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!

The Value of "Wait"

grandma copy.jpgDo you know Janet Lansbury's blog "Elevating Child Care"? She has written a fantastic article about "The Parenting Magic Word." It's wait. Take a look at this great article--you'll immediately be able to apply it in your life!

The photo at left is by Harriette Hartigan of Insight Photography.

Communicating with Children and Supporting them in Difficult Times

By Hiromi Niwa Doherty

Thumbnail image for angel statue.jpg[NOTE: In response to the recent tragic shootings in Connecticut, parents have been asking how to talk with their children. Hiromi's article after the tsunami is so excellent that I'm reprinting it here.]

As a native of Japan, and having family members and many friends in the midst of the devastation, I continue to struggle to find strength to overcome my own fear and sadness.

Yet, a question came to me--how do I talk to my 4-year-old about this? This awoke me. I felt called to stand up and do something, anything if I can, to protect my own child and to help fellow parents as we work together to protect our children from further harm. How can we support our children while we adults are struggling?

Now I have re-written my findings in English and would like to share them with you. Although many of my points are for those directly affected, you may still find them applicable. I thank Ms. Andrea Gambardella of Green Meadow Waldorf School for giving me a jump start with her thoughtful input and support.

1. Turn off the TV

While it is obvious to adults that the TV is replaying the same footage over and over again, these repeated inflow of graphic images and shocking news make young children think that these scary events are still ongoing. Additionally, they do not have a sense of distance, so even reports from a far away country have a strong impact. They may well think what they see on TV is happening right in their own neighborhood.

2. Make them feel safe

Children express their anxiety in various ways. They can become dependent and clingy, afraid to go to bed or bathroom alone, or behave aggressively. Some children may experience physical pains such as a headache and stomachache. Those who have long ago graduated from diapers may have accidents. Give them hugs and physical closeness.

Spend time together reading or taking a walk.

Give them assurance by telling them we love them and we will continue to take care of them.

3. Be open and receptive to how a child reacts/expresses himself

Let them know that their feelings, thoughts, questions, reactions, however they may communicate (or not communicate), are all valid and we accept them as they are. Invite their expressions with open and receptive attitude, so they can speak to you about anything, when they choose to. Some children prefer not to talk at all--let them be silent. Young children live in the moment and have dream-like minds, which means they may not accumulate or linger on specific emotions or memories, as adults do. Children may find ways to express and soothe themselves by drawing or playing out their experiences. I will come back to this point later.

4. The best time to talk is when a child asks questions

Many of us remember the events of 9-11 clearly. I know I will not forget about the 3-11 earthquake. We will all have particular events in our lifetimes that will have great significance. At such moments, we are given a possibility to transcend our old selves. It will not be an easy talk. But you know your child the best, her temperament, thoughts and possible reactions. With that deep knowing, you can address her with sincerity and love.

5. Avoid scientific explanation or frightening graphic images, give simple narrative

Children know intuitively when we are not truthful. Ignoring and understating the fact, or telling a lie (however well meaning it is) will make them more fearful. Give them simple explanations in words they can understand. Children are born resilient, adaptable and cheerful. Trust their strength, and with your striving to do your best, your child will be able to get the message. Do not leave this task to the TV or anyone else, for if we do this, the parent-child relationship will not be the same. This will be one of the very important moments for you and your child.

6. End with hopeful, encouraging facts and words

I quote from Mr. Rogers,

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." 1

We may not always give them a happy ending, but we can end our story with focus on hope and recovery rather than fear and sadness.


7. If asked, repeat the same story as many times as necessary

Children like repetition. When it is difficult to understand or believe what has been told, they may ask you the same question over and over again. Repeat the same story as many times as they ask you. They feel secure by your consistency and can then process the information at their own pace.

8. Regain rhythm and routines of everyday life

Not just do children like to feel the comfort of the repetition of stories, but children like repetition, and in fact, they thrive on it. Even as adults we will feel anxious when we are out of our routines and we may have physical ailments as a result. As early and as much as possible, bring back the rhythm and routine as before.

