Wednesday, December 27, 2023

New Year, New Possibilities for New Habits

 It is time to forge new habits. The approach of a new year gives us an opportunity to create new communication habits with the young children in our groups. Now is the perfect time. Now is a perfect time for teachers because they are away from the children during the holidays and can reprogram themselves. Perfect for the parents because they can practice in real life many hours each day, and reflect on how it went each evening when the children fall asleep. Changing habits and creating new ones is not easy. Maybe this will strike your fancy and you can consider making the space in your life for taking up some new practices.

One recent Sunday morning, I was listening to a talk by Anam Thubten, a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. He said, “Being free from your habits is the ultimate freedom. It takes a practice - any practice.” This can be a time for bringing in new practices into your life as a road towards freeing yourself from some habits. I would like to consider some habits in the realm of communication. Some of this applies to our communication with young children. Most of it applies to all communication.

Think about an interaction you had with a child when things did not turn out the way you wanted. Perhaps you had a conflict with a child, or perhaps you were trying to resolve a conflict between two children. I am sure there are many events you could bring to mind.

What happened inside you when the child didn’t do what you wanted? what thoughts and feelings rose up for you? If you are like most humans, you got at least mildly upset, you probably had thoughts like “He shouldn’t have done that.” “That wasn’t appropriate,” or “That was wrong to do.” What quickly arises in us are thoughts judging the behavior of others.

Now, let’s look at levels of response to the given situation. I am not in favor of ANY of these types of response and I’ll explain why.

Level one - you have judgmental thoughts (like those above) and maybe you get angry. "He shouldn't have done that." "She was being bad/naughty/mean."

Level two - you say something judgmental based on those thoughts, ie scolding. 

Level three - You send the child to his or her bedroom, or the coatroom, or other containment space AKA ‘time out.’ Or, you take away a privilege or withhold a treat or an adventure AKA “consequence” or “punishment.”

Level four - you physically hurt the child (corporal punishment)

From my point of view, all create the situation where you, the adult, are a danger, a threat, to the child. All are a variation of inflicting punishment on someone who has 'done something wrong.' The only sensible response for the child is for his or her neurology to implement fight/flight/freeze/hide tactics until the danger passes. The odd thing is the adult is wanting the child to change behavior but is creating a situation in which the part of the brain which has the capacity for learning is not in charge.

Let’s look at this in terms of neurological development. (The following ages are approximate.) In human beings, the most ancient parts of the brain are responsible for survival, fight/flight/freeze/hide, and where habits and automatic routines are performed. Vital functions such as breathing and heart beat are managed by this part of our neurology. These parts of the human brain are mature by about two-years-old and include the brainstem and the cerebellum.

By age seven, the limbic system has ripened into full functioning. It is the part of the brain that processes experience into memory, where feelings are experienced and where learning can take place.

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the home of so-called ‘executive functioning' such as reasoning, focusing attention, self-reflection, abstraction, planning, impulse control, and so much more. It isn’t fully mature until someone is in their late 20’s.

So let me get to the point. A teacher or parent has access to the capacities of the PFC. A young child simply does not. Think about it. The young child learns by imitating, What can we offer that we would be happy if the child did (eventually) imitate? Can we develop the patience to allow the child to take up what we offer as an example  in their own time?’

It all starts with how we frame in our own minds the behaviors we don’t like. If we can see the child’s behavior as a learned strategy to get what they want or need, then we don’t have to have the thought that they are bad or wrong, or they shouldn’t have, etc… Then we can understand that the strategy is not to our liking and we can provide example of a different strategy that we hope will be imitated and eventually replace the unwanted strategy and become a new habit.

There are no recipes for this. Each of us is different and each child is unique. We do, however, have the capacity to use our advanced neurology to think of possible solutions, to think of ways to develop new habits, to think of what we want the child to imitate. We have the potential to change our minds - to stop framing in terms of right and wrong and attempting to change 'wrong' behavior by punishment.

