Why I chose a Steiner (Waldorf) school for my children – a UK parent’s perspective – highlights and misconceptions

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I am writing this because I don’t think enough parents have heard of or understand what Steiner (Waldorf) education is.  I thought it was time to shed some light on the subject because I believe it is a viable alternative to mainstream education and could benefit many children whom the current state system is failing. There are many misconceptions in the mainstream about Steiner education, so I also want to go about setting the record straight.

Let me say a little about our journey...

I have two daughters at a UK Steiner School and we have been involved in Waldorf education for nine years, since starting in the Parent and Child group when my eldest was two years old.

From an early age, I was aware that my daughters needed a different setting from the typically loud and chaotic toddler groups. I myself didn’t feel at home in the busy, noisy environment either, so I looked around for an alternative; somewhere quiet and safe for my children and somewhere to meet like-minded conscious parents. I was blessed to come upon a local Steiner School, who run a weekly Parent and Child group. As soon as we arrived, I knew I’d made the right decision. The mornings had a lovely rhythm: with free play, parent craft time (what a luxury!), baking bread, outdoor play, circle time and a shared lunch (which parents contribute an item to and always results in a feast!) There was an atmosphere of respect, anticipation, and joyful contribution and the space was wonderfully held by the Parent and Child facilitator. During this time I discovered a lot about Steiner education and realised it would be a good fit for my children. I already felt that an early start at school would “wake” my sweet dreamy children “up” before they were ready for it and knowing that most other countries do not start school until their seventh year, I felt confident that Kindergarten was the answer. I was not disappointed.

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My youngest daughter on her last day of Kindergarten with a hobby horse she made herself!

The Kindergarten years are the Wonder Years. The children slowly unfold at their own pace, unhurried and protected from the faster pace of life outside the school. They are free to make discoveries, to play, to imagine and create, without the pressures of academic achievement. Children are only assessed for their readiness for school in their seventh year (6-7yrs).

I fail to understand why the UK Government, contrary to the educational reports they receive on child development, insist it is in children’s best interests to start academic learning as soon as possible. They are even trying to push it into preschools! There is a feeling that children need to get ahead and this can foster early competitiveness in children or feelings of inadequacy,  particularly in younger, more dreamy children who are simply not ready for a school structure or academic learning at a young age. These feelings can remain for their whole educational journey if not handled skilfully by the teaching staff.

I have heard from both family members and friends how the daily pressures of homework, high expectations, not to mention SATS, have left their children feeling stressed, anxious and even depressed by the time they enter secondary school. Of course there are children that breeze through it all, but many children suffer big knocks to their confidence and many more feel demotivated at an early age. It saddens me that so many children are becoming a casualty of this misguided system.

Studies have shown that an early start can actually discourage a love of learning after a few years. There is absolutely no proof that an early start has a positive effect on learning outcomes. The UK has not improved its position in global education rankings, compared with several countries in Asia, Germany. Scandinavia and Finland, all of whose children start school at six or seven years.

In many countries, Steiner education is a State funded alternative to the mainstream education and it has produced many highly esteemed professionals. In this country, we have not reached this point yet, although there are currently a few Steiner Academies in Frome, Hereford, Bristol and Exeter.

I have heard that there have been further cuts to the Arts in schools. How sad that there is less and less of a place for creativity in schools. We are so much more than just our brains and not everyone will excel academically.  In Steiner schools, song, movement and art are integral to their learning, with teachers encouraging the children to produce beautiful work to feel proud of.

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Getting ready for our annual Christmas Fayre

Anyway back to our story…

As I mentioned, my children are very sensitive and don’t thrive in large groups: they feel invisible and quickly lose heart. I felt that mainstream education would do them no good because their needs wouldn’t be met in such large classes. The Steiner school class size is much smaller, with a maximum of 22 pupils and often smaller classes, and an emphasis on getting to know each individual child. The child feels seen and heard. It is a great gift, especially for a quieter child. My daughters have been allowed the time to develop in confidence and to learn at a pace that suits them. They are still enjoying a relatively stress-free childhood. I have seen my once shy and retiring children grow from strength to strength in confidence and ability. My children are now very confident speakers in their class, something I feel sure would not have happened if I had followed the mainstream option.  I fully believe that this type of education should be a model for the future.

Mainstream education tackles subjects like politics, sex education, environmental concerns and other subjects I feel are inappropriate at primary school age. Children can lose their innocence and belief that the world is good far too early on and some children can feel overburdened with worry when they are powerless to change anything. In contrast, such subject matter is introduced in Waldorf education when the right level of maturity is reached to receive it.

In Class 1 (6-7yrs), the child is in a reception-like environment with an emphasis on setting boundaries for behaviour in a school classroom and introducing the child to life in the main school. There is still much wonder and fairy tales form an integral part of the curriculum. Letters and numbers are introduced creatively as a prelude to writing and mathematics. The children are assessed individually so all their needs can be met, whether they are early readers or still need time. The child will still only initially attend one long day until 3.20pm. By the end of Class 1, they attend two long days. This increases every year until Class 4 when they attend every day until 3.20pm. In many countries, such as Germany and Finland (who are globally ahead academically) half days are still very common.

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A beautiful picture drawn by a class teacher in Class 1

Ideally the child will be with their class teacher from Class 1-8 (6-14yrs), so there is continuity of care and the teacher gets to know the child deeply. The child as a whole is educated, not just the brain, but the body, heart, mind and spirit. There are no screens or textbooks. Instead the child creates his/her own subject books, called the Main Lesson book. These are a real feast for the eyes and soul. Below are examples of a few pictures from my eldest daughter’s main lesson book. So inspiring, I find!

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Part of the Geometry main lesson. If you are going to do something, make it beautiful!

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In my eldest daughters class (Class 5) this year, the children are studying Ancient Civilisations, Local Geography, Geometry and Botany. There have been wonderful local geography project presentations, a superbly crafted class play of “the Adventures of Odysseus” and the children are currently working on a self guided Botany project. In the class the children support each other’s efforts. Other subjects in Class 5 include languages, as well as Ancient Greek , handwork, clay work, sports and a special kind of dance movement devised by Steiner called Eurhythmy. Below are a few samples of this year’s work. 

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A Local Geography presentation on the Lake District.

Each summer, the children go on a class trip to reflect what they have learnt in their curriculum that year and the stage in their development. The children in Class 5, at 11 years old, are considered to be at the peak of their strength (before they enter puberty), so in their final term in the Lower school, they will compete in a special Olympics, held in a large Waldorf school with extensive grounds, where they will meet up with other children of their age from Waldorf schools across England and from abroad. The children will undertake a three day hike, camping along the way, and will spend several days preparing for the Olympics. There is a tremendous sense of achievement by the end of the week. The children are feeling excited and proud of their place in the school.

My youngest, at eight, will be staying away for one night at a youth hostel with her class. She started school after she was seven as she wasn’t emotionally ready at six and I am so glad she waited as she is doing brilliantly and has fully embraced school life. They are in their second year of Handwork and she has been bringing back gorgeous knitted toys including this kitty and a piglet that our puppy has taken a liking to! 

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In this day and age, we are in such a hurry to “grow our children up”. We, as adults, surely know that there is no going back to the innocent days of our childhood; with no responsibilities, time on our hands and not a care in the world.  I feel we need to protect our children’s childhoods from the pressures of adult life as long as possible, especially in primary school.

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We all love our children and for many,  mainstream education fits the bill and children do well there, but I fully believe that at least 20% would do better elsewhere. There has been a 40% rise in Home Education because schools are failing many of our children. I believe Steiner schools are a viable alternative for many families, where parents would rather be working than teaching their children, but I think that not enough people know there is another way.

I have seen children breathe a sigh of relief when they enter a Steiner school after leaving mainstream education, once they have adjusted to the different way we do things. Finally a place where they can be themselves, be recognised and are allowed and supported to grow into the independent, confident people they can be, given the time and support they need.

