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.

Creating Circle Time Made Easy

Where to start when you’re planning a movement circle? Most people are overwhelmed by all the possibilities. First, remember that you only need to plan this one circle–and it’s just tiny. Then you can do it for two or three weeks–plenty of time to plan another.
Here’s my advice for keeping it simple and fun for mixed ages–and yourself: flower game.jpg

~ Start with the same opener every day–a gathering song or something that everyone loves: we would use “Ring Around the Rosy” and a good morning greeting song with hand gestures.

~ What will be your theme? Is there a holiday, or the season to tap into? Right now it’s summer, so we’ll take advantage of that.

~ What do you already know relating to your theme? I already know a couple of songs with hand gestures about ducks and fish, and I bet you do, too. If you’re short on resources, look up something old or new on the internet.

~ Think up a few lines of story to tie them together: Jenna and Liam went with their mommy to the lake. There they saw ducks swimming on the water (Sing “Three Little Ducks went out one day….” followed by “Five Little Ducks that I once knew…”). They gave the ducks some bread, when suddenly they saw something flashing in the water: It was a fish jumping out of the lake. Then you can do the Wilma Ellersiek hand gesture game, or the song “1,2,3,4,5, Once I caught a fish alive…” And that’s enough for young children or a mixed-aged group (kindergarten movement circles are more complex!).

~ End with the same song or game each time: we do a raisin guessing game that I learned from Faith. Each child is called over to guess which hand the raisin is in and then goes on to the next activity (“TickaTacka, NickaNackaNu, Dear Little Raisin where are you?”)

Maybe later in the fall you’ll want to do one connected with pumpkins, but you’re short on songs or fingerplays….just do a google search and you’llfind old favorites or something new.

Home Away from Home

Home Away from Home. LifeWays Care of Children and Families
Book by Cynthia Aldinger and Mary O’Connell

Have you heard about LifeWays and want to learn more? The LifeWays approach to childcare could–and should–revolutionize childcare in North America. LifeWays, founded by Cynthia Aldinger and based on the work of Rudolf Steiner and others, fosters relationship-based care that takes home as the model. Children in mixed-age groups stay with the same care giver from infancy through age 5, providing the continuity and caring of an extended family unit. This approach is adaptable to large centers, such as those run by Mary O’Connell in Wisconsin, as well as to small, in-home programs. Because it is based on what children need for healthy development, it also provides many valuable insights for parents.

Home Away from Home describes the many nurturing elements of LifeWays programs, including the Living Arts, creating a rich environment, and creating daily and weekly rhythms. Practical aspects of LifeWays training and opening an in-home program or even a center are also considered in detail.

Anyone involved in the care of young children should read this book–it is clearly written, well illustrated with photos, and holds the reader’s interest throughout. Chapters include:
1. What is LifeWays Child Care?
2. The Many Faces of LifeWays
3. Other Facets of LifeWays (playgroups, forest kindergarten, preschool and parenting)
4. Home Away from Home–Rhythms, Routines and the Living Arts
5. Finding Your Colleagues
6. Protection: The Safety and Health of Children in Relationship-based Care
7. Creating Your Community of Care
8. Regulatory Bodies and Professional Support
9. Business Questions
10. Supporting You in Your Work–LifeWays North America

Add to cart

Helping Children Stay Young

I recently read a quote by Rudolf Steiner that I had never seen before (unforunately, the person didn’t give the source):
“Let us help children stay young, remember their youth impulses and intentions in adulthood, and find their true identity!”

To me, this covers it all, traveling from early childhood, through teen-age idealism, and into adulthood with the will forces to be who you are and do what you came here to do.

So many forces in our culture work against this, from the push for early academics, to the creating and marketing to the “tween culture” for 8-12 year olds, to the lack of support for teens making the transition into adulthood. When I watch the children at Rainbow Bridge (our LifeWays program in Boulder for 1-5 year olds) I am struck, again and again, by what a rare oasis of childhood and learning-through-play it is in today’s world. Lucky kids!

LifeWays Principles for Caring for Young Children


1. Young children thrive in the presence of parents and other devoted caregivers who enjoy life and caring for children. They learn primarily through imitation/empathy and, therefore, need to be cared for by people with integrity and warmth who are worthy of being imitated. This is the foundation for learning and healthy development.

2. Having consistent caregivers, especially from birth to three years old and, preferably, up to primary school age, is essential for establishing a sense of trust and well-being.

3. Children need relationship with people of all ages. Infants and toddlers thrive in family-style blended-age care, while older children see nurturing modeled by the adults and experience their own place in the continuum of growing up. Children of all ages can both give and receive special blessing when in the company of elders and youth who enjoy children.