In this time of a new year, let’s think about new strategies and new habits. It starts with us. It starts with how we as adults frame our experiences. And then that new perspective can inform our own actions and words and our world will be a better place for us and our children.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Time for Changing Habits is Now

This is as good a time of year as any to consider if you have any habits that are worthy of changing. I would like to nominate a habit that most of us have in our thinking. It arises after someone else does something other than what we wanted them to do when our mind goes to a variety of options all related to judging the other person as bad or wrong or worthy of punishment. Sometimes these thoughts don’t rise to the level of consciousness but they nonetheless fuel words and actions. And this sort of judging can happen in regard to other adults or to our own beloved children.

I think it is based on an ancient tendency in thinking that says “if things don’t go the way they are supposed to, if things don’t go the way I want, then it is somebody’s fault and they have to pay somehow.”

For this post I will try to stick with adult/child interactions, but feel free to extrapolate to all your relations and interactions.

Let’s use an example for dissection purposes. Your child takes a toy from their sibling, or some other child. The other child had been playing with the toy and your child went over, took hold of the toy, and tugged. When they got the toy from the other child they walked away smiling. The other child? Not so happy.

So what happens? What happens first of all inside you? Likely you think thoughts such as: “That was wrong.” “That was bad.” “That was not appropriate.” “They shouldn’t have,” and so on…. This is Level One punishment. It is in the realm of thinking. Then you open your mouth and scolding words such as the things you had just been thinking enter the environment. This scolding is Level Two. Level Two may also include you saying such things as, “How would you like it if they did that to you?”

Level Three can go two ways. One version of Level Three is called ‘Time Out.’ It is really code for ‘punishment.’ “You have done something wrong, and now you have to go away from everyone and be by yourself.” (sometimes ‘Time Out’ can be used to create a much-needed break from interactions but is rarely used as such) The other way of Level Three is hitting, spanking, slapping, etc….all varieties of corporal punishment.

The thing is, all three levels are punishment. As soon as we begin on the path of negatively judging we have entered the realm of punishment. So, the grand ancient and deeply ingrained habit I am suggesting you consider changing is thinking judgmental thoughts, and it is not an easy feat to change this habit. But I am going to offer you three short thoughts that can help you begin to break this habit, a habit that damages connection and offers little chance of learning for both parties involved.

1. Everybody has needs and wants. Everybody! And starting when we are quite little we begin to attempt to get what we need and want. These attempts are based partly on imitation of those around us, and partly on trial and error. We see the techniques others use to get what they need and want and we copy and adapt those. If those techniques work to get us what we need and want, we keep doing them and those become our habits. So, it starts out as a strategy for attaining something, and then this repeating strategy becomes our habit. Perhaps the child who takes from the other child has the habit of taking. This habit was learned, and conditioned by experiences. This habit was solidified through interactions with you. It is a dynamic between you and your child. They continue to do the habit (of taking) because it works. Get it?

2. What if, when your child does something other than what you wanted, you try and become aware of what is the truth for you in the experience? I’d like to suggest the obvious and that is…if your child does other than what you want, your experience is the simple feeling of “I don’t like this.” That is not a judgement of right and wrong, good or bad, etc….it is simply what you are feeling. 

3. Empathy means trying to walk in another’s shoes, trying to experience where their choices, actions, and words are coming from. “What lead this person to speak or act in this way?” Not to accept any and all behaviors out of empathy, but trying to understand another’s behaviors. This is empathy. Paired with compassion, empathy can be a guiding force towards changing our own habits. We can begin to experience the effects on others of our habits of judging, of seeking fault, and assessing punishment. And perhaps that can be a stimulus for our own change!

The time is right now for taking hold of ourselves and manifesting change. Only you can change you (by the way, you can’t change anyone other than you). What are you waiting for?

As I mentioned, this is no easy road, but the rewards of changing this habit of thought are enhanced connection with those you love, and less stress and anxiety in your own life. It is worth the effort.

