Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How do we create rhythms and rituals with our children? By Jaimmie Stugard

Order our lives so that we make room for the largeness of our love.
                                                                                    Shea Darian

            Over the years, many parents have asked for advice concerning the various challenges that arise when caring for their little ones.  While there are a few quick tricks that I can offer, like swaddling a restless infant, for example.  In general, a holistic approach requires much broader, long-term remedies.  Whether the difficulty surrounds sleeping, eating or discipline, chances are that a simple and consistent daily rhythm will alleviate the problem and allow the family to function happily.    

            One of the tasks of the growing child and one of the functions of parenting is to bring the child into rhythm.  It seems as though the life of a newborn lacks rhythm completely. Feeding and sleeping occur on demand at irregular intervals, even the baby's breathing is erratic.  The first hours, days and weeks of my son's life seemed timeless and otherworldly to me.  Like most new parents, I was enamored, emotional and exhausted. Gradually a rhythm began to develop and it brought peace and purpose, calm and contentment. 
             An ordered, predictable daily structure provides the young child with a sense of security and a sense that life has real form.  Knowing  what's next enables him to go with the flow with greater ease.   It is a great comfort for a child to know what to expect and what is expected of him.  Strong daily rhythms and repetition reduce unnecessary decisions and allow us to be more present in the moment for our children and ourselves.  Our family rhythms needn't be mundane.  They can be loving, nurturing, balancing, interesting, joyful, beautiful, and fun.  They nurture our sense of life.
            Discipline issues are greatly reduced when we've established strong rhythms.  Activities are taken as a matter of  fact and become habits.  Regularity is the key to creating good habits.  If a child has washed his own dish after eating each day since he could reach the sink, what aggravation we are saving him as an adult!  He shall be liberated from woeful glances at a sink overflowing with crusty dishes.  As your children get older, they will transform the outer structure that you have helped establish into inner self-­discipline. 
            How do we create rhythms and rituals with our children? We begin by forming our lives around the essentials, nourishment and rest, with plenty of outdoor play in between.    Consistent bedtime and meals reduce tension and confrontations at what can be the most challenging times of the day.  These sacred times can be held by ritual, a blessing before meals or a lullaby at bedtime.  Regular meal times, naps and bed times help to start orientate the child to the passing of time.  Establishing these external rhythms allow internal rhythms  to develop.  When dinner time and bedtime are consistent, a child becomes hungry at dinner time and sleepy at bedtime. 
            Young children need at least 10 hours of sleep at night.  And, pediatricians recommend a total of 12-15 hours of sleep each day.  Bedtime routines can revolve around hygiene and bonding.   At our house, we ease into the evening by lowering the lights immediately after dinner and preparing a warm, lavender bath.  The radio and television are quiet.  Our voices are lowered.  After bath time, we have some cozy play time in the dimly lit bedroom.  The room has been warmed with a space heater, so we take our time dressing, allowing the children to learn to put on their own pajamas.  This gentle pace sets the tone for the evening.     Young children find comfort at bedtime when we do the same preparations in the same way at the same time every night.  One simple story from a book, or better yet an oral tale, can be told again and again for weeks.  This allows the child's mind to calm and relax into sleep.  When we watch television or read many books before bed, the mind becomes  filled with images and it is difficult relax . On the other hand, the quite presence of loving parents can bring a sense of peace to a child as he prepares to slumber.
             Let your day breathe life, balancing in-breaths like painting, quiet play, bathing, and sleep with active out-breaths (outdoor play, exploring, singing, going to the market, visiting friends, etc).  There are times for drawing our children into our embrace, and other times to release them unto themselves and their world.

