to educating the intellect, the inner feeling life and their will. Our primary task in early childhood is to develop the child’s will and we do this by enriching their feeling life. We do this by creating a sense of awe and wonder.”

But why develop a sense of will at all? Patricia explains how this is an essential skill to live a productive life as adults. It’s also an essential skill for children to do well in their academic lives. She draws on the example of cleaning a closet, asking us to imagine why we have been delaying the project, but now feel it is time to move forward.

“As an adult, think about where you need to go inside yourself when you have to clean out that close. What do you draw upon?”

Patricia says this internal motivation and discipline is your will and if it is not developed properly, then the closet may not get cleaned. Developing these inner capacities begins in early childhood and they key is to allow children, as often as possible, to practice using their will to motivate themselves towards positive behavior.

Instead of telling children what to do, Waldorf early childhood teachers encourage them to find the will within themselves to do it. How? By cultivating their sense of awe and wonder. The relationship between awe, wonder and will is nuanced, but Patricia explains it beautifully.

“We can use awe and wonder to help entice children to find the capacity within themselves to do what is needed. For example, when it is snack time, we want the children to start snack quietly, because children tend not to eat when they are talking and we want them to be well nourished. Now, as an educator I could use my own will and impart consequences on the children to make them be silent. But then they won’t learn how to manage their will. But if I wait to light the candle at the table and say, ‘The fire fairy wants to come to the table, but needs quiet,’ then the children can find a way to hold themselves, hold their will, and develop that will, to be quiet at snack time.”

Patricia emphasizes that children need multiple opportunities each day to discover their will and influence their actions. Some might call it impulse control, but it is such an essential life skill that it is best learned at this early age, along with empathy and compassion. And it cannot be learned by being told to do it. It must be cultivated and encouraged, which is no easy feat.

Patricia says, “If we do everything for young children or tell them what to do beginning to end, they will not draw upon their will. They will not find their inner capacity if they are relying on the adults capacity.”

It becomes, in many ways, a cultivation of internal over external motivation, which many studies have shown is key to later academic success. Patricia gives another lovely example of how she encourages both will and empathy development in children at circle time by tapping into their imaginations.

“Throughout the year, each child will receive a doll, which is small enough to fit into their pocket. We build a whole imaginative world around the doll. The doll is given a name, the children say that their doll talks to them. At story time, if a child is having trouble focusing and keeps falling on the ground, I might say, ‘Poor Elderberry [doll’s name] might be worried about getting squished.’ Very often this leads to the child deciding, on their own, to stand up at circle time because they empathize with the doll being worried and they have compassion to make the doll feel more comfortable and not get squished. This leads to them using their imagination and empathy to find the will to stand up at circle time.”

Patricia goes on to say that of course she could tell the children they must stand up. She could exclude a child unwilling to do so from the circle. But would that child really learn anything positive in that classroom scenario?

And this gets to the heart of what is most important about the development of will in early childhood — the essential nature of learning these lessons at this moment in child development.

We have all the time in the world to teach facts, but only this very limited time to develop empathy and will through the imagination. Early childhood is the time when we want to bring these lessons forward, so they have the chance to develop these skills. Between the ages of 3 and 6 is the ideal time to develop these capacities before the intellect takes hold. Once a child is 6½ or 7 they will wake up to the world of the intellect and be ready for academics. But if we shake them awake, without taking the time to develop the heart sphere, we’ve lost our opportunity to nourish their hearts and really develop their inner will and compassion.”

With thanks to the Waldorf School of Philadelphia

Teenage brains are under siege but there are three ways parents can connect

By Maggie Dent

When I was 14, my bottom “showed up”. Previously, I’d been tall and skinny, then all of a sudden, she landed — a rather protruding bottom, inherited from my grandmother.

I remember thinking: “Well, I’m not going to have a milkshake with my friends after school because if I walk in, they’ll go ‘Oh Maggie’s here with her big bum to ruin the day’.”

Despite being an intelligent young woman, I actually believed this was true.

Years later in my work as a teacher and then counsellor, this memory was an insight into what the world looks like for our adolescents, thanks to the necessary brain changes they undergo.

Imagine our world is viewed through a car windscreen. Now imagine if I hit that windscreen with a sledgehammer: that’s how distorted the world looks to our teens and it doesn’t make them feel good about themselves.

I wish I had known that when I was a teenager. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for me trying to navigate my changing adolescent body in 2019 with all of the “perfect” bottoms on Instagram!