Beyond Sticks and Carrots - True Connecting with the Young Child

Free Virtual Workshop with Steve

Saturday, January 23, 2021 at 10am California time

No preregistration - limited to first 100 participants
Here is the Zoom link. Simply log on for the event:

Meeting ID: 811 8229 4840
Passcode: hUj0RQ

Saturday, December 12, 2020

2020 is Almost Over, All Over the World

2020 is almost over, and what a year it has been! For everyone and everywhere!

This has been a momentous year for challenges, uncertainty and stress. To say this has been a stressful year is way beyond understatement. And as we approach the solstice, and the beginning of a new year, much of the cause of the stress is still with us. In the US, we have had turmoil surrounding the November election, and there is a raging pandemic worldwide, and the climate is still changing, continuing to create more and more severe weather patterns. Right now, layered on top of that we are in the midst of a holiday season in which most of us cannot spend time with our family members who don’t live with us. This year, our holiday traditions will not be the source of comfort they often are.

Many children and grandparents will not be spending time together during the holidays this year. So there is sadness on top of grief. What can we do to alleviate the suffering? How can we say no to accepting more stress? As adults caring for young children, we need to do things to reduce anxiety and discomfort in ourselves, and in so doing we help to lessen stress for the children. I have 3 suggestions:

1. Stillness, quiet and peace.
Create some time for stillness in your family life. Put away the electronic devices, stop talking and pause in silence together for a least a few moments several times a day. Perhaps before a meal, hold hands with each other and sit for a moment with no words, simply being and enjoying. Perhaps add a practice of speaking gratitude for the food you are about to eat and that you are able to be present with each other. 

Stillness and quiet are a fertile ground for imagination and creativity. Who knows what is born in the quiet spaces? If your child complains about being bored, you can encourage them to find something to do…out of their own will and initiative. Boredom can be fertilizer for creativity.
The holiday season is often a time where we can be overwhelmed by going and doing out in the world. Especially the young children can get overwhelmed by the places we drag them to; the sounds, sights, smells and the hustle and bustle. So in a way, this pandemic year is helping avoid that sort of overwhelm for the children. It means we are spending more time at home together. 

Again I suggest, create times where there is no music or media playing, where we adults put away our devices and families can simply spend time together as the creators of the soundscape for their own experience. Not all day, but try it and see what arises. Then you may find yourselves enjoying more and more time spent together in this way.

Enjoy the quiet and rejoice in the stillness.
And perhaps you will discover an inner peace arising.

2. Be aware of your own inner darkness.

At this time of year, there is a tendency for human beings, adults especially, to turn inward and wallow in regrets and sadnesses. We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about what could have been, where we went wrong and even can end up in a self-pity-party. At the very least, we humans tend towards introspection as the days grow shorter and the nights longer.

There even is a condition named S.A.D. which stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is caused by a reduction in sunlight on the body causing sadness and distress in some individuals. 

A soul remedy for this, a way to maintain some balance, especially this year, is first to be aware of this possibility. And then to actively connect with levity - from listening to comedians, to reading funny stories, to reading the wisdom of sages, both modern and of old, and to opening yourself to receiving the light of the stars and planets that shines on us all the time. If we think of this light as the medium for the cosmos to transmit wisdom to human beings, perhaps we can fill ourselves with that light as an antidote to extreme inwardness.
We can start with “as if.” Act as if the light from the stars IS wisdom. And then try to actively receive the light and let it gather in our hearts where it can become intention for deeds based on love. Practice ‘as if’ until it becomes what is.

3. Nature is a healer
Even in pandemic times, we can go out in nature. We can take walks in the woods, at the beach, on the ridge tops. Nature soothes and nurtures both adults and children. Go without an agenda. Simply go into nature (again, leave your electronic devices behind). If you can find your way to a place in nature where there is moving water such as the ocean or a stream, you will find a physiological relaxation. Moving water releases negative ions which are relaxing for us.

Try grounding yourself in nature. If it is not too cold, take off your shoes so your bare feet touch the earth. It is physically grounding and a release of any positive charge you may have accumulated.

These pandemic days we are all not getting as much human touch as we like, as we need. I have often suggested we end our Zoom meetings by looking at each other, and wrapping our arms around ourselves a sort of group self-hug. It can help.

