Crafting in the “Maker Culture”

Boulder-aprons-(2).gifA recent article in our local paper referred to Kevin Kelly as saying that a “third industrial revolution is stirring.” Kelly, editor of the 472-page book, Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities,” sees an increasing number of self-educateds and do-it-yourselfers who are building things in wood, metal and other materials. David Carr, who interviewed Kelly in the the New York Times, referred to the arising of a “so-called maker culture, a movement toward building real, actual things with our own two hands.”

Are they right? Of course, Waldorf education and LifeWays have always strongly valued handwork and crafting of all types: woodworking, metalworking, fiber arts, and so forth. The accompanying photo is of me helping students make aprons in the LifeWays Training. Parents and teachers in these programs have always been excited by the richness of the classes which include woodworking, doll making, felting, knitting, crocheting, to name just a few. And there is certainly a wealth of online resources for all of these activities, and more. So I would agree that there does seem to be increased interest arising in more than just “the Waldorf world.” Perhaps it is arising as a counterbalance to the virtual world of technology which takes up so much of our time? But I’d still have to call it a “subculture,” rather than a culture.

To provide a bit more background information on Kevin Kelly, he is the founding editor of the Whole Earth Review (which evolved from The Whole Earth Catalog) and also worked with the online zine, Wired. Cool Tools has been described as “a sprawling compilation of useful tool reviews that author Kevin Kelly and a thousand contributors wrote over a 10-year period on Kelly’s blog of the same name.” It is available from Amazon.

Fostering Imagination and Balance

Music triangle boy and girl.jpgA mother wrote to Rahima: I have read books (You are Your Child’s First Teacher, and lots of Steiner) and listened to two audiotapes from this site on parenting the young child in the first 7 years of life. I became more conscious of changing the way I parented my son when he was about 3.5 years old. He is now 6.5. In general, I take a loving authoritative approach, I don’t offer a lot of choices, and feel confident steering the boat.
My problem is engaging him in discussions. Despite knowing what I ought to do when we come into conflict, I cannot seem to STOP speaking to him with concepts and engaging him in discussions, explaining, talking it out, etc. (It was how I was raised and so much a part of me, and I was precocious, “such a mature young girl”).

It seems like half the time I do address him appropriately and half the time I react through the intellect. Lately, I can see how much he is like me and getting the comments from others like, “He is so verbal. So smart. So mature.” While some might think this is desirable, I know what I am depriving him of by having instilled this in him through all the conversations we have.
I really need help in learning ways to re-program my impulses to hold discussions (not just about talking about feelings, but talking about everything!). And more importantly I am interested in knowing what I can do from this point out as he is entering the second phase of childhood. Is it too late? Your help is greatly appreciated. –H.C.

Rahima writes: Old habits die hard, and since you have success about half the time, I’m not sure there is anything else you can do–besides not be so hard on yourself. Your son probably has good genes and is naturally bright and awake. You both can’t cause that and can’t avoid it. So pat yourself on the back for not taking that up and running with it, as many parents with bright/gifted children do.

What else can you do as he comes out of the first phase of childhood? Continue to value balance, and give him as large a dose of the arts as you can. This is one of the things the Waldorf approach is very good at, teaching everything artistically between 7 and 14. If you aren’t near a Waldorf school, then this would involve bringing as many of the arts to him as you can through after-school enrichment and/or home schooling using a Waldorf approach. Our DVD on Creating a Waldorf Enrichment Program might give you some good ideas. You can start now, letting him do the wet-on-wet watercolor painting and Coloring with Block Crayons.

Be sure to keep providing many opportunities for creative play–both inside and outdoors–rather than filling up his life with lessons as he gets older. Read Simplicity Parenting–it’s the book that takes up where mine leaves off.

At six-and-a-half you can also bring your son a rich serving of fairy tales. Buy a copy of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales (not the “as told by,” watered down versions) and read through one of the more complex ones to make sure that it resonates with you–if you react against that one, choose another. You don’t have to memorize it– it’s okay to read it to him–but I would read him the same story every night for a week so it really has a chance to go into his sleep and dream life. Maybe make Sundays the night you change stories so there will be a rhythm and he’ll know what to expect.