The ‘pruning’ of the teen brain

Caring, empowering communication indicates an ability to understand another’s reality. We often assume others understand us when they can have a different viewpoint.

We know the neural shearing or “pruning” of the teen brain — just one change they undergo — makes them forgetful and challenges their organisational skills.

This can make them feel dumb and useless, and self-loathing is common.

When I taught Year 9, I didn’t punish students when they had forgotten that they had homework, or forgotten they’d written a task in their homework diary, or that they even had a diary in their bag.

Ultimately, it wasn’t their fault.

Even really capable kids who might have always been really organised can suddenly find things a challenge.

Being an adolescent can feel a bit like having a temporary brain injury and if my son or a student had a brain injury I would not yell at them for being forgetful or overwhelmed. I would support them to remember things and treat them with patience, compassion and kindness.

When we lecture our teens, they feel they can’t do anything right. When we criticise, they feel useless and incapable. When we nag, they feel disrespected.

At least these days parents have the option of messaging their teens. It’s much easier for teens to receive a well-timed, gentle reminder via SMS or instant message with an emoji and a “love you” at the end of it, than to have us nagging them.

Behavioural psychologists have been studying human behaviour for years we now know that human communication can be modified to achieve better outcomes, via a nudge or the power of suggestion.

Being there

As beneficial as technology is, it’s never been more important when your adolescent wants to talk to you face-to-face to put your phone down and show them you’re interested in what they have to say.

Using eye contact, posture and presence shows someone that we’re really listening, and being heard is important to adolescents.

Reflect back to them what you’ve heard, make encouraging sounds and encourage them to tell you more. It might sound simple but often we’re quick to jump in with an opinion or try to solve their problems.

Adolescents don’t need us to solve their problems — they have a biological need for autonomy. Instead of asking “Why?” I suggest you ask encouraging things, such as “How might we sort this out?”, “What do you think needs to happen right now”, “I noticed this” or “Tell me how I can support you right now”

Read the full article from the ABC here

Play, Games, and Sports in Childhood – The Right Thing at the Right Time

By Jaimen McMillan RSMT, RSME and Adam MacKinnon

As parents and educators our challenge is to help our children develop into healthy, happy, free adult human beings. To do that, we have to realize that a child is not a miniature adult, but a unique, developing being who has to go through a process of becoming a mature human being.

The infant, the young child and even the adolescent are to some degree “outside” themselves. They are in a process of incarnation, of bringing into their growing and changing physical bodies other dimensions of their being—energetic, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

Rudolf Treichler, a psychiatrist who was a student of Rudolf Steiner, held that parents can help children by bringing them IN in such a way that they can go OUT again freely, IN enough so that the children are really present in their bodies (fully incarnated), and OUT in such a way that they can come back in. This rhythmical breathing of OUT and IN is necessary in becoming a mature, free adult.

If children are not brought in to their bodies in a timely way, they may ‘hover’ on the periphery of life—seeming dreamy, perhaps lazy, or even disengaged. On the other hand, if the outside world drives them in too much, they can get stuck, and then they can’t get back OUT in a healthy way. They may then seek inappropriate ways to get out, such as alcohol and drug abuse.

A predictable, observed daily schedule with established times for meals, play, going to bed, and getting up support a healthy “going in” and “going out.” Family time sharing experiences of the day in relaxed conversation is also good. Screen time with computers, smart phones, and television, especially for the young child is not helpful. The more time spent in front of a screen, the harder time the children will have to go “out”, to enter, for example into imaginative play or deep sleep. It is important that parents be role models in these areas.

One way children venture ‘out’ is through healthy movement. As a child grows and develops, there is a deepening relationship to the three planes of space: progressing from the horizontal (transverse) plane; to the frontal (coronal) plane, and finally to the symmetry (sagittal) plane.

Birth to Seven – Mastering the Horizontal (Transverse) Plane

Until children are six or seven they are mainly involved in mastering the first plane of space, the transverse plane, the plane that unites UP and DOWN and involves balance. Play is the work of young children. Their primary task is to find and experience a balance between levity and gravity, and they seek out activities that help them do so. They love to climb—trees, monkey bars and the like—and to jump down. They love swings, slides, and teeter totters. For parents a good general rule is—let the children do what they love to do in nature or in a playground even if it may seem to involve some minor risk. It is what they need. Look for their rosy cheeks. When the children create their own relationship with above and below they are simply joyous. Anything that has to do with balance is helpful learning for them. Balance is the basis of every activity in life.

