Celebrating Holidays and Festivals
With Young Children
The Waldorf approach offers many rich and beautiful ideas for celebrating the round of the year. Young children thrive on the magic and excitement of holiday traditions. They also love anticipation. One of the first things about creating holiday traditions in your family can be paying close attention to the build up. All of it can be special. The way the house is prepared. The food that is cooked or the music played. Your children can be included in all of it.
One of the keys to remember is that young children like to do things the same exact way over and over again. Keep that in mind as you plan what you want to do for the celebration, you will probably be asked to do it the same way the following year…and yes, they will remember.
I like to think of the dining room table as the center, or heart, of my own home. Some families have a small alter in their home. I have my table. Most family holiday celebrations happen around a special meal, so the table is a good place to start.
For a Spring Celebration I would start slowly, maybe weeks before, with a simple vase of new spring flowers. Growing grass seed or wheat grass seed in a basket, (with a plant saucer in it), can be a nice alternative to “Easter grass” that you buy at the store. Even very young children can be responsible to keep the grass seed watered, (a spray bottle or mister works well for this). Slowly eggs and nests start to appear and then an egg tree, all laid out on a spring green silk.
Young children love to celebrate things close to their own direct experience. Flowers blooming, grass coming up and turning green, eggs and nests everywhere….these things are miraculous to young children. There is little need to purchase any extra “stuff” to create a beautiful festival. So much can be gathered from your environment. There is also the consideration of the expectation that you establish as part of your tradition. If your family celebrates every Holiday by giving elaborate gifts, that will be what your children expect the holiday to be. If the holiday is about something special that you cook together only at that time of the year, or some special songs that you sing together that is what the expectation will be.
I also like to think in terms of complete cycles. I once went to a demonstration where these Tibetan Monks made an amazing and elaborate mandala, out of different colored sand. After it was finished and they said a few prayers over it, they wiped it away, and cleaned off the table that it had been on. The work to build it had taken weeks; it was completely gone in an hour. Their belief was that the mandala was attractive to a particular healing spirit, it would draw the spirit’s attention and the spirit would grant a blessing, but then you had to destroy the mandala, in order to release the spirit or else it would get really angry.
I think that when we create a family holiday or festival it is like that, we create an opening for magic to take place. It is also important to release the magic, to clean everything up, and carefully put it away for next time. This can add to the fun like getting together with friends to have a winter bonfire to burn Christmas trees. When my kids were young, we always smashed up the eggs from the egg tree to make a beautiful multi-colored “magic dust” to help our garden.
From the Waldorf perspective the round of the year can be seen as a breathing process: with the winter solstice as the extreme in-breath, and the summer solstice as the out-breath, the equinoxes, (which literally mean equal night, or the time when day and night are in balance), as the points of balance and rest, in between. The colors we use in the classroom reflect this…deep blues in the winter and bright yellows in the summer. Many stories and song reflect the play of light and dark in the round of the year. Celebrating these is also something from the child’s direct experience.
Light and dark, miracles from the natural world, these themes are universal, something that we all share, festivals based on these can also help to bring us all together, whatever religious or spiritual traditions we follow.
Sing a song of baking day, baking day, baking day
Sing a song of baking day.
Baking our bread.
Flour is in, yeast is in, oven is hot within.
Sing a song of baking day, baking our bread.
Sing a song of farmer girls, (or boy), farmer girls, farmer girls,
Sing a song of farmer girls,
Slish they go, slash they go, grasses are bending low.
Sing a song of farmer girls harvesting grain.
Sing a song of giving thanks, giving thanks, giving thanks,
Sing a song of giving thanks,
For all that we have.
Earth, Air, Fire and Rain, So that we can grow our grain.
Sing a song of giving thanks for all that we have!
Earth who gave to us this food,
Sun who made it ripe and good,
Dearest earth and dearest sun,
We’ll not forget what you have done.