There are also two books about children’s stories and books that supplement Steiner’s understanding of child development, Make Way for Reading and Books for the Journey, both available from Michaelmas Press.

Those suggestions should give you enough to start with and will not only enrich your child’s life, but yours as well.

More on Children and Media

young child w ipad.jpgIt’s been five years since the American Academy of Pediatricians issued their position statement asking parents to limit screen time for children and not to have any for children under two years of age–and no televisions in children’s rooms. On October 28 (2013) they issued an updated statement that also addressed the rapid rise in mobile apps that children are using.

At the same time, a nationally based survey from the nonprofit advocacy group Common Sense Media, showed that 72% of children ages 8 and under have used a mobile device for some type of media activity such as playing games, watching videos or using apps, up from 38% just two years ago. And 17% of these young children use a mobile device on a daily basis.

Other findings in these documents include:
• The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of media; older children and teens spend more than 11 hours a day.
• The presence of a television set in a child’s bedroom increases TV viewing even more, and 71% of children and teens report having a TV in their bedroom; 50% have a console video game player in their room.
• Nearly all children and teens (84%) are on-line; about 75% of 12- to 17-year-olds have a cellphone, up from 45% in 2004; 88% use text messaging.

Victor Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the AAP policy statement, said that children are “spending more time with media than they are in school. They are spending more time with media than in any activity other than sleeping. You could make the argument that media have taken over the primary role of teaching kids from schools and parents in many cases.”

The documents recommend that parents monitor children’s media use and develop a plan for healthy use (as well as modeling discriminating behavior). They also recommend: 1) that pediatricians ask at well-child visits how much time a child is spending with media and if there is a TV or internet-connected device in the child’s bedroom; and 2) that they take a more detailed media history with children or teens at risk for obesity, aggression, tobacco or substance use, or school problems.
Based on articles in USA Today online, Oct. 28, 2013.

Children, Birth and Sex Education

Pregnant, w toddler.jpgby Rahima Baldwin Dancy
Where do babies come from? What do children need to know in terms of “sex education,” and when? What about when a new baby is going to be born at home?

Young children today are usually quite aware that a baby is growing “inside mommy’s tummy,” and they will sometimes give kisses to the baby or tell you something about him or her during the months of pregnancy. But how did the baby get there, and what will help prepare them for the birth?

Regardless of the question, young children are not asking about the mechanics or even the physical realities–which is why they are usually satisfied with an answer that emphasizes the spiritual realities. If you are telling them the truth, it doesn’t have to be the whole truth and can be augmented as they grow and become “more earthly.” The very young child has just come from the spiritual world and still has one foot there, which is why talking about a little angel or Star Child coming to earth to be their brother or sister makes sense to them–they were recently in that state themselves and are still strongly in touch with their own spiritual reality.

So–if this applies to your family situation–you might say something like, “When you were a Star Child up in heaven, you saw how much your daddy and I loved each other and how much we would love you, too, and you decided to come down and be part of our family. And our new baby saw this, too, and also wanted to have you as big brother (or sister).” Some children’s books that reinforce this understanding include Little Angel’s Journey by Dzvinka Hayda (available on Amazon). This book retells the Waldorf birthday story of the child coming to birth over the rainbow bridge. Birthday by Heather Jarman tells the story of young children, on their birthday, waiting to travel with Father Time from heaven down to earth (from Steiner Books). And, if you don’t know On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman, it’s a real delight (from Amazon).

Here are some other suggestions: “The baby is growing, getting bigger and bigger, and when the leaves are turning colors this fall, it will be time for her to come out and join our family.” “Mommy has a special place between her legs that opens up for the baby to come out and closes back up again. When the baby and mommy will be working together so he or she can come out, it’s called ‘labor,’ which means ‘hard work.’ So mommy might be making noises then, like moving a piano. That’s how hard she’ll be working” (then you could make grunting noises together).

