I expect many of us are searching for a little structure to our days at home right now. Our children, especially, will be craving the predictability that their weekdays ,usually comprised of school, nursery or groups and playdates, bring. Mornings that used to involve the simple act of getting up and getting out of the house now look very different, especially if you are in a part of the world that is enforcing a lock down.
Carving out some time either during or after breakfast to gather as a family and establish a few rituals such as sharing books, art appreciation or learning a language, can help foster the calm and consistency we might be craving.
An easy way to introduce ‘Morning Time’ is by putting together a ‘Morning Basket’. For us this looks like a few picture books for my 3 year old and some board books for my 18 month old, I might include non-fiction books centred around a topic my 3 year old is interested in (at the moment it is snails and insects). She is also very interested in learning letters and numbers and so I often include these Montessori letter work and number work books and an opportunity for emergent writing practice or colouring.
We usually play music or start with an audio book whilst we finish breakfast, but if your children are a little older you might try reading a chapter book aloud and continue whilst they are engaged in something they have chosen from the morning basket.
Morning time might also be when older children decide to tick off some tasks set by school such as reading or some literacy or numeracy work but if this is something they aren’t interested in doing straight after breakfast then don’t push it. You want morning time to be light, flexible and most of all enjoyable so your day gets off to the right kind of start. It is more about making time for connection than academics.
It will look different for every family. There isn’t a set length of time that you should be aiming for and sometimes we skip our morning time altogether in favour of self-directed play.
Start small and keep it simple. Grab a few books and pile them up on the dining table or next to the sofa before you go to bed tonight (you don’t actually need the basket) and make yourself completely available at some point during the morning. It might take a few tries but the consistency and predictability that comes from you showing up every morning, even for 5 minutes will make a huge difference to the rest of your families morning and even the rest of the day.
For more on ‘Morning Time’ I recommend visiting the authority on all things ‘Daily Rhythm’ Eloise, over at Fridabemighty.com I have included links to some of her posts below
I know that many of you around the world are adjusting to the new ‘normal’, which is staying home. If your children usually attend nursery or school then this can be a huge adjustment for the whole family, especially with many parents continuing to work from home. So I have put together a list of my favourite reggio-inspired books to help you find your feet. Most of these I would recommend for ages 2 – 7 years of age.
Note: I encourage you to check with your local library to see if they have any e-book copies for you to borrow before buying.
I use this book both at home and in the classroom. Aimed at parents, Rucci offers lots of advice on how to set up an art space in your home that provides plenty of opportunity for process art experiences. The 25 activities encourage exploration and experimentation with different mediums.
‘Invitations to play’ and ‘Provocations’ are a huge part of the reggio-emilia approach. This books helps you understand what provocations are and how to identify learning in your child’s play in order to set up new opportunities (provocations) that will extend their learning.
Another fantastic ‘process-based’ art book which will help you set up creative, child-led experiences.
Loose parts, although not traditionally Reggio, compliment the approach well and encourage child-led play and inquiry-based learning. This series of books helps you understand the benefits of loose parts play and offers lots of beautiful coloured photographs to inspire your own collection. Most of these things can be found around the home or your garden or local park for free.
If your children are still very young and prone to putting things in their mouth like my 18 month old then start with this second book in the series which encourages play with larger loose parts.
This is a lovely introduction to reggio-inspired project work at home.
This book is probably one of my favourite reggio-inspired books as an Early Years Educator. It reads like poetry. It also gives me a wonderful structure to introducing different art materials and medium to young children. I have been using ideas from this book with Althea since she was 2. What I really love about it is the guidance Ann Pelo gives regarding how to interact with children during inquiry-based studio work. If you find that you struggle to step back and allow your child to lead and explore then this book will scaffold not only your child’s inquiry but also your own practice.
“Babies thrive out-of-doors. They sleep better, eat better, look better, play better, and learn better. Fresh air both soothes and stimulates. I always tell parents how much more easily they could raise healthy, “happy” children if they would make outdoor living a regular habit for their babies.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect
I grew up in the UK on a small, friendly close in a semi-detached house with two gardens, front and back. We were surrounded by views of fields and woods and although I was not of a ‘free range’ generation like my parents had been, I still spent ample time outdoors either in our back garden or the gardens of neighbours . As an older child I was allowed to venture into those fields with friends and eventually as far as our local canal. Fast forward a couple of decades and I find myself raising my own child in a very different context.