Adults have to provide opportunities for the children to fall down—even get hurt a little bit, without seriously injuring themselves of course. The experience of falling is really important. They need to hurt themselves just enough to learn consequences. A little bit of struggle, a little bit of disappointment—even temporary failure—is exactly what they need to find their own feet, and their way in life.

With infants, parents should see that the child spends time on its tummy as well as on its back. This switching of position challenges the child in important ways to deal with up and down. It is also helpful in integrating reflexes. Tummy time will help the infant develop the ability to lift up its (relatively) heavy head.

Even the simplest movement one does with babies, for example rocking them up and down gently, with subtle hovering pauses, can be a comforting and effective aid to helping them befriend the horizontal (transverse) plane.

Seven to Fourteen — Mastering the Frontal (Coronal) Plane

Moving the frontal plane involves fluctuating between the front and back across a central plane. During the second seven-year period of development, children love games that involve forward and backward movement. One excellent game for children during this time is “Mother, May I?” It exists in variations in cultures all over the world. The aim of the game and the desire of the children is to come forward, but they can do so only when given permission by the “Mother.” The Mother gives instructions and the other children must strictly follow them. The game is also an exercise in self-control. The children have to ask permission.

Hide and seek is another perfect game for the frontal plane game, as is Tag. Red Light/Green Light is another great activity through which children can learn to rein themselves in within the borders of the frontal plane. The fact that this and similar games are played by children all over the world, even when adults are not around to organize them, shows that, at some level the children realize that learning to master the frontal plane is important for them. I once had the joy and challenge of teaching a second-grade class that had a pupil who had serious problems controlling himself I introduced the game Red Light/Green Light to the children and this boy responded with “I hate this game! This is a stupid game.” However, one day we did not have the time to play Red Light/Green Light and this same untamed boy came up to me, tears streaming down his face, and said, ‘We didn’t play that game where I have to stop myself!’”

The key is to get children moving and for them to learn to control their movements -to be able, by themselves to stop on a dime. When they can, they have mastered the frontal (coronal) plane.

Fourteen to Twenty-One — Mastering the Symmetry / Sagittal Plane

The sagittal plane creates the symmetry between right and left and directs the young person forward with intention. In the middle school and high school years, the adolescent needs to learn to focus, aim, and direct his/her force towards definite goals.

Fencing and archery are two activities that challenge young people at this time and can help them move through this stage. In fencing, one turns one’s body onto the sagittal plane and seeks to touch the other fencer, with precision, at lightning speed. In archery, one stands still but sends the arrow out along the plane. Basketball is another excellent activity during this period. The adolescent learns to extend him/herself forward in an arc, directing the ball toward the basket. The sagittal /symmetry plane is the plane that demands and develops precision. Mastery of this exacting plane can come only after healthy relationships to the other two planes have been developed. Baseball, Volleyball, Tennis, and Soccer (without “heading” the ball!) are some of the other competitive sports that also develop mastery of the sagittal plane.

Timing

Thus, from infancy through age seven, the child is finding balance in the horizontal/transverse plane. The next phase requires that the child learn to find the middle between forward and backward, developing restraint and self–control through an experience of the frontal/coronal plane. Then comes the satisfaction of setting a goal and going after it along the sagittal or symmetry plane. The important thing is that the intensive work on the symmetry plane comes after mastery of the other two planes.

This brings us to the question: At what age should a child begin participating in organized competitive sports teams?

The dominant trend in North America is “the earlier the better.” This trend is based on the idea that if a child learns and develops the basic skills of a sport at an early age, he or she will be able to play at a very high level later on.

There are a couple of problems with this hurried approach. One is that, if a child has been playing on a soccer team since age six, for example (not at all uncommon today), then by high school he or she may have burned out and may even have lost all joy in playing. Many high schools are in fact discovering that fewer and fewer students are trying out for school athletic teams. They have had enough! There is an emotional element also. Young children may experience losing a game or making a crucial mistake in a game as much more distressing and traumatic than we adults can imagine.

Another problem is that the bodies of young children, bodies that are still growing and developing, are not up to the demands of recurrent practices, repetitive drills, and intense competition in games. Injuries sustained by over-training in childhood can last a lifetime. Movement therapists are seeing serious injuries among teenagers caused by the overuse of muscles and joints that hadn’t developed enough to support the kinds of stresses that competitive sports were putting on them.

