Friday, December 11, 2009

Where I've been ...

Sorry I have been so disturbingly quiet the last month or so! Thank you for your messages of concern and encouragement.

Things have been busy here, our darling Little Guy is now 9 months old but has been back to sleeping like a newborn ... in fact far worse than as a newborn. Teething and a cold seem to have completely taken him out of what little routine he had!

The way for me to stay sane until he starts to sleep better is to just accept it, know that this too will pass, and to accept (reluctantly) that blogging will have to wait until he starts to settle again.

I have lots of drafts and tonnes more ideas, so I really hope that one day soon I can start blogging with a vengeance!

In the meantime wishing you all a wonderful Christmas.

Gypsy xx

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Take my advice - I'm clearly not using it

So having written about the value of a simple life, I had to laugh at myself today when I realised how darned busy I have been the last two days. Pair this hysterical busy-ness with a week of appalling sleep from our teething 8 month old and voila - its 8pm on a Friday night and I am already in my pyjamas and writing this from bed. On the verge of collapse, or at least tears, from exhuastion. (Yes, my husband is probably right that I am a tad melodramatic).

Why do I do this to myself? Even with the best of intentions to simplify my schedule I keep saying 'yes' and finding myself in a flurry of playdates.

I could ... should .... have postponed the back to back playdates today given the complete lack of sleep. My friends wouldn't have minded. I could have walked up the road, got a really strong takeaway coffee and headed to the library. The day could have been peaceful.

But instead this morning I frantically baked a big batch of cupcakes, organised some activities for the kids to do and tried to do the days jobs before visitors arrived 9.30. It then seemed I spent the whole day battling with Munchkin who is in a phase where she wants to 'whack' everyone and everything that frustrated her. Now, I'm behind on the washing, I don't have bags packed for our outings tomorrow and after dinner I had to quickly cook up a kilo of chicken so that it can go in the freezer before it spoils ... with Little Guy on my hip. A peaceful day would have been so much better for all involved.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the company. In fact, I crave company which is why I tend to do this to myself. But we all pay the price.

So this time, I'm taking my own advice - I'm off to sleep!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

I remember when I was at university I saw the book ‘Simplify your Life' by Elaine St James on the counter at the university bookshop. Despite my rather meagre student finances I bought it immediately and read the whole thing on the bus ride home. I was hooked. The notion of deliberately choosing a life that is ‘outwardly simple, inwardly rich’ resonated deeply. Since then, voluntary simplicity has been a driving value for me. I haven't always succeeded, but I have always aspired to live this way.

Now there is (of course!) a book called ‘Simplicity Parenting'. I haven’t read it but Grace has reviewed it very positively, and having read the first chapter on Amazon it certainly looks like a good read. It has got me thinking a lot about what ‘simple parenting’ means to me.

An old-fashioned childhood

I want my children to have an old fashioned kind of childhood … to climb more trees and watch less TV. To take all morning to get dressed, to read the same book 20 times in one day and to make forts with sheets over chairs in the lounge. To have one special doll and love her, not a collection of 40 Barbies and always be wanting more. To take all day to potter in the garden, or bake biscuits in the kitchen.

A stay at home mum

My life is simpler because we actually stay home a lot, rather than fill our days with playgroups, music classes, toddler gymnastics, play dates, and coffee groups. Our mornings are much calmer as there is no pressure to be anywhere. I don’t need to pack lunches and bags. I don’t need to pay fees or organise resources or sit on committees. Now we only have one car life is even simpler … if we can’t walk there in the pushchair, we can’t go! Plus, getting kids into the pushchair seems so much simpler than herding them in and out of carseats.

Avoiding mall trall

We try as far as possible to avoid the excesses of todays commercial culture (oooh, that sounds terribly self righteous). We don’t watch TV with the kids so they don’t see the ads for all the amazing toys. We try not to take them to malls and department stores, so they don’t see things to ask for. We try not to clutter our home with plastic junk. The odd time we do find ourselves in a K’Mart and experience the pester-power of a 3 year old we are quickly reminded of how much staying away keeps our life, and our home simple.

Beware the supermums

You know the supermums don’t you … the ones whose 2 year olds are already ‘preccious readers’ and are heading off to gifted programmes. The ones who anxiously teach colours, letters and numbers, agonise over each developmental milestone, and phone Plunketline twice a day to check everything out. These mums will stress you out … I tend to give them a wide berth!

Let go of perfectionism

My life is complicated by my ambition to be some of kind of perfect Waldorf mom who cooks biodynamic food from scratch, sews and knits and needle-felts and has nothing in the house that is formed or synthetic.

But for me, real life isn’t like that. Friends and family have different values, and I’d rather spend time enjoying my children than fermenting yoghurt. My heart broke the first time I saw how much Munchkin loved Dora the Explorer. It didn’t fit the picture in my head of what she ‘should’ be into … but that is my issue not hers.

And so when a loving aunty gave her a Dora doll for her birthday, and my grandparents gave her a Dora book I chose not to worry. Not to try to ‘hide’ the doll, or have a ‘little chat’ to the rellies about why we don’t have those things in our house. Instead, I bought her some Dora stickers to go with it and decided that life would be a lot simpler if I let go of my Waldorfy perfectionism.

We have even started watching the odd DVD here … I have three DVDs for Munchkin. She goes through stages of being quite into them, and when she’s having one of those days and Little Guy is refusing to settle they are a god-send. I am glad I fought the battle for as long as I did, but for me the decision to stop being a TV Nazi has made life a lot easier!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What makes life at your place simple, or complicated?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Monthly Roundup - October

It seems that a lot of us found October rough ... and I've just heard on the news that here in NZ we have had the coldest October is over 60 years! So ... roll on November and the summer weather that we hope will come with it.

October was a frenetic month here at Domestically Blissed, two lots of overseas visitors (not staying with me but lots of get-togethers), two lots of grandparents arriving from overseas, a bunch of birthday parties, hubby putting his back out ... AGAIN and to top it all off the whole family came down with a gastro bug ... ick!

I am pleased to say that I still managed to get a fair bit done ...

My goals for October were

- write 2 more 'areas of play' posts.
Result: Half pass ... wrote a post of music, still working on one on creativity!

- stick to grocery budget - strictly.
Result: Half pass again ... I overspent by $60 but we had a few dinner parties and then when I got sick we used a bunch of sposies. I think we can make it stick this month!

- bring Little Guys' baby book up to date.
Result: Oh, you guessed it - another half pass. I wrote a bunch of notes, sorted the photos and glued them in, and have decided to wait for another season of my life to do the final version.

-write list of Christmas gifts and stick to a maximum of $15 per person for gifts.
Result: PASS ... now I just have to stick to the list. I nearly bought 'off the list' today but managed, just, to stop myself (I think the shoplady thought I was mad)

- organise spare room wardrobe
Result: PASS ... and it is great. Even got hubby to put up a shoe rack that we got really cheap on TradeMe, and bought some wooden coathangers. Wardrobe bliss is mine .... and I got motivated to also organise the wall unit in our dining room.

- get at least 8 more listings up on TradeMe
Result: PASS PLUS ... 8 sales on TradeMe, 4 sales on another forum ... making a big difference to the last vestages of the pregnancy/new baby clutter.

So onwards and upwards ....

Well my goals for November are:

- keep an exact track of where the 'cash' part of our budget goes. Each week I get a little bit of spending money out, and each month it all goes - poof - into thin air. Time to track track track.

- buy all our Christmas presents except for the children.

- make Christmas mince, ready for making mince pies

- re-organise little guys wardrobe for summer

- another eight listings of second hand stuff on TradeMe.

So, what are your goals for November?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lush love ... and how to clean the loo

I am still here ... I deserve some kind of award for this on again off again blogging! When life gets busy my computer time is the first thing that goes … but I’ll report more on that in my monthly wrap-up!

More interesting posts are planned … but while I work on those I thought I would share an excerpt from the wonderful Shannon Lush whose books 'Speed Cleaning' and 'Spotless' are my new favourites.

Her show has been on TV here lately, and while she's not the most charismatic television presenter, she's had me cleaning out the inside of our kettle (with CLR and a scourer), polishing the silver (washing soda and aluminium foil) soaking net curtains in napisan and generally using bicarb (baking soda), vinegar and clove oil with gay abandon!

