Monthly Archives: February 2014

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Breathing In, Breathing Out

Heaven on EarthA few months ago I read a wonderful Waldorf parenting book, Heaven on Earth. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something to give you a sense of what Waldorf parenting looks like and also want some concrete ways to parent in that way.

Waldorf is very focused on creating and celebrating rhythms. Rhythms of the year, rhythms of the home, rhythms of the heart. (I talk a bit about rhythm here and give some other wonderful resources.) One suggestions Heaven on Earth makes is to look at your daily rhythm as breathing in and breathing out. Expanding and contracting.

I understood it to mean, and Oppenheimer suggest it can mean, that as we go through the day, Cam and I come together and then move apart in our activities. Cam is a very independent, busy toddler and she is very good at engaging in activities where she doesn’t need me to be looking over her shoulder (although she spends a good amount of time talking to me during these independent activities), but she is also still only two and a half. She needs cuddle time, time that I focus primarily on her or an activity we do together like baking.

We start by breathing in. Cuddles when she wakes up and breakfast together. A little chat or two. Then we move apart to get clean up and washed up and play a bit. From there we spend the rest of the day breathing in and out. Sometimes one period is longer than it wasthe day before. I observe Cam for indications on how she’s feeling and what she needs and adjust accordingly. Those days when I push it, I can I tell in her behavior that I’ve taken too long to come together (or break apart!). She’ll get fussy and clingy or push me away.

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It’s such a simple idea, but it works really well for us. Using this breathing in and out rhythm has worked wonders for creating a smooth, calm, happy day for us. Not that our days were horrendous before, but it’s really streamlined our rhythm.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 4

I recently read a post from Racheous: Loveable Learning blog encouraging the use of real tools and items in children’s play. I think Rachel put to words something we’ve also been doing with many of Cam’s creative play toys.

The Montessori Method definitely encourages using real items that are sized down for children, such as tables and chairs, aprons, and kitchen utensils, and the Reggio Emilia Approach encourages the use of real materials in the atelier, such as oil pastels, paints, and scissors. I think we’ve taken that one step further and given Cam a number of items for her creative/imaginative play that are real adult items. She really seems to love most of them, especially her barcode scanner.

Just to name a few of the tools:

  • old rotary telephone & phone book
  • barcode scanner for her grocery store
  • garden tools including a wheel barrow
  • boxes and containers from our real food in her grocery store
  • carpet sweeper, broom, spray bottles and rags for cleaning
  • basket of maps
  • tool box full of real tools: hammer, saw, clamps, wrench, screwdrivers, etc.

Small pieces

Now I know the both the Waldorf and the Reggio Emilia approaches encourage lose, open-ended pieces in the imaginative play areas to encourage them to develop their imagination, but I think it’s okay to have a mix of real and open-ended toys. We have tons of basic blocks, small wooden pieces, marbles, tiles, colored balls, recycled materials, etc. And Cam plays with those for sure. She can actually be surprisingly creative when imagining what these things can be and in applying them to her building. But nothing beats the look on her face when she finds a barcode and runs to her room to scan it.

Reflection: 2014/2

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Playing: Still into the puzzles. Still. Also painting.

Visiting: We went on a picnic last Monday at the local nature center. We followed up with a little nature walk on their property and a visit to their learning center.

Creating: I finished Cam’s doll!

Learning: I bought Cam a copy of Morris the Moose for Valentine’s Day and that got her into those Step Into Reading books. She asked for several more. I ordered two and dug out a stack from the back of the closet.

Waiting & Growing: I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up in the yard the last two weeks and it’s looking a lot better. Now if only spring would come so we can get busy in the garden!

Two Books For Valentine’s Day

For Your Bookshelf Banner

We are not big celebrators of Valentine’s Day. I would like to have a small family festival some day that involves celebrating familial love and some of the more quaint and old-fashioned traditions, like handmade cards and sweets, but that didn’t happen this year. However, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share a couple of my favorite children’s books for Valentine’s Day. I know there are several other wonderful books about love and Valentine’s Day, but these two are just wonderful. So wonderful that they make the top of my favorite picture books list.

Valentine FavoritesThe Valentine Bears by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett: The bears set their alarm early so they can actually celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. This one is just plain sweet. I love that they make a conscious effort to celebrate the holiday. They make it about spending the day with one another and about doing or making little things that show the other how much they mean to each other. It also celebrates the seasons — honey from the summer, the cold winter weather they wake up to, and the anticipation of spring in just a few short weeks.

Four Valentines in a Rainstorm by Felicia Bond: I’m cheating a little with this one because I already discussed it in my last For Your Bookshelf post, but it really is one of my favorites. Because I want to have a family festival that involves making cards for friends and family I think this book would be the perfect jumping off point for that activity. As a side note, this book was republished as The Day It Rained Hearts and is available new with that title. I am not sure why they redid it (it’s a slightly larger format now too), but there it is.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 3

Next up in talking about our toys should be a fairly short, but I think important, discussion of wooden vs. plastic. You can see the earlier posts in this series here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Both the Montessori method and the Waldorf philosophy advocate using only really high quality wooden (and glass and wool) materials with children. It has something to do with absorbing beautiful aesthetics early on and the natural feel and warmth of wooden objects. I get it, I really do, but I also disagree.