If nothing else, we can at least say "good morning" or say grace before and after meals.

If your life has been changed drastically and it is difficult to bring back the familiar, start a new tradition, something that is small and easy to do. Exercise with children in the morning, say a blessing before meals, or simply pray. If you repeat it every day in the same manner, it will increase the sense of rhythm which will become a security blanket for children. It will be our guiding light, as we sail in the sea of uncertainty.

9. Give children time and space to play

Children's work is play. Under extremely difficult situations, it may be difficult to even think of the cheer and fun of play. As described before, children may process and digest their experiences and emotions through drawing or playing out in "let's pretend" scenarios.

Even temporarily, if children can be immersed in play--by moving their bodies and letting their inner feelings out, it will greatly help them in their healing processes. Let them be children, as much as you can. Give them time and space. Show them the games you used to play with only a stone. Give them pencil and paper that they may use as they wish.

10. Children imitate adults. Be a role model

Children imitate adults. They are keen observers and do exactly the same. They take in not only our actions, but our conversations with other adults, and our innermost state of being -- how we feel and what we believe--everything! I am not suggesting that we become someone else. We cannot make ourselves up or stand taller than we actually are.

Children see us struggle and stand up again, while keeping our spirits high and fighting our fear and hardships. We do make mistakes and fall back sometimes, but it is our striving, despite it all, that children find strength and courage to imitate.

Please refer to the inspiring article at the link below, written by Susan Weber, Director of Sophia's Hearth Family Center, Keene, NH, a master teacher and my mentor, with whom I am fortunate to have studied:

11. Be active and do something meaningful (pray, donate, help with chores)

If ready and willing, involve children in meaningful activities, they like to help and be part of the bigger world.

12. Give them stories that talk about courage and overcoming sadness and hardship

I started looking for such stories and would like to create a list and/or compilation. Meantime, I was also advised that while the content of a story remains important, it is how we tell them the story, which is more significant. Create a peaceful environment, take a deep breath, so that you can calmly connect with the spirit of the story. Then both you and the children may receive wisdom, comfort and healing from the story. May we trust our instinct as parents and act courageously. May children smile and laugh again very soon.

Hiromi Niwa Doherty


American Psychiatric Association Website,

NYU Child Study Center Website,

Mr. Rogers' Website,

Private conversations with Ms. Andrea Gambardella, kindergarten teacher, Green Meadow Waldorf School, NY, USA

Join Waldorf Peace Work in the Middle East

Thumbnail image for PilgrimagePg1.jpgDid you ever have the thought that lasting peace must grow out of children being educated in a different way? That's how Waldorf education developed out of the ashes of "The Great War," and it's the impulse behind a nonprofit organization working with Waldorf education as a tool for Arab-Israeli understanding. ReGeneration is "an interfaith non-profit seeding the Middle East with an educational philosophy that embraces life, learning, the arts, the earth and all the children."

They are planning a "Interfaith Pilgrimage for Possibility" in March, 2013, as well as supporting two pilot educational programs, Ein Bustan, the first Arab/Waldorf kindergarten in Israel and El Zeitoun, the first Arab Waldorf School in Israel. Both of these programs, along with the Palestinian Teacher Training have a high potential for positively impacting society in the Middle East. They support "an education in the Middle East that builds resiliency in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim children while promoting new capacities for this generation to shape a stable and sustainable future for all."

It is still possible to join the "Interfaith Pilgrimage for Possibility" to Israel, March 3-14, 2013. For the full itinerary and further information, click here.

Watch a short video of Israel Muslim-Arab-waldorf kindergarten in action here.

The Waldorf School Calendar

Thumbnail image for 2013 Waldorf calendar.JPGLooking for a great holiday gift for your family?  The Waldorf School Calendar has wonderful classroom paintings from kindergarten, grade school and high school students in Waldorf schools throughout North America.  Holidays and moon phases are also included.  I love mine!