Her books are so detailed, she even gives precise instructions to a task most of us don't give much thought to ...

'How to Clean the Toilet'

(with two sponges, white vinegar, baking soda and a bowl of hot water).

1. Flush the toilet to wet the sides of the bowl.
2. Sprinkle bicarb soda over the inside of the bowl.
3. Wipe the top of the cistern
4. Wipe the top of the lid, under the lid, the top of the seat and under the seat using bicarb and white vinegar and the two sponge technique.
5. Splash white vinegar over the bicarb in the bowl, then use a toilet brush to scrub, including up and around the rim.
6. Wipe the top of the rim with a sponge that’s been dipped in vinegar
7. Wash the sponge in hot water and wipe rim again.
9. Flush
9. Rinse the sponge in white vinegar and wipe the outside of the toilet bowl right to the floor including the plumbing at the back.
10. Congratulations, you’re done!

(the two sponge technique - one damp sponge dipped in baking soda, one sponge rung out with white vinegar, put the vinegar one on top of the baking soda one and wipe, using the pressure of your hand to squeeze the vinegar into the baking soda).

Personally, the toilet is one place I don't use baking soda and vinegar ... but I'm sure it would work. On that note, I am really delighted to see that Ecostore have changed the formulation for their previously useless toilet cleaner!

More interesting posts soon!

Yours with rubber gloves on,
Gypsy xx

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Area of Play 5 - Music


I should have been a groupie. I am like a puppy dog in my adoration for those with musical talent. I am in desperate envy of my jazz singer friend who can mesmerize a room of children (and me) with her singing. I find myself gazing longingly at my friend's husband who settles his babies to sleep with his guitar. In my younger days I fell in love with a guy when he serenaded me with his clarinet (a surprisingly sexy instrument), and another who made up songs for me on the piano ... and don't get me started on boys in bands.

Alas I'm not much of a musician myself ... given a choice, I will listen to National Radio rather than a music station ... and faced with an array of musical instruments I just freeze. This makes doing music with kids a little bit intimidating.

"Get to know the (musical) equipment well yourself. Try out all the instruments and find what different sounds you can make. Be alert for spontaneous music play ...' Maureen Woodhams, Making Music With Children.

Playcentre, Montessori and Steiner/Waldorf all have very different approaches to musical education for preschoolers ... and given my own dunce status I hesitate to assume any authority here. So, as always, comments and debate always welcome!


"Become attentive to what the children are doing musically, both in focused music sessions and in their general play. This may involve stopping being active yourself so you can spend a few minutes just watching and listening. Children often chant or sing a pattern of words or a snatch of tune, especially during solitary play... musical interactions, like conversation, often occur while adults and children are doing something else together and are a joy when you start to notice and extend them." Maureen Woodhams


photocredit: KarmieC

In a Playcentre, the 'music area' will usually be well resourced with a range of musical instruments - shakers, tambourines, drums, ukuleles, perhaps an old piano. There will usually be a CD player and a collection of recorded kids music ... which will often play loudly during the session.

Adults are encouraged to recognise when children show an interest in the music area, and play along side them, exploring the different instruments, dancing and singing.

"The provision of an attractive display of musical instruments and objects ensures that children have independent access to some music experiences whenever they choose. It also ensures that when a play interaction takes a musical turn, or an adult sees a way to extend a child's learning following a music interest, some materials which might support this are directly to hand. Maureen Woodhams


As in all areas of play, Waldorf education is concerned with protecting and nurturing the senses, so in this instance it’s the sense of hearing. As children's hearing develops, they need first of all to hear real, living, human sounds - voices of course, and clapping rhythms are often considered very appropriate. The pentatonic scale is recommended for the early years -this has five pitches per octave and sounds lighter and more 'floaty' somehow.

You won't see many, if any, musical instruments in a Steiner/Waldorf kindergarten. Carrie was very kind to share some excerpts from 'In a Nutshell' with me that explain why.

"Because we prefer to offer the children open-ended play materials- that is, materials which can be used in many different ways, according to the child's needs of the moment - we also do not provide many of the traditional rhythm toys. However, some teachers do have bells, gourds or perhaps a drum or pentatonic xylophone available in the classroom.....It is important that these instruments produce a good quality sound, and in the case of the xylophone, that the notes are in tune. The children may play freely with these instruments, as long as they treat them with appropriate care and the sounds do not become disruptive to the mood of the classroom" Nancy Foster, In a Nutshell


You might say that if Steiner/Waldorf is concerned with protecting the senses, Montessori is concerned with perfecting them. I think no where is this more obvious than with music.

In the Montessori 3-6 programme, children are given materials to encourage them to listen carefully and learn to differentiate not only different sounds, but different pitches too. Games such as sorting objects by sound, recognising pitch using glasses of water, or the Montessori bells encourage this precision.

Making a joyful noise


Of course, what these three very different approaches have in common is seeking to encourage and develop a sense of musical appreciation in our children (so they can be groupies too!). I love the idea of teaching listening skills in Montessori, I love that the Steiner approach doesn't abuse a child's ears with tinny poppy kiddy music, and I love that Playcentre lets kids really have fun and enjoy music in all its wonderful guises. After all, banging pots and pans in the kitchen is as much a music lesson as anything else! Children love and deserve the opportunity to listen to live music where possible, and to experiment with making their own music too.

So, a few fun ideas for bringing music into your pre-schoolers home!

- sing all the time. Have special songs for special times of the day, and lots of songs just because. Don't worry that you can't sing in tune, honestly, your child won't mind!

- make lots of 'ad hoc' instruments. Bang pots, put small objects in glass jars (with supervision), fill glasses with water and tap them with spoons.

- play silence games ... encourage your children to listen to the quieter sounds around them.

- take your children to see live music - buskers, brass bands, folk bands playing at the markets ... start asking about where you might be able to find real instruments being played



Thursday, October 1, 2009

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

I'm sure I've mentioned before how much I love Nicole's 'Planning with Kids' blog ... it is hugely inspiring. One of her regular posts is her monthly review, which usually motivates me to jot down a list of my goals for the month too.

Up till now I have just been too embarassed to post, as I just wasn't achieving anything other than feeding, clothing and occassionally cleaning up after the children. But, spring has given me new motivation ... and I am really keen to keep going with it!

So, in the spirit of public accountability here is my 'Monthly Review' for September:

Goals for September

- Organise wardrobe
Did this - and its wonderful! No longer do I have to wade through all my preggie clothes every time I need a clean pair of jeans, or a change of pyjamas at 3 in the morning when the baby has spilled up all over me. However, I now have a very large bag of clothes that need sorting through to dump/sell.

- Create a plan for TradeMe selling
Did this - and managed to sell about 5 'lots' so far. I have another 12 lots to go, plus all those old maternity/fat clothes ... but progress has been made. (this was on my to-do list back in May, so good to finally get some traction).

- Organise medicine cabinets
- Done ... I can't tell you the joy these give me when I open them! (yes, I'm really THAT sad!)

- Organise linen cupboard
- Done, and in the progress I found a whole pile of cloth wipes, saving me a big of money as I thought I was going to have to buy some more.

- Stick to grocery budget, implement 3 weekly shopping
- FAIL FAIL FAIL. Bad bad month for grocery shopping, and the worst thing is I didn't even realise till I did our monthly financial spreadsheet.

Goals for October

- write 2 more 'areas of play' posts. one on music, the other on either creativity or blockplay, depending on what books I can access.

- stick to grocery budget - strictly. Still working on how to do this - thinking about taking Sophie Gray's advice on a 'cash budget' - but detailed menu planning will be a part of this.

- bring Little Guys' baby book up to date.

- write list of Christmas gifts and stick to a maximum of $15 per person for gifts.

- organise spare room wardrobe. This is the last of my decluttering projects, but for some reason I am putting it off.

- get at least 8 more listings up on TradeMe

So, what's on your 'workplan' for the month ahead?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Toddler snacks and lunches

For some reason, I find lunch the hardest meal of the day. If Munchkin and I had our way, we would have sushi every day ... but the budget of doom doesn't allow it and my one attempt at making it was an un-mitigated disaster. I love cooking, but I'm rubbish at anything fiddly and sushi is definately fiddly.