To summarise, some of the Highlights of Steiner education for me are :

  • The creative curriculum – each year of the Steiner curriculum is designed to reflect where the child is in terms of their development. There are no text books: the teacher imparts all the information and the children create their own beautifully illustrated books by their own hand. They use good quality materials to achieve a high standard of work that they can feel proud of. Music, movement, art and handwork are an integral part of the curriculum and allow a holistic educational approach; educating the child’s mind, body and spirit. I can’t think of anything children need more in this day and age.
  • Recall – The class will spend a little time every morning going over what they learnt in the previous school day, having slept on it. This helps them to integrate their knowledge before moving on to the next topic.
  • Continuity – the teacher ideally stays with the class for seven years (6-14yrs) so there is continuity of care and the teacher knows his/her pupils deeply. This is not always possible in every case, but new teachers will work closely with a departing teacher to ensure that the children’s needs are still met. There is certainly greater continuity than in the mainstream, which I appreciate for my children, who do not do well with too much change.
  • Smaller class size – class size is no more than 24 pupils and often less, so each child feels seen and the teacher has a chance to know them deeply, not just based on academic performance.
  • Individual attention – often more reserved children in larger schools feel invisible, not heard and not able to access what other louder, more confident children can.  At a Steiner school, each individual child matters and the teacher will go to lengths to help the child to feel like a valuable part of the class. There is a sense of belonging and inclusiveness. There are also regular Parents Evenings and easy access to the teacher to voice concerns.
  • Later academic study  – children are considered ready for academic study from the time they start to lose their teeth. This is usually from 6 years. There is no pressure to comply with a fixed learning curve and each child will learn to read and write at their own pace with the encouragement of the class teacher. If a child is a late reader, as my eldest was, they still very much participate in the class and do not feel less than the others. There is learning support if necessary.
  • A cooperative attitude –  the children are expected and encouraged to behave respectfully towards each other and collaborative work is important. It is incredibly inspiring and heart warming to see how supportive the children are of each other’s work in the classroom.  It has certainly not been my personal experience of school life!
  • A community school – My daughters know most of the children’s names in the school. The children feel held and safe in a community of pupils, staff and parents. As they say ” It takes a village to raise a child”. This is the closest I have found to this. Parents are invited to be involved in school fundraising and caring for the school, including cleaning the classroom once a term, which is a lovely opportunity to care for your child’s learning environment and gives the parent an insight into what goes on in the classroom. There is even a school shop, selling healthy foods, run by parent and teacher volunteers which is a hub of the community.
  • Handwork Lessons are a wonderful opportunity to learn various skills. The first two years are devoted to learning knitting and the children make themselves a selection of gorgeous knitted toys of which they can be proud. The children learn crotchet in Class 3 and Cross stitch in Class 4. In Class 5 they return to knitting, making socks and my eldest is now knitting gloves. Here are a few examples of her work. What a wonderful achievement. 

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A cross stitch pin cushion made in Class 4 following a painting of their own design

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Cross stitch Christmas cards made in Class 4

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Knitted socks in Class 5

  • Yearly Class Plays – every year each Class performs a play for the rest of the school and their parents, which ties in with one of their Main Lesson subjects. The play forms part of their Main Lesson for half a term and the children work hard together; painting scenery, making props and some costumes and advertising their play.  This year, my eldest (in Class 5) performed a play of “the Adventures of Odysseus” to tie in with her studies of Ancient Civilisations and learning Ancient Greek.

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My youngest (in Class 2), performed a play about St Francis of Assisi to tie in with her studies of the Saints. They were both superb and the children felt they were part of something very special.

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School festivals – festivals are such a lovely way to mark the the passing of the year and reflect on seasonal changes. They range from special assemblies around Easter and Christmas, to Maypole dancing and jumping over a little fire at Midsummer.

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Lantern walks in November, as the light dwindles, are another highlight of the Early Years calendar and continue for a few years in the main school.

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The Festivals are particularly beautiful in the Kindergarten years when parents are able to participate in the festivities. The children are all very much involved.  

 

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My youngest daughter serving strawberries and cream at the Early Years ‘Strawberry Fayre’ festival  in her last year in Kindergarten 

So those are the highlights, now to tackle some of the Misconceptions of what a Steiner school is:

  • “A free for all Attitude”  –  Steiner Education was designed to educate the “whole child” in “freedom”, which has been misconstrued as a ‘free for all attitude’. This is absolutely not how a Steiner schools works. Children know their place and boundaries for behaviour in the classroom are clear, including expectations of respectful behaviour towards classmates and the teachers. The teacher is in charge and the children are led and held by them. Parents are free to speak to the teacher as often as they need to and there is an open line of communication so things can be tackled early on if necessary.
  • ” A load of hippies” –  If being a hippy, means believing in a peaceful, respectful environment for your child, then I’m fine with that! The school has rules and regulations, just like any other school. There is a code for dress and behaviour. It is not a democratic school. The teacher is there to guide and inspire the children to achieve a high standard of work and behaviour.
  • “Children just play” – In Kindergarten much free play is encouraged. There is a rhythm to the Kindergarten morning, with a walk in the park, followed by circle time, free play, the occasional seasonal craft, a snack, tidying up time and outside play, followed by story time. The children are encouraged early on to contribute to the class; by tidying away the playthings, accompanied by a song and they also help lay or clear the table at snack time. They learn a sense of responsibility and their place in the class through contribution. The ages are combined from 4yrs to 6yrs and the younger children learn from the older ones whilst the older ones are happy to inspire the younger ones by their example. It works very well.  There is no academic work at all. Instead the children have time to evolve as human beings, through their play: Play is considered “a child’s work”.

From school age, play is reserved for the playground and children are expected  to care for the classroom as part of their daily routine. There are movement games but this is all structured by the teacher. 

  • No discipline – this again is not the case at all. Teachers are very much in charge. Parents can approach teachers to speak about their children in detail and children can voice concerns, but ultimately the teacher is in charge and the children can relax and get on with their work. It is a school after all!
  • Not academic/scientific – the Steiner curriculum differs from that of mainstream education and this continues into the Upper school, where pupils will also study for GCSE’s. Although children do not study the three sciences separately,  the curriculum includes science from Class  6 onwards and several children from our school have gone on to study engineering and excel in their fields of interest. Sixth form colleges welcome Steiner pupils because of the broad curriculum and the children’s thirst for knowledge.  

I am so grateful that I was guided to the school so early on in my children’s lives, but it is never too late to give your child the kind of education that meets their need for a creative curriculum, that lets them grow and learn at a pace that suits them, without being overloaded with targets, SATS, homework, because after a long day at school, shouldn’t a child have some free time to download what they have learnt!?

So many of us were impoverished in the way we were taught as children. I for one, would have loved to have been Steiner educated. Being sensitive, creative and an observer, the competitive environment of a Public school killed my joy of learning: It was all about outcomes and exams. I withdrew and although I have come out whole, with very good grades,  it did nothing to build my confidence or self esteem to tackle the big wide world.

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My eldest selling her handmade gifts at the school Christmas Fayre. 

The way the world is going today, we need to find more ways to support the creative thinkers, the entrepreneurs, the inventors as we will need them even more for our future survival.

 

December already!

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It’s Wednesday evening, my daughters have broken up from school and I finally have time to reflect on what we’ve been up to since I last wrote…in November!….Goodness, how can it be that we are already in mid-December! The last week passed in a bit of a blur with a sickness bug affecting all our family in turn. I became sick on Monday (missing my usual spot for writing here) and by the time I was feeling better on Wednesday, my youngest took over and we spent a whole long night in and out of the bathroom 😦 This weekend it was the turn of my eldest. I think we are all on the mend now and are hoping to stay well for the rest of December!!!

Somehow we have still been keeping up with our Advent traditions. This period is so precious to us, we wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂  I wrote at length about these traditions here, but here are a few glimpses:

We have been reading our Christmas books– we found a use for the failed papier mache lantern – it’s now a beautiful bowl to hold our Christmas book ‘lucky dip’ 🙂

All the different ways we mark the passing days of December/Advent.

Mary is travelling on her Star path towards the stable. Due to illness, we have had a few false starts (!) and she has remained on a particular star for a couple of nights…but we help her catch up 🙂 We dim the lights before bedtime, light the candles (according to the weeks of Advent) and sing “Mary’s Starpath” as one of my daughters moves Mary forward to the next star.  It creates such a beautiful reverent mood, I really appreciate it.  As you can see, the path is filling up slowly; with crytals and golden shells (placed in the  first week of Advent) and pinecones, little trees and golden hazelnuts this week. Toadstools are on their way 🙂 These are added by the “elves” overnight, both to our main Nature Table in the lounge and to my daughters’ own Nature Tables in their rooms. The elves have been known to forget (especially when they don’t want to disturb sick children!) but generally they know how important their job is 😉

Steiner attributed each week of Advent to a different Kingdom and I base my Advent activities and additions to the Nature table around this:

The first light of Advent is the light of stones,
Stones that live in crystals, seashells and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants,
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts,
All await the birth, from the greatest to the least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind,
The light of hope, that we may learn to love and understand.