Produced each year by the Chicago Waldorf School; they also sell notecards.  To learn more and to order, click here.

Balancing Family and Work

Having it all article.jpgAnne-Marie Slaughter resigned from the third highest position in the State Department in order to be home with her teenage sons. This thought provoking article she wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" should be read by both men and women alike!  She's also followed it up with, "Work-Life Balance as a Men's Issue, Too." I'd love to discuss them with you over tea!

Celebrating Halloween with Toddlers

Halloween 2010 A&R.jpgHalloween isn't much of a holiday for young children--although it's one of my favorites because I love costumes! I love to see how everyone dresses up as his or her alter-ego or shadow self (either positive or negative!). Last year Agaf and I dressed as the King and Queen of Hearts.

Cultures all over the world have recognized that the veils between the world of the living and the world of the dead are thinner at this time of year, and I think Mexico and other Latin American countries do a much better job of integrating the celebration of the Day of the Dead into family life: everyone prepares a altar where family members who have died are remembered, and sugar skulls and other "memento mori" remind everyone that life is fleeting. In some locations the entire family picnics at the graveside, bringing flowers and other momentos.

In this country, however, many parents today are looking for alternatives to both the tricks and the treats of Halloween as it has come down to us.  Some malls invite children to wear costumes and receive treats Halloween afternoon, while both Waldorf schools in Boulder offer an alternative "Halloween Journey" in which hundreds of children and adults are led in small groups by older children or adult "angels" through a series of fairy-tale and other scenes enacted by the faculty and parents--quite lovely, and quite a production!  Wanting to incorporate more of the element of "Michaelic courage," one of the schools in California hosted a "Perilous Path" journey for older children for many years. You may know of other alternative offerings.

However, toddlers are too young to "get it" about Halloween costumes--and besides, every day is costume day for them!  So parents need to realize that they're dressing their young child up (if they do at all) for their own enjoyment, and that the child may resist or probably won't want to keep the costume on more than fifteen minutes before moving on to something else. 

cookingbear.jpgWhat we always did at Rainbow Bridge was to explain this to the parents while still inviting the children to arrive in costume on Halloween if they wanted to.  Our guidelines were that costumes not include masks and not be scary for little ones (we had ages 1-5). Of course, home-made costumes are great fun, but certainly not required with today's working parents (and I never wanted our program to be too "perfect" in any case).  While I didn't say much about "media characters," some of the older boys wore simple costumes for us and saved their Darth Vader costumes for that night--fair enough.  Costumes could be so simple--even a hat was enough.

Everyone seemed to enjoy seeing the costumes at drop-off, and by the time free play was over, children would be out of their costumes and we'd go on with our normal day.  We did plenty with pumpkins in October and November--growing and carving them, baking pies, doing fingerplays and songs about them--but all we did for Halloween itself was allow simple costumes, and that seemed like plenty.

A Child's Seasonal Treasury


A Child's Seasonal Treasury, by Waldorf early childhood teacher Betty Jones, is a valuable resource for any early childhood teacher or parent with young children.

One homeschooling mother wrote: "Although other books were also helpful, A Child's Seasonal Treasury was really all I needed, as it provided me with everything: seasonally based songs, poems, verses, games, activities, and recipes, in a very easy to follow way, and the layout was simple and beautiful. There were books which contained almost too much information, and they overwhelmed me, whereas Ms. Jones' book gave just enough materials and I was sable to actually makes use of what was offered."

In the forward Betty Peck, Anna Rainville and Nancy Mellon write: ""Contained in this one lovely volume is a very generous supply of original and traditional materials for parents and teachers, providing practical ways to engage children while enhancing family or classroom culture....Whenever you are longing for artistic guidance and inspiration with young children, reach for this compendium of treasures.  As early childhood educators we are thrilled and grateful that it is returning to print, and is to be widely available again."