Until just a few months ago we lived in a 7th floor apartment with a small balcony and a communal outdoor pool on the first floor (that we rarely used). It wasn’t until we moved to a house with a yard that I realised how little Althea had been exposed to real nature and how different our childhoods might be as a result of living in an urbanised area. Our regular walks around our old condo pool had not prepared her at all for all the leaves that would blow and collect around the yard; the snails that would hide behind the plant pots or people passing by the gate. She was utterly overwhelmed and at times downright terrified.
I quickly realised I was going to have to make a conscious effort to get us outdoors more. There are so many positives to living in a city, we have so much culture right on our doorstep: art galleries, museums, zoo’s, festivals but what we don’t have is the natural backdrop of the fields and wooded areas of my own childhood.
Many educational philosophers including Magda Gerber and Maria Montessori acknowledged the need to expose children to nature and allow for uninterrupted, self-directed and explorative play in a natural outdoor environment.
“There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature; to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature”. Maria Montessori
Whilst access to a completely natural playscape is preferable, we’re starting small and close to home. I live in a country where I don’t yet know enough about the plants and animal species to let my 18 month old roam freely in the woods and whilst I am keen for her to take risks, I am not keen for her to eat something poisonous or be bitten by a snake. As she gets older this is something we can hopefully learn more about and explore together. In the meantime, just taking play outside into our front yard feels like a positive step in the right direction. Outdoor play in constructed or ‘greened’ playscapes is still believed to have a positive effect on children’s social development, motor-skill development, attention and activity levels (Parsons, 2011).
Living so close to the equator we are very fortunate with the weather here, even when it rains it is warm (and quite a spectacle) and although temperatures average around 30 – 35 degrees Celsius, a large section of our yard is under cover and we have an outdoor ceiling fan. So really we have no excuse. Equipped with sun screen, a hat, mosquito spray and a bottle of water, we’re just fine outside in the yard for large parts of the day.
How you construct your outdoor playspace will depend largely on the space you have available and the age of your child. For very young, immobile babies, outdoor heuristic play such as filling a basket with natural objects that are safe to mouth and explore and setting it out on a blanket is probably enough.
Once you start to approach the toddler years you can allow access to things like sand, soil and water.
Sand, grass and earth are natural elements that all children need access to if they are to learn about their world, and how to move around in it safely… Water is a welcome risk which can be added to sand, earth, and so on. Water play offers endless opportunities for creativity. Sara Knight Forest School and Outdoor Learning in The Early Years
But simply taking some of your child’s preferred play outdoors is a good place to start. Here are three of the areas that were previously set up in our indoor playspace that I decided to move outdoors:
+ Art Area
This MALA Easel from IKEA has a black board on one side and a white board on the other. I’ve left some chalk in the tray and this is where I set up painting/crayoning. I have left an art table in her play room for times when we feel like staying inside or sitting down to do an activity. Bringing the art table outside or using a mat on the floor would also work well.
I love using the SAMLA underbed storage box to contain large scale, messy art activities, I just place a large piece of paper in the bottom with paints/crayons
+ Role Play Kitchen
We use this Hape Indoor/Outdoor cooktop as our mud/messy kitchen with child sized pots and pans. Inside we used it with a tray of dried lentils to support a preference she was showing for filling and pouring. Outdoors we can use this with mud or sand to continue to support this type of schematic play, whilst also introducing her to new sensory experiences. At the moment we are using compost soil which she can add water to if she wishes.
+ Reading Nook
We make sure we have a basket with a selection of books to read outside. We have some outdoor seating and a triangle mat which she likes to sit on.
+ Caring for the Environment
Alongside her ‘Mud Kitchen’ we have filled the IKEA SAMLA box with compost, plant pots, some pieces of trunk from an old houseplant and the EverEarth 3pc Garden Hand Tools Set. We also have some easy to care for plants that she can water.
+ Water Play
We either use the IKEA SAMLA Box for waterplay and add containers or small world creatures or we fill up the paddling pool that we are able to use on a regular basis.
I’d love to hear about how you go about incorporating nature in early childhood and what sort of play you take outside.