This Advent, there are only three weeks in total due to the fourth Sunday in Advent falling on Christmas Eve, so we will start the arrival of the animals to the Nature Table a little earlier so there is enough time to add the humans too!

In the week of stones, I don’t usually do too much craft-wise as the children are still at school and there are a lot of things to organise and events to attend at this time. I do always give the girls a rock to crack (with a hammer) on one of the mornings and they each receive a lovely crystal (I cover the crystal in white clay and leave it to harden).

We sometimes make clay or saltdough ornaments, but due to illness, we had to forgo that this year. No matter…

This week I have a couple of crafts in mind based around plants. I will report back in  my next post. I feel this post is going to be long enough!!!

So to rewind, we had our Gnomes Bonfire on the evening of 30th November to bid farewell to autumn and decay and make way for a peaceful light-filled Advent. We let go of all the dry leaves, acorns and conkers we had collected on our autumn walks and warmed ourselves by the fire accompanied by warm drinks and spicy biscuits 🙂  The girls set the gnomes up and took over  most of the procedure this year. These traditions are so deeply ingrained they always know what to do 🙂

I  felt a strong urge to tidy and clean the house thoroughly in preparation for Advent: It helps to set the mood to one of anticipation when the decks are cleared and the energy is lifted. Things can get quite tired looking at the end of a season, I find.  It is always a joy to set the Nature table up for a new season and there is no season I love more than Advent 🙂

The girls wrote their letters to Father Christmas which the ‘elves’ took during the night. The elves also filled our angel Advent Calendar with ornaments to adorn the bare branches over our Nature Table.

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On the 2nd December we had our school Christmas Fayre. We helped set the Fayre up on Friday and my husband did the cooking, as he has done for many years now.

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The school looked really fabulous, all decked out in homemade goodness. I always feel so proud of our school at this time of year, when everyone pulls together to make it happen.

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We baked some cakes for the cafe as every family does. My daughters were keen to be involved.

I love that my youngest felt she needed to wear high heels for this 🙂

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As I mentioned, my eldest daughter had a stall in the Children’s Market.

She sold most of her doll skirts and paper angels and all of her needle felted baubles and window stars and made a grand total of £75! She paid a percentage to the school, paid me back for the materials and gave her sister some money to treat herself with and there was still £55 left for her. She was delighted as you can imagine. The needle felted Christmas pudding my youngest made was one of the first things to sell, so she is considering making more for next year….plans are afoot already 🙂

St Nicholas paid us a visit on 6th December. The girls put their boots out by the back door and were richly rewarded.

“Our” St Nicholas always brings nuts and clementines and a little present. This year he brought a festive glass and a special coin, which the girls were intrigued by.

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We like to read this book about dear St Nicholas and his helper Ruprecht. It is in German – it’s a shame it isn’t translated yet.

The girls have also been making presents for their teachers and “secret santa” presents for a particular classmate. They both decided to needle felt something as they were already in the rhythm.

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When my youngest started to feel better, but was still too weak to go to school, she sat on the sofa and felted this very cute Christmas elf for her classmate!

Her teacher is receiving another Christmas pudding that she made a little while ago.

For her “secret santa” gift, my eldest needle felted a snowman, with a felt top hat.

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She cut a circle of felt out and cut a smaller circle out of the middle. She used the ring of felt for the brim so it fits snuggly over the snowman’s head and used the  small circle for the top of the hat. I helped her cut out a rectangle to create a tube for the middle section. It came out really well I think.

Both of these were made by attaching two polystyrene balls to each other using a cocktail stick – my eldest daughter’s idea. I do feel proud of how they come up with these lovely ideas. They need very little help and what they make is of a really good standard – I am always impressed.

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My eldest needle felted her teacher a bauble for her Christmas tree and also gave her one of the beautiful paper angels, that her teacher admired when she popped in to see the children’s work at the Fayre. She was pleased.

I am glad my eldest managed to make these on Saturday morning before she became ill as there was no time between then and now, with all the end of term festivities, carol service, plays etc. It has been a full time and is good to have a little outbreath now from all the activity and errands and take our (favourite) place at home; doing crafts;  baking and enjoying lots of cosy reading by the fire. My kind of happy 🙂

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I have been writing my Christmas cards when possible.  Somehow I made an error when I took my letter to the photocopy shop to be copied. I asked for 20 copies of the 4 double sided A4 pages I had written, which would have been 80 pages in all. I agreed a price and the chap said it would take a little while, so I went for a walk. When I returned, I noticed a huge pile of coloured paper collecting on the tray next to the photocopier – he had thought I wanted 80 copies!!! Eeek!! I don’t have 80 friends to send this too – it really is only for my friends abroad. Ooops! What a waste of paper. Of course I paid him as I had agreed the price. I think we shall be using the paper to keep warm this winter 😉

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In between illness, the girls have been helping me with packing presents for a couple of friends abroad and for our relatives.They have been busy little elves with the wrapping paper, cellotape and lots of stickers!! 🙂

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Well that’s some of my news from the last couple of weeks. To finish, I just wanted to share these fab handmade socks that my daughter came home with from school today!

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Rainbow socks – a girl after my own heart 🙂

As for my own makings, things aren’t going too well. I am having second thoughts about the teddy bear making for Christmas. I chose some yarn for the dress and shoes, but knitting it up, it just doesn’t suit the teddy’s colouring 😦 Sob! I have ordered some more yarn to see if I can find a more suitable colourway. Fingers crossed! Not long to go…may have to be a New Year’s present….

Hope you have had a peaceful and joyful Advent so far. Enjoy all that the season has to offer. Many blessings. 

Hallowe’en Birthday

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My dearest eldest daughter celebrated her 11th Birthday last Tuesday.

My daughter’s Birthday falls on Hallowe’en: at the time she was born, around 4pm, the sky was darkening, the room was quiet and the lighting dim. As I recovered from the birth and held my sweet baby in my arms, from our window (on the 13th floor of our local hospital), my husband and I gazed out to see fireworks in the sky and the air was filled with a special kind of magic. Our baby had arrived and it felt like the world was celebrating 🙂

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So every Hallowe’en Birthday, we try to imbue our daughter’s Birthday with a touch of this magic (with a few cobwebs thrown in!) 🙂

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I have shared how we celebrate Birthdays in our family here and my eldest daughter’s Birthday last year here and here. Our Birthday routines are fairly consistent from year to year and my daughters wouldn’t have it any other way! They certainly notice if anything is missing or out of place. To that end, I have written down all our birthday traditions in a book so I can remind myself of what needs doing in case I am tired on the night before the birthday – often the case in the autumn months 😦 There is always something I have forgotten, so I am glad of it!

So the Birthday started as usual with 11 kisses on waking and a walk through a curtain of crepe paper streamers hung by the Birthday girl’s door (we had to go out the day before in search of crepe paper as we didn’t have enough for 11 strips – that doorway is getting so full! – not as easy to find as you might imagine…).  There was a star path to her Birthday chair, which was covered in rainbow coloured gauzy fabric and of course her Birthday crown (made so many years ago, but still going strong as it is made of good strong 100% wool felt!).

There seemed to be a mountain of presents from us, friends and relatives!

After a birthday breakfast and a little play with the new presents, we headed out for a couple of hours to enjoy the autumn sunshine at a nearby National Trust place (as is our tradition). Great quantities of leaves were falling from the trees, so we spent quite some time trying to catch them!

After lunch we headed back home to set our house and garden up for a Hallowe’en themed party.

From my daughter’s 3rd to 7th Birthdays, we held Hallowe’en themed craft parties at her request. Then we took a break for a couple of years, as she was struggling too much with having a party on her Birthday – it seemed to make her so tense, she couldn’t enjoy the rest of the day 😦 But on her 10th Birthday, last year, she wanted to restart the Hallowe’en party tradition and we have hosted two parties now that have been a hit with her and her friends. We play “spooky” games rather then doing crafts as that suits the age and lively temperaments of some of her friends.