Another great way to have some touch and hugging is when you are out in nature. Look around and find a tree that is just the right size. Go up to it and give it a hug. I really mean it. Try it and let yourself feel it. Suggest your child do the same, though with a smaller tree. Try different trees with different types of bark. Become a modern tree hugger. Do it not only because you love the trees and want to protect them, but do it also because of the therapeutic benefit you receive from the trees.

I wish for you all a wonder-filled holiday season, full of warmth, light and love….and health. Merry Chrismahanukwanzmakah….and remember to hug some trees!

Here is a recent talk I gave: 

And some suggested further reading:
The New York Times - Stay at Home Holidays

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Courage - its roots in family and community living

This following words come from the quarterly journal of parent education published by the Child Study Association of America. It describes an upcoming conference sponsored by CSAA. My grandmother, Jennie L. Whitehill, was the Chair of the Board of CSAA for many years, including the time of this conference, March 1954. Nana Jennie would have been 113 years old today

Child Study Association of America is long gone but the Program Statement of the CSAA Annual Conference of March 1, 1954 resounds loudly today, 66 years later.

Courage - its roots in family and community living

In all times, the community has counted on the courage of individual men and women to maintain significant beliefs and pursue common goals. Individuals in turn have looked to one another and to the community for mutual support.

Now, as the community widens to a whole world, and united action is demanded on a huge scale, the need for personal courage and strength becomes ever more urgent.

The scene we live in and the problems we face seem remote even from those of a generation ago, they are startlingly new and sometimes overwhelming. Many of the traditions which have sustained us are under attack, so that it sometimes seems that democracy itself is scarcely understood. In the stress of today’s living, family ties are loosened, men and women are lonely, parents are bewildered. It is no wonder courage often fails us.

Yet people throughout the world do carry on their daily lives with unbelievable courage, sustained by the tradition and knowledge and the aspirations which are their heritage from the past. They are heartened by the conviction that the great majority of their fellowmen share with them the task of finding new sources of strength to meet the demands of the day.

What is this quality of courage? What are its sources? How can parents preserve their own strengths and communicate them to their children? How can they keep their own integrity and sense of individual purpose in a world that calls for collective purpose and unified direction?

The aim of this Conference is to explore the nature of, and need for, courage in our time, drawing on the contributions of psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, education and religion to shed light on these questions. It is an attempt to determine the sources of courage within the family and within the community, and the ways in which this strength can be passed on to others, especially to children.

In these strange times we each need to find the courage and strength to move ourselves forward, courage that shines from our hearts and fills us with the strength of which we are in need. We can find the wellsprings of courage inside each one of us, and we can be inspired and strengthened by community members who are walking this path with us.

The late John Lewis said, ended his final essay with these words:

I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

Friday, June 5, 2020

This Struggle Must Succeed

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. - Elie Weisel

I am on the side of change! As an early childhood educator, I consider as my primary task the creating of an environment in which people learn how to live together. We have to participate in moving toward a world where we can all live together, and as a white man I am connected with my own responsibility for participating in positive cultural evolution. It is up to me. And you. And everyone, especially if you are white. The problem is not a problem of darker skinned people. The problem is white people. I am part of the problem. And I can be part of the solution.

Sure, we are all in this together, regardless of the color or tone of skin we wear. And it is always the right time to help children recognize the humanness in others, it is always the time to stand as a boundary to protect children from physical harm, emotional harm and from ingesting beliefs that have lead to implicit biases about the worth of others. 
We are all in this together and as adults we must stand up for equality, and equity, and we can speak out for justice.

Most of all, we can honestly look inside and try to discover any biases we have in our thinking and in our habits. It is there! It comes from our upbringing. It comes from the media we were ’exposed to’ as a younger person. It comes from hundreds of years of the reinforcing of systemic racism and oppression, both conscious and unconscious. It comes from the stories, and depictions of those stories that are so prevalent in our world. 