During my time as an Early Years Educator I’d see many parents attempt the ‘sneak away when they’re not looking’ approach. I can see how this might seem like the better of two evils but I have got to be honest, it only works to exacerbate the separation anxiety. The scenario would usually play out something like this: whilst the child was happily exploring a new toy or busying themselves with part of the daily routine the parent would sneak out. It would usually only take a few moments for the child to turn around to check in with their secure base and realise that their carer wasn’t there anymore. And then they would get extremely distressed, usually more so than if their parents had said goodbye. The next day things would be worse, they would be ‘clingier’ than ever and I’d find myself prising a child from their parents, which, lets face it, is just heartbreaking for all involved.
Children need to have trust in you and feel a sense of predictability about how things will unfold. So my advice to parents/carers was to always say goodbye in a confident and consistent way. During settling in sessions when we encouraged the parents to leave the room for a short time and then return, we would ask them to tell their child that they will be back.
From around 6 months Althea developed what I can only describe as exhausting separation anxiety. I imagine it was exhausting for her as well. Leaving the room was near impossible, leaving her with someone else was out of the question. I spent a lot of time reassuring myself that it is in fact a normal stage of development. But looking back I wonder if there was something more I could have done to ease her anxiety and it occurred to me that maybe I hadn’t been following my own advice. Did I tell her I was leaving the room every time? No, definitely not.
As parents we are often moving from room to room to complete chores or fetch things. WE know that we will be back in a few moments but our infant or toddler doesn’t know that. Once they have noticed that you have disappeared from their sight they don’t know where you have gone or when you will be back. You can see how this would be distressing and how it would likely lead to them demanding that they come along with you. It can also leave them feeling tense the rest of the time and unable to fully relax into play. Your child climbing you like a tree and demanding that they remain in constant contact with you whilst they play might be somewhat familiar to you.
Now at 18 months Althea is more often than not fine with me moving around the house, she will usually continue playing, unless I am heading upstairs in which case she will want to join me. However, if we have friends over she will prefer that I stay in her line of sight (which for the record is completely normal). On friday our new babysitter started, so far Althea hasn’t been left with anyone other than our parents when they have come to visit for blocks of time, so this is a pretty big deal. We are lucky that I can be around and we can take a gentle and gradual approach. At the moment we’re at the stage of me leaving the room for short periods of time.
short term absence cues each time you leave your child’s line of sight, such as, “I’ll be back”. And every time you return, always say “I’m Back”. The first time you use the cue, make your absence short. Each time after that gradually leave for longer and longer periods of time.
The key is consistency. Always saying you will be back BEFORE you leave the room (don’t shout it from another room) and then announcing your return. If your baby cries try not to rush back in and rescue her, although you want to reassure her you are still nearby and that all is ok, in actual fact you’re telling her that she isn’t ok and that she does need you. Being calm, confident and consistent and following through means that she will eventually find your actions predictable and this is a lot more reassuring to her.
It is important to note that this isn’t going to fix separation anxiety but it is one way of supporting your child through this completely normal developmental stage and will work to alleviate some of the anxiety.
I’d love to hear any of your tips for dealing with separation anxiety in the comments or over on the facebook page
The RIE (Resources in Infant Educaring) approach incorporates
a deep respect and appreciation of the baby as more than a helpless object, Magda Gerber’s Educaring® Approach encourages infants and adults to trust each other, learn to problem solve, and embrace their ability for self-discovery. When allowed to unfold in their own way and in their own time, children discover and inspire the best in themselves and in others – RIE.org
The basic principles of the RIE philosophy make the most perfect sense to me and sit right at the heart of my parenting approach and my work with young children and caregivers . Here I share 8 articles by RIE associate Janet Lansbury which illustrate some of ways in which the educaring approach has influenced the way I parent.