The following analogy may give a helpful perspective on having children begin playing on sports teams before they are twelve years old.

“I love butterflies, so I collect caterpillars, and I tape my caterpillars onto kites, and I fly the caterpillars up in the sky on these kites, so that they will fly better when they are butterflies!”

This is obviously ludicrous, but why then are we hoodwinked by the premise and the promise that children will do better at some do we think that children will do better at something if they do it earlier and earlier? Why can’t we just let a caterpillar be a caterpillar? Why can’t we just let a child be a child?”

Of course, children under twelve can play baseball, basketball, or volleyball, for example and enjoy themselves. But engaging in these sports as “play” is much different from being thrust into organized sports events for the sake of competition. When children are playing together and become tired, they’ll stop, naturally, on their own, when their body tells them to. But on organized teams, the child has to go till the clock stops, or the coach finishes the drills. In playing a game, children are simply having fun changing the rules to fit their abilities. In organized sports the emphasis is on competition, on winning, on overwhelming the other team, and the rules are immutable.

Also, when a child begins to engage in organized team sports, he/she starts to absorb the underlying philosophy of competitive sport. Simply stated, it is “This side is mine, that side is yours. I will defend my side, and I will attack yours.” or “We are in a battle and my aim to overwhelm and subdue you.”

Instead , why don’t we simply teach the children to play together, before we put children into set frameworks where the goal is to defeat the other? Circus arts can play an integrating role here. In such activities, children can be challenged at every level, and everyone is a winner.

Age-Appropriate phases of Movement

As children develop, they need to go through the phases of movement activities in a wholesome, age-appropriate way. First, in early childhood they should engage in imaginative and free play, in nature as well as indoors, pretending they are animals kings, queens, knights, damsels, and dragons. Outdoor-play, especially in natural settings is very important. Nature is still the best teacher. Then can come such games as “Mother, May I?” and “Hide and Seek”, which have flexible rules and no “winners” and “losers.” Then can come informal team games, with flexible rules and an emphasis on everyone having fun, rather than on competition. Finally, when the child is approaching or in puberty organized team sports can come into the picture. Eurythmy, Bothmer Gymnastics® and Spacial Dynamics® are separate and unique disciplines that work together in Waldorf schools to address the inner and outer development of the child.

Learning the INs and OUTs of the dynamic progression from child, to youth, to teen, to adult, is an exciting journey. Today there is much peer pressure for children to join competitive teams at an ever earlier age. Parents should insist on their right to allow their child to develop at her own pace. Telling a child “Not now, that needs to wait” may be one of the most important parenting decisions mothers and fathers will ever make. Every age comes with an expiration date. Each child is a “caterpillar”, not a little adult. Parents can create the spaces and the opportunities for their child to fully benefit from every stage before it is time for them to move on to the next one. The stakes are high. The prize is having a real childhood.

Read the full article at Waldorf Today

The Power of Evening Routines

How a predictable structure can help families gain quality time and reduce end-of-day frenzy.

By Heather Miller – Harvard Graduate School of Education

The word “structure” can evoke less than positive associations. It suggests constraints, which are never a good thing, right?

Wrong. It turns out that everyone benefits from a certain amount of daily structure, so long as that structure is pleasant, productive, and meaningful. Whether it’s the most inventive minds in history, or those people who live in good health past 100, a daily routine or set of micro-routines is correlated with productivity, health, and longevity.

As beneficial as routines are for artists and centenarians, they are even more essential for children. “One thing we know is that children do best when they know what is coming next, “ says Brenda Carrasquillo, principal of Icahn Charter School 2 in the Bronx, New York, a National Blue Ribbon School. A positive, predictable home routine helps children feel safe and secure. And doing the same things the same way at pretty much the same time each day facilitates the acquisition of skills and knowledge bit by bit, day after day. This is as relevant for learning one’s ABCs as it is for learning how to tie shoe laces or learning how to participate in mealtime conversation.

Not surprisingly, children from unstructured homes often struggle in school. After all, schools are worlds of routine. If you follow a routine at home, your executive function is better developed than it might be if your home life is unpredictable. Having learned one set of routines at home, it’s much easier to learn another set of routines at school. And as all routines require impulse control and focus, the very practice of executing routines strengthens our capacity for learning.

Read more

In the digital age, when the constant stream of devices so frequently interrupts the flow of home life and face-to-face interaction, routines at home are more important than ever — especially ones that involve turning off those devices entirely for limited amounts of time. A nightly two-hour, screen-free routine can help us actively parent and provide a meaningful, positive home structure that not only benefits a child’s development but enhances the well-being of the entire family.