From time to time we fall into the trap of having marmite or peanut butter sandwiches every day for a week or so, which quickly gets boring, and means that I am personally starving my 4pm and start eating everything in the cupboard (including peanut butter by the spoonful). So, as a general rule I do try to put a bit of effort in. (as always, my apologies for my dreadful photos but I thought they might give you some ideas!)

While I do often bake little things for snacks and lunches (I must get around to posting some recipes), a lot of the time I want things that are really simple and quick. In the interests of nutrition I very loosely aim for a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit. I thought I would share my 'master list' of lunch ideas, many of which double up for snacks.

- hardboiled eggs
- omelette strips
- canned tuna or salmon
- freedom farms shaved ham (hooray, you can now buy this at the supermarket)
- leftover meat especially sausages
- cubes of cooked tofu that has been marinated in a little soy sauce
- chickpeas whole or as hummus
- chunks of edam cheese
- yoghurt (great for dipping fruit)
- feta cheese
- fried haloumi cheese

- pita bread triangles
- small sandwiches with marmite, jam or honey
- baby pinwheels (cut crusts off a slice of bread, butter it, roll it up and slice it)
- pasta - penne or spirals
- couscous (best eaten outside - its really messy!)
- israeli couscous
- breakfast cereal
- bagel slices
- mini crackers
- new potatoes (cold with mayonnaise for mummy!)
- pastry shapes

- avocado chunks
- cucumber slices
- cherry tomatoes
- frozen peas
- broccoli (my daughter loves broccolli so we eat it A LOT)
- grated carrot
- bell peppers (red, yellow and orange are the sweetest)
- grated beetroot, carrot and apple mixed together
- sweetcorn

- apples
- pears
- mandarin segments
- grapes
- banana slices
- persimmon slices
- gorgeous summer stuff like strawberries and blueberries
- tinned peaches, pears or pineapple
- kiwifruit
- dried apricots, sultanas or apples

Leave me a comment and let me know whats on your lunch table at the moment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Getting my act together

I promise I am still here, and I am still working on these areas of play posts. I have fallen into the trap of being so busy researching that I haven't got to publishing ... but I hope to have some more 'areas' up soon.

The other thing I've been up to is a massive organising binge (I blame Nicole!). Actually, I've been working at it for the last couple of months, but its taken a long time to get real traction.
Originally this blog was intended to be an organising and homekeeping blog (hence the title) ... I've always loved tidying and cleaning, and until I fell pregnant with number 2 I was one of the most organized people I know (and one of the most modest right!!!)

But, during my second pregnancy things got more and more on top of me, and when my little guy arrived I was totally shell-shocked by the tiredness, and the busy-ness. Fortunately it never got to the point of post-natal-depression but I think it got pretty close ... I suffered from some reasonable severe panic attacks and was lucky to have a supportive holistic doctor who sorted me out.

So, after a couple of months of sorting, de-cluttering, and re-organizing I am now at the stage of feeling really motivated again. I'm back to having a planning notebook full of lists (in five categories!) my wardrobe is in perfect order, even our bathroom cabinets are spick and span. To top it all off hubby made me an organiser for my 'utilty drawer' so I have little cubbies for things like my stapler and holepunch, notepaper, mending kit, string and sellotape ... it really is a 'good thing'

As a result of all this organising, we have been able to turn our spare room into a playroom (which means the baby may have to stay in the teeny-tiny baby room for ever). We now have our ' Steiner' open ended toys in the lounge, and Montessori-ish activities in the playroom. We don't have any classical Montessori ... we are more Michael Olaf than Neinhuis, but for us its a great mix. I thought you might like some photos ...

Must go clean a cupboard!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sand Play


I still have so much to write about stories and literacy, but I have been desperate to write about sand play since EcoWorrier sent me this photo, of her son in his pyjamas in the Playcentre sandpit.

You’ll find sand play pretty much everywhere in ECE – Playcentres usually have enormous sandpits, and Waldorf/Steiner kindergartens see sand play as essential. In Montessori pre-schools it will be set up for ‘free play time’ and sand trays are often set up for children to practice writing. And of course, playing at the beach should be part of every childs' summer memories.

The nature and value of sand play

To very young children the simple delight of rolling in dry sand, pouring it over themselves or burying themselves in it provides an all-over sensory satifsfaction” Gwen Somerset, Vital Play in Early Childhood

I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love playing with sand, even ‘mess-phobes’ enjoy it (even if the mothers aren’t so keen!).

The youngest toddlers love the tactile experience of sand … the feel of it between fingers and toes, the way wet sand drips off their hands, the way it sticks to everything, the way it can be dug to make a hole, or mounded up into a pile, or poured out of a bucket (And yes, they will even try to eat the stuff!).

As children get older, the sandpit becomes a stage for imaginative play .. so you will see kids making pretend birthday cakes with twig candles, or creating a maze of sand-house villages, or digging trenches for cars to drive through. Other children will see sand as an artistic material for creating intricate sand sculptures and collages.

The value of sand play is immense. As a natural material, sand is an ideal way to learn about hot and cold, wet and dry. It is a first stage of science to see the changes sand goes through from so dry it can easily be sifted, to wet enough to hold its shape, to sopping wet and able to be poured like concrete. Playing with sand develops hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills ... and it provides great stimulation for imaginative play and artistic creation. They say everything you need to learn can be learned at kindergarten … perhaps in fact it can be learned in the sand pit.

Setting up for sand play

No back yard is complete without sand and water. When we think of sand, we want to think big, and lots of it’ Sharifa Oppenheimer, Heaven on Earth

Sand is a relatively easy thing to set up at home. In New Zealand, you’ll often see the large plastic clam shells filled with sand on the front deck. These are easy to set up - a couple of bags of sand from a landscaping supplies depot and you are done. The downside is that there is nowhere for the water to drain, so they fill up and get gloopy. Also, they are pretty small for more than one child … so they don’t really facilitate the kind of ‘sand work’ that pre-schoolers like to get into.

So, if you possibly can, go for ‘big, and lots of it’! You’ll want to make sure its open at the bottom so your kids can ‘dig all the way to China’ … and so the water can drain away keeping the sand fresh. (You’ll also want a good quality cover so the local cats don’t mistake it for a litter box).

Sand is not a lot of fun without water, and Oppenheimer suggests the water source is put “far away from the sandbox to encourage plenty of running ... running back and forth, bucket in hand, is full of meaning and purpose for your child as is creating great river systems in the sandbox’.

Sand play ‘accessories’

Toys for the sandpit are everywhere … any plastic household item is likely to be great. From sad experience, I can say that metal and wood will have a hard life in the sandpit … even our Waldorf/Steiner kindergarten uses plastic materials in the sandpit!
Some of our favourites

- tupperware containers that have lost their lids, or lids that have lost their containers
- ladles, slotted spoons, salad servers, tongs, scoops, fish slices
- colanders, funnels and steamer baskets
- microwave cooking equipment like those funny egg cookers and muffin trays
- those random accessories that come with food processors, smart grills, blenders etc. I always seem to end up with weird odds and sods from these appliances, and they make great toys!
- tubes and half-tubes of all shapes and sizes – clean drainage pipe is great, but cardboard postage tubes will last at least a few days unless they get dunked in the water

Natural resources are great for sand play – so collect up things like leaves, twigs, rocks, shells, pebbles, flax fronds, seed pods, acorns, feathers etc. (these natural materials are wonderful for all sorts of open-ended play).

Gwen Somerset (grand-matriarch of the Playcentre movement) says that sand play ‘accessories should be of at least three types:

1) for filling, measuring, pouring – buckets, containers of graded sizes:
2) for carrying or working as adults – large lorries, trucks of different sizes, wood off cuts, vehicles and small cars for roads etc
3) for shaping, digging tunneling – scoops trowels, shovels paua shells and in addition oddments for decoration

Extending sand play

There are just so many ways to extend sand-play. Those of you involved with Playcentre have probably done most of these … but I thought I would list them here anyway!