+ Use authentic communication
We speak in our authentic voices (though a bit more slowly with babies and toddlers), use real words and talk about real things, especially things that directly pertain to our babies and that are happening now. We encourage babies to build communication skills by asking them questions, affording them plenty of time to respond, always acknowledging their communication. – Janet Lansbury
Acknowledge your child’s feelings and wishes, even if they seem ridiculous, irrational, self-centered or wrong. This is not the same as agreeing, and is definitely not indulgent or allowing an undesirable behavior. – Janet Lansbury
Little-known fact: when we sit quietly and are passive, yet receptive and attentive to our children while they play, they feel just as nurtured by our companionship (if not more so) than they do when we are actively involved. It is a profoundly validating experience for children to be able to hold our interest without having to ask or work for it. Without a word of our praise, our appreciation is palpable. – Janet Lansbury
Praising our children is a knee-jerk reaction that takes constant self-reminders to control. I still find myself starting to say “great job” to my children, and switching gears into, “You must be really proud of yourself!” It’s a fine distinction, but an important one. – Janet Lansbury
There seems to be a common misconception that gentle, non-punitive discipline means avoiding a direct confrontation with the child rather than providing the simple, connected response children need when, for example, they hit the dog. In this case, appropriate discipline would mean getting down on the floor next to the child, making eye contact and saying calmly, “I won’t let you hit the dog, that hurts” while holding the child’s hand or otherwise blocking the hit. – Janet Lansbury
We are powerful examples for our children of all that is human. We teach “I’m sorry” best by modeling it. Children need to hear us apologize to others, and also to them. They need to know that human beings are not perfect. When we say to our child, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake,” we give the child permission to make mistakes too. – Janet Lansbury
Children need the opportunity to solve problems on their own. Parents can create rather than deprive children of this opportunity by resisting an automatic impulse to ‘open the jar.’ Yes, it is counter-intuitive to refrain from assisting a child! But when we help a child to do something she might be able to do for herself, we are robbing her of a vital learning experience and ultimately not helping at all. – Janet Lansbury
No parent feels comfortable when their child takes from another, holds on to toys that another wants to use, or seems upset because another child will not share with him. But these situations usually look far worse from our point-of-view than they do from our child’s. When we unnecessarily intervene in a struggle by insisting that a child shares, we rob him of a social learning experience. – Janet Lansbury
Parent-toddler groups can be a bit of a life-line, not only can they be great for our children’s social emotional development but they are also a space to meet other parents and carers with children of the same age. Sometimes it is the only part of the week where you get to speak to other adults – in many small, interrupted and unfinished sentences of course, but it is adult socialisation non-the-less.
When I lived in the UK it was common for churches to run coffee mornings for parents and toddlers. They usually cost you a small donation of a pound or two, you get yourself a rich tea biscuit, even occasionally a bourbon, and you sit on hard plastic chairs and watch the children go about their business of play. I think these groups are beneficial all round, they get you out of the house, they don’t break the bank and you get what might be your first cup of tea of the day.
Then there’s the other kind of parent-toddler group, the only kind I can find here in Singapore, that costs you a good £15 ($30) for an hour of ‘educational enrichment’. The only problem is that they can be so far off the mark that they really aren’t worth the time and money. I’ve tried quite a few of these groups and have never returned.
Why? Because more often than not they are developmentally inappropriate and overstimulating. A group with too much structure, comprised of mainly adult-initiated and adult led activitie; such as mandatory circle and story time, table top crafts and a lot of adult initiated transitions from one activity to the next is simply not appropriate for children under 3. In fact it can be extremely stressful and this is why you often see more than one meltdown.
At this stage I believe it is so important to provide an environment that fosters uninterrupted exploration. Toddlers need ample time, space and resources to direct their own play. Below I talk about 5 common features of parent-toddler groups that I would avoid and what I would look out for instead.
Whole group circle time
A circle or story time where all children are ‘encouraged’ to sit and join in is not developmentally appropriate at this stage as they simply do not have the attention skills to sit for prolonged periods of time. Toddlers should be free to choose whether they come and sit with an adult and join in with songs and stories. They should in no way be forced or bribed to sit down. A circle time where an adult leads some songs or a story but where other provision is still accessible to them is much more appropriate. This way children can join in if they wish but they can also carry on with whatever activity they were engaged in before or have the option to leave after a little while if they wish.
