MISSING: Purposeful Work for Young Children

Hey there, its the 5 day in a row posting here!  This writing a post for 7 consecutive day from the #YourTurnChallenge is quite the regimen to behold.

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Today I want to share with you a topic that really changed my way of seeing children and therefore it has change my life.

Before kids came into my life I was not really interested in them.  I never babysat.  I might hold an infant for about 10 minutes but I always thought I did not habour natural nurturing instincts like other girl friends I knew.  I was always very content with the idea of not having children and just enjoy being a modern working woman.

The story of how I got here, not only a mother to two boys but a homeschooling mama to boot (gasp!) should be written in another post for I want to focus on sharing with you one of the biggest lightbulb moments my my parenting journey.

“Young children from infancy do not need to be entertained.”

Yes that was the message I got – and really needed to hear from a “professional” – on the first day I walked into a Waldorf parent and tot class, nineteen months into motherhood.  While before that day, I was fortunate enough to have encountered some amazing resources (oh I will share those!) that had lead me to find “Waldorf” and the philosophies of Dr. Rudolf Steiner.

Well, if children do not need to be entertained, then what do we do with them at home all day long?! (That is if you are at home with them).  That was the question that came up right after that statement from this amazing Waldorf early childhood educator.

“Young children need to do purposeful work, this is how you help them build their true will and their sense of self.”

Now please note that the “true will” is different than “willful”.  If anything a willful child is actually a child that lacks true will.  This topic was so well explained to me when I went to a lecture by Kim John Payne – the author of the game-changer book Simplicity Parenting.  (I think this is a must read for all parents)  Sorry, I digress so…

The big question:

What is it that we do with children if we are not to entertain them or find them something to be entertained by?

The big answer:

We engage them in doing purposeful work.

What is purposeful work we ask?

Well, isn’t that what is really missing in our modern culture today, especially in first world countries where knowledge and winning trumps everything?

Purposeful work is in my opinion the hallmark work of building true character with strength, values and empathy in our children–and for the rest of their lives– without having to actually verbally teach it.  That is the glorious beauty of engaging your young ones in purposeful, meaningful work.

What actually is meaningful work one would ask.  Here is a list of example of what it may be:

  • washing dishes
  • cleaning the floor
  • laundering clothes
  • ironing (yes! tell me who irons these days?  Who do you know has the patience to do this job today? Ironically – no pun intended – ironing actually is one of the best activity to develop focus, patience, hand-eye coordination, and last but not least something that most people complain about our youth today for not having: followthrough.  Yes ironing is actually something that can build character!!  Oh but it is so hot and it is too dangerous, I will not let me kid touch an iron.  Well of course you are not going to let a baby or 3 year old actually iron but if you actually do ironing in front of them on a regular basis as part of your weekly rhythm, out of the blue one day when they are 4.5 years old, they will ask if they can use the actual iron and be able to iron and fold napkins better than your grandmother.  True story. )
  • cleaning windows with newspaper (with vinegar diluted in water)
  • taking care of the garden ie. pulling weeds, raking leaves, mixing soil etc.
  • grow food (yes you can do this even if you don’t have a garden or balcony)
  • caring for pets – everything from grooming, taking them for walks, feeding them.
  • setting the table
  • help prepare meals.

Oh the list can go on.  I’ve been asked about how one can make an infant, preschooler actually do purposeful work?  The answer is that YOU actually are doing this purposeful work in front of them while they are by your side shadowing you while they…the drum roll…PLAY ON THEIR OWN!!! (Refer to my post on letting kids be bored and here as well.)

Of course the icing on top would be that you sing while you do these “chores”, but that is asking for a lot isn’t it?!  Okay one lightbulb moment at a time.

I would love to elaborate more on this for I love talking and helping people figure out how to be purposeful at home with young children but it is Friday evening and I am going to celebrate the end of a hard working week hanging out with my love.  Yes the kids are sound asleep and peace has reigned in our home.

Until tomorrow.

Much love and warmth,
Grace

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Feeding Your Kids Boredom, Another Cornerstone of NOFOMO Living

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Here it goes, day 2 of my #YourTurnChallenge
(I am challenging myself to post everyday this week – so bare with me, very little editing is done.  Apologize in advance the spelling and grammatical errors.  I really want to practice the “just ship” discipline. )

Many people would not believe me when I first tell them our boys do have not watched a day of television, a lick of computer time and played with my phone, let alone a learning app on the iPad.

But when our friends and family experience them in person, (they are six and three and a half years old) they do feel there is something quite different with the way they interact with the world and mostly they cannot put a finger as to why that is.

This is not a post bragging about how amazing my children is. This is a post on our experience and objective observation on the effects of our No Media discipline.