Having been a midwife for many years, I’ve seen many children participate in birth to varying degrees, from going over to grandmas, to wanting to be present every moment, to just missing the birth by a few minutes. It’s important that the parents decide to what extent they want their young child or children to participate and, if so, that they have someone who can take his or her cues from the child, leaving both parents free to focus on this unique labor and birth. My own thoughts at this point are that birth is really intense and, just as a couple wouldn’t have intercourse in front of their child due to the intimate and intense nature of the energy, I would think twice before having a young child present for the actual birth. Having said that, however, I would add that I have never seen a child upset by birth–they tend to be self regulating if someone is sensitive to their needs. However, young children don’t need to be present for the actual “coming out” to take in the message that birth is a normal part of life and is happening with everyone’s love and blessing. Coming in shortly after the birth (or even in the morning), can be plenty soon enough to meet the new baby and participate in the loving atmosphere.

In thinking about having children at birth, the first consideration is that the mother feel comfortable and able to concentrate on the work at hand without having to divide her attention or be afraid of ignoring or frightening a young child. If she feels she can do this with children in the house, then the second most important thing is that there is someone to be with the other child or children who is there only for them and who is willing to miss the actual birth, because young children often arrange to be away at the park or asleep at night when the baby actually comes out.

When I took the Waldorf teacher training, the teachers (mostly from the UK, Germany and Austria), talked about the story/image of babies being brought by the stork and how this was an image of the spiritual, not the physical reality–nobody was trying to say it was “literal,” the more so because children in earlier times were probably even more familiar with birth and farm life. Neither was it a “cute story” or a con for the children; rather, it was a “true image” in describing the spirit of the child coming to earth, accompanied by a white bird like the dove representing the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

The spiritual realities about birth, combined with a few simple sentences about how the baby comes out are almost always enough for the young child. As the child matures, more information obviously needs to be given. Human Fertility, a guide for teachers (and parents) by Waldorf teacher Linda Knodle contains lesson plans to use in grades 4-7. Her sequel, Lessons for Middle School Issues, is for use with children in grades 8 and 9. She has also written a Rites of Passage Workbook, and all are available from her website, We offer a CD or MP3 of Linda’s talk “Navigating the Terrain of Sexuality.”

Another internationally known writer and teacher, DeAnna L’am, is also a Waldorf parent and has written Becoming Peers for mothers and other women who care about girls’ coming of age. A lot of DeAnna’s work with women involves helping them release their own confusion and pain around menstruation and fertility so they can be clear guides for girls’ becoming women–so it’s never too early to start. We off her book and a CD/MP3 of hers, “Mentoring Youth into Adulthood“; or see her website at

One remaining question is how and when to teach young children about boundaries and body integrity–please note that I use those words instead of “sex education” and “stranger danger”–since most cases of sexual abuse or even abduction involve people well known to the child. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any resources developed from a Waldorf understanding, and much of what is available is far too hysterical, burdening the child with unrealistic expectations. One of the guidelines I do like is from Blue Sky Bridge in Colorado, “Some Simple Tips to Help Keep Your Children Safe from Sexual Abuse.” Their sensible suggestions include listening to your child and maintaining a “secrets-free” home; and teaching your children that each person is in charge of their own body and no one is allowed to touch their body or make them touch another person’s body. Read the complete list here.

Better to Delay School Entry

Thumbnail image for our new play loft.JPGSchool should be delayed until age six because an over-emphasis on the three-Rs at an early age can cause significant long-term damage to bright children, according to Dr. Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education in England. He quoted a major US study – carried out over eight decades – that showed children’s “run-away intellect” actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally. Pupils should not be subjected to full classroom tuition until the age of six to off-set the effects of premature “adultification,” and gifted pupils from relatively affluent backgrounds suffered the most from being pushed “too far, too fast” it was claimed.

House claimed the case for change was supported by a longitudinal study of gifted children who started in school in the US in the 1920s. Prof Howard Friedman, a psychologist at the University of California, analysed their progress over 80 years and found that “early school entry was associated with less educational attainment, worse midlife adjustment and, most importantly, increased mortality risk”.

