Waldorf schools make mindful environments for students a priority to help keep stress to a minimum and support wellbeing and learning. We can use best practices of Waldorf classrooms to inspire mindful environments at home during the long summer days. Being mindful of a child’s environment during summertime — by nurturing imagination, prioritizing nature and encouraging good habits — can go a long way in making summertime the ideal break from the busy school year.
“Rhythm, also known as routine, both softens anxiety and brings an awareness of ‘how to be’ to the child.” – Waldorf Teacher, Joy Itiola
Rhythm and Routine
So often, summertime is a time of spontaneity as a child’s unbridled joy is released under the guise of endless opportunities for unstructured play. Unstructured time is essential for young children. But that doesn’t mean that children don’t need an underlying structure to their day.
Current first grade teacher, Joy Itiola, addresses the first of our mindful recommendations by talking about the rhythm of the day that works best for her young students.
“Rhythm, also known as routine, both softens anxiety and brings an awareness of ‘how to be’ to the child. A child should have a sense of what is happening at a particular time. When this occurs they are more likely to become adept at given activities. Creating a set rhythm can work around most lifestyles, even during the summertime. Overall, parents should design a healthy routine for their children and stick to it.”
During the summer this might look like set wake up and bedtimes, set times for snacks and meals together, and regular naps for little ones. During long summer days, trip to parks or museums on particular days, or set times in summer camps or playing with friends can also foster novelty and nourishing routine at on time.
“A parent cannot, simulate the connections and interactions that naturally occur outdoors. Meaning, you can lift the same rock, five or ten times in one day, and see something different under it each time.” – Waldorf Teacher, Kasea Myers
When it comes to the “where” of play time, a Waldorf school can continue to inspire. Time outside, as often as possible, is key. Not only is time in nature good for a child’s health and wellbeing, it is also crucial for learning. As Early childhood teacher, Kasea Myers explains, the outdoors helps children process the world of unplanned possibilities.
“A child needs to build a sense of safety and security, an orientation in space and time, in the natural world. A school, a teacher [and a parent] cannot, simulate the connections and interactions that naturally occur outdoors. Managing possibility and unpredictability is a skill needed and magnified a thousand fold outdoors. Meaning, you can lift the same rock, five or ten times in one day, and see something different under it each time. I could never simulate that experience indoors and could never replicate what it does for the young mind.”
And, when indoors, it’s ideal to have an environment that leaves space for imaginative play — meaning not pre-loaded with screens or push button toys. While it’s true that arts and crafts can build small motor skills and a trip to a climbing wall on a rainy day will provide the large motor development and spatial awareness all children need, we must never be afraid to let our children be bored.
Don’t fear the rainy day and don’t feel a need to schedule indoor time any more than outdoor time.
When a child is bored in the summertime,indoors or out, it often leads to creativity. And there are so many wonderful skills developed during the imaginative play that may stem from that boredom. Activities like fort building, for example, help children learn to develop and control their own environment. Children will play store or create their own theater or dramatic play, which is not just fun, but a precursor to early literacy.
Don’t fear the rainy day and don’t feel a need to schedule indoor time any more than outdoor time. Parents can model purposeful work, just as Waldorf teachers do, and let their children follow suit and find their own purpose in an open ended day.
Sleep routines, as discussed earlier, are a key element in a happy summer. While strict bedtimes from the school year tend to slide up to meet the later setting sun, it’s still important that they remain consistent. According to The National Sleep Foundation, “skimping on sleep during the summer [has been shown to cause] changes in mood and difficulty paying attention, as well as problems with learning, loss of appetite, overeating, and maintaining weight.”
On the subject of appetite, the nourishment children take in the summer will also be a large part of their wellbeing. Staying mindful about summer food — a wonderful time for fresh fruits and vegetables from home and market gardens — can help nourish the body and soul. A healthy variety of nourishing homemade food is a large part of Waldorf early childhood for good reason. It’s important that children have a positive relationship with healthy food because food, and our connection with it, is an essential part of a whole and connected life.
Bringing Waldorf classroom ideals home can help everyone have a joyful break. Mindfulness and a sense of intention towards the spontaneity of summer can go a long way in helping the whole family truly enjoy this restful time of rejuvenation.