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Our Kindergarten Rhythm August 20, 2009

Filed under: Children (3-6 years),Family Culture — Rachel @ 5:52 pm
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It’s the first day of school for many children, but not in our house.  Our first day of school was earlier this August, because mama couldn’t wait to get started!  We’re finishing up our 3rd week of Kindergarten.  Now that I’m a veteran homeschooler (HA!), I thought I’d share our school rhythm with you.

kidsMy kindergartner, Aria, is almost 5.  Because of her birthdate, she’ll do 2 years of Kindergarten before starting first grade, in order to stay on tract with her public school counterparts.  I also have a 2 1/2 year old, Liam, in the mix.  For us, Kindergarten means adding a focus story to our week, and allowing that story to play out as it may in our weekly painting and coloring times.  It also means a new weekly beeswax modeling session and a weekly poem or memory verse, usually pulled from the story itself.  Lastly, we added a handicraft day to Aria’s week, which creates a time for learning to tie, braid, sew, etc.

It wasn’t to hard to work these elements into our lives, since we already had a solid rhythm that’s been supporting us for over half a year.   Since I work part-time, I had a meeting with my other caregivers (2 grandmas) to share my plans for Aria’s Kindergarten year and ask for their participation.  One grandma took over the weekly beeswax modeling session, while the other does the handiwork project.   Coloring and painting fall on my days at home.  At the beginning of the month, I gave each grandmother a one-page summary showing the weekly story and memory verse for each week, plus ideas for handiwork and modeling.  As each week arrives, I pass along a copy of the focus story in advance, so Grandma can read ahead and have it on hand during the week. 

Here’s our weekly rhythm:

  • Monday:  New Story – No expansion
  • Tuesday: Beeswax Modeling
  • Wednesday: Repeat Story, Give Memory Verse & Coloring
  • Thursday:  Handicraft
  • Friday:  Repeat Story, Say Memory Verse & Painting

And our daily rhythm, at least on my days at home:

  • 7:00 – Wake & Dress
  • 7:30 – Breakfast
  • 8:00 – Complete dressing routines & Early Morning Bible Study w/Memory Verse Time
  • 9:00 – Get moving via Outdoor Play (with a Playdate on Fridays)
  • 10:00 – Snack
  • 11:00 – Free Play
  • 12:00 – Lunch
  • 12:30 – Rest Time
  • 1:30 – Aria’s Storytime, then free play or right into Art Time, if it feels right
  • 3:00 – Snack
  • 3:30 – Art Time: Coloring/Painting if not done earlier
  • 4:30 – Dinner Prep
  • 5:30 – Dinner
  • 6:00 – Family Time/Baths
  • 6:45 – Bed Prep and Bedtime Stories
  • 7:00 – To Bed

As far as “school” time goes (and I use that term loosely, since we’re learning all the time), it works well for us to have split our day into two mini sessions.  Right after we’ve finished getting ready for the day, we have a little Bible time at the table, prayer to set the tone for our day, and then we practice our memory verse.  If I can, I teach Aria how to act out the poem or Bible verse to help her remember, and then she’s off to play.  This session takes about 10 minutes!

The next session is placed after her rest time, when she’s eager to reconnect with me.  I read her the focus story of the week, and sometimes go on to read some stories of Liam’s choosing afterwards.  More often they’re ready to play.  This week, our story was a Russian fairytale “Masha and the Bear”.  Aria just LOVED it!  So, after storytime she enlisted Liam and I to help her reenact the storyline for as long as we were willing.  This kind of play with the story is really the most ideal way for her to work through its meaning and value.  While she played, I set up our coloring supplies so we could move into coloring session whenever the time was right.  This school session takes more like 30 minutes, including the art time.  Afterwards, I change my focus to housework and dinner.

 

Nature Play & Nature Study with Young Children August 8, 2009

naturesplaygroundSince I posted Getting Outside in Hot Weather, I’ve been enjoying this focus on outdoor play and casual nature study with my little ones.  We LOVED “Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts, and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors”, which I found at our library!  The book has so many gorgeous and inspiring pictures of children having fun outside:  climbing tress, hiking, playing in the mud, catching bugs, building natural forts, lying in tall grass.  The pictures alone launched my 4 1/2-year-old on a verbal monologue about the grand hiking trip she will do someday.  Since then, she and daddy have visited a local forest for her first hike. 