Your daily life is your temple and your religion....
                                                            Kahlil Gibran

Our Daily Rhythm
Sunshine Garden

Indoor Play... greeting, playing, singing, domestic and artistic activities, tidying, cooking, table setting
Snack... hand washing, blessing, passing, pouring, eating, dish washing
Outdoor Play... dressing, climbing, running, jumping, digging, dancing, singing, exploring
Lunch... hand and face washing, table setting, blessing, eating, thanking, dish washing, clearing, sweeping  
Nap... tooth brushing, tucking in, story telling, lullabies, listening, resting, waking, snuggling, hair brushing
Snack... hand washing, farewell to Miss Jaimmie and family, story and snack with Mister Jeremy
Outdoor Play... enjoying each other and the outdoors until families reunite for the evening

Sources: Seven Times the Sun, Shea Darian
               You are Your Child's First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin Dancy

               Beyond the Rainbow Bridge,  Barbara J. Patterson and Pamela Bradley 

Living in Rhythm by Jane Danner Sustar

We all live in rhythm. We, as adults, are most comfortable in our yearly rhythm, our birthdays and anniversaries, spring, summer, fall, winter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July! We are familiar also with our daily rhythms, but we do not mark them with much notice. The sun rises. The sun sets. We eat breakfast, we eat lunch, we eat dinner. We sleep. We wake up. I tend to be most aware of my weekly rhythm because of weekends. TGIF!
                I take an awful lot for granted.
                What would happen if one day the sun was two hours late for the day? You may not realize it but you do have a sense that by a certain time the sun is starting to come out. For me it is when I am taking the dog for a walk. Even though I get up in the dark it is usually starting to get light out by the time I get back to the house with Susie. Imagine you are noticing a cloudless sky and no sun. It would make me very uneasy.
                What would happen if one year Thanksgiving had to be postponed until April. There you are stuffing your turkey just as the first robin flies into your yard and the first tulips are poking their heads up through the ground. Or imagine all the trees bursting into bloom in January one year and turning orange and red and brown while you watch the Fourth of July fireworks. The spring before last when we had warm weather so early, it was nice but it felt wrong. When drought struck later that summer it was not really a surprise because the spring was so early and so warm.
                A young child does not have a yearly rhythm. They have not lived enough years. They live in hours and days and weeks. When their daily rhythm constantly changes, it can be as disturbing to their sense of well-being as Thanksgiving in April would be to ours. We have such a strong rhythm at LifeWays that the children take comfort in knowing sandwich day is followed by pasta day, which is followed by beans and rice. When pizza day comes they know they have two home days coming up!
                You might think that such a strong rhythm would make the children inflexible. But it is my experience the exact opposite is true. It makes them more resilient. When the weekly rhythm is tossed into the air by sewer work…”Pizza on Wednesday!!??” the children are still held by their strong daily rhythm. Morning snack is still followed by outside play, which is still followed by lunch. The children and I know where we stand in time in the same way you know that the sun is not going to be two hours late today.

                Ah, here is Susie now, to remind me that she too lives in rhythm, and it is time for her walk!

Sand and the Rhythm of Outdoor Play by Mary O'Connell

As we talk about rhythm, part of my yearly rhythm as director of LifeWays is our annual YoungStar evaluation. You can read on our website about my feelings about YoungStar and its one-size-fits-all approach to early childhood education. My biggest beef is that for a program to be rated five stars, the caregivers need to follow a very materials-driven approach to caring for children. Since this doesn’t mesh really well with our model of simplicity, we have been happy to settle for a three-star rating and be done with it. Still, the YoungStar process always makes me ponder the mainstream world of childcare.

For some time, I have been scratching my head over what has become a compulsory item in the modern preschool classroom – the Sand Table; a table in the room filled with sand that children can pour, dump and run their trucks through.  It seems that what began as a novel concept some twenty years ago has now become a necessity in a quality preschool program.  When early childhood colleagues from conventional childcare settings come to visit LifeWays, they ask, “Where’s your sand table?” as if the absence of one is a red flag that we’re not providing our young apprentices with all of the vital experiences they need.

Now, as a caregiver of small children, I love sand play. But as a caretaker of the space the children inhabit, I’m not sure who thought it was a great idea to provide it indoors.  After all, how many homes do you know that have a sandbox in the living room? Here’s the question that seems reasonable to ask…can’t children play with their sand outside, the way they’ve done for generations, along with the sticks, mud, puddles, ice, and other great tactile experiences that Mother Nature provides for them?  I’ve come to the conclusion that a sand table, however incongruent with a clean and tidy living space, has become a requirement in the early childhood classroom because it’s the only experience many children have with the natural world. Sadly, most children do not experience daily outdoor play in nature.  

