As the school year finally closes for the summer, we can take time to reset, find our rhythms, and breathe in the sweet moments of childhood.
When I stop to think about it, summer time and childhood are like caterpillars and butterflies. One minute they are here: warm, hungry, growing, the next minute the cool beat of the butterfly's wings float away with the summer breezes, faces look older, children have grown, toothless grins are weathered. We are in awe of the beauty of the butterfly, forgetting the tremendous changes that it was able to overcome in order to share such vibrance and freedom. This year, I am taking our summer and our childhood seriously. I want to roll down hills, have picnics every day, read books under the shade of trees, give my children the space to grow and learn with and without me. These days are precious. If I could hug time, I would hug this period of time the hardest, I would hug it so close the smell lingers on my clothes, the pictures vivid in my mind, the beating of hearts in sync with the rhythms of nature.
“Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write, and count. It is a small window of time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for each individual child. Earlier is not better." ~Magda Gerber, Early Childhood Educator
What do I mean by authentic childhood? I recognize this will look different for everyone depending on geographic location, weather, socio-economic status, culture, family dynamics—but I wish it didn't. My wish for all children is access to grass and nature, clean water, unconditional love, connection to self-nature-others, books and storytime, pretend play, imaginations, and basic self care. Martin Luther King, Jr discussed the importance of creating a new world that its people could imagine. While I am normally talking about and working towards things to do with multiple children that we work with, today, I just want to talk about my children.
This year has been challenging. When Covid started in early 2020, we were homeschooling and we were not really affected by lockdown, safety guidelines, and other restrictions because we were already all home working within our daily rhythm. We stopped watching our favorite little "cousin" because her home life had changed and her grandparents were now home with her as her mother worked as a frontline employee at a hospital. We adapted to our new flow, accepted that we were taking a break from activities, and relearned how to live as a family who was at home together, all the time.
Where does authentic childhood come in here? We already followed a natural living flow that included cooking, baking, building, singing, dancing, storytelling, gardening, and playing. We integrated all of our subjects into real-life, contextual experiences. For me, authentic childhood is learning and experiencing how to become sustainable, self-sufficient, and cooperate within a community. These feelings that had been swelling inside of me about rushing and worrying. They had all but swayed, left my mind with our new schedule. I loved homeschooling. It really suited us and offered so much more flexibility. So this year when we had the opportunity to attend the free Waldorf-inspired charter school our son was given the choice to go virtually. We had never been a screen family, we had very limited screen time, our children do not own devices [gasp], we all shared one iPad for occasional educational apps or music. What did a virtual education mean for authentic childhood? Would this undo all of the progress we had made? Would this re-introduce all of the screen anxiety we had felt in the past?
The beautiful thing about a Waldorf-inspired learning experience is the humanist approach to children. They learn how to knit, they use beeswax crayons for sensory stimulation, they sing songs and recite poetry, they read real books with underlying messages and discuss how they apply to today's world. The new methods for math which help to reinforce context, techniques, and real-world applications. Many things they did or discussed in school were things we were naturally doing at home all along but there were some new ideas and practices. In the end, I'm happy that my son chose to attend school even if it was virtually because he learned new things, made friends, and was able to make connections with others even if it was online. So how did this pan out and what does it mean? How do we approach learning and authentic childhood over the summer?
Everyone is worried about summer slides. I think we all worry too much and are over critical of our natural ability to learn. Children watch and listen to everything. They want to mimic and try everything they see the people around them doing. If we can take the time to refocus our own ideas of family, childhood, play, life—what if we took our lives back? What if we rolled down a grassy hill as a family?When is the last time you rolled down a hill? It has been a while right, just make sure you check the area first for sharp objects, squishy piles, and other hazards. I used to lead classes outside for children ages 12 months-8 years old. Do you know how many children had never rolled down a hill before? They didn't even know it was an option. What if we spent an entire day reading books outside under the shade of a big tree and took breaks to count the leaves? What if we all learned how to do something new together with our children? We could model thoughtful pauses, problem solving, overcoming challenges, and make something together all while using vibrant language, and memories. What if we got real cameras and went on a scavenger hunt or nature or texture walk and make a book of photos that we could use to remember our day?
Childhood is really a collection of simple delights. You don't need a lot of money to share love. You don't need a lot of things to learn something new. You don't need a higher education to share your natural talents with others. We could all just remember how to be people again. We could remember our connection to nature and to each other. We could teach the traditions of our families and if we don't have any, we could make some. What if we asked our children what they wanted to learn and just plunged into the unknown together?