Besides pictures, the book has a ton of ideas for neat ways to play outside with nature.  We took a jaunt down to our almost-dry pond bed to wade through the mud (I really just watched that part).  We’ve caught more bugs, frogs, and spiders than ever before.  Most of the activity ideas are really ideal for the 6+ crowd.  I plan on holding off on purchasing the book for a few years, for that reason. 

Besides enjoying “Nature’s Playground”, I’ve found a few more ways to enjoy the outdoors with my kids.  I purchased a spiral bound, blank notebook for our “nature journal.”  Last week we visited the botanical gardens armed with a few ink pads and our journal.  Aria and Liam both enjoyed stamping various leafs and blossoms to our pages.  I wrote the common species name under each print.  Now that’s one way I can actually learnmushrooms plants – just 6 or so at a time.  We left with inky hands, as I’m sure you guessed.  I plan to add pressed flowers to our book soon, and to let it continue to evolve, adding whatever nature-oriented observations or mediums seem right.

Since my children are young, the idea is not to cram their heads full of information, but to nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about nature.  To that effect, we aren’t running around reading lots of children’s non-fiction for our homeschooling “science”.  Instead, we have a Waldorf-inspired nature story as my daughter’s focus story every few weeks, we play creatively outside and – hopefully – I share my genuine interest and knowledge about nature in ways that are spontaneous and real. 

Trouble is, I’m not all that knowledgeable about nature.  In fact, I’m probably more interested in nature study now than I have ever been before. To equip myself, I’ve purchased a series of pocket field guides for familiar trees, wildflowers, insects, butterflies, etc.  I discovered a great series published by Audubon that’s geared towards children.  frogsThat’s just what I need!  (I checked out many complete field guides from the library on wildflowers and felt like I was reading a foreign language).  On Amazon, many of these guides are available used for pennies, plus shipping.  Here’s the National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Reptiles and Amphibians, as an example.  Every spread has a full, page-sized picture and a simple description with all the key details that you’d actually want to know.  My whole family (even dad) has enjoyed paging through these!  Just this weekend, we discovered a Red Velvet Ant, Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Northern Tooth Musrhoom and Wolf Spider.  Good times!

 

Today’s Green Mama June 25, 2009

Filed under: Eco-Friendly Living — Rachel @ 5:34 pm
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_MG_5784Next spring I’ll have a vegetable garden fueled by my own compost.  This weekend I bought a sewing machine.  Last month we installed a clothesline.  Earlier this year, I learned to make my own sandwich bread.  Who am I?  I’m today’s “Green Mama.” 

Whereas our mother’s generation pushed forwards searching out new styles of living, new standards of mothering, new products; today’s mothers are rediscovering grandma’s lifestyle.  What’s green?  So often, it’s the “old” way of doing things.  From the slow-food movement to cultivating a simple life, we’re finding wisdom in the ways of the past. 

  • Traditional, labor-intensive agriculture – not pesticides.
  • Organic cotton and wool bedding – not polyurethane foam and fire retardant chemicals.
  • Food made at home, preferably purchased from local farm – not fast food or processed convenience foods that travel thousands of miles to reach our door.
  • Line dried laundry – not routine machine drying.
  • Cloth diapers – not disposables.
  • Breastfeeding – not formula.
  • Wooden and cloth toys – not plastic.
  • Homemade cleaners of baking soda, vinegar and essential oils – not commercial products.
  • Making our own and buying from artisans (such as on Etsy.com) – not relying completely on mass-produced merchandise

_MG_5750The list could go on, and it’s not to say that choosing a green lifestyle never involves using new technology.  For example, dishwashers are reportedly more efficient than hand washing dishes.  The point is that for the most part, today’s eco-aware, modern mamas are embracing lifestyles of days gone past.  We’re finding that slowing down, simplifying, savoring the family and creating a handmade life offer more meaning and joy than other paths. 