House went on to develop the importance of play-based early learning through age six, which is supported by Waldorf education (the picture, above, is of the new play loft from the LifeWays Childcare Society in Vancouver). Steiner was very clear about the later health problems that can be associated with early academics and “adultification”–it’s interesting to see that supported by more mainstream work. Here is a link to the article.

Waldorf in China, Part II


From Beijing we flew to Xi’an, a city that is rich in history, from the walls around the old city to the nearby site of the terra cotta warriors. Our generous hosts at the Xi’an Waldorf School arranged for us to see many of the sites before Agaf gave a talk on how Waldorf education meets the needs of the growing child. The school itself starts with kindergarten and goes through a combined grade four and five.

blackboard-Xian.jpgThe Waldorf School is in the suburbs of Xi’an, near an agricultural area that grows wheat and corn. The school has been able to rent a vacant school building and added a eurythmy room and apartments for teachers, but it will not be large enough to go through all six grades. Most of the children are transported by school bus and have free play from 3:30-4:00, which is when we were there.

children-Xian.jpgIt was good to see so many children playing together, enjoying one another and clearly loving their teachers. The talk we gave that night was held at a college in town and was well-attended by about 35 parents.

When we flew to Guangzhou, I discovered I had been invited to give a workshop on pregnancy and birth in Zhu Hai, about two hours away. So the next day they put me on a bus and off I went to this southern port city where the Pearl River meets the sea. It is right next to Macau (a former Portuguese colony) and only a ferry ride away from Hong Kong. Here in Canton province the weather is much more hot and humid than in the north of China!

I was met at the bus stop by Zhang Hao, one of the founding kindergarten teachers of the Chun-tong Waldorf school. She was thrilled to organize the workshop, as she had read First Teacher years ago and is expecting her second child in June. The next day there were 25 women and two men at the day-long workshop on birth to three.

I was also able to visit the school, which has two kindergartens, two playgroups, and goes through a combined class 4-5. They rent lovely rooms and garden space in part of an agricultural exhibition area (sort of like a fair grounds). They have also had wonderful mentors from Chengdu and Australia, and the result is a very strong Waldorf program with unique classrooms, beautiful grounds and lush vegetable gardens.

RBD-Teaching-in-Guangzhou.jpgAfter returning to Guangzhou, I was invited to give an evening talk in the course for Waldorf School Administrators. So I shared with them how Waldorf programs in America are working with parents through classes for parents, study groups, play groups and care for children younger than kindergarten, and so forth.

My final visit while Agaf was teaching with Chris Schaefer for five days in the administration course was to the kindergartens at the school in Guangzhou. Here I was able to observe in two classrooms and felt right at home. Waldorf works–worldwide!

Waldorf in China, Part I

DSCN0443.JPGWe have spent two weeks in China in March, 2013, and I would like to share my impressions and some photos with you. First, there is great news–my book, You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, is now under contract to be translated into Chinese by a large mainstream publisher in Beijing. This happened through Random House, not through any connections that I made here, but it occurred the very week we were in Beijing–funny how those things work!

DSCN0373.JPGInterest in Waldorf education is exploding in China–someone told us that in the past year there are 150 new kindergartens and there are now 30 schools. It reminds me a lot of the Waldorf movement in North America starting around 1980.  In many cases parents are wanting a Waldorf school for their own children, so are taking the teacher training and going back to their area to start a school–just like that!

The first Waldorf school in China opened in Chengdu about 12 years ago and now has full certification with the state.  It went through the big earthquake there. A Waldorf teacher training was immediately founded there, followed by teacher training programs in other locations as well, for class teaching, early childhood, and a foundation program as well.

DSCN0506.JPGUnlike in the US (even today), we have been told that many  new Waldorf classes have a waiting list as soon as they open–China has such a huge population and so many parents are looking for something different from the state-run schools, which force the children to work such long hours in such a regimented way. We have given talks for parents at three of the Waldorf Schools and really appreciate how couragaeous and pioneering the parents are, not really having full Waldorf schools to look to as successful models and not knowing how their children will fit into Chinese society after such a different education.