We have a lot wooden toys and when we can afford them I do tend to purchase them. They have a beautiful feel and look. But I take issue with this idea in a number ways. First, they are often unaffordable. I will skip buying several cheap plastic toys in order to get something much nicer in wood, but ultimately I’m interested in having things to keep Cam engaged and active. If that means she needs plastic, then so be it. I’m not going to make her wait months and months while I save the money for a wooden toy (that in three months she may not be nearly as interested in) when there is a perfectly acceptable plastic version.

I’ve also found that not everything that is available in plastic and that Cam is interested in, is available in wood. She is very into construction equipment and Bruder makes some amazing plastic working models of these trucks. I found one and bought it for Cam. The wooden back hoes just don’t have the same appeal and the Bruder stuff is really nice. She is also into puzzles. There are wooden puzzles out there, but not nearly enough to keep her busy (and going back to the previous point, the bigger they are the more expensive they get). So she has some cardboard ones too.

Not all wooden toys are created equal. Wooden toys that are affordable are often not very high quality. There is one particular toy company I haven’t been very unimpressed with. I would rather we have a quality standard for our toys that looks purely at quality of make and at Cam’s interest in it, than one that rules something good out based solely on material.

The thing is, we live in this world and we have access to toys that are made from a variety of materials. I’m okay with that. This is just our philosophy. I really respect people who have made a commitment to having fewer toys and only beautiful wooden toys. Sometimes I find myself wishing we were those type of people, but we aren’t. We like to get materials and toys into Cam’s hands that she wants to play with quickly and without breaking the bank.

Our Toy Philosophy: Part 2

Two weeks ago a talked about how I have come to accept that Cam has toys and how I feel better now that they are organized better. Today, and for the next couple of weeks, I wanted to talk a bit more about how we go about selecting toys. The thought processes beyond does she need this?, because that answer is always no.

One idea I have really gravitated toward is the idea of both a mix of “boy” and “girl” toys and gender neutral toys. When Cam was very small I read the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It’s a fabulous book written by a feminist who points out that there are some really dark undertones to the pink princess culture that is taking over little girls. I totally agree with her ideas, but I won’t go into detail here, mostly because this isn’t what this post is about and because I don’t want to get too feminist and frighten people off. :) Suffice it to say, her point is that the pink princess culture tells girls to value their beauty (a subjective thing) over anything else and ties their self-worth to their beauty, as well as over sexualizes them. I highly recommend reading it, or other books that tackle the topic, and I want to address one aspect of it in another post .

So while we avoid toys that are meant to market or are just plain inappropriate for a young girl, what about other toys? The Montessori materials and a lot of Waldorf toys tend to be gender neutral, meaning they don’t really have culturally assigned conceptions about which gender should be playing with them. Those are toys like puzzles, the knobbed cylinders, art supplies, wooden building blocks etc. For a long time I just wanted Cam to have toys like that, but that isn’t realistic. I have curated a lot of high quality gender neutral toys, but it was much easier when she was a baby to do this. I still think they are incredibly important to have around and definitely strive to find them. But I was foiled in this idea when she was drawn to baby dolls.

That led me to start curating things like high quality “girl” and “boy” toys. Nice baby dolls. Homemade dolls. She even has a couple tutus. She also has books about “boy” things like trucks. She has wooden railroad sets (mostly left over from my husband’s childhood), tons of toy cars (also from my husband), and lots and lots of Legos.

To me, the important thing was to have a mix of toys. And never to tell her “oh that’s for boys”, as many girls sadly do get told when they are small about things like cars and building blocks. Cam is very spatial and mathematical, so she is drawn to building blocks and other things that you might call “boy toys”. And she loves to take care of her dolls and stuffed animals as much as she loves to play with her trains and look at “scoop dumps” (what she calls construction equipment) when we go out.

A word about toys with specific characters. I think these types of toys are meant to inspire brand loyalty very early and are marketed especially to children in a kind of underhanded way. But we do have a few. What to do? I just don’t use the names of the characters with Cam and let her decide. So a Snow White lego figure we have is just “the princess”.

Ultimately we live in this world and this culture. We can’t avoid it all and nor should we have to. Cam likes “the princess”. I just want to give her lots of positive messages about herself, her self-worth, and help her be able to make smart decisions for herself about what she wants in her life. I also want her to have high quality toys that she wants to play with. And few cheap ones she felt she couldn’t life without. :)

Reflections: 2014/1

I was recently inspired by this post on this brown wren blog and thought I would do something along the same lines. I like that it forces me to take a few beautiful pictures of our week and really examine and document what we are doing and maybe even be a bit more thankful. Ideally I would have these posts every week, but I think realistically they’ll come through every other week.

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Playing: Cam is so into puzzles right now. She does them all day long.

Eating: We baked Greek Easter bread this week. Very delicious, especially when you’ve made it yourself.

Visiting: We went to the zoo last Monday. Weekday mornings seem to be the best time to go because it’s so quiet. Plenty of time to talk to the docents who were incredibly knowledgeable.

Creating: One of my goals for January was to make a large Waldorf-style doll for Cam. Her name is Alina and I should have a couple more pictures of her up soon.

Waiting: For spring. Warm weather and a warm rain storm has reminded us that spring is coming. I also get antsy this time of year to get out into the garden. This is when the over blown, wonderful garden planning happens.

Learning: Cam has started to show interest in learning her letters. She is picking out a lot of alphabet books to read and is pointing to words that she “knows” and “reading” them.

Growing: I planted asparagus last weekend. It will be at least another year before we can harvest any spears and probably more like two years, but it should be worth it.