We each have to find the tools that work for exploring and transforming our own implicit biases, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There are many techniques but simply reading about implicit bias is not enough. Talking about it and writing blogs about it is not enough. This is seriously hard work that takes significant time and effort. The first action toward creating a better world for all is to look honestly and courageously inside ourselves and then do the hard work of undoing our own biases. Open-mindedness is also important because we only have our own perspective. Can we learn to hear someone's observations or even criticisms about us in an openminded way? There is no other way forward.

Only then can we truly begin to entertain thoughts of guiding young children away from racism and away from anti-blackism in various creative avenues. For this step, I always need to consider the particular child in front of me when determining what to say and how to say it. How much awareness and awakeness is present in this human being before me? But it is not a question of when to say it. When is the right time? The right time is the very moment when it comes up, when the child observes or says something in this now moment. 

As educators of young children, we can guide the little ones into the possibility of less implicit bias. And we can do it in how we respond to things the children say and do. 

Here are some specific ideas:

1. Be awake to the moment with the young child! Young children are by nature curious. When a child opens the door to conversation by making observations about physical attributes such as skin color, hair texture, or any other physical characteristic, do not wait until 'later.' Not only are young children so strongly 'in the present moment,' later usually never comes. Have those conversations even if you do not feel prepared. Base your comments on observations, on what can be seen? Examples; "Yes, we all have different skin color." "I think it is so great that people have different colors and are not all the same.""People with skin like me are usually called 'White,' even though my skin isn't really white. People with dark skin are often called'Black' even though their skin isn't really black."

2. Take opportunities to highlight the value of engaging with people different than yourself. And always engage the child when he or she mentions something that attributes value to physical attributes. Do not let the opportunity slip by out of embarrassment or the hope that it will slip by unnoticed. The child WILL notice if he or she says something and you do not engage with them in that moment. This is how they discover our values - not by explaining things, but by being present to what is and engaging with it in the now.

3. Offer the child the example of your words and actions. This is how they learn and develop habits, values, and unconscious biases. When you hear unkind words or biased statements from others, say something. Call it out. I always advise these words as a simple and truthful reveal of what is my inner truth - "I don't like that." "I don't like talk like that."

Of course, try and make "I statements" and don't say "I don't like it when you say...." That won't go well. If you state what is your inner truth about such things, the child may eventually begin to take up that practice through imitation.

4. Be sure the children have experiences of events celebrating other cultures. This is a great opportunity for questions to arise from children. Advise parents to take the opportunity to engage in honest observation-based conversation. Restaurants offering food from other cultures is another avenue into conversation.

5. Give your stories careful contemplation before you tell them. Consider the embedded messages in the stories, and find stories whose messages align with valuing all types of humanness. Story can be a powerful tool for behavioral and attitudinal change so we must carefully consider what are the stories we are telling our children. Find those stories that align with true human values, or write new stories.

A systemic change in American society is needed. I do not have the big answers. I know that each one of us can make a difference if we start with ourselves and the people whose lives we have direct contact with.

All of my grandchildren are of mixed race and ethnicity. I want them to grow up in a better world. I want a better world for all the people of our shared planet. And so I ask you to join me in the hard work of self education and self transformation for the sake of all of our fellow humans.

We have to learn to listen to each others' experiences, we have to be open to honest evaluation of our efforts and we must continually refine our understanding in this struggle to make this a better place. This is a struggle that must succeed.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Fear, Our Young Children and COVID-19

What do we DO now? 

We have young children, or are caregivers for young children and we are in the midst of a world pandemic. Everything is changing so quickly in our world. Information travels so quickly - yet we have no way to gauge the truth of the information we receive. Much of the so-called information is misleading or false and sometimes even dangerous. We want to take the advice of the “experts” but who are the experts and who are the misinformation purveyors?