As I share these reflections with you, it occurs to me that critics describe the “green” movement as a fad, or worse as a marketing strategy.  While some interpretations might stray, the truth is that this movement is a lifestyle.  It’s as unique as the people living it.  And, it’s alive – changing, growing and deepening everyday.  I’m proud to be a part of it.  I hope that this blog encourages you as you make your way down your own path.  Thank-you for walking it with me.

 

Getting Outside in Hot Weather June 23, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 5:27 pm
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_MG_5808Ever since the first day of June, it’s been near and above 90 degrees, hereabout, and humid too.  The warm summer weather came as a bit of a shock to us, driving us inside. 

I think it’s important that children play outside everyday.  We get outside throughout the day on Wednesday, when I’m hanging laundry, and every Friday morning, when our friends come over for playgroup.  (On other weekdays, my children are with grandma, while I work).  So, it’s not that we’re not getting outside… it’s the quality and duration of our outside play that is lacking.  A quick jaunt on the playground, a half-hearted bike ride, maybe a tad of tree-climbing when friends are over, and that’s it.  Where is the exploration?  Who’s pretending?  Is anyone noticing the flowers, bugs, clouds, birds? 

I’m sure they’re noticing, even when I’m not noticing that they’re noticing (and that’s a lot of noticing).  But, I think there’s a lot more there for us to see.  We live far-off the road and surrounded by forest, so it’s a pretty safe and exciting environment.   The trick is, they really desire mom to adventure alongside them.  And, at 2 and 4.5, I suppose that’s pretty reasonable.  How to reconnect with my inner child and inspire them to go beyond the playground and bike path to the natural world beyond? 

After browsing through some blogs, I landed on a book at Amazon, “Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts, and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors.”  I hope it has some activities that will inspire me to lead some adventures.  It definitely has some beautiful pictures of children playing in nature that I hope may give my oldest some new ideas.  Fortunately, it’s available at my library.  I’ve requested it, and I’ll report back with a review. 

 

Potty Training a Boy IS Different May 29, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 4:56 pm
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Fast forward a few years and my second child, my son, is nearing his 2nd birthday.  We unearthed the requisit potty chair and crossed our fingers.  At first he LOVED the potty.  He’d easily potty while on the toilet while his sister cheered for him.  We thought, hmm… could we get lucky this time with an easy boy!?!

Moving to a new home prevented us from potty training right then and there.  But, just as he turned two years old we decided to make the big switch.  Starting on a Friday I put my son in underwear and gave him the potty-training talk.  I dutifully brought him to the toilet every 30 minutes… and he went every time.  It was easy for him to potty on the toilet, the problem was he only went a little bit.  And, he was still managing to have accidents even just 15 minutes after he’d peed on the potty.  As for going #2, no luck there – it was always in the underwear.  Grrr. 

My son also started resisting these frequent potty trips right from Day 1 of potty training.  Occasionally, he’d say he didn’t want to go, but I’d insist.  He was in underwear, after all.  By Day 2 and 3, he was all out against potty training.  He did NOT want to enter the bathroom, even to the point of tears.   On Day 3, when he had an accident just 15 minutes after going on the potty for the second time, we decided to call it quits.  1 unwilling toddler + 1 unready bladder = time to back off.  We felt a little like failures.  But, moreso, realized that we had given it a try and he was so clearly not ready.  No need for guilt there.

About 4 months later, my son seems to have forgotten potty training attempt #1.  I began to take him to the potty, at first 1-2 times a day and then 3-4 times a day since he wasn’t resisting.  Why this pleasant agreeableness?  I tricked him, of course.  I decided to sing a very short song each time I picked him up to bring him to the potty.  Since it was spring, I chose:

Little Johnny Jump-up said, “Now it must be spring!

I just saw a ladybug and heard a robin sing.”

This upbeat little number distracted him, set a positive emotional tone, and signaled to him what we were going to do without actually giving him a choice to reject.  No mention of pottying in this song – just a mood, a tone, something to say as I was carrying him to the bathroom.  We practiced this routine for 2-3 weeks and then…

Potty Training attempt #2.  Last Friday we pulled out the underwear again.  I brought him to the toilet avery 30 mintues amist continual song.  And he went.  And he didn’t complain.  And he didn’t have many accidents!  So, that’s how we spent the holiday weekend – potty training.  Now his scheduled potty trip is every 45 minutes.  Within the next week or so, we hope to get it to every hour and then onwards and upwards from there.