You can learn more and order your copy from

The Tiptoes Lightly Stories

lost-lagoon-cover-book-page.jpgDo you know Tiptoes Lightly and her friends, who come alive through a series of delightful stories to share with your young children? Eurythmist Reg Down has created 8 children's books about their adventures--check them out on his website!

Especially recommended for fall are the stories "The Most Beautiful Dragon in the Whole World" and "St. Martin's Light" from his book The Festival of Stones. These and many other short stories are available as free downloads on his website, but the illustrations are so lovely that you'll want to buy the complete books!

Reg has also recently edited and re-released a favorite for older children, The King of Ireland's Son by Padraic Colum. He has also republished Gilgamesh (5th grade) and The Children of Odin - The Book of Northern Myths by Padraic Colum (4th grade).

My children loved The King of Ireland's Son when they were growing up, and I'm looking forward to sharing the Tiptoes Lightly stories with grandchildren!

Children and Choices

girlwapples.jpgA mother wrote:
I am just starting to learn more about Waldorf teaching philosophies. I always want to do all in the best interest of the children. Is it wise to let children select the "one they wish" or for me to decide for them. I am confused with this as I have heard different things from various teachers I have talked to around the country (non Waldorf teachers).
Many thanks for your help!

Rahima responds:
While the photo above exaggerates the point, not giving young children so many choices is not only counter-intuitive in our culture ("Poor children! At least there's some area where they can have control!"), but perhaps even somewhat un-American ("What about liberty and freedom?! I don't want to be authoritarian!"), not to mention at odds with some popular parenting approaches today, which want children to choose and then experience the consequences of their choices.

What might we do instead of giving children so many choices, and why? The "ideal" would be to have home life flow so rhythmically and smoothly that your child would know what was happening and what was expected without having to make it conscious, as bringing things to the young child's attention by asking them what they want to do or which they want replaces their dreamy, free-flowing consciousness with the level of awakeness of an older child. It also calls into play the emotions--asking for his or her likes and dislikes rather than letting the child float along in the ambience of "this is how things are; I don't have to worry about them."

If you think about it, choices can be overwhelming instead of empowering. In fact, recent studies with adults have shown that having so many choices takes energy from us each time we have to decide something. This is even more true for a young child, especially if we bring choices first thing in the morning or when they're tired: "Do you want cereal or eggs for breakfast?" "Wah!....I want pancakes!!....." and a meltdown follows.

Pointing out a more esoteric connection, Steiner relates that appealing to children's likes and dislikes all the time through choices not only strengthens that character trait, but also can later result in unclear thinking (ie thinking that arises from likes and dislikes, which can be narrow minded or bigoted).

Here's another angle: It's snowing and your child declares, "No! I'm not going to wear my coat today!" A Waldorf-oriented approach would also pass on the "logical consequences" involved in your saying, "You can either wear your coat today or catch cold." Rather, this is a nonissue because you're the adult and are responsible for your child's health (or nutrition, or being careful with something, or whatever the issue might be). You know that, "We don't go out without our coats on." and, hopefully, that certainty will prevent this discussion in the first place. Besides, young children don't really know when they're cold because they don't penetrate their limbs enough to give an accurate report (this is why feeling a child's hands can give you a good indication whether they're warm enough).

Where it can be helpful to give choices is to say two things that both result in what you want to have happen. It's time to go and your child is resisting, so you say, "Do you want to hop to the car like a bunny, or do you want to fly like an airplane?" Either way, you're on your way. Or you can let a child choose (appropriate) clothing--but try putting it out the night before, not asking her when she's barely awake and things are rushed in the morning.

Food for thought--I hope some of the above illustrations have been helpful!

What is Waldorf Education?

Waldorf education is a worldwide system of education for preschool through grade 12 developed from the indications of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner, an Austrian scientist, educator and writer, turned his attention to education after the First World War at the request of Emil Molt, who helped him found a school for the children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart in 1919. The impulse for "Waldorf education," as it came to be called, spread throughout Europe, with the first school in America being founded in New York City in 1928.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Steiner.jpgSteiner was a pioneer in the area of developmentally based, age-appropriate learning, and many of his indications were later born out by the work of Gesell, Piaget and others. In addition, he sought to develop a balanced education for the "whole child," one which would engage the child's feeling and willing, as well as thinking, and would leave his or her spiritual nature acknowledged, but free. From preschool through high school, the goal of Waldorf education is the same, but the means differ according to the changing inner development of the child. According to Steiner, "Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings, who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives."