The first school we visited is called Beijing Spring Valley, after the Waldorf programs in Spring Valley, New York. Chris Schaefer has been instrumental in helping to found this school and several others, as well as the teacher training program that is held on the same grounds. No land is available within Beijing, so the school is located in a northern suburb, at the foot of the Phoenix mountains. DSCN0377.JPGThe complex also includes a biodynamic (BD) farm called the Phoenix Commune, which is the only Demeter-certified BD program in China. The farm is a wonderful place for the children at the school to visit. The school has been open for two years and has kindergarten through second grade.

DSCN0511.JPGWe also visited Nanshan School in another suburb of Beijing. It goes through grade 4 and has a lovely campus. It was started by a teacher who attended the Waldorf training in Chengdu, and has added a grade each year. We were there in the late afternoon (the children stay until about 4 pm), and gave a talk to about 30 parents after school.  It was very lively, with many questions about home life. All the schools throughout China offer English as a foreign language; a Eurythmist from Sweden alternates spending two months here and at the Spring Valley school.

From Beijing we flew to Xi’an, a city that is rich in history. I’ll tell you about our visits to Waldorf Schools there and in Guanzhou in Part II.

Waldorf in Thailand

Abhinporn.jpgThe Waldorf early childhood teachers were such wonderful hosts for us during our visit to Bangkok! Abhinporn, who coordinates the Early Childhood training, met us at the airport and arranged sightseeing for us. She did her Waldorf training in Australia and has just taken a position in a pioneering school in the NE of Thailand.

There are two full schools in Bangkok, as well as Baan Rak kindergarten.  We were able to visit them all, as well as see some of the sites in Bangkok, including the Temples of the Reclining Buddha and the Golden Buddha.  If you are on Facebook, see my Thailand album for more photos!

Abhhisiree.jpgAbhisiree graciously hosted us in the guest house on the grounds Baan Rak kindergarten that she and her husband, Sato, run for 90 children ages 1-1/2 to seven. “Baan Rak” means “House of Love.” Abhisiree inherited the kindergarten from her father, and then she and Sato attended the early childhood training in Fair Oaks to convert it into a full Waldorf program. There are 5 classrooms, a meeting/eurythmy hall, beautiful gardens and even a pond with turtkles and koi. Some children start arriving at 7:30 and almost all are gone by 4 pm. We saw them doing many home-like activities: baking bread, folding the towels, and sweeping, lots of outdoor free play, and singing games.Four-Seasons-Silk.jpg

Abhisiree is also masterful at dyeing silk with natural dyes. Each year she goes to the mountains where they gather the materials and wood for the fires. I love the “four seasons” silks she gave me, as well as a beautiful purple and green silk shawl.Panyotai-Waldorf-School.jpg

The first Waldorf school in Thailand, Panyotai (Dawn of Wisdom) School, was started in 1996 by Dr. Porn Panosot and his wife Janpen and a group of parents and teachers. They have a full program from kindergarten through high school, and we were able to see some of the seniors finishing their woodworking projects, even though it was “summer break” from mid-March through mid-May. They have started another kindergarten program next door to the school, which will grow into having its

School.jpgWe also visited the other large Waldorf school, Tridhaksa, which started with a nursery group in 2000 and now goes through 11th grade. They have spent the last year building on their new site, and had just moved all the classroom materials there when we visited at the beginning of their break. They still have alot to do before school opens again in May, but they have a lot of support from very active parents in completing the move.


On Wednesday I gave a talk on early childhood at Baan Rak from 9-12 and 3-6, and parents and teachers came from around Bangkok, including about 5 fathers. I was so delighted to finally meet Suwanna. She discovered my book fifteen years ago when she was a student at Sunbridge College. She began to translate it then, and we have been in touch by email over the years, but had never met. She has three children now and has gone on to write half a dozen books on parenting on her own and does family coaching — via Skype!

Bangkok-Skyline.jpgI learned that many Thai families have both parents working and make use of nannies–often one for each child. Other than that, their situations and questions were much the same as parents’ in the US or in Mexico. As in America, First Teacher has been greatly appreciated by parents and has brought many people to Waldorf education, including being instrumental in the founding of several new initiatives in other regions of Thailand. I am grateful that Suwanna and I have been able to contribute to the spread of Waldorf education and parenting insights in Thailand!