Set up a sandpit ‘volcano’. In a plastic milk container put 1 cup of baking soda, and some food colouring or tempera powder. Pack up the sand around it in a ‘volcano’ with the top of the milk container exposed. Then, when the kids are ready … pour in a cup of white vinegar and watch it bubble over.

When there are enough adults for supervision, set up a mini bonfire in the sand pit. Roast marshmallows or put pre-baked potatoes in foil at the bottom of the fire to get all smoky and delicious.

Put a paddling pool in the sandpit with a sun umbrella for a beach party. Don’t forget to make some pretty drinks with those little umbrellas and floating cherries.

For dinosaur obsessed 4 year olds create a dinosaur excavation. Bury a range of plastic dinosaur toys, and maybe any 'bones' you can find in the sand. I have heard the idea of partly covering the dinosaurs in plaster of paris, letting them set, and then getting the kids to find them and then ‘dig them out’ … I haven’t tried this one myself but would love to hear how it works!

Messy play … in a bucket put too much water in some sand and then drip it off your fingers - it looks really freaky.

So, tell me what your favourite ideas for sand play are!

Another spring story

Over at the fabulous Artemis Moon blog , is another spring story 'Peter and the Willow', which I just love.

Go check it out!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Area of Play 4 – Stories and Literacy


I’ve always been a total book worm – and I know in blogland that puts me in good company. Knowing the immense pleasure that reading gives me, a love of books is right at the top of my list of things to ‘pass on to my kids’. Actually, I think every parent wants their child to develop a love of reading - but it isn’t always easy.

Developing literacy skills is pretty controversial … the spectrum ranges from the ‘teach your 3 month old to read’ to the unschooling approach where children simply learn to read in their own good time … and there is everything in the middle.

So, I’ve been puzzling over how best to tackle such a huge subject. There is so much I want to write about here. There are huge differences in approach here between Playcentre, Waldorf and Montessori to children’s literacy – in fact I would go as far as to say that this is THE area where the differences are really obvious. It is also an area where I personally disagree with the Waldorf approach, but more about that another day!

I think now is a good time to remind you all that this is a blog – not a textbook – so please see all these thoughts as just my interpretation, and feel free to debate with me in the comments!

The book corner of my dreams
Rainbow Mama

The Waldorf/Steiner approach

One of the most controversial aspects of the Waldorf/Steiner approach is not teaching children to read until they are 7, or the change of teeth. This is because, in the Steiner philosophy, children under the age of seven are still developing their physical bodies, and should not have their intellectual capacities called upon. Its not that they can’t learn to read, but Steiner considered that it was actually damaging to teach this to young children.

"It is quite possible to teach young children reading and writing by rote .. but it is also possible to deaden something in them by doing this, and anything killed during childhood remains dead for the rest of one's life" Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf education and Anthroposophy

"People will object that the children then learn to read and write too late. This is said only because it is not known today how harmful it is when children learn to read and write too soon. It is a very bad thing to be able to write early ... A child who cannot write properly at thirteen or fourteen ... is not so hindered for later spiritual development as one who early, at seven or eight years, can already read and write perfectly" Rudolf Steiner, Kingdom of Childhood

So in a Waldorf/Steiner kindergarten you won’t see many, if any, children’s books. You won’t see charts on the wall with the alphabet and numbers on them. You won’t see children’s names on cards for them to find and put on the attendance board. While mainstream ECE strives to be ‘print rich’, a Waldorf kindergarten is deliberately ‘print poor’.

However, Waldorf kindergartens are very rich in language and story telling. Steiner teachers are trained in therapeutic speech techniques, so you should hear teachers speaking slowly, calmly, with a particular emphasis on the vowels. They will ‘paint pictures’ with their words rather than give directions, so a jacket might be ‘crying on the floor’ rather than ordering a child to ‘pick it up’.

A daily story, which will be acted out with handmade puppets, is a key part of the kindergarten curriculum. Usually, the children will be told simple fairy tales – Steiner himself had a real thing for ‘Grimms’ – so for the kindergarten years (4-6 year olds) tales like ‘sweet porridge’ ‘the star child’ and ‘the gingerbread boy’ are common fare. Stories are repeated every day, often for weeks at a time, so that the children can really absorb the story.

Picture books are still certainly part of a Waldorf child’s life … I was told by a Steiner Association supervisor that we should ‘surround our children with books’ and that we should read to our children all the time, even when they are teenagers if they will still let us! There are many wonderful children’s books that you will see commonly recommended by Waldorf teachers and parents … I will put up a list in a future post!


Playcentre, being more aligned with modern ECE approaches rather than a particular pedagogy, values and encourages the development of literay skills, but does so from a basis of free play. One of the ‘areas of play’ is the story corner, and literacy as a curriculum area is woven across the entire centre.

Playcentre mama Mary explained the Playcentre approach to me like this

“Numeracy and literacy are dealt with holistically in each area of play. We might roll playdough snakes together and count them - 1, 2, 3, 4!. We might fly to the moon on the swings - countdown with me! 10!, 9!, 8! etc. We might ask a child if we can write their name on the top of their painting, saying the letters as we write them. The child might like to write their own name on instead. We might set up the home corner as a print-rich environment - telephone books, shopping list books with sharp, ready-to-use pencils, posters on the wall with labels at child height, drawers labeled. The carpentry area has the tools labeled, has builders' pencils and metal tape for measuring. We might make stop/go signs for the diggers in the sandpit, and build walls with blocks. If the children show an interest in extensions along these lines, the adults can go with the flow. So, you might see all sorts of stuff going on at Playcentre that comes into the numeracy and literacy areas. Is letter and number recognition seen as a good thing? Sure, but so is a child immersed in concentration at the fingerpaint table, or a child who has shown empathy to another. Children showing an interest in learning is a positive thing - and if that so happens to be an excited 2 year old recognising the letter his name starts with, then that's good.”

During our (rather brief) time at Playcentre, I saw the ‘gingerbread’ boy being read from a book, to a bunch of children all huddled in the outdoor boat. After reading it the children went to the ‘kai’ (food) table and decorated gingerbread boys of their own to eat … which I think is a very classic Playcentre story extension.


When many people think of Montessori they think of the sandpaper letters and the moveable alphabet … which are very tactile materials that children can use to learn letters. As with all Montessori activities the children are not in any way pressured to use these materials – rather the materials are there whenever the child chooses to discover them.

Tim Seldin describes the Montessori approach as the ‘writing road to reading’. Children learn to write, firstly using the sandpaper letters to experience the ‘feel’ of each letter, and later a moveable alphabet to construct words .. a little bit like magnetic letters on the fridge. Rather than being taught the names of the letters, children are taught the sound of the letters … which given our crazy alphabet is probably incredibly sensible. (As an interesting aside in Montessori children are taught only lower case letters in the beginning - in Waldorf they are first taught upper case letters!)

It was very hard for me to learn how to read. It did not seem logical for the letter "m" to be called "em," and yet with some vowel following it you did not say "ema" but "ma." It was impossible for me to read that way. At last, when I went to the Montessori school, the teacher did not teach me the names of the consonants but their sounds. In this way I could read the first book I found in a dusty chest in thestoreroom of the house. It was tattered and incomplete, but it involved me in so intense a way that Sara's fiancé had a terrifying premonition as he walked by: "Damn! This kid's going to be a writer."
— Gabriel Gárcia Márquez Nobel Prize recipient for literature

Books certainly have a place in a Montessori classroom, and in the daily group time the teacher will read from a book. Books for under 7s are chosen based on their ability to represent ‘reality’ rather than fantasy, so fairy tales are saved until children are older and have a firm understanding of what is real and what is not. Extension activities are set up so the child can do them independently, as with all Montessori activities. Here is a beautiful example of a Montessori extension activity – where toddlers can match the animal figures to the pages of the book as they look at it.

So, three very different approaches to the literacy question for young children, and not a flashcard amongst them. What all these approaches have in common is that there is no pressure for the young child to learn to read and write before he is ready.

Monday, August 31, 2009

An autumn story

‘Out of observation of a simple tabletop puppet show, rich impulses
can grow for the child’s own play'. Bronja Zahlingen, A Lifetime of Joy

Telling stories with 'puppets' is a wonderful part of the Waldorf/Steiner curriculum. The beautiful felted standing puppets really are a work of art. If you have never seen one, they often will perform a 'puppet show' at Waldorf school fairs - and it really is something special. With my black thumb, my one attempt at making a puppet is still languishing in the back of a drawer ... and in the meantime I improvise with some wooden figures.