The seven guests arrived around 4pm. When everyone was present, they all sat down whilst my daughter opened her presents and thanked her friends personally for their gifts (thank you cards to come). As I have mentioned before, I consider it best that the child open his/her presents when their friends are there, so the giver receives individual thanks, otherwise it feels like there is something missing from this exchange….the energy of giving and receiving…

As far as the games were concerned, they were very similar to last years games (see last years detailed post). We also added some dancing and musical statues to The Monster Mash  which the children loved.

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Apple bobbing of course 🙂 

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Mummy wrapping

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We did blind folded food tasting again. This time on the menu were:

Witches eyeballs – melon balls
Bats brains – marshmallows
Zombie Blood – beetroot juice
Bats Wings – flattened licorice
Warlocks’ vomit! – cold rice pudding
Monster’s fingers – cake fingers

My (scary looking!) husband also told a ‘scary’ story we made up about a headless ghost Arthur who roams our house every Hallowe’en night. He and his wife Nora lived in our house some sixty years ago when she killed him with an axe after several failed attempts. He was asking for our assistance to find evidence that his wife had tried to kill him on numerous occasions and he believed they were hidden in the garden. If we found them all, he could finally be freed from his tortuous existence.

So the children had to hunt the garden using a torch to find the ‘instruments of death’ that his wife had used to try to kill him before she finally murdered him with an axe. Sounds gruesome, but I don’t think anything is too gruesome for these children!!! It was tricky hunting in the dark, with only one torch between four children, but they found everything in the end. (Note to self to buy more torches if we do this kind of thing next year!) 

There were prizes for the games, either spooky shaped chocolates or sugar free juice sweets and for the more complicated games, guests received glow stick bracelets.

The games went very quickly and there was a lot of laughter. 🙂

We then went Trick or Treating for about half an hour or so. We found plenty of welcoming folks. Nothing too scary.

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My youngest never goes out as she is too scared of the impressions out there. She helped Daddy decorate the cake, set the table and handed out sweets at our door.

On our return, it was time for dinner – the same food as last year – mummy sausages and potato ghosts,  which went down well. This was followed by the “Best Birthday Cake Ever” made by Daddy 🙂

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and several rousing renditions of Happy Birthday from my daughter’s friends!

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My husband did some fireworks at the end of the party, which everyone always loves and is a long standing tradition from her birth onwards. 🙂 My husband always does a little dance at the end of each firework, which the children find hysterical! – a couple of the children have been attending since they were 3 years old and really expect it!!

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We also always carve our daughter’s name into a pumpkin because on her 1st Birthday some good friends came over carrying a lit pumpkin with her name engraved on it. We were so touched and it has stuck ever since. These traditions are so meaningful.

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It was a full day. After everyone left, we had a family dance like last year, which our daughter insisted on – her eyes were shining as we took turns to twirl her around the room. 🙂

DSC08397.JPGBlurry, but I still love it…they were moving fast! 

Of course we left a little bowl of sweets for the sugar fairy to keep her and her babies   fed through the winter months and she kindly swapped these for some beautiful ‘treasures’ 🙂

It was an exhausting, exhilarating kind of day.

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Dear sweet girl of mine, 11 years on, still marvelling at the wonder of you…

Birthday time

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I have missed writing here these past couple of weeks, but other matters have absorbed my spare moments and I have had some pressing issues about resizing my photos so they don’t take up so much memory space on my blog. Being not very computer savvy, I have been loading photos from my camera straight onto my blog without downsizing them (I didn’t realise you had to…) so my memory cache for photos is almost full!! 😦 It has taken me a while to sort it out, but I am back with more photos now 🙂 I am still looking for a better solution long term as I don’t have that much memory left, despite the kind folks at WordPress giving me a chunk more. Any suggestions would be most welcome!!! 

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Looking back at the photos I have taken over the past couple of weeks, I think it best to write two or three posts, but first things first: we celebrated my youngest daughter’s eighth Birthday on Monday. Eight!!!
How did she get so big?! It feels like only yesterday that I held her in my arms for the first time after a wonderfully quick and peaceful home birth, gazing into her big beautiful eyes and remarking on how very gorgeous she was. Our little girl – a blessing, as all babies are. And here we are eight years on – she has long limbs, knows her own mind, is gentle and kind and has a marvellous sense of humour. She is still as gorgeous as ever; with her big green eyes, long dark eyelashes and her cheeky smile (if only she would clip her long fringe to the side so we can see her in her fullness…). I have so many mixed feelings about my daughters growing up: pride at seeing them become their own people, intermingled with sorrow at the passing of the years. One year on, I think this space is becoming a wonderful record of these precious years of early and middle childhood. I have been thinking about the purpose of my blog; why I cherish spending time here. Of course I like to share what I have learnt and connect with others, but it is also a keepsake for me; somewhere to store our memories and a place to record my gratitude for the life I am living; as a homemaker, mother and trusted guardian of two precious individuals. It is a deep privilege to walk this path with them for the years that they need me and I hope this diary of sorts will bring back fond memories in the years to come.

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Anyway, I digress. Back to the C’s Birthday…..

The weekend before my daughter’s Birthday was full or making, last minute tidying up and Birthday and party preparations (we held a small craft party on Tuesday for two school friends).

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There were a few late nights, but it was worth it of course 🙂

I shared how we celebrated C’s 7th Birthday and party here and how we celebrate Birthdays in general here, so I won’t go into any depth this time, as our Birthday procedure is the same every time without fail. The girls have even started laying a flower path from our bedroom to the Birthday table for my husband and I on our Birthdays too so we can experience the wonder of it all 🙂

So, the Birthday began EARLY!! (5.30am, although I persuaded my daughter to rest until 7am – not an easy ask!!!)

There were eight strips of crepe paper hanging from the Birthday Girl’s door and a path of colourful paper flowers leading down to the birthday table.  Daddy laid the path this year and my daughter remarked on how the path had only started at the door rather than at her bedside as I had done in previous years – the details are so imprinted on their memories!! 🙂

My daughter was delighted with all her presents

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She loved the Geranium dress that I made for her and the miniature version I made for her Waldorf doll.

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I only remembered at 4pm the evening before that I hadn’t made anything matching for her doll this year – I usually make matching skirts – so I quickly reduced the 8 year old bodice pattern by 47% on the photocopier and somehow – miracle of miracles!! – the bodice fitted our doll perfectly!! I didn’t have time for the flutter sleeves or the fabric lining in the bodice, but I did manage to tidy things up with some light purple bias binding around the neckline and armholes and I improvised with the skirt, using the material I had left. It all came together really easily – for which I am SO grateful, as my daughter was visibly delighted that her doll had a matching dress on. Phew!

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My daughter was also happy with her new crayon roll. I made the larger version with a button closure at her request.

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She was also thrilled with her new bed and bedding for her doll. She and her sister now plan to finish their doll quilts this half term break.

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I finished her sweater in time. It was still in the garden blocking on Sunday, secreted away under our wisteria  with a small dress that my eldest had knitted for her birthday surprise bunny.

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My eldest daughter was struggling for inspiration this year. She started a cross stitch project, but then changed her mind. Luckily a lovely new Mum at school showed me a knitting pattern for these cute tiny bunnies she was knitting her daughter (Thanks Carol!) and H was instantly smitten with the idea of making her sister a bunny with a couple of knitted dresses. She only started working on it a week ago, so we only had three secret knitting sessions to make it in – twice in cafes, where my daughter knitted and I read her Paddington Bear stories,

(look at those cute knitted tea cosies!) 

and once at home on Sunday morning, whilst Daddy and my youngest were food shopping for the party. Although the project was small, compared with last years teddy bear, it was no less well received by my youngest.

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She loves her bunny ‘Poppy’ and has been bringing her out on all our recent trips, dressing her up and putting her into her little bed at night. So sweet.

Apart from those home made gifts, we treated her to these lovely Medici books

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and a Hans Christian Anderson Fairy tale book.

We had a slow, gentle day as we were all rather tired from the excitement and late nights in the run up to C’s Birthday. We had pancakes for breakfast and the girls played for a while with C’s new Sylvanian Families Bakery – something she has had her heart set on for a long time.  We decided it best to leave the house for a couple of hours as rain was forecast for the afternoon, so we went to a farm for a picnic lunch and a tour of the animals there. The girls brought their dolls and had lots of fun giving each other piggy backs! 🙂

Both my daughters love animals and enjoyed the experience.

Then we went back home for tea and delicious Daddy-made Victoria Sandwich Birthday cake.

My daughter requested we go out to our local pub for our evening meal, which was fun and relaxing and a perfect end to a lovely celebration.

