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.

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.]

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.

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

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

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

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

time together reading or taking a walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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

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

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.

nothing else, we can at least say “good morning” or say grace before and after

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

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.

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

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.

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

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)

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

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


Psychiatric Association Website,

Child Study Center Website,

Rogers’ Website,

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

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

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

Making Felted Easter Eggs with Children

Felted Eggs1.jpgThe children at Rainbow Bridge made felted Easter eggs this week. Here are some “tips” on adapting the process to include young children (ours are 1-5 years):
1) For the foundation, use plastic eggs that do NOT open. They’re not as common, but you can find bags of them at craft stores.
2) Have the children help you wrap white wool around them and insert into a piece of nylon stocking, tied at both ends (tie one end with a SLIP KNOT so it will be easy to pull out!).
3) Let them “felt” their egg in hotish (warm) soapy water (dish soap works well).
4) When children are leave the project, finish the felting process doing them all together in REALLY HOT water, rinsing in cold water, repeating hot w soap and then cold.
5) Squeeze out as much water as possible and put them all in the dryer for an hour on high–this will really help with the felting process!
6) That night, open the stockings and loosen the felted eggs.
7) Let each child now point to colors of wool to wrap around the egg, and insert it into the stocking, retying with the slip knot. If you want to add the child’s name, use MASKING TAPE around a safety pin and a sharpie marker.
8) Repeat the felting and drying process as described above.
9) Remove from the stocking–don’t they look lovely!!

Felted eggs2.jpg

Limiting Screen Time

I was recently interviewed by folks from Michele Obama’s initiative for preschools, called “Let’s Move!” As part of her program to overcome obesity in children, one of the key points of Let’s Move! is limiting screen time. They were interviewing in-home providers who have been succesful in limiting screen time or those that are screen free.

IMG_0354.jpgChildren want to be in movement. Never having had “screens” as part of our LifeWays/Waldorf program for 1-5 year olds, I had to think about what makes it possible–the differences with conventional programs. Here are some of the key points that make for an enriched program:
~ We are set up for free play–everything invites the children’s imaginative play.
~ This makes it easy to do focused activities with smaller groups.
~ We have two 45-minute periods of outside play, which includes not only large-motor activities, but things like gardening, walks, moving wood, and so forth.
~ LifeWays’ emphasis on including the children in “The Living Arts” means that they help with food preparation, setting and clearning the table, doing the dishes, folding the laundray, and so forth. We’re not trying to “buy time” in which to get things done.
~ There is a dynamic rhythm and daily schedule that breathes with the children.Long periods of movement (free play or outside time) are punctuated by shorter periods of sitting at the table or listening to a story. Activities such as movement game circles are half-way in between–moving, but requiring the children to focus on what we’re doing.

When the American Academy of Pediatricians recommended no screen time for children under 2 years of age and limited time for preschoolers, they got a lot of flack from parents who “needed” the time that it bought them. I think this is because they are trying to “on” all the time, entertaining their children. A real key is involving the children in The Living Arts, which include nurturing, domestic, creative and social activities–the stuff of everyday life. I was glad to hear that this government agency was also working to help childcare providers (and parents) limit screen time!