This can only lead to fear and anxiety for us. Fear breeds more fear. Unfortunately, in the U.S.A. we have not been guided by wise actions taken by the government to keep us safe. Finally they are waking up and starting to take action. This has not helped to stem the rise of fear, panic and hoarding. Many people feel un-empowered and unable to know what to do. I would like to offer some suggestions for staying calm and making the wisest choices we can. We don’t have to be invaded and occupied by worry, and we can take actions to keep ourselves safe and healthy as best we can. The best things we can do is to find ways to manage our own stress, fears and anxiety. Then our personal choices during this crisis can be grounded in thoughtfulness and compassion.

Before the advent of this novel coronavirus, adults had plenty to worry about. Anxiety lives in adults because there is so lack of things to be anxious about. The climate on our planet is rapidly changing and it seems like nothing is being done to change that course or adapt to the results. People are becoming more allergic to foods and environmental situations. Also, our world is filled with people who use fear as a tool to get us to buy certain products, to vote for certain candidates, and various other intentions. Anxiety and fear permeate all types of media. And we carry around a device that lets us be constantly connected to media. Our neurology is primed to look for threats and danger, and fear is used as a tool that gets our attention in media. Stress is lurking everywhere.

We all know that the young child is like a sponge for experiences in his or her environment. All levels of sensed experience go deeply in to the child’s developing soul and body. And the young child has the capacity for sensing levels of experience that most adults have long since filtered out from their palette of experience such as feelings and thoughts of those around them. Young children are a sponge also for your feelings and what you think about. And they attempt to digest all of their experiences and make them a part of themselves as they create themselves. This what Maria Montessori named the absorbent mind.

Adults are causing health issues in themselves from all the worrying and tension. Fear, worry, and tension release cortisol and other stress hormones to help us be ready for quick actions. But we are constantly flooding our bodies because our sympathetic nervous systems are overactive. The children are growing up in an environment filled with our anxiety. The children sense our anxiety, even when we are not speaking about it, and even when you are not even aware that you are feeling your anxieties.

Three things happen to the children?
  1. They adopt anxiety as their normal state, as the default mode.
  2. They cannot truly connect with other people including their anxious parents and caregivers. (Anxious parents and caregivers also are not able to truly connect.)
  3. They cannot develop to their full potential.

Young children learn by imitating. They take in what they experience and make it part of themselves. Experiencing anxiety in their beloved adults, the child learns to be anxious.

When someone is fearful or anxious, they cannot connect with those around them. Fear stimulates the reptile brain to take actions of self protection. Fear creates reactions that don’t include reaching out with openness and care to those around. So the child loses out on connection with his anxious parent.

When the adults in the environment are anxious and fearful, the young child experiences that tension and lives within it. How much effect does this have on the child's capacity for play, the young child’s essential tool for grasping the world? One can contemplate the possibilities. Fear interferes with play. True play can be a means to overcome fears and grasp the world. Play serves as a venue for learning to cope with life. There is a vicious cycle at work here.  To play requires an atmosphere of security. One has to feel safe. No safety, no play. No play, no grasping of social dynamic. In play, we are safe and so we can be vulnerable.

To top it off, the advice we are all receiving to slow the spread of COVID-19 is that social distancing is what is needed. The danger is that we combine emotional distancing with physical distancing and make our world more and more dis-connected. 

What are we gonna do?
  1. Develop our own practice of anxiety and fear reduction. A practice means it is something we have to do over and over. And over and over. Every day, except when we forget. At the same time every day, so it can become a habit, and that makes it easier to do every day. For at least a few minutes. And it’s a practice, so we don’t expect to be perfect, we only are trying to do better and better. Find your own way toward joy! I recommend watching this short video from Rick Hanson about what is needed in this present moment.
  2. What is the best practice? That is up to each of us to discover. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe. The best one for you is the one that you actually do that helps you to reduce fear and be able to make your inner life a safe have for peacefulness and calm, and to be able to access your parasympathetic nervous system to calm your vagus nerve. My go to for help with this are various meditations Rudolf Steiner offered, as well as the wise guidance of Rick Hanson (
  3. It might be a good idea to limit how much time we spend on our devices plugged in to the anxiety creating media, and what times of day we do that plugging in. Perhaps make a commitment to leave off all devices during mealtimes? Perhaps don’t check your phone right before bed? Or first thing upon waking up in the morning? How often do you need to see if there are any updates about the virus? Remember, all the time you spend online is time not connecting with your children.
  4. Prepare to answer your young children when they ask why is there no kindergarten, what are we staying home, what can’t I have a playdate? The core truth I would say to my young children is; I want us to be safe and healthy. There is a virus/flu/sickness that can be serious for grownup and I don’t want anyone we know to be sick. Short, true and to the point. 
  5. You are probably staying at home a lot now. Take this as a great opportunity to enjoy being with your children!