C was delighted with the day and felt special thoughout, which is how it should be!

 

 

In the second week of Advent

The second week of Advent has just passed and we now have three candles lit on our Advent wreath and the sense of anticipation is mounting!

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As I mentioned here, each week of Advent has a different theme: the first week was the week of stones, crystals, shells and minerals. The second week was that of plants. To that end:

I added golden hazenuts, little shiny toadstools, silvery pine cone trees, a pot of paper flowers and bits of greenery to the nature table.

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Mary has moved several steps forward along her star path.

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This picture was taken in the evening on the third Sunday of Advent: we light the number of candles for the weeks of Advent and move Mary forward one star, whilst singing this song.

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This week, I also made our door wreath – recycling greenery that previously hung over doorways and from beams at our School Fayre and adding some homemade dried orange slices and rosehips from our local park.

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I also purchased a poinsettia, which is a must for my Advent experience. I have such happy memories of having a poinsettia at home as a child and ever since. I also treasure my candle bridge, as it reminds me of the German Christmases of my childhood and gazing in wonder at the candle bridges shining merrily from almost every window of the houses and flats I passed on my evening walks with my grandparents. They feel quintessentially German to me and I love them for it! There is such a feeling of  nostalgia for Christmases past at this time; the smells, the sights; the tastes; they all evoke childhood memories of cosy, magical times.

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This week I made sure we read this version of the Legend of the Poinsettia, The Christmas Eve Tree and The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree.

I put all our garlands up too. I use artificial garlands, purchased last year from a Garden Centre and have woven fairy lights through them and added an assortment of dried oranges, cinammon sticks, golden pine cones, red ribbons and artificial berries.

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I really love them. They feel so festive and look quite naturalistic too. We have one on the mantlepiece and two over our large doors at the back of our house.

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We always try to do a craft of some sort based on the theme of the week, but since my daughters were busily making gifts for their class secret santa, we made do with making plant shaped gingerbread biscuits;  in this case,  trees and holly.

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We used Khorasan (Kamut) flour, which my youngest daughter seems to tolerate and we find it works as a good substitute for wheat in this kind of recipe. They were spicy, with a good crunch; just as gingerbread biscuits should be. 🙂

The recipe is as follows:

120g flour

1/2 tsp of cinammon, ginger and bicarbonate of soda

30g unsalted butter

60g coconut sugar

1 tbl molasses and 1 tbl date syrup ( or 2tbl of one of these)

  • Sieve the flour, cinammon, ginger and bicarbonate of soda together.
  • Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together in a pan on a low heat.
  • When slightly cooled, add the melted butter mix to the dry ingredients and give a good stir, adding a teaspoon or two of cold milk or water if necessary to make the dough come together.
  • Roll the dough out between two sheets of baking paper to about half a centimetre thickness. We did this warm, but it said to chill the dough for half an hour. We were impatient for our gingerbread biscuits so couldn’t wait!
  • Cut out lots of lovely shapes
  • Bake the biscuits in a preheated oven at 160 C for about 7 minutes,depending on thickness and size of biscuit. Tiny biscuits only take 4-5 mins.

Yum! 

Below are the Secret Santa presents my daughters are making for their classmates. My eldest daughter’s boy classmate absolutely loves tigers so she wanted to make him a tiger hand puppet. She is so in love with it, she would rather keep it herself! But I remind her why she made it; to bring joy to this boy and she can always make herself one at another time.

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My youngest daughter is making a little gingerbread man ornament for her girl classmate. I helped her with the face as it was a bit fiddly for her.  She will finish it this afternoon as they break up from school tomorrow – hurrah! Can’t wait for a break from the early morning wake ups and the school run.

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For their teachers, they tied two clay dove ornaments (that they cut out last week), onto shiny red ribbon and also made little candy canes from two glittery pipe cleaners twisted together (that St Nicholas brought them last week). Simple things, but made with love. 🙂

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As for me, I am only managing to do one long post a week, as I am busy making, baking and writing my Christmas letters a lot of the time. My favourite kind of busy 🙂

Last week, I started another one of my little cushions that I make well deserving friends 😉 This friend was born only four days after my eldest and they have known each other all their young lives. I was planning to make it for her birthday, but with all the birthday preparations for my eldest daughter’s birthday and party, it went on the back burner. I now have a deadline to work to, for when we next meet, so that has got me motivated. I love the tree fabric at the back ( perfect for the second week of Advent 😉 ).

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I have also been asked by my sister to make bunting for her four children for Christmas. I finally bought the fabric on Friday, after much deliberation. I do so hope they like it. I put quite a bit of thought into it, so fingers crossed! I have almost sewn all the triangles together (except for one set). Now I just need to sew them onto some bias binding and hopefully they will be ready for our family get together this weekend.

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For the eldest fourteen year old girl

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For a 12 year old boy. He wanted his nickname on it and some emojis!

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For  10 and 8 year old boys who have a forest themed room

As for my making for my own daughters, here are their Phoebe Mice in progress. I sit down for a couple of hours every evening to work on them and I am hoping with steady progress, that they will be ready and waiting for my daughters on Christmas morn 🙂

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I hope you too are enjoying some festive crafting. Joining Nicole for KCCO.

Peace and Joy to you all. *

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Advent

I love Advent. It is my absolute favourite time of year. I love all the seasons for their unique gifts, but Advent is a very special time in our home and we all feel it.

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Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. It is traditionally a time in which we prepare for Christmas; for the coming of Christ on Christmas Day.  In these commercial times, it is easy to get carried away; arranging far too many outings, trying to spend time with as many friends as possible before Christmas (as if time were finite and Christmas were the deadline!) People spend large quantities of money on presents and parties and take on too much at a time when we are naturally getting tired, so illness can strike if we don’t look after ourselves.

I am not immune to all this. I often take on too many projects in the hope that I will finish them in time for Christmas and we are sometimes out of the house more than we are in it, but over the years, I have realised that rushing around causes tension and that I need to make enough space for the “out breaths” and inner work that this season requires. I like to write Christmas letters as I mentioned here and I spend many happy hours doing this in the first couple of weeks in December;  writing to friends abroad or people I seldom see, but think of fondly.  It is time well spent; time with dear friends is always time well spent 🙂 I usually go out to cafe’s or if I am at home, I play some Christmas music to put me in a festive mood for writing.

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My preparations for Advent start a couple of weeks before, when I get my Advent box out of the eaves and review ideas from years gone by. This booklet by Annette Frontz  was given to me by lovely friend some years ago. It has been a wonderful resource for Advent ideas and there is a section on inner work too. I also enjoy reading the Advent and Christmas section in  All Year Round and Festivals, Family and Food and many of the ideas for the rituals I will mention have come from these wonderful resources.  I also have a big brown leatherbound book in which I have written all our seasonal traditions to remind me of the lovely things we do.

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I try to create a very quiet mood at the beginning of Advent. The Nature table is quiet, with a dark blue cloth on it and very little is happening. I lay a star path of 24 golden (paper) stars leading to the stable with a larger golden star holding an Advent Candle for each Advent Sunday. Very little else is occurring and it feels good to have a moment of quiet; an outbreath after the riot of colour and activity in the autumn and before the bright lights of Christmas.

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The candle holders are made out of gold card. I drew an X in the middle and cut along the lines. Then I pushed each of the four sides out from the middle and the candle sits snugly inside. It works surprisingly well.

We have a variety of ways in which we mark the days of Advent. We started with just a couple of rituals when the children were small, but things have been added over the years. I would recommend you don’t take anything on that you can’t manage from year to year, as the children will expect it and be disappointed if you don’t continue that particular tradition. Our own family rituals are as follows:

*  We hang a blue silk ribbon with 24 golden sequin stars glued to it and one big golden star right at the top. A little felt angel that I made many years ago climbs one star at a time all the way up to Christmas day. When my children were young, this was an excellent way to see how close we were getting to Christmas. Our angel is a little worn and I have considered making another, but we are still so fond of her I probably never will  🙂

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*  We stick one golden star sticker each day on the dark blue sky that is the background to our nature table. By Christmas the sky is full of stars and it looks so beautiful and full of light.

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*  We have a fabric Advent Calendar with little pockets on it, that I sewed (in kit form) a few years ago. Elves come in the night of the 30th November/1st December and leave an ornament in each pocket for my daughters to find in the morning. We also leave a letter to Father Christmas by the fireplace that night for the elves to take to him. This is the start of the Christmas magic for them. My daughters take it in turns to hang a little ornament on the bare branches hanging above the stable on our nature table. By Christmas it is full and joyful.

