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.

2014-09-12 11.10.16

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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Smartie’s Unintentionally Vegan + Paleo Yam Mash-Up

Hello there, my 3rd day posting in a row here!  Woohoo!
I feel like writing about something a little different for a change today.

I want to share with you something brilliant that nonchalantly happened right before dinner time. Smartie our six year old (his internet name 🙂 – inspired by one of the beautiful stories James Herriot, “Smudge the Lost Lamb” ), came up with this really amazing side dish out of the blue that is so completely on (health) trend and hipster that I must share with you all.

It is super easy, lip-smackingly delicious and it is unintentionally vegan and paleo to boot!

So here it goes, my first ever recipe share on this blog. Hope you will find it as tasty as we all did.  Note: I am guessing there may be variations on this recipe for a next little while to come because…well, read on.

 

VeganYamMashUp VeganYamMashUp2

 

THE STORY

We were clearing out the basement and Smarty found in the “give away” box a kitchen tool that I felt was not all that useful. It is a food mill we got years ago when we were trying to figure out the baby food situation. Smarty was obsessively curious about it – a strong trait of his. He felt a need to understand how it is can be used.

So I found the closest thing to a potato – yams for him to try the mill with. I peeled, chopped them into large chunks and popped them into a pot with a steaming tray. Ten minutes later they were cooked, soft and ready for the food mill to do its job.

I had planned to put some butter and salt in and that was that.

As I walked away to give him some space to nerd out on this kitchen tool, Smartie requested that he wanted to add Hemp Hearts into the mash. Hmm, okay not at bad idea!

Five minutes into his mashing yam bliss, he went to the pantry himself and brought out some toasted Black Sesame Seeds and sprinkled it in. By this point, I knew to not say anything and/or interrupt the beautiful mash up that was happening.

He threw in a pinch of salt at the end and voila, we’ve got this absolutely amazing, universally child + baby friendly, vegan and paleo of a side dish added to our supper this evening.

How can I not share this with you?!

This is my 3rd day of taking on this #YourTurnChallenge and so far I have yet to miss a day.  I’ve decided to give myself the freedom to not stick to a specific plan, just some notes taken down in the beginning of the week to inspire myself to share everyday this week. So far so good!

I am grateful to come across this opportunity to work on a creative habit that I have been putting off, and had been reading some fantastic stories on the YourTurnChallenge website where I am posting also. (You can find my last two posts here and here or my blog).

I hope you will try out Smartie’s latest creation and let me know what you think! I’m thinking adding a splash of Bragg instead of salt would be a nice touch too.  The ingredients and directions below. Enjoy!

Until tomorrow.

Much warmth,
Grace

SMARTIE’S VEGAN YAM MASH-UP

Total cooking time: 20 mins
Serves: 4 adults as a side dish

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Peel yams.
  2. Chop yams into toddler fist sized chunks.
  3. Place peeled yam chunks into a pot with a steam tray – I used this one.
  4. Steam for 15 mins.
  5. Mash them up with all the ingredients together.

It’s Been a While

It’s been a while since I last posted.  I have not abandoned this, if anything I cannot stop thinking about all the things I want to write here and it can be overwhelming.

I needed to take some time to re-access the direction I would like to take on with this blog.  There is so much to share to the point I had started to feel disorganized.  The voice in my head would remind me that I needed to continue to share what i’ve been learning because this parenting journey had been so enriching, educational, inspiring and rewarding that it would be selfish to keep to myself.

One of the biggest decision we’ve made recently was that we would like to try on the journey of homeschooling our boys.  This endeavour had been most exhilarating and overwhelming to me since like most people, I grew up going through the traditional school system.  Especially in the culture I grew up in (Chinese), the homeschooling concept does not exist – at least not in the last hundred years.

So here I am, again finding myself yet at another juncture where a decision is made for the development of our family culture that requires swimming up yet another stream with our current society.  Thankfully, when I started to dig around I discovered that there is a really sweet and supportive homeschooling group in our area and furthermore the support over the internet is astounding!  Many people have homeschooled and many more are starting to as well.  Knowing this, I am feeling quite safe and encouraged to give this all my efforts.

So diving into deep research and learning mode I went and here I am coming up for a little air to say hello and want to update on what type of things I will be sharing in the next little while.