If you have ever found yourself sat on a child’s sized chair at the craft table covered in glitter, surrounded by templates and split pins and finishing your child’s ‘work’ then you’ll probably have realised how little this activity actually engages them. Sometimes you get lucky and they become engrossed in some minute detail, like applying copious amounts of glue or picking through the googly eyes but none of this has much to do with the actual craft itself. Usually it is to do with exploration of the materials. Crafts stifle a toddlers creativity whereas open ended art activities allow children an opportunity to experience different materials and experiment with them in their own way. ‘Art’ should be much more of a sensory experience at this stage. Yes it’s usually a lot messier but it’s a lot more beneficial and also takes a lot less time for an adult to set up. Once children have the fine motor skills and attention span then crafts (alongside open ended art provision) are just fine.
If the session involves a lot of interaction with adults rather than with other children then this is missing the point. We want children to be able to self-direct their play and interact with other children. This is how children learn to play both independently and together. Children need opportunities to problem solve and figure things out for themselves and they cannot do that if an adult is always there showing them their way of doing things. It is our job to step back and observe and offer support, and only the bare minimum required, when it is really needed.
Transitions are a natural part of our child’s day, for example they must transition from play to lunch and from play to bed. Transitions no matter how big or small can be difficult and stressful for young children and it is important they learn how to cope with them, but all in good time. I attended a gym group that, over a one hour session, included 10 transitions between adult-led activities. My head was spinning so I can only imagine how the toddlers felt. Each transition involved the activity being packed away and the children being herded to the next. As you can imagine there were children running in all directions, there was crying and screaming, it was chaos. Children need to be prepared for an upcoming transition, they need us to slow right down, give them ample warning and time to finish an activity and they need lots of support, such as modelling and a song to mark the transition. There will inevitably be transitions in a session but these should be sensitively planned and kept to a minimum.
Children make noise, that’s a given and thats what should dominate a group session. Not loud adult conversation or blaring music. One group I attended played a barney the dinosaur soundtrack from start to finish. Not only did I feel like I’d stepped into a time warp, I also came out with a migrain. Some quiet classical/instrumental music playing in the background is appropriate but still not necessary.
Groups that genuinly value child-led exploration and play can actually be hard to come by, I know of a few but they are a little out of our price range and a little too far away (factoring travel time into the experience is also something you must consider) . For now we are sticking with our small weekly playdate with 4 children Althea’s age. Five children in a prepared environment (you really don’t need a lot of resources to achieve this) for an hour or so can provide a much less stressful opportunity for them to work on their social emotional skills. And you’re guaranteed that cup of tea.
I’d love to hear about your own experience of parent-toddler groups and what kind of session works well for your toddler.
Let me start off by saying that this post probably won’t tell you anything you don’t already know and unfortunately I don’t have any quick fixes. What you will find instead are some of the steps we take to survive our early riser and ensure we all get enough sleep.
Althea has always, ALWAYS woken up early. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times she has slept past 6.30am and most of those would probably be resulting from jetlag. We went through a painful stage of her waking like clockwork at 4.22am (seriously, like clockwork!) when she was 15/16 months. We managed to eventually get her to 5.30am – 6am. Then we hit the ‘18 month sleep regression’ and she went from a child that has never ever had wakeful periods in the middle of the night to one that could be awake, tossing and turning for upto 3hrs and then still be up before the dawn chorus. I feel like we have finally made it through the regression, which I’d say lasted about a month but in all honesty, it is a bit of a blur with many confounding variables thrown in – like some dependent sleep associations that developed whilst we were away on holiday – but that’s for another post. For now however, this is how we’re surviving days that start around 5.30am
We accept that she is an early riser and we all go to bed earlier
Half the battle is won when we adjust our expectations and accept the reality of childhood sleep. Some children are just really early risers. We have found that whatever time we put Althea to bed she still wakes around the same time. So rather than adjusting her morning wake up time (which it seems we cannot) we adjust nap times and bedtimes so that she gets the sleep she needs. This varies for every child and the guidelines are just that, guidelines. You need to take some time to observe and record your childs sleep in order to gain insight into what might be their optimum amount in a 24 hour period. For Althea, this seems to be 11hrs for night sleep and 1.5 – 2 hrs for naps. Anything less than this and she usually wakes up upset rather than with a ‘mornin’ and a request to get out of her cot. We also go to bed earlier between 9 and 10pm so we can get a good 7 – 8 hours. If Althea is going through a period of waking a lot in the night, this might look more like 8.30 for me.
