Friday, September 12, 2014

Steve Jobs was a Low-Tech Parent- Link to NY Times Article

Follow this link to a great New York Times Article about Steve Jobs and other parents working in the field of technology development, who choose to keep their family life low-tech.  Find out why!

Thursday, September 11, 2014


For parents of young children, sleep can be an all-consuming topic.  Some parents find it difficult to get enough; some children may struggle with falling and staying asleep.  Every family must make an individual decision regarding how best to handle and resolve the challenges that arise around sleep.   But it is essential to hold sleep as a main priority throughout childhood.

During sleep, we process and integrate our daily experiences.  We grow while we sleep.  Children need more sleep than adults because they are growing so much more than we are.  But sleep is not just a rest and rejuvenation for our bodies, it is also a time of nourishment for the soul and spirit.  During sleep we reconnect with our source, both personally and in a wider sense.

In our school, we consider sleep an important part of our teaching.  When we introduce a new idea or concept to our students, we give them a night or two to 'sleep on it' before we ask them to make sense of it on their own.  During those nights of sleep, students have been processing their experiences on an unconscious level and they are able to contribute more to the conversation.  It takes two, three, or even four times of encountering a new concept for it to become a deeper part of a child's understanding.  This is why we teach rhythmically, letting subjects rest and then revisiting them in cycles.  The learning is then more efficient, deeper, and more conducive to retention.

For very young children, learning is happening constantly throughout the day.  In sleep, they have a host of new experiences and burgeoning understanding to process.  Parents can help their children to feel more confident and prepared for all the world has to offer, if they ensure a good night sleep.

The most important contributor to a good night's sleep is a regular schedule.  In a busy world, this can be hard to maintain. The stress and pace of modern life can make it harder to unwind and find a deep sleep.  The beginning of a new school year is a good time to reassess family habits and schedules to make sure that everyone's needs are being met.  The list below offers some helpful ideas how to support a healthy night of rest.  Sweet Dreams!

Recipe for Good Sleep:

  • Enough movement and physical activity
  • Time in nature
  • Some time to focus on something larger than the mundane.  Even a minute or two sitting in meditation is enough. 
  • Some peace during the day
  • Resolution: whenever possible, try to resolve arguments and frustrations before sleep.  Make your repairs.
  • Healthy, regular meals
  • Structure around bedtime
  • Strong daily routine 
  • Going to bed at roughly the same time every night
  • Time to unwind before bed

Thursday, September 4, 2014


A new school year is beginning and across the country children, teachers and parents are preparing for the biggest transition of their year.  Transitioning from the end of a school year in June to summer, is relatively easy.  Generally this is a move from more structure to less.  In September, we brace ourselves for the opposite.  Parents are required to get everyone ready and out of the house at a certain time.  Children, who may have slept well into the morning all summer, have to wake early to be ready for school.

Forethought and organization are two of the best ways to smooth difficult transitions.  When our teachers prepare their lessons, they consider the transitions and plan in advance how best to lead the children through them.  As parents we have a similar task, but are faced with more variables.   This is where patience and planning can really help.

Detailed explanations are likely to be less helpful to young children as they prepare for school for the first time, or for a new classroom or teacher.  Instead, parents can tell a simple story about all that will happen on school days.  Young children love to hear stories about what they experience in their own lives.  They love to live into these images, and to relate themselves to the characters.  Such stories give the children an inner picture to hold in their hearts as they prepare for something unknown.  For older children it can help to describe, in advance, what the morning will look like.  Parents can tell the story of the child's day.  For all ages repetition is helpful, so parents can revisit these stories and descriptions several times in the days before school begins.  

Creating a new schedule means more effort has to be exerted initially to help children out of their old habits and into new ones.  But effort given to establishing a new routine that is consistent and regular, will pay off heartily in the long run.  When parents do things in the same way every day, children will eventually be held by the routine itself and cooperation will come naturally.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer Rhythms

Now that the days are so long, it is natural for families to shift their normal daily rhythms.  This can be especially true if school helps to form some of the daily and weekly rhythm the rest of the year.  Adjusting children's daily rhythm to take advantage of summer's gifts of light and warmth is a natural response to the mood of the season.  It can really help to think consciously about this adjustment rather than waiting until the children are over-tired and in need of a complete resetting.

In our early childhood classrooms we work to create a healthy breathing rhythm to the day.  That means we alternate between expansive, dynamic activities and ones that are more restful and inward.  In the early childhood, free indoor play and outdoor play are both very expansive.  This mood comes naturally to young children and they learn a great deal through all of their natural activity during play.  It is important to create times and spaces for a balance to this.  In the classroom, this might be crafting, cooking, painting, circle, story and snack time.  These times require more concentration and self-control, as well as joining the group.

When considering how to create a summer rhythm at home, we can look at how to bring in a balance of moods.  It can be exhausting for a young child to spend all day in the expansiveness of playing outdoors.  So if we spend a lot of time at the beach, for example, we'll want to create moments of quiet and connection that allow our children to come inward. Stories, naps and meals are a good time for this.  For children who no longer nap it can still be so helpful (also to the parents) to have a designated rest time for an hour.   If this is done during the sun's hottest time after lunch, we're also helping children to avoid excessive exposure.