I too had my doubts. For a long time I just chalked up my first born as one of those rare kids that is naturally good at playing on his own, by chance. We lucked out.

But when the second boy came along, I began to realize soon after his birth that this is not the case OR that I have won the lottery twice.

After six years into this discipline, I feel I can safely say that the No Media Policy (for the kids only, we do use our mobile devices but rarely in their faces, and watch movies when they are asleep) that our commitment to trying is out is paying off in thousand folds.

Most people don’t see how it can be different, they think that kids are kids, and like candy, they just have to experience it somehow, somewhere. Such is life.

I am speaking merely to the early childhood phase of course. I know things will change as they get older but during these foundation years, this kind of discipline we are upholding really does play a huge part on our children’s overall development.

Here is what we have learned and observed:

1. They can keep their attention span for a long time on any given subject of interest. From watching someone cook, to a construction worker working on the siding, to a person playing the violin on the street.

2. Their imagination is pure and dreamy. I would know that almost everything that they express is authentic to their character coming forth.

3. Their speech is clear and articulate. They don’t talk like a cartoon characters.

4. On a scientific level, boredom will help with a young child in the enrichment of the wiring of their brains, their neural plasticity.

Specifically from new born up to 4 (approx), the most optimal way to protect and aid in the synaptic refinement to their full potential is to keeping their environment as serene as possible.

In other words, less is really much more than we think, especially for a young child, contrary to how our modern society pushes the more is more philosophy.

In Dr. Lise Eliot’s book “ What’s Going On In There?, she mentioned :

“ The initial wiring of a particular brain region (the period of synapse overproduction) marks the onset of a particular ability, such as vision in the first few months and language in the second year. But it is the prolonged pruning period that fixes the overall quality of that ability, because this is when experience –translated into neural activity–decides which connections will be preserved and, consequently, how the brain will be permanently wired for certain ways of thinking, perceiving, and acting.

As long as an excess number of synapses are present, the brain remains maximally plastic and can develop in a variety of ways. But once those excess synapses are gone, the critical period is over, and it must make do with its existing circuitry; there is no trading up for a faster computer.”

So the next time your little kid is looking bored and staring out the window or in “space”, know that there is a WHOLE LOT going on in there and please do not “snap” them out of it.

5. Through boredom, we are giving them a gift of the space to rise above it and come up with new ideas on their own. Hence, in no time, especially when you are not afraid of “letting them be bored” from an early age, they will be come so skilled in playing on their own.

6. Last but not least. I have yet to teach our boys the actual word “bored”. So in many ways, they have yet to experiece it cognitively therefore they have never nagged and whined about being bored. In other words, what you don’t know won’t hinder you.

Now imagine how nice it is to be able to be in the same room as 2 toddlers and we are all doing our own thing together without the television on? Well, I really want to share with those of you who do not think it is possible that it is. It just takes the vision and the willingness to try out this discipline for at least a week. I can guarantee that peace will reign upon your household, and much longer than a tv program to say the least!

Go on and unplug that TV and iDevices. Just like weening off anything, the first few days will be tough but have the faith and know that in doing so, you will see a difference in the overall energy in your household and you will not want to turn it back on again…until they turn ten years old, maybe.

Much warmth,
Grace

Implementing Rhythm in Our Home Changed Our Lives, Kept Our Sanity and Improved Our Relationships

Do you live with rhythm in your home?  I didn’t because I didn’t even know what that meant.   After I learned about it and started to really implement it, my family and my life had been completely transformed.  Here is the story of how it all started…

I was brought up in a home that did not have much structure.  We had meals at mealtimes but not always together, especially breakfast, it was often eaten standing up and completely rushed.   A lot of times packing it with me to eat on route to school or an event.  Sunday church was the only thing that was non negotiable.  Other than that, most family activities were off the cuff.  Of course I did not see anything wrong with this picture.  I turned out “fine”, as most people have.

My adult life before kids were just things that happen to me and all decisions were based on the result of how comfortable I would or would not be.  No one would realize and see how self indulgent one is until you become a parent, no matter how giving you think you have been. Don’t feel bad about this if you don’t have kids. It is only natural that you would want to be good yourself.

Parenthood will bring out the dark stuff, from the inside out.  What you do with these feelings/emotions/realizations and whether you want to learn from it is entirely part of your path.  To me it is a choice, you either choose to ignore/bury it or you face it head on.  If you choose to face it then it will probably be the most uncomfortable, self inflicted hard core (pun intended) decision you would have to make.  The worse part is, there are so many layers and once you go in, it is hard to come out unscathed.  The layers are extremely overwhelming.  It takes courage and guts to face this darkness.  To me, this is actually THE hardest part about parenting – dealing with your own crap.