Potty training my son was different than potty training my daughter.  He was not physically ready until about 6 months later than she.  And, he was more defiant and resistant despite the fact that he had an older sister as a cheerleader and example.  On the other hand, he is having less accidents than she did at this point in the potty training sequence.  This may be simple because he is 6 months older than she was.  At any rate, we were very glad that we cloth diapered him, so waiting an extra 6 months to start potty training didn’t cost us a penny!

 

Potty Training: How I Did it the “Hard” Way May 28, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 3:55 pm
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Potty Training is one of those unexpected, HUGE parenting challenges.  How do you know when to start?  Grandma says you were potty trained by 2 years old, but today’s average child potty trains at 3 1/2!  What approach  do you use?  Do you base it off of your child’s interest in pottying on the toilet or on your desire to be diaper-free? 

I started to potty train my first child, a girl, when she was 22 months.  Sure, she was showing some “signs’ of being ready, but really we started potty training because we knew another child her age that had just gone diaper-free.  Isn’t there a good bit of peer-pressure when it comes to potty training?  What parent doesn’t wish to ditch the diaper, saving money, the environment and avoiding the YUCK factor all at once?

Months before I had casually introducing my daughter to her potty chair.  After occasionally having some pottying success, I targeted a specific weekend for the big switch.  I put her in underwear that day and explained my hopes and expectations.  We also used a potty doll that my daughter would “train” – the idea being that she would enjoy teaching the doll, while learning herself.  I had done some reading on various potty training approaches.  Here was my plan:  be positive,  reward a successful potty with one M & M,  expect accidents and respond by coaching her to practice running from the location of the accident to the potty several times for a positive, yet practical learning experience.  We also sat down on the potty just to “try” throughout the day, every few hours or so.  Sounds good on paper, right?

Well, it didn’t go so well.  After the first few accidents (which were constant) my daughter and I were both hating the experience.  It’s hard to be upbeat while cleaning up repeated messes.  It’s hard for such a little child to continue seeing the run-to-the-potty learning experience as a positive learning game.  It got old and we both got frustrated – fast!  At the beginning of the day, my daughter felt positive and excited about potty training, but by the day’s end she was hiding under the table to pee-pee.  Learning from having accidents sounds logical, but for her it was just discouraging. 

On Day 2 I took a completely different approach, which I call “Learning by Succcess.”  You may call it parent-training, rather than potty training… but it worked for us.  I took her to the potty every 30 minutes like clockwork.  As you would expect, she began to have very few accidents and pottying success after success, each celebrated with the an M&M in the color of her choice.  Granted, I was a little exhausted.   I felt chained to the toilet or timer… but it was working.  Over the week, I stretched her scheduled potty time to every 45 minutes and then to every hour.  Every hour was MUCH more doable, but still kept us watching the clock.  2-3 weeks into it, I was taking her every 2 hours, with few if any accidents. 

Sounds like a lot of work?  Honestly, it was!  I believe that the “easier” route would have been to wait another 9-12 months to start at all.  However, one has to decide if it’s easier to remember to sit your child on the potty every few hours, or to change a diaper every few hours.  I decided for the potty.  After a little over a month of potty training in this way, my daughter began to initiate – to say she had to go potty.  At about 2.5 months, she was initiating, so that I no longer watched the clock at all, and counted on her to take care of her needs.  It was a long 2.5 months, but going diaper free at 2 years, instead of at 3 years, was worth it for us.  And, when my second child was born, I was even MORE happy to have potty trained my first child the “hard” way.

 

The Best Clothesline Ever May 21, 2009

Filed under: Eco-Friendly Living — Rachel @ 6:12 pm
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So, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I am quite thrilled with my new clothesline.  It’s one of those umbrella-shaped clotheslines that looks like it’s from outer space…  But – WOW- does it do the job well!

1.  It holds 6 loads of laundry.  I can wash all of our clothes on laundry day and hang everything.  Hello energy savings and a reduced electric bill!

2.  It rotates.  I can stand in one place and access every single line without straining a bit. 

3.  It only needs a small patch of sun.  We didn’t want a long stretch of clothesline.  This design is compact enough for an urban backyard.