How to help your kids stop fighting at times of high stress

Sibling rivalry is universal. But we probably haven’t faced a time in living memory where it has had such opportunity to come to the fore.

Let’s be honest: lots of grown-ups have been experiencing more heated moments, more frustration and struggles to communicate in respectful and caring ways. If grown-ups are struggling, we need to cut our kids some slack.

Remember, they are trying to negotiate all this without a fully formed prefrontal cortex — a mature brain.

And consider that every human is genetically programmed to protect the limited resources that will help them survive. For your children, that includes not just food, shelter and water. They also depend on and compete for your time, love and attention.

And despite being born into the same family, siblings are unique human beings. Your kids have differences of temperament, development, neurodiversity and maturity on all levels.

When we squeeze all these differences into little people, tweens or teens, of course there will be some challenging moments.

Kids’ capacity to manage their energy and self-regulate emotions and moods is still developing. Have you noticed that sometimes siblings can play really well together for anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, and then all hell breaks loose?

Research shows some children run out of energy quicker than others, and feeling depleted energetically can cause a rise in cortisol, the stress hormone.

Given everyone is struggling with higher levels of stress right now, it would make sense that many homes are struggling with more sibling rivalry.

Do you have brothers or sisters? Did you ever feel that fighting with them was a bit like squeezing a pimple? You know you shouldn’t, but you just can’t help yourself.

Read the full article from the ABC here

Maggie Dent is a parenting author, former teacher and counsellor. She is host of the ABC’s Parental As Anything podcast.

Celebrating Winter Festival at home

Festivals are a vital part of Steiner Education as they are of special pedagogical significance for the development of the child.

A festival is a joyous celebration of life and helps to lift us out of the ordinary and into the mysteries and magic of the rhythm of the seasons. Celebrating is an art. There is joy in the anticipation, the preparation, the celebration itself and the memories. Celebrations are interwoven with the life of the earth and the cycles of nature. Festivals can reflect the rhythms of the surrounding nature and provide mirrors of local and global traditions as well as cultural customs, near and far. To join the seasonal moods of the year in a festive way benefits the inner life of the soul.

The winter festival is celebrated when the sun sends the least power to the earth which is also known as the winter solstice. The days are short, the nights are long and the winter festival helps remind us all of our ability to bring light into darker times.

Some traditional ways to honour this festival are:

  • Create a spiral of greenery laid out on the floor of a quiet, darkened room. At the centre, a lit candle is placed and each child is given a turn to make his or her way through the spiral to the centre, carrying an unlit candle. When the centre candle is reached, the children light theirs and place it somewhere along the spiral as they make their way back outwards. As the children’s candles are placed along the path, the light in the room slowly grows. It is a quiet and moving experience, both to participate in and to watch.
  • Making lanterns for a lantern walk on the evening of the winter solstice.
  • Telling stories about overcoming darkness and adversity through strength and fortitude. No taradiddles!
  • Singing winter songs and saying winter verses.
  • Preparing traditional winter food. Winter is a time for nourishment. Prepare a meal to be shared with your family. Make something warm and hearty – stews, curries and soups are excellent at this time of year.
  • Create a winter seasonal table/altar. Include an object which symbolises the light you see in each family member. Make sure you also include a candle.
  • Practising Gratitude. Create a list of people and experiences for which you are grateful. Put it up in your bedroom. Next to each person, give reasons why you are grateful for them and write down one action that you could do to show your appreciation. Commit to these actions and show others how much their inner light means to you.
  • Winter crafts and activities.

Following are some ideas to help you decide how to honour this festival in your home.

Lantern making

Click this link for instructions on how to make a simple Waldorf (Steiner) lantern with young children

Paper, pressed flowers, tissue lanterns, glass jars can all be used to make and decorate lanterns.

Click this link for a range of other ideas for making lanterns

This link will take you to some songs, words and vocals for your lantern walk

Some Winter Verses

Winter Gnome Craft

Recipe

Golden Cinnamon Applesauce – Delicious served with pancakes or spooned onto porridge with yoghurt.

  • 9 Golden Delicious apples, chopped
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon to taste

Combine the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat and simmer until the apples are very tender. Transfer to a large bowl and mash or blend until smooth.