If it’s drizzling, chilly, or anything less “desirable” than 75 degrees-and-sunny, most preschool programs keep children indoors, opting for the sand table and the other modern miracle of childcare -- the Gross Motor Room; a cavernous space with padded walls, riding toys and an overwhelming din, as children expend their energy in a frenetic McDonald’s Play Land fashion.  When I was young and my friends and I began running around with this level of energy, my parents promptly sent us outdoors to play, where our shouts and cries were met with wide open spaces, and where our play often became more purposeful and less frenzied.  The natural environment invited us to do more than run around like chickens with our heads cut off. We made mud pies and potions, created games, poked around in the creek with sticks, climbed trees and took physical risks that taught us a lot about our own strengths and limitations.

Were we deprived when the sand was too frozen to play with for one whole season of the year?  Nope, we simply learned to be creative with snow and ice and sticks. And the sweetness of the spring thaw and the first foray back into the sandbox is a pleasure I remember with great satisfaction.

How unfortunate that we have so removed children from their roots they are being raised under “house arrest.”  That we feel we need to provide every possible experience in a manufactured, synthetic way because we’re too afraid, too controlling, or just too lazy to bring them out into nature. 

I am so grateful for LifeWays, where children play in nature on a daily basis for long periods of time because it’s considered as vital to their development as a healthy diet and enriching learning activities.  Even when it’s raining or snowing or hot or cold or anything else less perfect than a sunny 75 degrees.  The benefits are immediately visible, as the children are often more coordinated, independent, verbal and imaginative and less hyperactive than their Sand Table-Gross Motor Room counterparts.  Oh, and less obese, as well.

My dream is that we’ll come to a place in early childhood education where educators and legislators will realize the virtual world we’ve created indoors is a poor substitute for the natural world right outside our homes and classrooms.  In my dream world, colleagues and YoungStar evaluators will enter every preschool classroom and inquire not, “Where is your sand table,” but, “Why aren’t the children playing outdoors?”    

Meal Time Rhythm at LifeWays by Jeremy Bucher

Meal time at Lifeways has a unique rhythm which helps keep the children focused and happy as they move through the day. This assists the children in their transition to and from meal time while guiding them through their dining experience.
                While the lunchtime meal is still being prepared, some of the older children will accompany a caregiver to the dining area to help set the tables. This gives the children the chance to get a peek into the kitchen and see how their meal is prepared. The children get to come in early and set out the silverware and dishes at each spot at the three tables with the caregiver. This activity has been molded into the daily rhythm and the children really seem to enjoy helping and take pride in their work. It helps transition the children into meal time and they are rewarded with a story on the couch after they finish setting up the tables. When the rest of the children come into the dining area they join their friends who had been setting up for lunch and see they have already taken off and hung up their coats and put on their slippers, which is a helpful hint that it is time for everyone to do the same. This eases the transition into meal time which can be chaotic with everyone all together hanging up their coats and changing into their slippers all at once.
                After everyone has changed their shoes and hung up their coats they make their way to the tables where they sit in the same spot every day with very little change. It can be frustrating for the children if someone else is sitting in "their spot" and can complicate their transition to meal time and getting to the table. The children feel more comfortable if they get to sit in the same place and have the same view of the space every day. This makes the table more inviting and makes the transition to sitting down for lunch easier. Once everyone is together all join hands and sing our blessing to give thanks for the food we are about to enjoy.
Earth who gives to us this food,
Sun who makes it ripe and good,
Sun above and Earth below
To you our loving thanks we show.
Blessings on our meal and Peace on Earth.
The children really enjoy singing the blessing and put their energy into it, especially with the thunderous "yay!" that erupts after the blessing is sung. When the children sing the blessing they know that it is meal time and this helps prepare them to be sitting at the table for a long period of time. Many children tend to lose focus when something interesting catches their eye or their ear and the blessing focuses their attention onto their food and the others sitting near them. The meal is followed by another blessing that gathers the children and prepares them for the transition into the kitchen to help with the clean-up.
For health and strength and daily bread
We give our thanks today.
                The final portion of the meal time consists of the children gathering their dishes and bringing them to the kitchen. Some of the children will stack all of their dishes and carry them to the kitchen all at once, but most like to take a few trips. This is where some of the children create their own rhythm, bringing their dishes separately but in a specific order each time. By keeping with the order they create they can more easily remember to bring all of their dishes, knowing which one is the final dish they need to bring for their job to be complete. Once they have brought all of their dishes the children sit down in the kitchen and wait for their turn to be called up and wash their dish. Some children really enjoy climbing up the step ladder and being perched at the sink with the big sink full of fun bubbles and lots of water. They scrub their dishes clean and usually hang out for a moment to take in the view before climbing down and drying their hands to get ready for nap. The children are great helpers and the task of washing their dishes focuses their attention when they are surrounded by their friends in a small space. This activity fills the gap between lunch and nap time and makes the transition to nap time a little easier.