4. Each person is uniquely valuable, gifted with purpose and worthy of respect throughout all phases of his or her life’s journey.

5. Human relationship and activity are the essential tools for teaching the young child all foundational skills for life. Infants and toddlers develop most healthily when allowed to have freedom of movement in a safe environment. For three- to six-yea-olds, creative play, not technology or early academics, forms the best foundation for school work and for life-long learning.

6. In infancy and early childhood, daily life experience is the “curriculum.” The child’s relationships to the caregivers and to the environment are the two most important aspects through which the child can experience healthy life rhythms/routines. These include the “nurturing arts” of rest and play, regular meal times, exploring nature, practical/domestic activities, social creativity, music and simple artistic activities.

7. Young children thrive in a home or home-like environment that offers beauty, comfort and security, and connection to the living world of nature. Healthy sense development is fostered when most of their clothing and playthings are of non-synthetic materials and their toys allow for open-ended, imaginative play.

8. Childhood is a valid and authentic time unto itself and not just a preparation for schooling. Skipping or hurrying developmental phases can undermine a child’s healthy and balanced development.

9. Parents of young children need and deserve support in their path of parenting–from professionals, family, and one another. They thrive in a setting where they are loved, respected and helped to feel love and understanding for their children.

10. Caregivers also have an intrinsic purpose and need to be recognized and appropriately compensated for the value of their work. They need an environment where they can create an atmosphere of “home,” build true relationship to the children, and feel autonomous and appreciated.

Kindergarten in LifeWays

I recently received the newsletter from the Milwaukee LifeWays Early Childhood Center and was so impressed with the articles written by their caregivers that I asked permission to share them with you. The last of these articles focuses on their Forest Kindergarten, the program for the older chidlren. –Cynthia

Thoughts on Forest Kindergarten
Lori Barian, Kindergarten Teacher,

Milwaukee LifeWays Early Childhood Center

For us in Forest Kindergarten, nature determines our experience and contributes greatly to each day’s “lesson plan.” We sing, “What shall we see there? What shall we hear there? Into the forest. Into the forest,” and then go out the door to see what surprises the forest holds, what it wants to teach us, and what the weather will contribute.

When the river was frozen, we “ice skated” close to the shore where the ice was thickest. One mild day, we walked to Kern Park and played at the playground and had our snack at a picnic table. Another mild day we hunted for different kinds of mushrooms and fungus and were not disappointed with the variety and number that we discovered. When we had wet snow, we made snow people, snow animals, snow boulders, or snow bowls that we used to hold birdseed to feed the forest creatures. When the forest was snow-less, with Hansel and Gretel as our story, we made a path of popcorn pieces that we found our way back on, knowing that forest animals would eat it later. When we discovered that wind (or old age) had knocked down a huge old tree across the path, we explored the new world created by its laying itself down.

Each day unfolds according to the gifts nature lays before us. We have learned to notice the little things, and that gets a grade of “A+” in the Forest Kindergarten book. Whether mushrooms and fungus, crystal patterns in the ice, or Jack Frost’s sprinkles on a leaf or some bark, the children seek and find what magic and learning the forest holds for them each new day.


I recently received the newsletter from the Milwaukee LifeWays Early Childhood Center and was so impressed with the articles written by their caregivers that I asked permission to share them with you. One of the topics we consider in the LifeWays training is “Three Rs of Early Childhood: Rhythm, Repetition and Reverence.” In this third article, Abbey writes a bit about repetition. –Cynthia

Happenings in Abbey Suite
By Abbey Weimer

Caregiver, Milwaukee LifeWays Early Childhood Center

We all know that Wisconsin’s weather is unpredictable. However, at LifeWays, we know how important it is for children to have outside playtime. It serves not only to explore and expand, but also to stretch and work our muscles. The children have enjoyed being outside [all year], ranging from mild days to puddle jumping, from freezing rain to snowy days. It’s all quite amazing!

Eli and Maddy [older children in the mixed-age group] very much enjoy Forest Kindergarten. Each Tuesday and Thursday, the boys venture out with Ms. Barian (or sometimes Ms. Sondra) to explore in the Forest for the morning. Their return is much awaited by the younger children and me. Eli and Maddy always have something exciting to tell us, with pockets full of pinecones, eyes wide and cheeks rosy…what a blessing childhood is!

Freddy, Levi, Anna and Addy are tuning their fine-motor skills, as they learn how to get dressed for outside. Once the outside clothes are on, the children conquer icy hills and fallen trees in the clearing. We are very fortunate to have the outdoor space, encountering many wonders daily.