I know a lot of you in the Northern Hemisphere are planning for 'fall' and I thought you might like this 'fall' story. Its the sort of very simple story that is suitable for younger pre-schoolers who are just not ready for fairy tales yet (even the simplest fairy tales are really best left until children are at least 4)

I am not sure where it orginates from but our last playgroup teacher, who was a really gifted storyteller, sent me a copy.

There was a beautiful meadow.
In that meadow there was a house.
In the house there lived a family.
There was a Mother, a Father and a little boy.
The family also had a good cow that gave them milk to drink and a sheep that gave them wool to make warm clothes for the winter.

One day the little boy ran out to play in the meadow. It was autumn and the leaves on the trees had turned to lovely shades of red, brown, orange and gold. The little boy walked into the forest singing an autumn song:
“Red and yellow, golden and brown, leaves of autumn come tumbling down”

Suddenly the little boy heard a sound behind a nearby tree. He crept quietly towards the sound to take a look. He saw a little red squirrel, busy collecting nuts to store in his home for the winter. The little boy decided to help the squirrel, and spent the afternoon searching for nuts and bringing them to the squirrel’s tree. By the end of the day the squirrel’s home was full of nuts, enough to last him and his family all winter! It was time to go home.

The little boy waved goodbye to the squirrel and began the walk back home. On his way he sang a song about his friend the squirrel:
“Squirrel Nutkin with your coat so brown, quite the loveliest in woodland town.
Two black eyes look out to see, where the sweetest nuts can be.”

When he got home he told his mother and father all about his woodland adventure.

Now, we don't have a cow puppet, but we do have an apple tree as you will see in the photo, so I change the story to say 'they had an apple tree full of crisp, juicy apples to eat, and a sheep who gave them wool ...'

Of course, here in New Zealand we don't actually have squirrels, or any animals that collect nuts for the winter that I know of. Minor detail ...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Areas of Play 3 - Messy Play

‘All kids really want to do is make mud pies’
Gypsy’s mum

Munchkin is a messy kid. You know the type – face always smeared with food, knots in her hair, mud on her jeans, shoes scuffed beyond recognition. Messy play is her modus operandi … if she can stick her hands in it and smear it everywhere she will! I try not to always run after her wielding a hairbrush and a facewipe, but it’s a struggle.

So, she’d fit in well at Playcentre, where Messy Play is really encouraged. In every Playcentre session you (should) see a messy play station … either finger painting or a close relative to it like gloop or slime. Of course, kids like Munchkin can turn anything into messy play ... clay, playdough, painting, shaving foam with a pile of grass cuttings! Its about getting your hands in and getting .... disgustingly messy.

Seriously though, its wonderful. Although some children don’t enjoy getting their hands dirty, most children do. Having ‘messy play’ set up as a specific play area gives children real pemission to get messy, something that kids just don’t get enough opportunity to do.


Messy play as an ‘area’ at Playcentre evolved out of ‘fingerpainting’

“Finger painting is a wonderfully clever invention. Really a logical development from the puddling in mud or clay but with the added stimulation of colour, a messy delight which has all the stickiness of mud and is yet quite clean and under control. Because it has the close hand-to-texture quality of mud or clay it seems to invite the creative person to do something with it” Gwen Somerset, Vital Play in Early Childhood.

In a Waldorf/Steiner kindergarten you won’t see a ‘messy play’ table set up, but of course, children get messy wherever they can – so Steiner kids do messy play in the mud, with grass clippings, sand, water … like kids always have done. While I love the natural, organic nature of this kind of messy play, I do think that having it specifically encouraged as happens at Playcentre gives kids a real sense of permission to get messy, and helps parents to understand the importance of this kind of play.

“Difference textures and consistencies can help children to integrate their sensory experiences. Messy play is creative and offers children the space to imagine and express their feelings and ideas. Its also a fun way to learn difference words, talk about new ideas and can provide hours of fun and discovery. The wonderment, creativity and playfulness is evident in the way in which children are drawn to messy play” Playcentre Journal Spring 2007

Messy Play can be extended in so many ways. It is particularly popular with toddlers, who may find some other areas of play too challenging. Messy play lets children explore their sense of touch – which is an important learning for toddlers - feeling rough, smooth, soft, sticky, foamy, squelchy, warm, cold. This means the challenge is firstly to provide a variety of messy play activities to let children directly experience all these concepts, and secondly to help them find names for these sensations. I’ve found with my nephew it’s great fun to make up words together for these sorts of things … words like shlurpy, crubbled, pongling all came out of messy play!


At home, while sometimes I set up gloop, slime, shaving foam or fingerpainting (and recipes are here) usually messy play just happens. I have found that keeping a big pile of old bathtowels and teatowels is invaluable, as are longsleeved bibs and waterproof overalls. And of course, there’s always the bath tub! Most importantly though I try to remember that before I know it this phase of my life will be over, my house will be tidy and I will be glad that I really sucked every moment of magic and pleasure out of these years.

Some of my favourite ideas for messy play at home.

Making Concrete

This started after we watched some workmen laying new concrete on the footpath. We take a plastic bucket and a large wooden spoon and stir in various stuff .. sand, flour, leaves, grass clippings, and water of course. Its often never actually ‘laid’ on the grass … its really just making a potion in a bucket!

Enough said! And yes, its vile-ly messy! But keeping old ice-cream containers and other suitable ‘recyclables’ makes this lots of fun. Shells from the beach are great decoration, and twigs make excellent candles. And you can alway carry your child from outside to the bathtub. (Did I mention adults need messy play clothes too?)

Soap play
This could really be water play or messy play .. but I save ‘soap ends’ and we use those with water. As the soap softens it becomes very gooey (especially natural soaps I have found) and wonderful for messy play. Older kids really seem to enjoy grating bars of soap for the same effect.

We don’t have a sloped area in our section, mores the pity. But anywhere there is a grassy, muddy slope Munchkin sees as an invitation to slide down it, each time getting a little muddier. A pair of waterproof overalls and a warm bath fix this mess up, and its heaps of fun.

Baking is probably not intended to be a messy play activity, but it sure is for us. We do a lot of baking and while what we make is usually edible that’s almost an aside. Rubbing in butter (and eating half of it), kneading dough (and eating half of it) breaking in eggs (yes, she’ll even eat raw egg), squishing fruit for cakes … remember the play value is ‘to integrate their sensory experiences’. (In the New Zealand context, its culturally inappropriate to use food products for play, but I think in the context of baking something that will actually be eaten it is considered acceptable. Please correct me if I'm wrong)

Making Potions
We haven’t done this yet, but its on my list for when she gets a bit older. I plan to go to a plasticware shop and buy a bunch of droppers and small bottles. I will then fill the small bottles with various things … baking soda, vinegar, food colouring, glitter, cornflour, things from the collage table .. and then set up Munchkin to use the droppers to make ‘concoctions’. I have seen a friend do this with her 4 year olds and it looked fantastic fun … apparently they would spend hours playing at being witches!

Sawdust and corndust
You can put sawdust into ‘slime’ or just mix it with flour and water to make a glue. (make sure you use untreated sawdust) or make sawdust playdough and then dissolving it in water. (old playdough in water is excellent messy pay!) In summer, you can get eaten corn cobs and get the children to grind them together to create a wonderful ‘corndust’ that you can use instead (I got this idea out of Sharifa Oppenheimer’s wonderful book). Textures in messy play are great!

My last thoughts about messy play are about 'natural' materials. I think its fair to say that an increasing number of parents are concerned about their kids covering themselves in chemicals in the name of play. No-one is about to suggest flash Weleda shaving foam for the kids play (well, maybe you would - leave me a comment!) but it does seem worth thinking about. I'm ashamed to say I have never tried using plant based dyes for painting and playdough, although I know people have had great success with it. GardenMama's approach is inspirational, using petals to create watercolour paints ... definately on my 'to try out' list.