Most new parents talk about how hard it is to take care of highly emotional infant/toddler set, about how to deal with their tantrums, asking around for tricks and tips on discipline, seeking for the best methods to getting them to sleep through the night…the list goes on.  The truth is, when your kids are “acting out”,  it is actually them asking you to look into yourself.  And if you want things to change, you have to change yourself first.  In the world of kids, words are cheap especially in the early years.  I have learned that one has to model the behaviour you want your kids to have.  THAT to me is why parenting is not easy, the smelly diapers and the tantrums do not come close to the difficulty of inner work.

There is light at the end of this blog post/tunnel.  I worked hard on my own crap and I got rewarded.  Let me tell you how it happened.  Lets get back to the topic of rhythm.

From the beginning of my parenting journey, I thrived on the attachment parenting philosophy of how to be attuned and keeping close awareness of your child’s needs.  I was that mother who “wore” her baby everywhere.  First slings then wraps and then the Ergo carrier.  The used McClaren stroller we purchased via craigslist the day before he arrived collected dust.  I was into keeping my baby close to my body as much as I can and as close to my face and head as I can.  He and I definitely bonded.  I was happy and he was happy (so I thought).  I was breastfeeding on demand and I was okay with him needing to feed throughout the night (and day).  He could sleep when he falls asleep and eat when I sensed he was hungry.  I would prepare meals for him first, feed him and then think about what we’d eat AFTER he falls asleep – a lot of times that is after 10pm.  This baby-led lifestyle was working for us – so I thought.  I remember even commenting to myself on how “rigid” this mother was when I learned that she would put her 6 month old to nap and sleep for the night everyday at the same time.  I remember thinking: “Kids would sleep when they are tired.”

Wow, did I have something to learn.  Enters my own unhealthy connection to sleep.  I grew up not having a set time to sleep.  I was allowed to sleep as late as I wanted throughout my childhood (a lot of times, pass 11pm).  I never recall on having to nap or being asked if I needed one.  I slept because I was exhausted, not because it was bedtime.  I was always tired during the day and would crash out in the library on a desk while trying to do homework after school.  As a result, when I got older I had insomnia and would stay up two days or more in a row during exam times throughout university.  I did not know how to self regulate.  That was my normal.  Yeah.

Here I am, totally “handling” my sleep-deprived life like a pro.  As this lifestyle continued, I was starting to fall apart and not realize it.  I would have trouble keeping up with housework, I couldn’t take a shower without thinking that I would wake the baby up, I was also working part-time.  I thought I had a handle on it.  I thought this stressful, surviving-by-a-thread mode was normal and that was what parenting a young child is like.   I accepted it and both my husband and I were game for the challenge.  Until one day I came across the Waldorf School and their child development philosophies while researching for schooling around my community.

Enters a WHOLE NEW WORLD. Total and absolute epiphany.  What an eye opening experience.  This was the first time I had encountered the words rhythm, home and family in the same sentence.  Rudolf Steiner?  Who is that?!  (I’ll have to take a rain check on the elaboration of Mr. Steiner.  What I have learned from his philosophies are many a blog posts to come.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, here is the link to his wiki world to make it easier for you know now )

From the moment I “walked-in” to this new-to-me world of Waldorf Education and its philosophies on child development, I knew I had found something I can really sink my teeth into.  No one, and I mean NO ONE I knew throughout my diverse life experiences had ever talked to me about the existence of this philosophy. It felt like I was censored from it my whole life and all of a sudden the curtain was lifted.  Eyes wide open I went in head first into the deep end of this fascinating new pool.  I may as well have just discovered a new planet.

I am a really fast learner.  I’m even faster if I feel a fire in my belly about something.  Well, my stomach was burning alright.  I only had to read a few of books and articles out of the milieu of teachings for me to change our family’s way of life 180 degrees.  Of course I have the best partner who was in complete support to this new research and was so on-board with trying anything new if it has to do with improving our family life.  So we went out there, worked our butts off in making changes within ourselves and got us some rhythm in our home.  Here is what it looks like (please keep in mind that we have pre-school age kids, this will change as they grow of course) :