Because of this emphasis, the Waldorf Schools were closed by the Nazis during World War II, but soon reopened and have spread in the last two decades to such troubled areas as South Africa, Palestine, Eastern Europe and Russia. In 1994 there were 640 schools, 1087 kindergartens, more than 300 curative (special education) centers and 60 teacher training institutes in 46 countries which are based on Rudolf Steiner's pedagogical impulse. Growth of the movement in America has been very rapid since 1980.

Thumbnail image for Baking pie w Faith.jpgEarly Childhood Education
During the early childhood years, the child is surrounded by a homelike environment which encourages imaginative free play and artistic activity. Steiner recognized that the young child learns primarily through example and imitation, with an emphasis on the importance of movement, rhythm, fairy tales and oral language. Steiner felt that it is not healthy for children to concentrate on cognitive skills such as reading, writing and math until the body has reached a certain level of maturity, freeing the forces of growth for cognitive work. This change is signified by many signs, including the eruption of the adult teeth and the child's ability to reach over its head and touch the opposite ear. Children are carefully evaluated for readiness for first grade, and most schools request that children turn six before school starts.

Many schools have mixed-age kindergartens, with children from 3-6 years old in the same room. Typical daily activities in the preschool/kindergarten include free play, movement games, story circle, and a craft or artistic activity (water color painting, beeswax modeling, coloring with beeswax crayons, baking, and so forth). Puppet plays, nature walks and celebrating the festivals are frequent events throughout the year.

Thumbnail image for watercolor goose.jpgThe Elementary Grades
In the elementary school (grades 1-8), all of the subjects are presented in a lively and pictorial way, because Steiner found the elementary-school child learns best when information is artistically and imaginatively presented. The same teacher stays with the children from first through eighth grade, teaching the "main lesson" subjects, which include language arts, mathematics, history and the sciences. Main lesson is taught during the first two hours of the morning in blocks of three to six weeks per topic. Students create their own "main lesson books" as artistic records of their learning, rather than using textbooks or worksheets. During the rest of the day, special subject teachers fill out the curriculum with two foreign languages, orchestra, singing, arts, crafts, gardening, eurythmy (a movement art developed by Rudolf Steiner) and physical education.

HSmainlesson2.jpgThe Waldorf High School
The adolescent's emerging powers of analytical thinking are met and developed in the Waldorf high school, where subjects are taught by specialists in their fields. The role of the teacher is seen as helping the students to develop their own thinking powers. A key to this process is presenting students with an immediate experience of phenomena, such as hands-on experiments or primary sources in literature and history--instead of predigested work from textbooks or anthologies. The rapidly changing psychological nature of the adolescent is addressed through each year's studies being tailored to the central "questions" that live in the hearts of the students of that grade. --Rahima Baldwin Dancy. Written for The Encyclopedia of Childhood.

Baldwin Dancy, Rahima. (1989, rev. 2012). You Are Your Child's First Teacher. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed.

Childs, Gilbert. (1991). Steiner Education in Theory and Practice. Edinburgh, UK: Floris Books.

Finser, Torin. (1994). School as a Journey. Hudson, NY: SteinerBooks.

Richards, M.C. (1980). Toward Wholeness: Rudolf Steiner Education in America. New York: University of Columbia Press.

Staley, Betty. Between Form and Freedom. Hudson, NY: SteinerBooks

The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America,
Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America,


Rahima Baldwin Dancy, BA, MS, is a trained Waldorf elementary and early childhood educator. She is internationally known as the author of You Are Your Child's First Teacher on Rudolf Steiner's indications for early childhood.