We’re no longer afraid to put her to bed earlier
I really had to work up to this, because logic tells you that if you go to sleep earlier, you wake up earlier, but this really isn’t the case (most of the time). Althea’s bedtime falls between 6 and 7pm in order for her to get the amount of sleep she needs. With 5.30am being her consistent wake up time we count back 11 hours making 6.30pm about the right time for her. When I refer to bedtime I mean in bed and settling to sleep with bedtime routine starting half an hour before so this can be as early as 5.30pm.
We keep her afternoon (after nap) wake time as consistent as possible
Being overtired can actually make sleep worse and this is definitely something we have experienced first hand with Althea. If she is awake too long between her afternoon nap and bedtime (the time she falls asleep) then we tend to experience more night wakings and an earlier than early wake up. We try to keep this wake time between 4 and 5 hours as recommended and it seems to work very well. This means that ideally she doesn’t nap past 3pm so that she can make the 7pm bedtime and get her full night sleep. You can see how this all starts to weave together and is all very dependent on the individual child.
We have a short and consistent bedtime routine
I will talk about our bedtime routine in more detail in a separate post but we keep it to under 30 minutes and follow the same pattern every evening. I am sure we will face bedtime battles when she is a little older but during this particularly sensitive period for order she really enjoys her predictable bedtime rhythm.
We treat any wake up before 4am as night wake up
If she wakes and cries out before 4am we go in and reassure her then leave again so that she can settle herself back down. However if she wakes after 4am it is less likely that she’ll get back to sleep on her own. Between 4 and 5am is when the lightest sleep occurs and explains why a lot of children wake at this time. By this point she has also usually been in bed for roughly 10hrs, which isn’t quite enough for her but it means that a lot of that ‘sleep pressure’ they experience earlier in the night has been relieved. A lot of sleep training experts recommend ‘crib hour’ but I feel this isn’t the right option for Althea. Leaving her to get worked up does not get her back to sleep. So if she wakes between 4 and 5am I go and tuck her back in and lie on the bed next to her cot, often after 10 minutes or so she’ll fall back to sleep for one more sleep cycle but if not she is atleast calm and restful.
We don’t get up or have breakfast until after 6am (even if she’s up at 4.30am)
6am is our ideal wake up time. This is when Daddy gets up for work and therefore inevitably wakes Althea up if she is still asleep. We try and keep the lights off or low and stay upstairs in her room until 6am. We make sure breakfast happens after this time so as not to encourage these early wakings.
When she does wake up at 4.30am we adjust our schedule
These are not the mornings to take a long outing. Instead we find a cafe that opens early and visit the park and make sure we are home by 10am or we stay home and play in the garden/playroom or if things are really bad (33 weeks pregnant over here) we watch a film. We split lunch up, eating a small meal either side of a slightly earlier nap around 11am. If she only manages a very short nap and is up by midday then it’s bath at 5.30pm and in bed and well on her way to sleep by 6pm. Usually she will make up for the early start and lost hours and wake a little later the next day.
What have you found works well with your early riser?
When applying educational philosophies at home, either with babies or very young children or in a homeschool context, you are free to pick and choose the principles which best suit your family. The beauty of Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf and even RIE is that they share many defining principles. They are all holistic, child-centred philosophies that advocate respect for the child and allow them to develop at their own pace by encouraging us, as adults, to follow their lead.
Although each of these philosophies take a different approach when it comes to how the children interact with the environment, they all emphasise the importance of cultivating a simple and beautiful space that utilises natural materials and open-ended resources. This Comparison Matrix clearly outlines key similarities and differences between Montessori, Reggio and Waldorf philosophies.
One of the Waldorf practices that I love is the use of daily rhythms. Steiner placed a lot of emphasis on Rhythms and although I am not sold on his underpinning idea’s, which you can read more about in this paper here, I do believe that building rhythm in to our days, weeks , months and even our year is beneficial for both children and adults a like. A rhythm offers a consistency and predictability that children thrive upon, it provides them with a sense of security that in turn builds their confidence and self-esteem. A rhythm offers the flexibility that a schedule does not, making for much easier transitions throughout the day and resulting in a much more child-centred and respectful approach.