Indoors, we have been sticking to our weekly and daily rhythms, with a few surprises here and there. Both weekly and daily, we are learning there is a time and a place for all things. If a certain event is repeated enough around and with the child, the child takes it in and gets to know it deeply. Through observation and trial and error, I have created a schedule that benefits both the children and me. Throughout the week we are cleaning, washing and chopping vegetables for lunch, having a puppet play, doing arts and crafts, singing, baking and watering our plants. The children 2 years and older are always eager to help and feel quite satisfied when a task is completed (especially when they get to lick the brownie bowl!) I also feel a quiet satisfaction when the week comes to a close and I reflect on all we’ve accomplished. It’s pretty sweet!

I am currently enrolled in the LifeWays training. Our group workshops began last June and continue through this coming June. The training entails meeting 4 times during the year for intensive training, doing 3 child observations extending for 9 months, writing a research paper, having monthly conversations with an early childhood mentor, a nature walk and monthly observation, knowledge of kinderharp and song writing/singing, a garden plan, assigned reading, and last, but not least, internal work! So far, it has been wonderful learning for me and then, of course, the children also, as I am able to meet them with more knowledge.

I’ve really enjoyed writing this and I hope it reads well. You are all so great! I’m thankful for all LifeWays’ families and friends, and hope this finds you warm and happy! Sincerely, Abbey

LifeWays Training

Things are in full swing right now at the LifeWays trainings in Wisconsin and at Rudolf Steiner College in California. The Wisconsin students are halfway through their training and are looking forward to an inspiring weekend in March titled Nurturing and Nourishing:Caring for Children and Ourselves. With two medical practitioners and a curative eurythmist they will be bathed in nurturing experiences including massages, wraps, soothing inhalations, foot rubs and more. Every caregiver of young children deserves a weekend like this! In fact, this is one of the weekends we open to public enrollment. Due to the size of this LifeWays class, however, outside enrollment is limited. If you are interested, let Cynthia know soon at ck.aldinger@sbcglobal.net.

The students at Rudolf Steiner College are also in for a treat in March. At the end of their week of training they will have a three-day workshop with Suzanne Down of Juniper Tree Puppets. She brings such joy to storytelling and puppetry. This is one of the students’ favorite parts of the training, and it is the other piece that we open up to public enrollment. If you are interested in joining the California students for this delightful treat just contact Rudolf Steiner College at rsc@steinercollege.edu. Tell them you are interested in the LifeWays workshop with Suzanne Down.

Probably our most exciting news, however, is that our new East Coast training is ready to launch this July/August and enrollments are coming in already. The training will be located at the beautiful Merriconeag Waldorf School in Maine. The early childhood center there, a lovely, artistically-designed strawbale building, will house most of the classes, but the whole campus will be there for the students’ enjoyment. They can even stay in the farmhouse right on campus. As is keeping with the LifeWays training, nutritious, delicious organic lunches will be served on site, and a LifeWays-trained caregiver is offering child care for students who need it. Susan Silverio, the East Coast LifeWays Director, has gathered an impressive teaching staff for this new training. For more information contact Susan at silverio@tidewater.net.

LifeWays at Spindlewood

Summer Reflections
Journal Entry, August 4, 2005
by Susan Silverio

“The Child from Birth to Three: World Citizen” is the title of the course that Cynthia Aldinger and I offered at Rudolf Steiner Institute last week. I found that, just as in the kindergarten, there is hope and vision streaming through those who arrive each morning for class, and I am honored to serve as the midwife.

The Institute has the quality of a festival, lifted out of our daily lives and serving to renew and reorient our daily lives. And the Institute itself, after wandering from Maine to Quebec for the past two summers, has now found a home at verdant Green Mountain College in southwestern Vermont. We could look up from the course in Spiritual Embryology with Jaap van der Wal and see the hens pecking and scratching outside our window. On the day that I was preparing to present “People as Curriculum” including the inner life of the caregiver, I arrived at the theater building for class to find a team of gentle golden oxen yoked on the grass by the front door, the resident farmer giving them a slight brush with his crop to guide them, and a young woman stroking their tender noses between their magnificent horns.

As in the LifeWays Training, we found several continents represented among the students and their spouses who gathered there – Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Canada, and both coasts of the states. They are seekers with heartfelt dreams, intending to create homes and to open centers to care for children and their families – radical and counter-cultural activity to be sure.

In the course we explored the mysteries of the human soul coming to birth, and the wondrous process of the individual child raising herself into upright equilibrium and speaking. Through simple nurturing games, we explored how a spirit of playfulness in the caregiver can sustain the joy and complete communion that the child so recently experienced in the spiritual world before birth. Cultivating joyfulness in our daily work raises it to become the Domestic and Nurturing Arts. –Susan Silverio