So, until I master the art of the plant dyes, I try to strike a balance. I keep most of our messy play materials 'natural', as you will see in the ideas I have outlined, and have the paint or food colouring based stuff for special occassions. Something to think about!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sleeping Montessori Style ... Floor Beds

Just a quick break from my very loooonnnggg posts on the areas of play (I hope to have Messy Play up in the next couple of days).

A friend kindly forwarded me a link to the University of Auckland's early years education journal, which is now available online. And in it, along with a very interesting article on gun play, was this article about Montessori Floor Beds.

Its an article from the floor bed concept, which I first came across in 'How to raise an amazing child' (could there be a worse name for a book???)

Munchkin was in a 'floor bed' when we stopped co-sleeping at about 9 months. It meant I could still co-sleep part time, and she slept so well there ... while she never settled in a cot. This article explains the ins and outs of it extremely well, I encourage you to have a read!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Family Play Part 2 - Setting up at home

"The serious side of life, with all its demands in daily work, is re-enacted in deep earnestness by the child in its play". Rudolf Steiner

Family play is such a fundamental part of a child’s life that I couldn't just stop at one post! I really wanted to share some ideas about setting up family play at home, because this will lead into all sorts of other play too.

The kids and I spend a lot of time at home these days, so our home becomes our kindergarten - and boy, looking around our lounge at 5pm you can sure tell! The cushions could be on the floor having been a makeshift hospital ... the children's chairs have been tipped upside down to make a cafe counter … there is a sheet over the dining table creating a play house with most of my pots and pans inside.

My point is that setting up play at home isn't actually about lots of resources ... its about allowing the home you have to be a playspace. Tidying up time can be a bit of a mission, but really in the big scheme of things what’s a bit of mess? I believe we give our children a great gift by allowing them to really, really play in their own homes.

Whether you are a 'Waldorf mum' or not, I think the Steiner/Waldorf approach to family play translates extremely well to the home environment. This is because, rather than give our chidren 'formed' toys that they quickly tire of, we provide resources that are limited only by the imagination of our little ones. Here are my picks for the 'essentials' for Waldorf family play at home.

A basket of playsilks or muslin wraps. Silk is a beautiful fabric for play, but we all have budgets so baby muslin wraps dyed a variety of colours will do almost as well. I bought a 3 pack of wraps at the supermarket in red, yellow and green ... and they have been the most popular 'toy' I have bought. These wraps get used as wrapping paper for pretend presents, blankets to wrap babies, hide and seek blankets, green grass or blue sea for a story, a sling for a doll baby ....

Cane baskets of varying sizes. While a doll's cot is really lovely, a basket can be a baby's bed, but can then turn into a car-seat, a boat, tipped upside down to become a mountain. As a toddler, Munchkin loves carrying baskets around filled with heavy things, dumping them out and refilling them for sheer pleasure. Now she is deep in imaginative play they are used in new ways every day.

Unformed 'Waldorf blocks'. These are easy to make - get a branch, saw it into different widths, sand them and polish them with olive oil or beeswax. These are wonderful toys - your toddler will build them up and knock them down, or put them into a cane basket and carry it around. In the imaginative eyes of your preschooler these blocks can be anything - a car, a boat, a highchair, a present, a mountain. A 4 year old girl who visits here often always sets them up as a tea party – beautiful!

Small dishes and utensils. If money is no object, then there are beautiful wooden sets available for children, and if plastic doesn't bother you there are a myriad of plastic ones available for nix. Often homewares stores and souvenir shops sell small wooden side plates at reasonable prices. We use wooden honey spoons, metal ice-tongs, teaspoons from the kitchen drawer, all sorts of thing! Those of you that manage to find good deals at op shops will find them a treasure trove for this sort of thing. Put them in a basket and see what emerges.

Child sized table and chairs. These have incredible play value beyond just somewhere to sit. The table can easily become the shop, a chair becomes a doll's highchair or put the chairs together and create an oven. Then turn table upside down to become a boat, or cover the chairs with a playsilk. Of course, like all Steiner mums I dream of owning some Waldorf playstands … I’m working on hubby to build some!

Baskets of natural materials. Think large walnut shells cut in half, wooden pegs, large shells, pinecones, some unspun wool, seedpods, acorns, (watch out for choking risks of course). They are used in so so many ways ... the food in the cafe or the kitchen, coins for the shop, spoons for feeding baby ...

A special doll. Every child needs a special doll ... even boys who, while they play with dolls quite differently still need to 'play out' what they see in the world around them. I personally love the soft, cuddly warmth of a handmade Waldorf doll, even if they aren’t as practical as a plastic one. But whatever you choose, this doll will become your child's baby.

A dolls pushchair. One of the few 'formed' toys that I think every child needs is a decent quality dolls pushchair. I am always struck by how popular these are. Toddlers who are just learning to walk love pushing these around - one very active boy at our Steiner playgroup used to spend almost the whole session pushing one around at great speed. Older boys seem to enjoy them almost as 'indoor wheelbarrows', while girls typically (and I hesitate to sterotype) enjoy pushing their doll babies, with a handbag (read cane basket or tied up playsilk) attached to the handle. You can buy plastic versions very cheaply, but they do tip, and eventually break. A good quality wooden pushchair will outlast all your children, and probably your grandchildren too.

Most importantly though, we need to give our children something to imitate in their play. I've already mentioned the way that children learn through imitation, and the way that Waldorf teachers carry out 'worthy' tasks during a kindergarten session.

At home, it makes a huge difference what mum is doing. If we are busy on the computer, quickly rushing around with the vacuum cleaner, throwing the washing in the dryer and cooking dinner out of jars, our children don't see a lot they can imitate in play.

But when we purposely slow down, and do just some of our tasks the old fashioned way, we give our children a wonderful source of ideas. This means sweeping the floors, chopping the vegetable, using an egg-beater rather than a food processor, pegging out the washing, kneading bread rather than using a bread maker, washing dishes by hand. I can feel you all rolling your eyes at me, and I'm not suggesting we do all these tasks all the time, but when we do we make our life at home welcoming and inclusive of our children.

"The primary reason so many parents today find it difficult to be with young children is because modern life doesn’t provide what young children need ... The Waldorf teacher models her classroom and activities on the healthy home. You, the parents, have such a home, or at least the possibility of creating one" Rahima Baldwin Dancy,
You Are Your Child's First Teacher

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Make Believe - Family Play

When I think of children playing, I think of make believe. Whether it’s playing shop-keeper, or mummy putting baby to bed, or Cowboys and Indians - make believe is a fundamental part of how children explore and understand the world around them.

In both Waldorf/Steiner and Playcentre, make believe play is a huge part of what the children do - it extends across all areas of play as children 'live out' what they see and experience in their lives.

There are two 'areas of play' in Playcentre that specifically encourage and nurture make believe play - Family Play and Fantasy Play. Today I'll look at Family Play.

The Family Play area of a Playcentre is usually set up in three ways - a doll's area with dolls, cots, clothes and highchairs, a play kitchen set up, and a 'shop' with a pretend cash register and empty boxes of common foods - like cereals, biscuits, flour etc. The dolls are very 'real' - newborn babies with exact features, in hard plastic that allows them to be washed in the water trough, fed playdough, buried in the sand, painted ... and cleaned up again at the end of the session. With my Steiner-tinted glasses on I find them almost aggressively ugly in their hard plastic bodies and polyester hair, but the children love them just the same.

Photocredit: Angelina's Mummy

One of my 'complaints' when we joined Playcentre was the way the dolls were treated - usually just thrown, naked, into a pile in the corner at the end of a session. I was very surprised to read in my Course 1 training that the dolls represent babies in Playcentre, and should be treated with care and love. Clearly the intention is there, but in a busy parent-run Playcentre, taking the time to properly care for these 'babies' just doesn't often happen.

In a Waldorf/Steiner kindergarten, Family Play is fundamentally very similar - doll babies are pushed in pushchairs and put to bed imaginary meals are cooked, and purchases are made from shop counters. The materials are quite different - cots are unpainted wood, the teasets are works of art, the blankets are hand-knitted, and there are baskets of 'unformed' materials like shells, pegs and branches which are transformed by the children's imagination into all manner of things ... shells become plates and cups, or money for a shop, pegs are spoons to feed a baby, a small branch becomes a bottle, or a cash register, or a present to wrap in a playsilk and give to a friend.