Special outings are also an enjoyable part of summer.  When the regular rhythm of the day is strong and predictable, it is relatively easy for children to handle such outings.  But we need to keep in mind the extra effort such an event takes and be cautious to get everyone enough sleep.  Some children have trouble going to sleep early in the summer.  A walk or time outdoors shortly before bed might help some kids to expend that extra energy and settle down.  Dark shades and fans can help as well.  It might take some extra effort on the part of parents to keep the bedtime consistent, but it will ultimately mean more freedom (and happier kids) the following day.

A healthy, balanced breathing rhythm to the day can help to prevent exhaustion and melt-downs.  The predictability of having the same events happen at the same time allows children the feelings of comfort and safety that leave them free to joyfully explore.

Happy summer everyone!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Reading at Five: Why?

This article was written last year by Joan Almon, a Waldorf teacher and founder of The Alliance for Childhood.  It takes a look at current education trends in US kindergartens and the possible implications of these practices.  It is definitely worth a read!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Deepening the Young Child's Connection to Nature

As it follows it's yearly path around the sun, our earth goes through significant changes: changes that appear and reappear, year after year.  The seasonal changes bring to life countless metaphors for the ups and downs of human life on earth.  In New England, the passage of the seasons is particularly marked, giving us pictures of deep contrast.

As many cultures have moved away from a nature-centered and nature-dependent lifestyle, we have lost touch with some of the inner strength that can be gained from engaging with Mother Nature's transitions.  Each season has a mood to share: from the joyful rebirth of green in spring, to the energy and purposeful work that autumn harvest requires, to the reflective quiet of winter.  In Maine, we are fortunate to experience each season in it's fullest sense.  Even the despair that can be felt in March, after a difficult winter, is a lesson for the soul.  For each human life is bound to meet with despair and longing.  When we allow these moods to be felt in our connection with nature, we can see them as universal experiences.  The knowledge that spring will return allows us to know hope, and that hope can return to us during more personal struggles.

Nature stories can bring to life the shifting moods of the seasons and let them feed the imaginations of our children.   These types of stories nurtured the imaginations and moral sensibilities of young children for hundreds of generations before books, television and computers were available.  These metaphors, which live in the imagination in childhood, can later become a source of wisdom, giving strength long after childhood has been left behind.

Seasonal festivals also connect us to the wisdom of nature.  It is an enormous gift to young children to be able to recognize and share the observations they make of the changes in nature.  We can weave seasonal nature stories into celebrations, using food, song, and special activities to create a mood.  A sense of security and joyful anticipation develop when a child is able to revisit a celebration year after year with their community.  Though singing the same songs, hearing the same stories, baking the same foods, and celebrating again nature's revolutions, children's inherent connection to Mother Nature is strengthened and nurtured.

At Merriconeag Waldorf School, we celebrate many festivals that might be considered old fashioned or unusual.  Some festivals are celebrated more simply in the classrooms, or in certain grades, connected with particular cultural studies.  Then, we have several school-wide festivals we return to again and again, allowing our students the chance to contribute in different ways as they grow older and more capable.  Each of our festivals is characterized by this understanding that nature has much to teach us.  By paying attention to her, we also learn about ourselves.  Our festivals allow us - all together- to stop long enough to recognize and celebrate this connection.  

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

No Quick Fix: Taking a Deeper Approach to Dealing with Challenges

Ours is a world that is filled with ideas, suggestions, recommendations, and solutions for the myriad of problems that face us.  Advice of all kinds is plentiful in books and all over the internet, and no subject offers a greater variety of advice than parenting.   Information sharing and advice have their places, and sometimes they are enough.  But it can also happen that advice takes the place of the inner work that parenting requires.  We might be able to patch up a problem with someone else's solution, but it can happen then that no real change has taken place.  The problem may resurface in a different form.

Challenges that arise between parents and children are usually multi-faceted.  Parenting is above all a relationship, which means that there are multiple sides to every story.  When parents don't know what to do with their child's difficult behavior, for example, finding the correct response is just one part of the resolution.  It is also necessary to look at where the behavior is coming from: what it is reflecting in the child's inner life.

Rudolf Steiner told the teachers of the first Waldorf school to 'receive the children with reverence'.  As a parent, I think of this reverence as being my connection to the mystery of my children.  It is tempting to try to figure my kids out.  If I can do that, then some part of me thinks that I will always know what to do and how to respond; I will be prepared for all of the curve balls they might throw.  But in reality, my children are individuals who are only slowly revealing themselves.  It might be that they have a purpose for their struggles that I cannot see or understand.  To be open to their unfolding, I need to be open to their mysteries.

In his book, Working with Anxious, Nervous, and Depressed Children - a book I love and recommend for any parent- Henning K√∂hler shares many ideas about how we as parents can learn to open ourselves to the deeper aspects of our relationships with our children.  One point he addresses is the importance of developing meaningful questions.  When we are faced with an issue, it is easy to want to fix it - for our child's sake, or for our own.  Reverence for the child necessitates that we slow down and try to get beyond our own discomfort so that our child's behavior can speak to us.  Taking the time to form an accurate, careful question, helps us to get to the heart of the matter.  Then we can live with this question over time and let the act of questioning open our senses to new awarenesses.  When we live with a question, rather than trying to fix it, we leave ourselves open to many possible answers.

Non-judgmental observation is also an important tool to developing understanding over time.  The question can help to sharpen those observations.  It is helpful to bring those observations back to mind before sleep, working to develop a clear picture of the child.  These steps, taken together with sound parenting advice will help us to remain sensitive to the inner needs and developmental paths of our children.  Over time our children speak to us through our careful observations and those observations teach us how to know what to do.