A rhythm is simply a flow of activities throughout your day, usually there isn’t an exact time assigned although in some cases this is unavoidable or maybe necessary. THIS post beautifully illustrates the Waldorf Style of Rhythm. The author outlines the four basic activities for health and wellbeing. These are Eating, Sleeping, Free Play and Fresh Air. These are without a doubt all things we incorporate into our days but thinking consciously about how we conduct each activity and how we transition from one to the other can make the day a lot more pleasant and fulfilling.
Our Daily and weekly Rhythm has naturally evolved over the past 8 months (and will continue to do so for years to come). In the early newborn stage our rhythm boiled down to getting a sense of the natural rhythms of day and night, it was as simple as that. We then began to shape a bedtime rhythm for Althea, something consistent and predictable for her to mark the end of the day. Admittedly it took a little while to find what worked for us but we got there in the end.
Since Althea turned 6 months I feel that we have really nailed it, or more specifically we have found the right amount and right sort of activities to incorporate into our days. Introducing solids certainly added more structure and naptimes have become more predictable. What’s more, she is now sitting up and moving around and thus able to explore her environment with increasing independence, which opens up lots of options.
Without sounding too much like a ‘Babywise: Eat-Play-Sleep’ schedule (or an Elizabeth Gilbert novel), generally our rhythm goes something like this:
Wake, Eat, Wash, Play/outing, Stories, Milk, Sleep And Repeat
+ For the most part we left it to Althea to find her own rhythm. We have let her tell us when she is hungry, tired and even bored and those things shape our day. We try and keep wake up times and bedtimes the same, with a little wriggle room, but these times evolved out of allowing her to take the lead in the early days and as a result the time has shifted a little at different stages. Naptimes happen when she’s showing early signs of being tired, at the moment this is predictably 2 hours after she wakes in the morning and 3 hours after she wakes from her morning nap.
+’Eat’ now stands for solids, she has breakfast, a mid-morning snack after her first nap, lunch, an afternoon snack after her second nap and then tea.
+ Wash is either a wipe down (usually after lunch and after her snacks) or a bath (usually after breakfast and before bed)
+ Althea has the run of the apartment and now that she’s crawling she moves between the different montessori inspired play spaces we have set up for her. She’s currently going through separation anxiety so she doesn’t go too far. + We usually save outings until after her morning nap. I try and keep them to one a day, if we’re heading out in the morning and the afternoon then naps don’t tend to work out too well and it just ends up feeling like too much. It just messes up our rhythm, ya know? On Wednesday we go to a morning play group, other days we might have a play date(usually after 10.30am), a trip to the shops or the library or just a walk down to the pool to dip our feet in. One thing that Waldorf encourages is getting fresh air, so even if it’s just getting out into the garden for a little while, it makes the world of difference.
+ Before a nap we tidy away, close the blinds, put the lamp on and read some stories with a bottle of milk. We do this for the morning nap, afternoon nap and at bedtime. For her day time naps she sleeps on the bed and we snuggle up together, for bedtime she feeds in my arms and then I put her down in her cot when she’s finished.
+ In the evenings she eats with us and then goes in the bath with Daddy whilst I clean up, it’s then nappy and pyjamas on, brush hair and gums (still no teeth) and stories with milk. I make sure the blinds are up before she comes in from her bath and I wind up her music box for her to signify that it’s bedtime. Sometimes we’re a little early getting ready for bed and so she plays quietly and then we start the tidy up, stories and milk.
You can see how keeping to the same rhythm (or order) might better prepare a child for what comes next. If we’re in bed reading stories she is not completely thrown when I offer her milk and we settle down to sleep. It allows us to transition much more smoothly from one activity to the next. What’s more we do not place time constraints on activities. I’m not all of a sudden rushing her through lunch or her bath because at such and such a time she must sleep. When we rush children through activities or transitions we are often taking away their independence. We end up doing things for them that they can do themselves and this does not foster confidence and self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong some days we have appointments or fixed plans and so we do have to spend less time doing certain activities but generally she has the time to move at her own pace and become engrossed in what we are doing.
And other days we do nothing much. We might not head out at all because we’re over tired or under the weather, we might not bath until bedtime or we might skip an evening bath if she’s too tired. What I love about a rhythm over a schedule is that it accommodates such twists and turns and evolves with you. The rhythms that stick often turn into little traditions and make for lovely memories.