Ideas for creating authentic childhood opportunities
Create something out of recycled materials based on a drawing you made
Draw on the biggest paper you can find so that you can use full arm motions
Make some good old mud in your yard, in a pot of dirt on your patio, on your back slab in a bucket
Collect nature treasures—identify each item by looking in a book from home or the library
Draw a picture of your happiest memory, take a photo and print a book at Walgreens of your child's favorite memories, choose 20 from each year (mix in a few photos of activities you did together even if they are at home)
Lounge in an open space or a park bench and look at the clouds while searching for shapes
Tell a story about something you want to do and then do it
Experiment with textiles: use old clothes, yarn, repurpose old pillows or stuffed toys
Draw with chalk. Try integrating paint brushes, water, wooden mallets, buckets, or sticks.
Make a meal together. Talk about what you're doing and why. First we clean our workspace, wash our hands, then gather the ingredients. Use child-friendly knives or give your child a manageable task like washing fruits and veggies.
Go for a walk and talk about what you see. Think about how it is different from yesterday. Think about what might change tomorrow.
Watch a classic family movie with no other distractions. I know we don't watch screens a lot but it is really nice to snuggle on the couch or lay in the yard or pop up a tent and watch a movie. If you have very small children pick something appropriate and talk about what is going on in the movie. There are definitely movies that I watched as a child that my children do not like but they love Swiss Family Robinson, The Parent Trap, Herbie the Love Bug, and Mary Poppins.
Take time to focus on your child and family while completely present in the moment. No phones or devices around, no TV. Just focused family time, even if it is only 15 minutes. It will make a positive impact on them.
Do some yoga or practice mindfulness
Complete a puzzle. Start with a 50 piece puzzle and work your way up. There are many used bookstores that now offer puzzle and game trade-ins. This is a great way to try new puzzles on a budget.
Play a board game, learn a new card game, make a game up on your own—create the game, then set all the rules in writing, then play.
Make a pillow or blanket fort.
Play restaurant. Ask the child what role they want to play and who you can be in the game.
Volunteer at a local charity together.
Ask your child to teach you something that your child likes to do.
Work together and draw something from Kids Art Hub on YouTube or from a book you have.
Climb a tree
Go to the playground and interact your children while playing along with them
Have a dance party in the living room
Get dressed up really fancy for a meal and use real dishes, light a candle, use full meal settings
Have a tea party with a fruit or non-caffeinated, kid-friendly tea. Make some treats, invitations, set up a child-sized table, invite "stuffies" and dolls to come to the party with you.
Search for caterpillars and put them in a butterfly tent or remember where they are and check on them every day until they become butterflies.
Plant and tend a garden together, no matter how small, even in a pot. Plant a tea garden or an herb garden to encourage sensory stimulation. Plant seeds in any vessel you can find: pot, mug, old bowl, egg carton, plastic cup, packaging.
Go to any Home Depot on the first Saturday of the month for a DIY Children's building model kit.
Blow bubbles. Use a store bought bottle of bubbles or make your own and make bubble wands out of household materials.
Have a picnic with healthy foods
This year my children and I learned how to knit, finger knit, and crochet. We molded beeswax. We painted outside. We ran around without shoes on. We planted another garden with flowers, pollinators, herbs, and small veggies. We created our own games. We built things out of wood. We drew pictures and wrote stories based on bedtime stories that we made up. We colored mandalas. We collected leaves. We made Star Wars costumes from clothes we found around the house. We skipped down the sidewalk. We volunteered and painted picnic tables in a local park. We donated food and clothes to people who needed them more than we did. We gave donations to a charity for children in foster care. We made our own instruments and proudly made sounds in our yard. We blasted music and danced. We baked cakes. We picked food in our garden. We climbed trees. We sat by the pond and counted snails. We read hundreds of paper books. We made memories. We smiled. We laughed. We screamed and cried.
We are still growing. We are always learning. We are always changing. Every minute that passes, we are older. I don't want to look back and wish I had taken the time to live. I don't want to feel as if I had missed out on these precious moments. I don't want to feel as if maybe this childhood was fake or we skipped all the good stuff. I want to live in a world where children can be silly, imaginative, cranky, happy, loud, emotional, creative, intuitive, and evolving. A place where children not only exist but where they can find themselves and live.
Everything shared here is my own reflections and thoughts. These are some ideas for activities to do with children to encourage authentic growth. There are obviously millions of other activities to do but this was a blend of opportunities which mostly anyone can try or access. Hopefully, you will see something that you haven't done in a while and take a moment—no matter what age you are—and try something new.
Thank you for joining me today. I will be returning next week with a fresh look on life as school is finally over for the 2020-2021 school year on Friday. Learn, love, and grow.