Family play is particularly nurtured in the Waldorf context by the teachers, who carry out all sorts of real work for the children to imitate and transform in their play ... you will see the teachers grinding flour to make bread, chopping vegetables for the soup, sweeping floors, mending toys. Children see this work, and it gives new life to their play.

Perhaps the best known of the Waldorf toys is the Waldorf doll, hand made cloth dolls with deliberately simple features so that the child can imagine the doll to be anyway, or anyone, the child chooses. Dolls are treated with great care, I remember a playgroup teacher saying she actually couldn't sleep knowing that our playgroup dolls had no mattresses in their cots. Dolls are never left unclothed, or in a heap ... if a teacher sees a doll on the floor she will simply pick it up, straighten in out, wrap it in a blanket and put it in a bed. Over time, children imitate this care.

Photo credit

When it comes to Family Play, the 'odd one out' is Montessori. You won't see play kitchens, or dolls, in a Montessori pre-school. Maria Montessori found that when she provided children with both these 'conventional' playthings and more structured 'work' activities, the children always chose the real work. In addition, the Montessori philosophy tends to stay away from 'make believe' play, encouraging children to be grounded in what is real.

Personally, I really struggle to imagine re-directing children away from this type of make believe play ... but I haven't spent enough time in a Montessori pre-school to have seen this in action. I would certainly be interested in anyone's experience with this. I raised this issue of play with a favourite Montessori blogger of mine ... and she had this to say (although I encourage you to read the whole post!)

Montessori doesn't exclude "play", but it also doesn't purposely put it out in the classroom. For example, many early childhood classrooms have an area for "dramatic play", which might include costumes or themed play sets. You won't find these in a Montessori classroom. Montessori believes that children, at the Primary level, should be grounded in reality (before fantasy) in order to best understand the world around them. Under this principal, much of the Practical Life area makes a lot of sense. Why play with a toy kitchen, when you can best understand and experience a kitchen by doing actual work that would be done in a kitchen?

For me, I think I can just about live with this - that both structured activities and free play can exist, but they are not the same thing. I do struggle with the way that Montessori pre-schools (here in NZ) split 'free play' time and 'Montessori work time' ... I personally love the free-flow of play that happens in Playcentre. What do you think?

Thanks to WaldorfMama for generously letting me use her beautiful photos to illustrate this post.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Water Play

There is something very special about water for young children. It has an elemental quality that is soothing and entrancing. I love the look of concentration on a toddlers face as they carry bucket of water, fill a bottle from the tap or just splash happily at a water trough.
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Every early childhood centre I have seen has water play set up. Its one of the few activities (along with sand and swings) that I have seen set up pretty much the same way at Montessori, Waldorf and Playcentre. Usually its a water trough that is set up at toddler height, which is great. Some centres are lucky enough to have water that moves - an old fashioned water pump (which I have seen at a Playcentre next to the sandpit) or a water feature set into a hill ... but an ordinary tap works pretty well too. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a shallow stream running through your centre ... if health and safety regulations would allow it!

Water play isn't just for the water trough though ... its pretty much everywhere for young children ... pouring a drink, doing the dishes, washing dolls clothes in the laundry tub, washing hands, having a bath, splashing in puddles, collecting rain water, watering the plants, helping Mum and Dad wash the car, at the beach or the swimming pool ... its endless.

At Playcentre there tends to be a lot of 'extension' of water play that involves colouring the water and adding glitter .... or maybe that was just my experience. I'm not sure that's totally necessary - water is amazing enough in its natural state. In the Waldorf context glittery, brightly coloured water is seen as quite harsh on a child's senses. Adding bubbles is great fun though (although you wouldn't see it at Waldorf). What I would say is that adding detergent for bubbles can end up in eyes ... keep the lux flakes for messy play. In the water trough no more tears shampoo is a better idea. Oh, and please keep the water luke warm ... cold water is not great for littlies, especially in winter.


There are lots of ways to extend water play beyond the obvious - a few that I have seen work really well are:

- Put a large hunk of ice in a water trough or large washing bowl. (hardware stores often sell really large washing bowls ideal for home water play) Provide some spatulas or metal spoons to 'chip' away at the ice, and containers of water to pour over the ice as it melts.

- Set up places for children to create their own streams with rocks, grass and perhaps some plastic sheeting underneath. A hose can make this really great fun.

- Set up an old fashioned washing board for dolls clothes, complete with scrubbing brushes and soap.

- A fantastic activity I have seen at Playcentre was stringing up old milk bottles on a line for children to pour water into - all ages seemed to really enjoy this.

- Give children large paintbrushes (industrial type ones) and let them paint with water - stones, wooden pailings, concrete paths.

- Older children can help make little walnut boats - take a half walnut shell and use blu-tack or modelling beeswax to insert a toothpick and stick on a sail made from felt or heavy paper. See if they will 'sail' and make wind by blowing on them.

Another activity often suggested for water play is seeing which objects float or sink. Here, the approaches between Steiner, Montessori and Playcentre are all actually fairly similar, and yet distinctive. All three approaches caution against 'over intellectualising', or bringing adult consciousness to it. They differ however in the degree to which they apply this.

In Steiner/Waldorf, children would discover this for themselves while playing. The kindergartener wouldn't get terribly involved not wanting to alter the natural course of play, nor to bring an adult 'intellect' into the young child's conscious.

At Playcentre, children would also discover this while playing. The teacher/parent might then suggest 'I wonder what else might float' or 'hey, look that one is sinking'. Gwen Somerset then suggests giving children a bunch of different objects and asking them to guess what will float/sink and why. She goes on to say 'young children, unde 7, have little understanding of what causes one objecct to float and another to sink, but the objective is not to supply facts, but to keep children wondering about a problem'. Gwen Somerset, Vital Play in Early Childhood.

In Montesori, the approach is well outlined here by Susan Stephenson "One experiment usually found in 3-6 classrooms is called simply "sink and float." For this experiment, we have a tray containing a box of objects, a vinyl mat or small towel to work on, a clear glass bowl, a pitcher for bringing water to fill the bowl, a bucket for taking the water to the sink when the work is finished, and a small cloth for drying everything when the experiment is finished. We show the child how to carefully place one object into the water, and to observe if it sinks or floats. We make one group, on one side of the bowl of those objects which sink and another, on the other side, objects which float. We do not talk or explain this phenomenon from an adult point of view, we give no labels or language, but let the child ponder, and repeat the experiment whenever she is interested. It is not uncommon for the child to carry out the activity, carefully dry everything, repeat and repeat these steps, as a deep and private understanding of the physics principle grows in her. It is only after the child has had some experience that we introduce the terms "sink" and "float" if the child does not know them yet.

Theory aside, how we as parents react to our children will probably have less to do with our chosen pedagogy, and more to do with our own interests, personalities, and of course, habits! I can't think of anything worse than rushing to a textbook everytime Munchkin discovers something new ... but I do find all these different ideas fascinating. I hope you do too!

I would love any comments with other ideas for Water Play .. I'm sure we all have days when we desperately need some play inspiration!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Children at Play ... Steiner, Playcentre and Montessori

'Play is the road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance' Joseph Chilton Pearce

I was talking to a Playcentre mum the other day, and we were discussing the ways that children play in different environments. I've been thinking a lot about this, and I thought it might be interesting (well for me anyway) to look at the 16 areas of play that constitutes the basic Playcentre set up, and compare and contrast the differences betweeen Playcentre and Steiner/Waldorf, and also to look at Montessori while I'm at it!

Before I start with this, I thought it might be helpful to give a little bit of context about the differences between Waldorf, Playcentre and Montessori. These are meant as summaries only, but please feel free to comment if you feel I have missed things out,


Playcentre is marked by a stimulating environment, providing a diverse and rich range of experiences, unlimited free play across all 16 areas of play, and a child initiated curriculum. Early academics are out, its play play play! If a child wanted to do nothing but woodwork all session, every session, she could. The environment is pretty similar to most mainstream kindys, lots of primary colours, children’s art on every wall, recorded music playing and lots of noise and clutter. At Playcentre nationally there is talk about the importance of natural materials, but individual centres differ in how seriously they take this – it tends not to be seen as a top priority. Playcentre teachers are trained parents who take quite a hands on approach in facilitating learning, using a lot of open ended questions to extend children’s thinking.