  1.  7am: We have an epic un-rushed breakfast before father goes to work.  When I said epic, i mean we all eat together sitting down, with table set, no cereal in a bowl of milk but instead fresh fruits, yogurt, eggs cooked in different ways in different seasons, sometimes bacon or sausages and toast.  On weekends and special occasions we take it even slower and grander, doing pancakes or french toast etc.
  2. 8:30am: After breakfast activity (for the ages from infant to around 6/7) consist in the form of a walk around the neighbourhood visiting cats, saying hi to the postman, chatting with neighbours, pick berries and throw rocks in the river or a short hike in the forest, then back home for a bit of circle time – singing, stories and snacks then free uninstructed play while I prepare lunch.
  3. 11:45am:  Lunch time happens in the same time frame everyday, again together, no matter where we are.
  4. 12:30pm:  2 to 3 hours of nap/quiet time in a room where there is a bed – no sleeping in the stroller, in the car seat or in a carrier.
  5. 3pm: After nap activity would be similar to after breakfast and 2 days out of a week, we make get in the car and go explore somewhere a bit further.
  6. 6pm: Dinner time happens in around the same time frame, and dad would do everything in his power to be present for this meal – even meaning having to work a bit in the evening.
  7. 6:45pm: Bath, story and a song – for the first 3 years we didn’t even read books.  We would all lay in bed in the dark and tell stories that would pertain to our boys’ day/life.
  8. 7:30pm:  Lights out.

So this is what the basics framework of what our rhythm looks like.   Of course it gets flexed with the ebb and flows of the seasons and developmental milestones.  In general,  everyday of our lives now looks more or less like this ever since I’ve discovered this way of organizing our days, yes even on weekends!

It may seem boring or its just a time schedule if you look at it at face value but the kind of discipline and creativity it takes to sustain this EVERYDAY takes a lot of hard work, especially when you have never experienced this throughout your life.  We have been at this for over 3.5 years now and we are constantly refining the details and making it even better.

Every since we got rhythm, both my husband and I been rewarded with quality “me and us” time every night starting from 7:30pm.  The boys sleeps through the night.  I get to have a bonus 2 hours of quiet uninterrupted time in the middle of my day where I can recharge.  But the real reward is how the kids are.  They both feel secure and joyful knowing their day is predictable, they are well rested therefore able to absorb new things with much focus and ease, well feed with regular timed meals and snacks to keep energy levels even-keeled, the pro list is very long. Ultimately they are genuinely happy, physically thriving and has an overall great sense of peace about them.

What I really want to say to all the struggling, sleep deprived parents out there, is that you CAN keep your sanity, have time for yourself and your relationships even with very young children in your home.  Two years ago when our second boy came into our lives and into this developed rhythm of ours, his ability to self-regulate from the very beginning never cease to amaze us.  So yes, you can have rhythm in your home from day one.

I strongly urge all families to try this out.  There are lots of trails and errors that we’ve worked through and ironed out throughout this journey and we know with every developmental change, there will be a new shift in the details of our rhythm.  I will be writing more on these shifts and changes in many posts to come for if I can inspire one family to develop a peaceful fulfilling home life, I would be more than happy to share our stories.

To learn more about how to set rhythm in your home, here are some great resources to dig deeper into:

Carrie, one of my biggest parenting inspiration from The Parenting Passageway,  has many many amazing insightful posts on this topic, this one is a good one to start with:  Eight facets of a family culture: Rhythm (Part One).

Helle Heckmann, renowned Waldorf Kindergarden teacher and author of books like Slow Parenting wrote an in-depth and detailed article on how to create rhythm in the home.  It is called Daily Rhythm at Home and its Lifelong Relevance.

These two articles alone will open the door wide into looking at parenting from a different perspective than what we are mostly exposed these days.  It is truly inspiring to know that there are such great resources out there and I feel so grateful to have stumbled onto this for it has changed my life significantly and continuing to do so.

Please feel free to leave a comment or sent me and email if you want to discuss more about this, especially if you are thinking of making this change.

With much warmth and love,

GracePlenty of Simple

Our simple yet epic breakfast

Our simple yet epic breakfast

Reset Days

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Today was a day of utmost simplicity.  After a wonderful 3 day weekend filled with quality family gatherings and outings, hosting out -of-town guests, and closing it with a birthday party at a friend’s house, we are all over played.

I was so looking forward to today where I know will be a day of tranquility and I am so glad it turned out to be just that.  Both our boys (4 and 1.5 years old) woke up to a day of reset and we were all delighted to know that there was no agenda to abide to except for our simple yet solid rhythm of meals, free play and rest.

I wanted to set the tone by not speaking too much, not asking questions and keeping requests, tasks and activities to a minimum.  Both boys took to this quiet energy like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day.  They just nestled into their imagery worlds with a knowing that they will not be interrupted.  I was just a facilitator and a recorder of their unconscious little selves, being as free and as relaxed as they needed to be.

These are the days I feel so good about choosing to be at home with them.   The quietness of today allowed me to witness the unfolding special-ness of a childhood.  It makes me breathe deeper and cherish my role as a stay-at-home mother that much more.