4.  It closes up.  Were we to throw a lovely garden party, I could ask my dear husband to collapse the laundry umbrella, so that it looks basically like a post.  Or, even better, he could take it out of the hole entirely and put it in the garage.  Nice.

 

Words for Loving Transitions May 14, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 5:45 pm
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Inspired by books like Heaven on Earth, countless Waldorf resources and Enki Education, I have been weaving simple verses or “sayings” into our family life.  These rhymatic verses are fun and excellent for language development.  But, most importantly, they ease my two little ones through difficult daily transitions.  Here are a few I think most parents would find useful.  Unless noted, I’m not sure of the authors.  Please advise me if you know!

For Teeth Brushing:

All the little milk teeth

Standing in a row,

Scrub, scrub, scrub

And away we go.

First do all the front ones,

Then do at the back,

Every night and morning,

Just like that.

For Nail Clipping:

Thumpkin Bumpkin jolly and stout,

Peter into mischief round-a-bout,

Long and lanky,

Hanky panky,

Pinkie winkie diddly dinky.

 

Snip, snap moonslivers one by one.

Thumpkin,

Peter.

Long and lanky.

Hanky panky.

All done.

For Saying Goodnight to my 4-year-old:

May you be good; may you be blessed.

Joyful to rise; happy to rest.

With a heart that is wise, warm and strong.

Nimble fingers, skilled feet to bear you along.

(from the Christopherus Kindergarden book)

 

 

The Perfect Nursing Pillow March 31, 2009

Filed under: Breastfeeding — Rachel @ 6:21 pm
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Breastfeeding is being available, loving, stopping, resting and giving.  Breastfeeding is all the time, everyday and every night.  It’s something you may desire to do for months or years.  It’s a beautiful commitment, but not without it’s challenges.  I breastfed both of my children exclusively from day one.  Could I have done it without a nursing pillow?  I suppose so, but I liked it so much that I owned more than one!  Here’s my story.

I registered for a Boppy pillow.  Doesn’t everyone?  Moms and magazines praise it like a miracle device.  “It’ll save your back,” they say, “and baby will use it for tummy time and learning to sit too!”  My pretty pink Boppy looked nice in the nursery, but quickly showed its faults when baby was born.  Because it is so firm, the Boppy cannot mold to your body or your baby.  How do women keep it in place?  I felt that the moment I placed my baby on it things started sliding about.  Baby would slide towards my breast, face squishing in until I worried she couldn’t find air.  The Boppy would slide away from me, with the baby’s body finding its way into the growing space between me and the pillow.  I tried different positions for both of us, but nothing seemed to help.  Using a nursing pillow should be easy, right?  My arms shouldn’t be busy adjusting or securing the pillow.  Eventually I eyed the curved, rounded top of the Boppy with suspicion.  Why was it rounded?  How could my baby help but slide off of a curved, very firm surface?

My mom had brought home a My Breast Friend pillow, “Just in case.”  It was everything Boppy was not:  a little softer, but not too soft; a flat surface for baby to lay upon without sliding; and equipped with a strap that goes around your back, fastening with velcro so that the pillow stays right against your belly, where it belongs.  It was ideal, and I used that badly-named pillow every single time I nursed at home, even at night.  I could totally relax.  My arms where completely free.  Ahhh….  The Boppy was exiled to grandma’s house.

Along came baby #2.  My Breast Friend Pillow was back, times two.  I purchased a second so that I’d have one on each level of our new two-story home.  I used it constantly.  I washed the removable cover as needed, never realizing that the yellow foam core inside was entirely toxic.  It wasn’t until I was nearing baby #2’s first birthday that I found out about the dangers of polyurethane foam.  Most baby mattresses are filled with polyurethane foam.  We purchased a new, organic mattress for my baby, but I didn’t realize that my Breast Friend nursing pillows are made with polyurethane foam until it was too late. 