Anxiety is not healthy for you! It gets in the way of sleep, it influences your digestion and it affects your connection with those you love.

Your anxiety is not healthy for your children. It gets in the way of their connection with you, it affects all aspects of their development, and it creates anxious little people.

Maybe now is the time to start working to overcome the anxiety of the modern world for the sake of the children, the future of our world.

I would like to offer a thought from Rudolf Steiner 100 years ago. He was speaking about the 1918 Spanish Flu but it more than applies today:

When you can't think of anything else other than fear of the diseases that are taking place around you in an epidemic, and go to sleep at night with these thoughts of fear, then unconscious after-images and imaginations - imbued with fear - are created in the soul. And this is a good seedbed in which pathogenic germs can nestle, thrive and find a pleasant breeding ground.
We can meet the false rumors and worries and not let them invade our psyches. We can meet fear head on with our warmth, love, interest, enthusiasm and compassion. What is the present moment asking of us? I think it is a call to inner work to be able to place our attention on what we choose. It is a moment to develop the capacity to make choices based on reasoned wisdom and not fear. It is a call for compassionate community. And it is an opportunity to develop active hope for positive change based on our thought-filled actions. We can work together for the good.

We have a lot of work to do. it is up to each one of us. The only obstacle is ourselves.
Take what actions you can to make your family as safe as is possible. And do the work to keep fear from invading the inner sanctum of your soul.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Connecting With the Elements

The essence of being human is the activity of connecting - connecting on so many levels. In the weeks before the Winter Solstice, we can take the opportunity to reflect on how we are connected to all that is around us. This interconnectedness is so wide and deep - we rarely take the time to contemplate the web of which we are a part. At this time of year, I invite you to take stock of our relationship to the Earth and the kingdoms of nature in various ways - Intellectually, for the adults, and metaphorically/symbolically for the young children.

In our time, it is clear that in general, people are only dimly aware of the web of life, and we can recognize this in the diminishing biodiversity of our planet that is related to the activities of humans, a major factor in the Earth’s changing climate. I want to inspire people to find creative approaches in which the interweaving of the kingdoms of nature can be highlighted during these weeks leading up to the Garden of Light and Solstice in ways that the children can best digest them.

One way is to create a conscious path of four weeks leading to the Garden of Light, four weeks of connecting to the 4 elements. In the first week, we can take stock of the element of Earth. We can honor that we are made of the same substance as all life on earth, and can learn to nurture and respect our planet and the matter out of which the physical body is formed. On early childhood nature tables, we can have stones and crystals, as well as representations of the plants and animals that live on earth, especially representations of endangered species - but without drawing the intellect of the young child to those. Simply place a wooden carved rhino or elephant or orangutan on the nature table among the stones and crystals and plants you have chosen. There is no need for explaining or describing. As adults, we can add to this, in our own silent thinking, thoughts of care and sadness for the animals who have been driven from their indigenous homes because of the perceived needs of human beings, and thoughts of gratitude and love for the animals that we eat (if we are not vegan) and recognize that in most cases these farmed animals are not treated with love, care and respect.