Through my research on homeschooling, so far I’ve learned to deepen my rhythm at home as well as gained much new insight on how we all really learn as human beings, from both a scientific and emotional standpoint.  In a way, I’m actually homeschooling myself on homeschooling and the journey had been fun and eye-opening.

For instance, I just finished a workshop in the past weekend on the introduction to Anthroposophic Medicine and learned all about how to help my family to “Thrive through Illness” with the incomporable and gifted Trish Mcphee, and ER nurse practitioner from Grass Valley CA.  My mind and soul are so content with all this new knowledge on how to really facilitate my little boys, husband and friends during times of illness that I am looking forward practicing what I’ve learn the next time they are sick as well as sharing these experiences here.

Also, I’m working on a little e-guide on helping expecting mothers weave through all the baby consumer material minutiae that comes towards you as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.  I want to help these mothers-to-be to consider a simple and clutter-free first year into motherhood so they can focus on their connection with their new baby.

Until the next post, here is a wonderful essay on some of the things we should be aware of saying to our little ones:
10 Things to Stop Saying to Your Kids (and What to Say Instead)

I hope this winter had been good to you and your family so far and that you were able to find some time to do some reflecting and renewing after the business of the holiday season.  I am excited to connect and share more with you soon.

With warmth and love,
Grace

Our little Nasturtium seedlings that we planted on Imbolc/Candlemas (Groundhog Day).

Our little Nasturtium seedlings that we planted on Imbolc/Candlemas (Groundhog Day).

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

Birthdays and Parties – A Simplified Outlook Part 1:

Our sweet Leo will be turning 2 next month.

Confession:  I have yet to do birthday “parties” for either one of our boys where invitations were sent, neither via an e-vite nor snail mail.  In today’s parenting culture, from time to time I do feel a bit reluctant to admit that it is actually not something we are very proactive with.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good party, have people over to our house, preparing delicious meals, the sharing and the connection . It is the over-the-top, the more the merrier kind of parties that make me think twice.

Now that I am more aware of my own childhood, as I look back I realize birthdays were not such a big deal in my family.  Partly it is because my birthday is on Christmas Eve (Church and Jesus took center stage) .  Mostly it was because everyone was just too busy.  It was remembered and a family dinner was prepared or dining out was scheduled.  I was not modelled on how a good kids birthday party was thrown.  As I got older, and went to other people’s birthday parties, I didn’t recall having that much of a good time.  It was usually frenzied, chaotic, noisy and rushing to get the candles and cake part done – and then the presents.  It was always tearing out the wrapping and trying to get through the pile before anyone can take a breath.  There was never any order to these parties and it often just felt messy to me.

As our youngest boy will be turning 2 in a month, the idea of “to have or not to have” a birthday party has been circling my thoughts.  The first thing I always ask myself is:

“If we are going to have a birthday party, is it going to be a party for me (the adults) or is it going to be for the little ones?”

Leland1stBdayCake

For Leland’s first birthday 3 years ago, I made a rich dark chocolate cake for just us (the grandparents and the two of us) to enjoy.  We did have candles and I did put his name on the cake and we even took photos of him watching us blow out the candle.  It was truly simple and sweet.  We knew that Leland would not remember this particular birthday but the photos will show him that it was important, acknowledged and celebrated.  We didn’t at all feel the pressure of having a big shindig, in fact we felt it was quite authentic to our own (developing) family culture.

Leo1stBdayCake

For Leo’s first birthday last summer, it was a bit different.  Since the older brother was 3 and much more aware, we decided to do a simple birthday breakfast with just the 4 of us.  We made a blueberry pancake tower and sang a few songs.  It felt as though it was Leland that enjoyed the experience the most.  For him, it was all about the candles, lighting them and blowing them out.  There were no presents, except for a birthday ring that had photos of Leo throughout the year and ONE wood decoration on the ring.

So far my goal it still trying to keep birthdays and celebrations as genuine and simple as we can.  While they grow to become more aware of their own birthdays, so will I in regards to how I will be carving out our own kind of birthday traditions.  My goal is to be part of developing with them a healthy, meaningful and heartfelt outlook with their own birthdays as well as the birthdays of their loved ones.