Of course, I felt guilty.  Day after day, hour after hour, I’d cozied up with my precious little one over a lump of toxic, air-polluting foam.  And polyurethane foam is that bad.  Really bad. I share the sordid details in my article Toxins in the Nursery at EuphoriaBaby.com.  But, one cannot undue the past.  We can only share the news with others.  To that end, I searched for “the perfect nursing pillow”, one that would work well, but was made of pure, safe ingredients.  emailpillowWe added the Blessed Nest nursing pillow to our website EuphoriaMaternity.com and never looked back.  It’s made entirely of organic cotton and filled with organic buckwheat hulls – pure, simple materials from nature – materials I can trust.  The Blessed Nest pillow is also flat.  The nature of the buckwheat hull filling is somewhat like a beanbag.  It molds to the body, but offers strong support.  As such, it stays still and no one slides off.. hooray! 

So that’s it, that’s my story of the perfect nursing pillow.  When you choose your pillow, just make sure to avoid polyurethane foam at all costs and to choose a pillow that’s relatively flat on top.  Babies aren’t meant to slide.  If you’re not sure about those buckwheat hulls, a flat nursing pillow that’s filled with organic cotton (like the Organic Caboose Nursing Pillow) is another good choice.

 

Our Preschool at Home March 26, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 1:30 pm
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Throughout this year I have been officially homeschooling my 4-year-old daughter.  But what does that amount to, really?  The preschool-aged child needs to be in a safe, nurturing environment.  She needs to eat healthful foods, play outside everyday, make-up her own games and contribute to the home.  She desires outlets for socializing, creating art, singing and making music!  This, we have been providing at home… and it has been my pleasure!

The year began with my focus on creating a rhythm for our weekly life together.  Once that was established, I was freed up to relax, enjoy our days more and enrich them as new ideas come. 

In the late fall, I learned to request seasonal children’s books from the library.  Focusing on the time of year means our read-alouds reflect the weather, moods and holidays of the season.  The books stay around for a couple months, which is just long enough for them to become familiar, without getting a bit old.  I put effort into selecting my seasonal library book list, so that the books reflect good values and positive personalities to my children.   

img_0008Next I settled into comfortable art sessions.  At first I couldn’t enjoy wet watercoloring with my 4-year-old, because I didn’t know how to manage my 2-year-old at the same time.  And, at the beginning, coloring time was rather haphazard as well.  As I found what works for my family and, perhaps as my children learned what to expect too, I discovered ways to make these art times peaceful and productive.  Sometimes my 2-year-old doesn’t paint, but just watches.  This is very good for his always-on-the-go personality.  Othertimes I set him up in just such a way that he is able to paint (with tempera paint) without causing a ruckus.  For coloring, I found that my daughter thrives when given a concept to work with.  For example, one winter day we colored pine trees on black and then added white crayon snow.  When spring arrived, we colored a rainbow (her first) using the soft sides of thick block crayons.  Usually I color alongside of her, trying to be an example without getting in her way.

Late winter I finally hung our first, small blackboard, which my husband made for me.  I enjoy writing seasonal poems, verses from our circle time and Bible verses on the board.  My daughter loves to memorize the poems.  It is amazingly easy for her and works to sharpen her memory, while enriching her vocabulary.

This spring I am focusing on developing our circle times.  On Fridays our Waldorf friends come over for a regular playdate.  We begin with circle time, Waldorf style.  For us that means a unifying theme, such as tea time, worked out through songs, poems, and miming activities.  We begin with large movements, standing up and work our way down to the floor, where we finish with fingerplays.  All of this purposeful bodily activity works to develop the brain in preparation for academics.  It appeals to the children imaginatively, never failing to completely delight them.   I have found that our playgroup needs a bit more structure than originally expected.  It is still a work in progress, but a very exciting one!

Combined with household chores, cooking, free-play and plenty of time out-of-doors, this is our preschool at home.   I am so thankful for the many Waldorf-inspired mamas who have gone before me, paving the way with ideas and wonderful resources that keep me inspired to enjoy my family.  I particularly recommend the Seasons of Joy curriculum, which is a set of 4 seasonal idea books, designed for children from baby to kindergarten.   It is not a rigid curriculum at all.  Instead, it’s a rich resource book, filled with circle times, stories, art, poems, cooking and projects that are all season-appropriate.  There’s more than enough material for many years, in my opinion!  I turn to Seasons of Joy to formulate circle time, come up with coloring “concepts”, source poems for our blackboard, and etc.  I’m sure it’ll get even more use as we explore kindergarten next year!