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*  My daughters each have one of these beautiful Advent Calendars that we bought in our school shop. They last several years (with a bit of help from blu tack) and are just gorgeous!

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Those are our morning rituals. The children take it in turns to do the various things and again in the evening. They are very good at being fair about it, as there is certainly plenty for them to do!

*  For a couple of years we have also opened an electronic  Advent Calendar every afternoon after school, something my daughters really look forward to. It was gifted to us by a lovely member of our school community, who sadly passed away recently. This year and from now on, I will treat her grandchildren to one, to repay her kindness and generosity. Although my children are rarely exposed to the computer, I decided that this was o.k, as it is really very beautiful and traditional.

*  In the evening we move our felt Mary along the star path on the Nature table. We darken the room and light the Advent candles for that week (one for the first week of Advent, two for the second etc) and sing this song with reverence as one of the children moves Mary forward one star.

” On the Golden Star Path walking

Mother Mary travels Far

Brings to Us the Light of Heaven

Brighter than the Brightest Star “

*  For our evening ritual, we choose a Christmas book by a process of Lucky Dip – I have written all the titles of our books down on red and green paper and my daughters take it in turn picking a book at random. We sit downstairs by the fire on warm sheepskins and read the story together and often sing carols ( if there is time). My daughters are already looking forward to this and we had a little practise the other day! 🙂

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*  We light our Advent wreath candles at every mealtime and sing this verse:

” Winter is dark,  yet each tiny spark,  brightens the way to Christmas Day “

The First Sunday of Advent  has just passed. Our family always has a wreath on the table with four red candles in it, as is traditional in Germany and Scandinavian countries I believe and also in Steiner Waldorf schools. We light one candle for every week and by Christmas there are four candles lit on the wreath and a mood of celebration.

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I had planned to make my own wreath in time for Sunday and even purchased some florist foam and went out for a walk with my daughters, but our local park didn’t have any suitable evergreens and time was too tight to go further afield this year, so we are making do with an artificial wreath this year  ( I always have it as a back up). The artificial wreaths these days are quite realistic I find and I have decorated it with some little toadstools, berries and cinnamon sticks as my German grandmother always did. Some of the decorations belonged to her and I am always so happy to see them as they remind me of the wonderful Christmases I spent with my grandparents.  I would have loved to have made my own, but I must remind myself not to let perfection be the enemy of the good. This is more than good enough. 🙂

Each week of Advent we can use the following themes from Rudolph Steiner to give the week a focus:

The first light of Advent is the light of stones,
Stones that live in crystals, seashells and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants,
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts,
All await the birth, from the greatest to the least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind,
The light of hope, that we may learn to love and understand.

I use these themes in all kinds of ways, but especially on the Nature Table. Objects are added overnight by the ‘elves’ for my daughters to find in the morning. They never cease to delight in this, especially as the elves also add things to their own nature tables in their rooms.

  • In the first week : stones, golden shells, crystals and rocks  are added to the Nature table
  • In the second week :  greenery, little toadstools, golden nuts, pinecones and such like are added to the Nature Table.
  • In the third week : Mary’s donkey arrives to travel the path with her and little clay hedgehogs, felt mice, wooly sheep and a few animals in the stable are added to the Nature Table.
  • In the fourth week:  Joseph arrives and the innkepeer, the shepherds and some angels.  If it is a long week, some gnomes may join the crystals.

This is a wonderful ritual, full of the magic of the season and the Nature table becomes  so full of life by Christmas. If you choose to take on this ritual,  do try to keep it up every evening throughout Advent, as the children will notice if the elves aren’t bringing things and could be disappointed. Saying that, sometimes our elves have been known not to come!!…but then add two things the next day. So once again, let us not let perfection be the enemy of the good!

Wow! Writing all this really makes me realise how many rituals and traditions we have surrounding Advent. As I mentioned, it is my favourite time of year!  Most of these rituals don’t cost anything, just a bit of foresight. I am very conscious that my daughters will one day outgrow them, so I cherish every year as if it were the last. I very much hope we will continue to have these special times for many more years.

In our Steiner (Waldorf) school, the Kindergartens celebrate Advent with an Advent Spiral in the first week of Advent. The children and parents are all dressed in dark blue to echo the quiet mood of this festival. An inwardly spiralling path of evergreens is laid on the floor, leading to a tree stump with a large central candle on it, which is looked after by ‘Mother Mary’. Each child is given a shiny red apple with a golden candle in it by their teacher and in the semi darkness, they walk the spiral path to the centre to light their candle (this represents their journey to birth). When the candle is lit, they walk back out of the spiral and place their apple along the path in a place of their choosing (this represents their journey from birth and their free will). By the time all the children have placed their candles on the spiral path safely, the room is much brighter and there is a feeling of light and hope. The teachers, parents and children sing many beautiful songs (including my favourite The Angel Gabriel) throughout the ceremony to create a mood of reflection and reverence. Last year was my final opportunity to attend this festival with my daughters after seven years. I will miss it.

My daughters are both in the school now and will attend an Advent assembly in the main hall every Monday. The children are also dressed in dark blue and the hall is darkened to reflect the mood of Advent; one of expectation. A child from each class is chosen to bring their clay candle holder (which they made last week) to the assembly. As the assembly draws to a close, each of these children lights their candle from an Advent Wreath and carefully takes their light back to their classroom. That child then lights his/her neighbours candle and the neighbour lights his/her neighbours candle and so the light is passed all the way around the class until all the candles are lit and the children sing their Advent songs. This feels so special and wholesome to me. My youngest was very appreciative of all these touches particularly.

I plan to share more about Advent and our weekly rituals here in the weeks to come and will hopefully share a Christmas book list at some point too. It would have been more helpful earlier in the season, but there is always next year 😉

Wishing you all a peaceful Advent. 

Hallowe’en birthday

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My eldest daughter celebrated her tenth birthday on Monday. My, ten years old!! Where does the time go?! She is a Hallowe’en baby. I still remember her birth as clear as if it were yesterday: we were on the thirteenth floor of the hospital ( we had planned a homebirth, but it was thought safer to have her in hospital at the last minute, although there were no complications and it all went really well…I have been lucky to have been blessed with two relatively easy births), the room was dark as the sun was just setting outside and all was quiet and peaceful as our baby angel was born onto the earth. As we held her for the first time, we looked outside to see fireworks lighting up the sky. A real celebration of this little miracle. It still feels like such a special day, like there is magic in the air and we still do a small firework display to celebrate each year.

My daughter was quite concerned about getting into double digits, but now she is there,  she is o.k with it 🙂 It doesn’t feel any different after all.  ( it is always the same at the threshold of a new decade I find). I thought as it was her 10th birthday, we should do something  really special to mark this milestone, so I commissioned a poster for her from here.

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I think you can create ‘word clouds’ yourself, but I didn’t have the time, so I just provided the words and the experts did the work. My daughter was so amazed that it was a poster all about her. I would highly recommend doing something similar to mark a special occasion. She gazes at it often and I know she is delighted to read all the great things that we know and love about her. As she is in a Steiner (Waldorf) school, reading is introduced late, so it will be good reading practise! I hope it will make her feel good for many years to come and it will be interesting to look back on when she is older to see what still applies.

I wrote about our birthday traditions here. Here are a few glimpses of the decorations we use for this autumn birthday. I always try to make sure the decor reflects the feel of the season. This includes a darker birthday crown, a darker tablecloth, autumn coloured streamers and a star path (rather than the path of flowers I lay for my spring born daughter).

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The autumn nature table with some birthday additions on the right hand side

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Another nature table over the mantelpiece

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The streamers that I always hang from the birthday girl’s door. Ten – it’s getting busy!

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The star path to the birthday table. My daughter picked up the stars on her way down.

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The birthday chair covered in a gauzy rainbow cloth over a dark pink silk and Rachel with her matching birthday crown.

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The birthday table with our lovely birthday ring with all its seasonal wooden ornaments and a vase of flowers I picked from our garden. The cosmos are still going strong!

