Today was our first day “back to school” with our parent-child class, SF Waldorf School’s Exploring Nature class. I was reminded what a refuge this experience was in my postpartum days. I felt calm and especially close to my daughter after each class. And I found such loving support from the teachers and families I met.
My daughter and I began with the introduction to SF Waldorf parent-child classes, the observation class. This is a break from the endless adult chatter, bright plastic, and distracted modern life of the city playground scene. In a tranquil wood-paneled room overlooking a garden ringed by redwood trees, here we commune with our children. We meditatively watch them play and explore, in silence. We become so attuned, observing their movements and expressions, it truly feels like meditation. No thoughts enter my mind as I follow my daughter. She opens cupboards and closes them, piles up dishes in the wooden play sink, swirls a spoon around inside a pot, puts everything back in the cupboard. She wanders over to a small table, places a doll on a small chair, spreads a doily in her lap, serves her a cup of tea. Her movements are so planned, so precise. She’s seen me do exactly these motions many many times at home. But I’ve never seen her imitate them so exactly.
The next time I watch adults playing with toddlers out in the world, I notice how the adult wants so badly for the child to follow an adult agenda, to accomplish adult outcomes. A child plays with a toy intended for balancing balls on top of holes and then banging them with a hammer so they fall into the holes. The child picks up the ball, picks up the hammer. Bangs the floor with the hammer. Rolls the ball across the floor. Peers into the holes. Sticks the hammer in the holes. The nearby parent picks up the ball and shows the child what to do: put the ball on the hole, bang with hammer. The parent tries and tries to persuade the child to do it “right.” The parent grows obviously frustrated. The child is oblivious, deep in concentration on his task.
In articles for the Waldorf class, we read evidence-based work on the power of play; the child learns more from experimenting, doing it all “wrong” many times, and then, possibly, figuring out on his own how fun it is to bang the ball through the hole. Being shown by an adult how to do it right is not all that helpful. But an adult observing with love, being emotionally present and engaged while the child is experimenting, THAT kind of encouragement can make all the difference. (Download and read Joan Almon’s life-changing article. Seriously. And here’s the advocacy organization she founded.)
This feels right to me, letting children guide their own play, unimpeded by adult agendas. Since about the time my daughter started to walk on her own, she would go into this meditative zone of playing by herself. She uses anything at hand, usually preferring objects like tea boxes, spoons, cloth napkins, and drawers, to any of the actual children’s toys we have. If I get too far away, she cries “Mama!” or comes to find me. She wants me to be nearby, to play if she invites me, but not to intervene.
When the two of us get into this meditative flow, playing and being next to each other, my paying loving attention to her but letting her take the lead, the minutes turn into hours. Time goes by without our noticing. I feel so present in the moment and so connected to her. So close to her, like she’s let me into her world. I love it. The feeling is so precious. Especially in our loud modern world of dizzying distractions.
The Exploring Nature class has absolutely taken this to another level. Take this experience out into nature and it is transcendant! It takes my daughter awhile to get comfortable in a new place with new people. The class starts with a circle and singing, which she adores. (Her favorite: the chorus of Kate Wolf’s “Redtail Hawk,” taught to us complete with hand movements, by teacher Allison.) Next, we start this same quiet meditative observation, but in a beautiful outdoor setting. We’re not trying to hike from point A to point B, but letting the children play, explore, and lead the way for us.
Today we are at Baker Beach. We watch dolphins leaping from the water so close to shore! “Ballenas!” Pepa shrieks at first, “Delfines!”
This is followed by a snack, beautifully presented with cloth napkins and small china teacups. Pepa drinks at least five cups of tea, the cup delicately balanced in her two hands, sipping carefully. But our special moment happens after everyone else is gone.
After the 90 minute class time ends, Pepa is finally feeling totally at home in the spot. I follow her through the sandy pathways as she frolics among the purple lupines. We roll in the sand together, she climbs on me and rolls off over and over, giggling. We crawl through the sand looking for fallen lupine pods to open up and see the tiny seeds inside. These seeds, of a much bigger Andean variety, are a tasty dish called chochos in my in-laws’ Ecuadorian cuisine. We love to search for tiny chochos, los chiquititos. We fall back in the sand, she climbs onto me and lies back in my arms, and we watch los pelicanos soaring overhead in the blue blue sky. The Golden Gate bridge towers above, brilliant orange. (“El puente Golden Gate!” she says.) In our mama-baby hormone-crazy toddler turbulence, peace at last.
Photos from that day, in the lupines at Baker Beach.
P.S. Please check out this list of books recommended by Allison Carroll, our teacher for these wonderful classes at the SF Waldorf School. These books are great resources on child development, child psychology, and many address Waldorf education specifically.