“Creating a Joyful Life with Children”

LifeWays North America will be holding its national conference May 18, 2013 at Marin Waldorf School in San Rafael, California, just north of San Francisco. Here is information from Cynthia Aldinger about the conference (also, see their website for details).

It’s happening! The conference we have been thinking about and hoping for over the past few years is coming to California this spring, co-sponsored by Marin Waldorf School!

In considering a theme, we felt that now is a good time to focus on JOY. World media is quick to remind us of all that is painful in the world. We know, however, that there is much to celebrate. Please come celebrate with us.

Go now to our website to learn more and take advantage of early registration discounts! There are even additional discounts for LifeWays Students, Graduates, and Representatives–but only if you register by April 18th!

Come be inspired by our Keynote Speakers:

Faith w toddlers.jpgFaith Collins ~ Ever since I visited Faith when she was caring for toddlers and later with a mixed-age group in her LifeWays home center, I have wanted to introduce her to the world! Her delight is infectious, as I am sure those of you who have participated in any of her online courses will testify. “Miss Faith” of Joyful Toddlers has brought calmness and humor as an antidote to many situations in which we as parents and professionals find ourselves with young children. She has an international following, and now you can spend a whole day with her!

Suzanne Down.jpgSuzanne Down has her own magnetic field that has attracted people for many years. Most know her as a queen of puppetry. Not as many, perhaps, know she also has a wonderful background in the care and nurture of young children. She once had her own home program for little ones and has been a Waldorf early childhood educator. Suzanne’s work with her students in the Colorado LifeWays Training is magic and has a sweet tenderness. Suzanne will offer little puppet vignettes before each keynote as well as giving a keynote talk and offering an engaging workshop.

Thumbnail image for Cynthia-grandkids-cropped.jpgCynthia Aldinger, that’s me, is just so happy to be presenting with these two stellar women, that I am sure I will have no problem speaking about seeking and finding Joy! As the founder of LifeWays, it is no secret to me that what makes LifeWays an elixir for so many people is that it attracts such a wonderfully diverse and equally light-filled assortment of individuals.

Workshop Presenters:
In addition to our keynotes, who will also be giving workshops, be sure to check out the bios of our other workshop presenters Steve Spitalny, Joya Birns, Cindy Brooks, Thea Blair, and Rosario Villasana. We have an extra treasure in Anna Rainville, who will be sharing a few of her heart-lifting games with us at the beginning and ending of the day! [Note: Rosario’s workshop will be in Spanish, so please spread the word to our Spanish-speaking friends.] See workshop descriptions here.

Thank you’s:
A special shout out to Marianne Alsop and her close colleagues for all their help in making this conference possible and to Agaf and Rahima Dancy for their technical and organizational advice, as well as to our co-sponsor Marin Waldorf School. And, of course, to Faith Collins, who has worked for months on pulling all the details together for us – from London!!

Whether you are a bicycle ride away or your travel would involve trains, planes and automobiles, come join us! San Rafael in May – what could be better?

In joyful anticipation,
Cynthia Aldinger, Founder
LifeWays North America

Midwifery and Doula Workshops in Bali

Robin w baby.jpgInterested in midwifery? Join Robin Lim and other midwives in Bali for “Journey into Midwifery,” ten days of exploring basic midwifery skills and the unique gifts you bring to birth, April 1-10, 2013. 

I’ll be one of the presenters, and I’m looking forward to meeting the participants and experiencing the unique gentle birth environment Robin has created at Bumi Sehat Birth Center. Robin received the CNN Hero Award in 2011 to further the work she has been doing in Indonesia for 25 years.

In March they are also offering doula training, which is a unique opportunity to learn skills for assisting at births and starting your own practice while experiencing this nurturing birth environment.

Robin’s daughter made a video about her work, “Guerilla Midwife,” which gives a comprehensive view of the reach of her work throughout the years. Making a difference one baby at a time!