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And a photo of the birthday child at a few days old

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We had a lovely birthday breakfast with presents. Here are the presents we gave her:

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She is so happy with her new sewing machine. I also booked her on a  weekly dressmaking course for children until Christmas, as she doesn’t like me to teach her anything!  She just made a pair of shorts of Tuesday and will be making a skirt next time! Exciting new possibilities…

Her younger sister made her this Jack O Lantern bag and bought her a little Sylvanian out of her own money (for playing the violin, I give her 20p per session for effort and 20p for keeping quiet when her sister does reading practise!  It all adds up! )

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I love it that my daughters like to make each other presents and also that they want to save up to buy the other a present. It’s very touching.

After breakfast, we went for a wonderful autumn walk at a National Trust Property famed for its autumn colour.

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The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed collecting lots of different leaves. I feel some more beeswax leaf dipping coming on! It was lovely to get out of the house and into nature. The children were happy and all was well with the world in those moments 🙂

We returned home in the early afternoon so we had an hour and a half to set the party up. The party was Hallowe’en themed at my daughter’s request. We usually do craft parties, but to make life easier, we just did games this time.

Here are some of the decorations:

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Bats in the hallway – made many years ago, but still going strong!

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A cobweb curtain cut into strips up to three quarters of the way up, hanging between the kitchen and the party room and below another one on one of the big doors and more Bats!

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We love fairy lights to create a special atmosphere.

The party went really well. Once all the guests had arrived (there were six special friends), my daughter unwrapped her gifts. The children loved to see what each other had given the birthday girl. As I have written before, I really belive in opening presents on the party day. It gives the children a chance to say thank you in person to their friends and children often feel dissatisfied if they haven’t seen their friend open the present they have carefully chosen or made. One school friend made my daughter the most amazing slippers! That’s one of the things I love about Steiner Waldorf-schooled children – apart from being creative thinkers, they are always making things.

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Aren’t they adorable! 

Then we played some party games. The children were divided into two teams for each game (with different teams being formed every game to keep it fair – so each child could be with the birthday girl and their other friends at several points in the evening). The team who won the game were allowed to do a lucky dip for a ‘treat’ ( party poppers, glow sticks, bubbles, stickers, healthier ‘sweets’ etc) and the team who lost had to do a trick that the other team decided e.g:  stand on one leg and sing an embarassing song.

The games we played  were:

  • apple and orange bobbing – oranges are more challenging for the older child.
  • wrapping mummies with toilet roll – I gave a roll of toilet roll to each child and one team member voluteered to be the ‘mummy’and be wrapped up. The fastest team to wrap the ‘mummy’ wins.It was a real giggle and quite a challenge. I recommend a good quality toilet roll as one team had a better effect than the other due to the quality of the toilet roll!

As you can see below, we have a mountain of toilet roll to use up! ( I am not one to waste things, so I spent a fair bit of time folding it into useful pieces to reuse!! )

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  •  blindfolded tasting game – we used jelly (vampire flesh), cottage cheese (zombie brain), peeled grapes (witches eyeball), spaghetti (worms) and passion fruit (frog spawn).  Some children were much braver than others with the tasting.
  •  treasure hunt in the garden – I hung 15 pieces of hallowe’en themed paraphenalia around the garden and the children went out with torches to find them and had to write down what they had found. We were going to use a spooky-sound gadget, but my youngest would have burst into tears ( she finds Hallowe’en too scary at the best of times…)
  • the detective game – one child goes out of the room (the detective). Meanwhile, the others sit in a circle and decide who the murderer is. When the detective comes back, the murderer  winks at three of the children and they fall down dead. The detective has to keep an eye on everyone and guess who the murderer is after the three fall down.
  • throwing spiders at some cobwebby sticky material from a good distance.
  • trick or treating – of course 🙂

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I struggled to get any photos in focus that night. I like this one anyway!

The games went down really well and there was a lot of fun and laughter. After trick or treating we came back for a dinner of potato ‘ghosts’ and sausage ‘mummies’ as mentioned here.

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Followed by cake and fireworks.

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It was really a lovely party and the children all had a fantastic time which really is the most important thing. My daughter was really pleased with how the day turned out. Hurrah!

My children don’t eat sweets, so they left their bounty next to the back door with their fairy doors for the ‘sugar fairy’ to collect. We found this lovely story here some years ago and it has been such a gift to us: it allows the children to go trick or treating purposefully with their friends and enjoy the sense of occasion. ( I keep the sweets for next years trick or treaters as they seem to last forever!). 

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The next morning they were richly rewarded with crystals and the makings of a crystal necklace 🙂 

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I hope you all had a happy Hallowe’en too!

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Now for a nice rest….before I set my mind to something else 🙂

 

What to do with all those eggs…

Monday is baking day in our weekly summertime rhythm. Our chickens Lily, Ruby and Delilah generously present us with two to three eggs every day.

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Sometimes we find it rather a lot to keep up with – my daughters aren’t so keen on eggs now they know where they come from!! 😦 so we often gift eggs to friends, teachers and neighbours and of course we enjoy them ourselves. It is nice to share the bounty.

Today the eggs were overflowing out of our bowl ( we need a basket methinks…)  so we thought it was a good time to do an egg-themed bake. We chose to make these coconut macaroons as you need six egg whites for them! We also made jam tarts from this book with some of the egg yellow and I used the rest to make tofu fingers.

The girls pretty much made them themselves with some direction from me. My eldest daughter took charge of the macaroons. It was a bit of a messy business, but they did really well and the macaroons are really soft and chewy and very moreish!

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My youngest was in charge of rubbing the butter and flour for the jam tart bases ( her older sister is highly sensitive and the feel of flour on her hands is deeply unpleasant for her ). C really loves getting her hands dirty so she had a great time!

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H helped her sister with the jam and cutting out the tart bases. Didn’t they do well!

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Both recipes are sugar free, using honey instead. Needless to say my daughters were delighted with these two sweet treats today!

A big thank you to our lovely ladies ( seen here scratching about in the gravel outside their coup, looking for tasty morsels no doubt!) We love their quirky selves 🙂

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Summertime rhythm

We started our summer break with a trip to France, followed this weekend by a fun and surprisingly relaxing camping trip with friends. Now we can settle back home for most of August. We have plans to see friends and are looking forward to a few adventures, but one thing my daughters really appreciate about the holidays is our morning rhythm and our Mondays at home. I have always cherished the summer holidays with my children: it is so nice to have a long break from the school routine. Things feel freer, more spontaneous and anything seems possible, including today’s impromptu trip to the beach for ice cream and splashing after the girls’ horse riding late this afternoon .:-)

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Saying that, I do rely on a daily and weekly rhythm to help the time go smoothly during the summer holidays.

I have been thinking a lot about rhythm lately since reading the second chapter of this book  (several times!) whilst on holiday.  Rhythm is so important to us; a daily, weekly, yearly rhythm is like a reliable steady beat that carries us through our days and through the year.

Ever since we joined our local Waldorf Parent and Child group seven years ago, I have tried to make the days of the week a little different so the children knew which day of the week it was. When they were really small, I dressed us all in a different rainbow colour every day! ( I smile as I remember this early attempt at rhythm!), but it was fun and the children knew what was coming next. I have continued to use various rhythms to mark the days of the week over the years, especially during the summer holidays, but in term time, the children are carried by the Kindergarten and school rhythms.

Rhythm in a Waldorf Kindergarten is strong: there is a set rhythm for each day of the week and the children know it in their very being. Each day they eat a different grain for their substantial snack at around 11am; for example in my daughter’s Kindergarten, Monday is ‘rice day’, Tuesday is ‘porridge day’, Wednesday is ‘millet day’. Thursday is ‘bread and honey day’ ( everyone’s favourite!) and Friday is ‘soup day’ ( with barley). The children refer to the days by their grain as they are not yet ready to think of the days of the week by their name. Waldorf education believes in letting the child stay in a dreamy state for as long as possible, certainly until the seventh year, when they naturally awaken more and are ready for schooling.

When my eldest daughter started school at nearly 7 years and was only doing one longer day until 3pm, we continued the Kindergarten rhythm of baking, nature walks, crafting, painting and making soup in the afternoons and we even did a ring time for a while as my daughter was missing her Kindergarten days.  So a weekly rhythm at home has been part of our lives on and off for a long time.

In the summer holidays we have always had a set daily rhythm and a few years ago I painted a chart of our week with pictures of all the things we did each day  so the girls knew what came next. It has since become very dog eared (!) as it was so often referred to, so I can’t share it here.

At the beginning of the holiday, my daughters and I decided what our daily and weekly rhythm should look like and my eldest daughter decided to draw the weekly activities out for us ( with some embellishments 🙂 ). It is awaiting lamination to keep it safe for longer.