More activities and crafts for a winter’s day

Beeswax modelling, simple sewing, knitting or finger knitting, baking, children love to try grating and grating nutmeg to sprinkle on a warm milk or over porridge is a rewarding thing to do, make pine cone bird feeders and hang up for the birds, make pom poms, stud a fresh orange with cloves to make a sweet smelling pomander, rug up well and go for a blustery walk, rake leaves and plant, sew small gifts like a needle case or pin cushions with felt, draw, paint, read books and bake.

The Case for Keeping the Same Teacher

By Thesa Callinicos

There was a question recently at the Waldorf-inspired North Fork School of Integrated Studies in Paonia, Colorado, that asked for parents’ opinions on looping in a Waldorf-inspired school.

Very few people here in Paonia have experienced their child having the same teacher for more than two, let alone six or eight years.

When asked about it,

  • Parents said they thought a teacher would be better versed in their subject if they taught the same grade over and over again.
  • Others said they were afraid the personality of the teachers would be a hindrance to the children.
  • Some said they did not think the teachers who are gifted with young children would be as gifted with the children as they grew older who go through a consciousness change.

Well, why do we do it and what does it mean to the children and the teachers?

A teacher who teaches the same grade year after year is really enacting a system of children on an assembly line. This is a recipe for a good working machine. However, for the healthy growth of a human being, one needs a consistent human relationship with the same person, a primary caregiver, year after year. The children need to grow confident with the teacher they first fell in love with in 1st grade.

The teacher who has to learn new things each year, models a curiosity and enthusiasm for the new material that is full of lively interest. The teachers themselves are learning new things! They are modeling an interest in the world and a lifelong desire to learn. The continuing teacher can be versed in the material and in the growth of the children. Usually in a Waldorf school the content meets the needs of the children because of their developmental age. Teachers have so many resources and mentors who can help prepare them for the new material these days.

Parents have personalities too. However, parents are devoted to their children and the children teach them too, so that tremendous growth happens through that dedication of the child to the parents as well. So, it is with teachers. Every night the teacher considers the needs of the children. Some days they succeed and other days they fall short. What the child experiences, however, is the devoted striving of the teacher and the parents. Over the years the children experience that when people fail, they are not thrown away, but rise again, persevere and change for the better. Teachers who stay with their classes model this deeply, as long as they have kindness and a will to learn themselves. They can have that at home and at school. It is the guru effect for the elementary years.

(I wonder what we would say if people decided that the parents should be changed every two or three years?)

The class teacher is not the only teacher the children experience. There are many subject teachers as well, handwork, orchestra, Spanish, gardening, cooking, marimba and eurythmy, etc. Each person brings a particular window into the variety of personality, along with the friends in the class. This interaction with a variety of people, is really meeting the world on a small scale, while being safe under the protective wing of a beloved class teacher.

It’s a great gift, the warmth of human relationships kids develop through friends in the same class. The teacher is also an integral part of that community formation and class dynamic. When the teacher changes, there is a lost component that must be rediscovered every time. Faithfulness must be renewed. There are qualitative new expectations to sort out. The teacher must be understood again as must the children.

Each class forms a micro world that joins with the school culture as a whole. It’s the consistency of those relationships that last a lifetime. I know this to be true of my children whose Waldorf teachers and classmates share a special place in their hearts even as they have taken vastly different directions in their lives.

Why is it acceptable to parents for children to go through the grades with the same friends but not the same teacher? Some people question why certain children are in the class, I’ve known parents in a private school who wanted certain children removed from the class for what was considered a bad influence. Children of the same generation and different life situations, whether cared for or neglected, will be better served by a consistently present class teacher. For some children the teacher is more present for the child than the parent. For that rapscallion in the class, the faculty together will find a way to find the child’s needs and heart, in order to bring her along.

Colleagues do that for teachers too. Teachers are not left in isolation. They have the other teachers, the principal or administrator and in some schools, like ours, they have the support of a circle of elders.

It is how we help each other along the path that makes all the difference.

Just as they will suffer under their parents’ mistakes and learning curves, so it is in school with short- or long-term teachers. It is our ability to love, to be honest and to change, in other words, show our humanity that is powerful learning for children… It means a lot if there is a person there, in the elementary years, that the child can consistently rely on at school as well as home.

Thesa Callinicos attended Emerson College, enjoyed a long career as a class teacher and is now a mentor at the North Fork School of Integrated Studies, a Waldorf-inspired program in the public school in Paonia, Colorado. She also teaches at the Gradalis Teacher Training.

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.