In the second week, we can contemplate the element of water. Water is life for human beings, and for all life forms! We can add a bowl of water that has special meaning for us to our nature tables. Maybe it is water from Mt. Shasta, from the Ganga river, or from a special stream or spring we are familiar with. The adults can remember the great oceans of our planet out of which animal life sprang millions of years ago. We can be mindful of the cleansing nature of water - from our own cleansing tears, to the rains that cleanse the lands clean by washing trash into our streams and rivers and eventually out to the oceans. We can think about the creatures of the sea, from the tiniest plankton to the massive whales, whale sharks and rays. We can stop to consider the effects of human activity on the entire food chain of the oceans, and even the effects on the waters of the oceans themselves. We can also consider that water can be representative of life energy (or qi or prana or etheric). There is reality of flowing liquid in our body - the blood and lymph, and even the most prominent ingredient of our cells - water. Humans are made up of more water than any other substance.

For the third week, we can consider our relationship with air. Air is what we breathe and joins us to the carbon/oxygen cycle with all plant life. Through the breathing process of humans and other mammals, we join with all plant life in an exchange that to each os life giving. As mammals, we utilize the oxygen present in air that is ‘exhaled’ by plants, and we in turn off carbon, a waste product for us, as an important nutrient for plant life. Additionally, there are many types of creatures that use the air as their medium of travel, from the tiniest of insects to the great birds of our world. Can we think of all those creatures of the air who are responsible for pollination and without which we would have a lack of fruits and other edible plant materials. Air is the element of relating. We must begin to recognize that all species of life on earth are dependent on each other, and find ways to share that picture in approaches that suit the developmental capacities of the children. We breathe our environment in and out. We breathe in ideas, experiences and each other. It is the realm of our sentience and of our thinking. It is the realm of that part of the human being so connected to the cosmos, the astral world - the human soul - where both thinking and feeling reside.

And for the last week, we can consider the nature of fire. We can think of the element of fire as the realm within which we share warmth and love and joy. Fire is energy. Fire lives in the core of each human being, it is the fire of the human spirit. And fire is connected to the will. Or perhaps it is even will itself! The fire in our will is initiative and the energy to do and to complete projects. The energy to take hold of the present, to take hold of oneself and make the changes that one decides are necessary. Fire is the energy for transformation of which we are in need -individually, and collectively as we face the challenges of our world. Fire is one form of light. Light carries the wisdom of the universe, if only we can begin to listen. Plants transform the light they receive into a substance needed for life - chlorophyll. Humans can transform light into vitamin D. On another level, humans can receive the light of the cosmos, the wisdom of the stars, and transform it into selfless deeds done out of love, the love that is for all that is around us. Our own inner light allows us to reflect on our deepest and truest self, and to begin to redeem our relationships with others, to redeem the deeds we have done and words we have spoken that we regret, and to offer and ask for true forgiveness.

From another angle, we can consider the warmth, the fire, of the sun. It warms the earth, warming the water that has settled onto the earth. This warming process creates evaporation - water traveling through the air. When there is sufficient mass of water, it falls to the earth as rain or snow. We can thereby witness in our imagination another beautiful cycle of life on this planet as the four elements interact in support of life. How have we as human beings interfered and even damaged this process of the water cycle?

We can also see a direct interaction of mammals and plants. Plants take in carbon and breathe out oxygen. Humans and all mammals take in the oxygen and exhale carbon. One kingdom’s waste is another kingdom’s gold!

As adults, this can be a time to take stock of our relationship with the Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Climate, Biodiversity and the Web of Life, and to resolve to do better in the coming year. And as adults, we can plant and nurture imaginative seeds that can flourish as the young children grow and become the adults of the future who will help bring the world back into balance. If we truly understand what we as early childhood educators are doing, we can recognize the immense responsibility we bear.

For those of you engaged with groups of young children, these weeks of thoughtful imagining can culminate in the ritual experience of the Garden of Light (ideally as close to December 21 as possible) that is enhanced by this preparatory work. And your Garden of Light can be a beacon of inclusive welcoming for all to participate in the process of connecting when we cognize the underlying elemental aspects of our existence, and attach it to the tangible experience of the Solstice. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and soon after we notice the annual return of the light. The Light.

These experiences are universal, it is the same for all human beings regardless of their religious leanings and traditions. This is what brings us together.

May you be open to receiving the light and transform it into deeds of love!