Waldorf Education an Introduction
The following is excerpted from an article appearing in the publication being human, (First Issue 2011), by Frederick Amrine entitled: Discovering a Genius: Rudolf Steiner at 150. The article is one of the best descriptions of Steiner’s work and life that I know of and is available in its entirety on the web. If you are interested in reading it, search for the article’s title. Dianne Bearinger 9/2011
A New Art Of Education
In the aftermath of World War 1, the social and political institutions that had failed crumbled away, leaving a terrible vacuum. During the last decade of Steiner’s life, Anthroposophy gave birth to a wide range of ambitious practical initiatives that were meant to address the crisis. After hearing Steiner address his workers, an industrialist named Emil Molt, who owned the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, asked Steiner whether he would provide the worker’s children with an education more appropriate to their needs and to their humanity. Steiner agreed, subject to a set of conditions that were revolutionary for the time: the school would be co-ed; all students would be taught the same, comprehensive curriculum; and the teachers would be given the final say in all pedagogical decisions. Wit Molt’s generous backing; Steiner opened the first Waldorf School in 1919, near the factory in Stuttgart. Nine years later the first Waldorf School in North America opened in New York City. The movement continued to grow, and despite having been banned by the Nazis (and the Bolsheviks), Waldorf schools have gone on to become the largest non-sectarian educational movement in the world, with more than 900 schools and 1,600 early childhood programs on six continents.
The foundations of Waldorf pedagogy are Steiner’s deep insights into human and child development, the changing role of the teacher, and the rich holistic curriculum. Steiner understood that that children learn differently at each stage of development, and that real learning should be a gradual metamorphosis not just of thinking, but also of feeling and the will. As Steiner’s contemporary, the poet and esotericist William Butler Yeats put it so very well, “Education is not filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Young children learn principally through imitation and play, and they learn best when one appeals to their imagination. Intellectual tasks (which even the youngest child can perform---or rather mimic) are best deferred until later, when the adolescent begins to develop real powers of abstract thinking, which can then be engaged directly in the high school curriculum. The foundation of cognition is play, and children who have not been allowed to play will become stunted adults—full of facts but lacking creativity. Young children learn chiefly through their wills, by doing. Then, as the inner life of feeling matures into puberty and beyond, the arts become the main door to knowledge. Steiner also understood that real learning is never linear, but always dynamic. Rich experiences ripen in the unconscious, and then emerge years later as quite different capacities. For example, Steiner taught that the sense of artistic proportion gained by drawing and painting in adolescence will transform itself into sound judgment in the thinking adult.
Steiner prescribed that the class teacher stay with the same group of children, usually from grade one through eight, after which experts teach specific disciplines such as math, English or biology. He wanted elementary and middle school teachers to become, above all else, experts on the group of children entrusted to them. Waldorf education imposes many demands on class teachers, who must become ‘Renaissance men and women,’ mastering new material each year, and growing together with their class. He asked teachers to reflect each evening on their students and themselves. Steiner’s pedagogy is as much about the self-development of the teacher and the education of the student. But the heavy demands of teaching also bring great personal rewards and deep relationships with students that can last a lifetime.
Steiner gave the teachers of the first school a motto to guide them: “Receive the child in reverence; educate the child in love; send the child forth in freedom.” Although it respects many religions, and has grown out of a reverential view of the world and the human being, the Waldorf curriculum is as little about inculcating any specific religious or spiritual doctrine as hospitals are about teaching their patients anatomy and physiology. At the heart of the curriculum is Steiner’s view that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny---that the developing human being recapitulates in small the great, overarching evolution of consciousness that humanity as a whole has undergone. For the youngest child, that world is alive with magic; they live in a deep dreamy sympathy with animals, plants and stones. The curriculum feeds that consciousness with archetypal myths and tales form many cultures. By third grade, children have become in some real sense little monotheists: by the sixth, they have become Roman jurists. As they grow into autonomy, children experience their own inner Renaissance; Steiner identified this moment as the keystone of the entire curriculum. Adolescence is the age of Great Revolutions. Waldorf education seeks the students where they live, and it knows that these recapitulated experiences will emerge later as a very different, appropriately modern, set of capacities. By the time they enter high school, students are ready for the most rigorous intellectual work we can give them, and they are able to embrace it with a rich array of inner resources. In this way, the Waldorf curriculum seeks to provide, as one school describes it, a contemporary classical education that engages not only the head, but also the heart and the hand; not just ‘college prep’, but ‘life prep’.”
¼ cup warm water
2 cups warm water
½ cup honey
½ cup oil
1 t salt
6 cups whole wheat bread flour
Mix water and yeast set aside. In a large bowl mix water, honey, oil and salt. Add yeast mixture. Slowly add in floor. Turn dough out onto board or counter. Knead about 10 minutes. Let rest about 10 minutes. Form into rolls. Let rise, (10 minutes to 2 hours). Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.
Delicious served with warm honey butter!
In a large bowl mix: 4 cups of white flour
5 T vegetable oil
Several drops of a favorite essential oil, for smell
(My favorites are peppermint and lavender).