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I have always protected our mornings for home time to keep them un-rushed. The afternoons are free so we can meet friends, take trips or to simply just see what happens. A typical morning here would be:

  • On rising the girls will play a little while I write my morning pages.
  • We feed the animals and have our own breakfast
  • We clear the dishes ( one of us clears the table, the other sweeps and the other washes up – we do a lucky dip for that to make it fair)
  • We get dressed and make beds and the girls are then free to go off and play
  • Snack and activity – there is a different activity for every day of the week
  • Girls go off to play while I make lunch.
  • Lunchtime

To be honest it doesn’t always go to plan (!) and the children don’t always fancy making their bed or things take longer than expected but we try to keep more or less to this rhythm.

After lunch, if we are at home, we wash the dishes and then we have a quiet hour, where the girls either play, draw, craft or listen to audiobooks and I sit down with a book or some knitting. Yesterday afternoon I treated myself to a nice cup of tea and my favourite book for summer reading and went to sit on our swing seat at the top of the garden. Bliss!

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I also try to take some out breaths during the morning; my first happens on rising with my writing and then there is a chance for a mindful cup of tea just before our activity to ground myself. Some days I forget and I end up doing too much housework and activity ( breathing in) and not enough stopping to be present ( breathing out). I really notice my mood is affected if I don’t take time to just be present. The book I am reading right now is setting me straight about what really matters; being present with the children, slowing down, noticing the beauty all around. It is such a gift to me this book, which is why I read it every summer, when I need it most. I would highly recommend it.

So to our weekly rhythm:

Mondays are sacred to us. We never arrange anything. It is nice to settle back home after the weekend and to have a slow home day. My daughters really appreciate this cosy time at home with time stretching out in front of them and so do I. Our morning activity is BAKING ; we bake bread rolls for lunch and cakes or biscuits for snack time.

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Tuesday is our PAINTING day. Today we sat out in the garden as the weather was lovely and we have a big table out there.

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Amongst other things we made these symmetrical pictures. I always join my daughters in all their activities as it is good for them to see me having a go too. It seems to spur them on to try new things.

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On Tuesday afternoons, my daughters go to a small local stable to do some horse care for a couple of hours and my youngest goes horse riding with her sister leading her.  In the meantime, I go to a cafe and write to you lovely people 🙂 We all enjoy this time.

On Wednesday we play BOARD GAMES. Our current favourite is Wildcraft

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We love playing games as a family and have quite a selection that we enjoy! They are mainly co-operative games.

Thursdays is for CRAFTING. Last week the girls made a start on the projects they are planning to do over the summer. My eldest daughter wants to make a baby Waldorf doll and the younger one wants to make a simple standing puppet. We made a start on the heads last week, which is the trickiest part I think. They also have been finger knitting for weeks and I promised them I would finally sew it together to make a small rug for their rooms ( for a toy cat to sit on or as a Sylvanian rug). I was surprised how beautifully they turned out and really enjoyed making them, (just using zig zag stitch on the sewing machine to hold them together) so I am asking the girls if they could finger knit me some more when they get a chance so I can make some coasters and who knows what else…! 🙂

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And Friday is for GARDENING or NATURE WALKS depending on the weather and our plans. As we were going camping last Friday, we just did a little gardening including harvesting a large amount of calendula from the veg patch where it is growing quite prolifically. I love Calendula; such a happy little flower with great healing properties.

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We have just started reading about the healing powers of Calendula in our herb fairies series so the girls were keen to get started making calendula oil for all their cuts and grazes. We packed calendula flowers loosely in a glass jar and filled the jar with olive oil and it is now sitting on our window ledge in the sunshine for a week or so. We are also drying some calendula flowers in our larder. Not sure yet if we will use them to make calendula oil or tea or other potions….

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On Friday afternoon, my eldest daughter goes horse riding and I spend a cosy hour reading and chatting with my youngest daughter in a nearby garden centre cafe.

It feels so grounding to have a reliable rhythm through the week and a steady rhythm to the day; the children know what to expect and look forward to it. I think also for the adult, a rhythm carries us along. The day flows better and there is definitely comfort in it.

It is now late on Tuesday evening. We really enjoyed our spontaneous trip to the beach followed by a late dinner and late bedtime… that is the joy of summer; long days with endless possibilities 🙂

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Joining KKCO at Frontier Dreams – hoping  that the round placemat/rug qualifies for crafting. I certainly enjoyed it! I am five rows away from finally finishing my shawl. Things take longer than you think sometimes!  🙂

A time to be thankful

I started this post at the beginning of June, but somehow never managed to finish it…anyway here goes!

Birthday time has come and gone and both I and my daughter C received some beautiful, thoughtful presents from family and friends.

It is a tradition in our family to write thank you cards at this time. Often the children will make the cards themselves, but my newly seven year old C wanted to buy a pack of cards and draw in them instead, so this is what she did. There were a lot of people to thank, so she took it in stages, doing a couple of cards a day ( ...or there won’t be enough time to play, mummy!)

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C drawing a little picture of the present she received.

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Here she is with her new roller skates and accessories 🙂

At C’s party, we made sure we opened the presents at the beginning so that the children could see her delight at receiving their gift and she could thank them in person ( sometimes I need to remind her still about saying thank you as she is so in awe of her presents and rather shy, she forgets!)

However we have gone to quite a few children’s parties where the birthday child doesn’t look at the presents until after the party, so my children haven’t been able to see them open the gift we gave them. Often we never even receive an acknowledgement of the gift or whether they liked it, let alone a thank you. Perhaps the child doesn’t even know who gave what gift, I am not sure?  Certainly it happens quite a lot, even in our immediate family and I must admit it doesn’t sit right with me. Of course the child may not think of saying thank you after the event, but I would hope that the parent would send out some form of acknowledgement or thanks, even if just a quick text message, on the child’s behalf, after all they must know that it takes some effort to go out and buy or make a suitable gift?

Are we losing the art to be thankful? What do you think?

Being thankful is so important in life, I feel. If someone does something for me, gives me a present or just shows kindness, I consider it important to recognise this gesture and express my thanks.

We try to incorporate moments to be thankful in our daily lives.

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Before our evening meal,  we sing our Blessing Song and during the meal, we each in turn say at least one thing that we enjoyed that day and one thing we are thankful for. The children struggled to begin with to think of something, but we kept modelling how to do it and now they happily regale us with the high points in their day.

Often melancholic children ( one of the four temperaments that are mentioned here by Steiner)  will come home and only speak about everything that went wrong in their day  or what they didn’t like rather than focus on the fun times they had and the things that went well. This is the case with my daughters, especially the eldest ( it doesn’t help that she is going through the nine year old change). I myself have a predominantly melancholic temperament so understand this, which is why I make sure I write a gratitude list every evening before I go to bed!  I list 10 things for which I am grateful: it’s a little ritual that I have been doing for over a year now. If I’ve had a  tricky day, it turns things around. I focus on the love, the joys and the blessings and trust that everything is as it should be.

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Talking of being thankful. I am realising that this little space here is also such a place; a place to embrace the joys of parenthood, my reverence for nature, my love of learning, my passion for making things, our journey in Waldorf education, the little triumphs and the small mercies and the magic of the everyday. Of course I could tell you of the discord, the sometimes incessant sibling squabbles, the moments I raise my voice in anger and regret it, the messiness of the daily life, which of course all happen, but I choose to focus here on the things that work, the things I am grateful for and to share the golden moments of our lives –  it is a constant reminder to me that there is so much to appreciate and be thankful for in life.

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In difficult times such as these, where news stories focus on fear, hatred and tragedy, I feel there is even more need to be thankful and to appreciate what we have; family, friendship, all our myriad of gifts. Now more than ever is the time to spread kindness, goodness and gentleness.

Since having children, I don’t watch the news as I am just too sensitive. I can take on all the anxieties and feel quite hopeless and powerless. I have felt this way since I was a little girl and as my children are also very sensitive, I make sure we never speak about anything that would scare or worry them and we never listen to the radio or watch television. I more or less know what is going on out in the big wide world, but I can’t watch the images…the Jack Johnson song Bad News really resonates with me…

Anyway I am certainly not here to spread bad news!  I want to share beautiful pictures and life affirming things, because we have been given this wonderful gift of life and there is much to be thankful for.

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I thank you for visiting and spending some of your precious time with me.