                Meal time has a specific rhythm that keeps the children focused and engaged and gets them through their meal. The meal is very hands-on for the children and eases their transition from play time to nap time. The older children are given more responsibilities which they enjoy and this gives them the opportunity to be role models while easing their transition from outside play to meal time. The blessings said before and after the meal focus their attention and prepare them for their next transition of the day. By participating in washing their dishes all of the children are given a sense of responsibility while focusing their minds on a task as they transition from lunch to nap time. This rhythm makes the day away from mommies and daddies much more tolerable while providing an interactive meal experience which keeps the children involved in the kitchen.

Rhythm and Flexibility by Beret Isaacson

Rhythm is, to me, a frame for our lives that is flexible when we need it to be. The stronger our rhythm, the healthier we are and the more energy we have for creative pursuits. While preparing to write this article I remembered something from my childhood. It was bedtime and my mother forgot me in the living room. I don't remember how old I was, definitely under five. I was the oldest of four children so perhaps she was focused on the baby. When I realized everything was quiet I reveled in my freedom. I positioned myself strategically behind my dad's big chair. I had some books that I was looking at. After some time passed I began to feel a little strange. I was certainly not going to move and give myself up for I wanted to see what would happen. I sat and sat until I was nearly hallucinating from exhaustion. When all was quiet upstairs my mother came down. I remember her surprised exclamation when she found me. She quickly made everything right in my small world. I am so thankful she didn't think I was developed enough to make my own choices regarding my daily rhythm. She knew just how to take care of me. Because of that I felt safe, secure and free to be the child I was.

When my oldest was in kindergarten at the Waldorf school in Tucson, his teacher spoke about rhythm. After hearing what she had to say, I asked, "So, rhythm builds health?" She answered emphatically, "Yes!" We had a really strong rhythm for our children, including a 7:00 bedtime until the oldest was in 5th grade, when it creeped to 7:30. Children need lots of rest to develop to their full potential. A clear daily rhythm helps children not to feel stressed out, wondering what is going to happen when. Rhythmical meal times and snacks are another great support for the growing child. My own personal rhythm is quite different from my children's. Because of my adult preference for variety, there were times when I was raising small children that keeping a steady rhythm for them was a little inconvenient, but doing things in a way that favored my children has made parenting easier for me. 

In KinderHouse this year, my new students are already familiar with the rhythm of our morning. We have snack, use the bathroom and then get ready to go outside. We have circle time, then take a hike and find a spot to play. Out in the woods, they know when story time is approaching. They know the whole order of business which makes them quite comfortable and my job of ushering them from one activity to the next very easy. Along with this familiar rhythm, every day is different. Different social play is engaged in and there are new ideas to explore. We have already been fishing, have ridden horses and motorcycles, lived on a bridge above some trolls and baked cakes out of mud. I love seeing the children feeling relaxed and confident and getting to see the beauty of who they are unfold.