Steiner Waldorf

Steiner/Waldorf seeks to reduce over-stimulation and to provide a slow and gentle 'awakening' of the young child. The spiritual basis of the Steiner approach influences everything in the kindergarten, although it is more underlying than overt. Waldorf kindergartens provide deep creative play experiences, rather than a diverse range.

In a Waldorf kindergarten there is a strong rhythm, with a balance of free play and collective activities like circle and story time. There is also a weekly rhythm, so rather than all activities being available every day, there is a baking day, a painting day, a modelling day etc.

A lot of care is taken with the materials used - they will be almost all natural, and colour-wise its wood and soft pastels. The walls will be sparsely decorated - a picture of the Sistine Madonna will probably be the only thing hanging up. The Steiner kindergartener (as the teacher is called) is particularly conscious of being 'worthy of imitation' and will typically move slowly and calmly, singing as she works around the classroom engaged in practical tasks like sewing, baking or craftwork. The kindergartener will try to avoid direct instruction or formal teaching, as this would call on the child's intellect rather than allowing him or her to remain in the dreamlike state of early childhood.


Montessori is the other approach that I have a lot of time for - although I have less experience here. Montessori sees children as 'little scientists' who go through a series of 'sensitive periods' during which a child is particularly able to learn, for example, music or language or social skills. The Montessori environment is prepared with great care, it is orderly and laid out so that children can access materials independently - everything is child sized and at child height. Children are encouraged to be firmly grounded in reality before being exposed to fantasy. Montessori classrooms are typically very quiet, as children are deeply absorbed in their work. The teacher takes a facilitative role rather than a direct teaching role – he or she prepares the environment, presents the materials, and intervenes if necessary but the focus is on independent learning.

With over 250 years of experience (The first Montessori school opened in 1909, the first Waldorf school in 1919 and the first Playcentre in the 1930s) between them, these three approaches to early childhood education all have impressive pedigrees. I find there is much to be learned by being flexible and looking at different approaches, rather than just sticking doggedly to the Steiner/Waldorf approach which is the one that I happen to feel most closely connected to. I hope you all find these next few posts useful!

Links to Areas of Play Posts

Water Play

Family Play

Family Play continued

Messy Play

Stories and Literacy

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Winter Story

I thought I would share one of our winter stories with you. This one is gorgeous .. and very easy to do.

To start, take a square of muslin or a flat nappy, and tie a knot at the top, and then two of the other corners into knots as well. If you hold it by the top knot, you'll see you'll have a very basic doll. Then, get a pair of baby booties to use later in the story - these go on the second two knots which become the dolls feet. (does it make sense .. if not I will try to take a photo).

Anyway, the story.
There was a giant big and bold
Whose feet were getting rather cold
He came one day into our town
And walked the streets both up down.
The giant cried most piteously
"My toes are freezing bitterly"
Along came a gnome who was old and wise
Who offered him some sage advice
He found a piece of pretty stuff
The giant thought it good enough
He wrapped it round, the pain was eased
The giant went home, both warm and pleased!
Hope you like it!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Imitation and Inner Work

Our responsibility for a true 'order' needs to extend inwards as well as outwards. Just because all that we do is imitated by children at such a deep level, we are faced with the task of being responsible for all that goes on in the childs surroundings, for our movements and gestures, for our speech but also for our inner feelings, thoughts and impulses which we may try to keep hidden. They are probably not as hidden from small children as we often believe, even if their experience of what is going on in us is not fully conscious ... Gudrun Davy
The Journey of a Mother,
Lifeways - Working with Family Questions
Mindful parenting calls on us to be better than we ever thought we could be. What we do shapes our children's worlds ... who we are shapes who they will become. This quote by Gudrun Davy really brought it home to me - if I don't like something my children are doing, I need first to look at what I am doing.

In Waldorf education, imitation is seen as the primary way that young children learn. In Steiner's own words"the little child, up to the age of seven, up to the change of teeth, is essentially imitative. He learns by doing what he sees being done around him. Fundamentally, all activities of the child's early years are imitations.

Its one thing to be aware of the example we give children with practical things - pouring milk with two hands for example, or sweeping the floor. If I am rushing, short tempered, clumsy, not concentrating ... should I be suprised when Munchkin tries to pour the milk one handed and spills it everywhere???

But the concept of imitation goes much further - we don't just teach practical skills by imitation, we teach skills of the heart. The way that I might sigh heavily as I hang up the phone, having just learned hubby is coming home late from work. The expression of frustration on my face when a shopkeeper takes too long to scan my groceries. The way I stifle a yawn when listening to a toddlers very confusing explanation of something. The way I get frazzled when the house is a mess, and rush around with gritted teeth cleaning up.

And its not enough just to put on a happy face, or to sing a song as we work, with a light voice but a heavy heart. I heard a mother say that she 'usually tries to fake a good mood' around the children, even when she doesn't feel like it. But, the problem is, children are smart. They will pick up this faking, they will learn from it, they will imitate it. As Gudrun Davy says, what is going on inside us is 'probably not as hidden from small children as we often believe'.

So where does this leave us? We are certainly not perfect, none of us are, yet this job of mothering is so impossibly hard, and critically important. Beating ourselves up isn't going to help, unless we want our children to learn that too!

In my mind, it brings me back to the importance of inner work. What do I need to do for myself to make sure I am calm, energised, focussed, happy, content?

Well, of course, Steiner had a lot of thoughts on this and gave teachers instructions on inner work. (If anyone has a specific link to this I would love to know!) Steiner stressed that meditation is absolutely the most important thing to do, but it can seem impossible when you are up late rocking a crying newborn, and up early with a fracious toddler. Even so, I find that when I discipline myself to do few minutes of focussed breathing before bed it is easier to stay calm in the chaos of the day. If I can, even just occassionally, provide an example of inner calm to imitate, that must be worth something!

I read somewhere that Steiner teachers are encouraged to be in bed by 9.00pm, sensible as we all know what a good night sleep means for both children and parents! The other exercise that Steiner teachers are encouraged to do, is as you go to sleep at night, bring each child into your minds eye and hold them in love and reverence. Give thanks for this child in your life, and see them as the spiritual beings they are. I find (and again, I wish I could say I did this every night) that this helps me to move on from the days frustrations and hurts, and to start the morning anew.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Spring Story

Inspired (yet again) by a post of Carrie's, and by the glorious weather we have had this week, I have been doing a little bit of planning for spring.

Storytime is something that Munchkin really got into when she was about 2. Before that, we hardly ever stayed at playgroup for storytime, she simply wasn't ready to sit still and listen and I didn't want her affecting the atmosphere of reverence that the teacher tries to create around the story. Now, story time is her favourite part of the morning, and woe betide me if I try to leave early.

So, the first thing that came to mind for spring planning is what our story should be. I tend to do a story for a good month or two, depending on my mood and her enjoyment of it. This is my version of the story our playgroup teacher told last year - I hope you like it.

"Once upon a time there was a beautiful green meadow. In the meadow lived a mother sheep, with her baby lamb. Every day the mother sheep would take her baby lamb out in to the fields where they would feast on the new spring grass.

After they had eaten, the mother would rest and Lamb would play with his friend Butterfly. Lamb wore a bell around his neck, that made lovely music as he played.

But one day, as they ate the mother noticed that the grass had nearly all gone in the paddock. She did not know where their next meal would come from. While she was sleeping Butterfly took Lamb across a little bridge, all the way to the neighbouring paddock. Lamb and Butterfly played in this field and had a wonderful time.

Meanwhile, the mother sheep woke up and she could not find Lamb. She bleated and bleated, but he did not come. Then she heard his little bell tinkling in the distance. She looked up and saw Butterfly over in the next paddock. Mother sheep ran across the bridge to her lamb, and was so pleased to see all the lovely green grass for them to eat. She thanked Butterfly for showing them the way. "

Materials: green silk/muslin for field, felted or knitted sheep, lamb with bell ,butterfly on a string so it can be flown, bark for bridge.