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 stoners 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!


Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Long One About Adult Fears and Anxiety?


There are less than 2 weeks until Conscious Parenting/Creative Discipline with Young Child, a workshop I am giving in Santa Cruz, CA on May 11.
If you are at your wits end with conflicts with your child, and losing your cool when your child doesn't do what you want, this is the workshop for you.


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 is Maria Montessori’s absorbent mind.

So what is in the inner life of an adult in the world of 2019? Often it is anxiety because there is so much to be anxious about. The climate on our planet is changing and it seems like nothing is being done to change that course or adapt to the results. Stress is lurking everywhere. 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.

We end up turning that fear into generalized worry and anxiety about so many things so much of the time. We helicopter our children. We constantly worry about our children’s safety and want to cut down the trees on playgrounds.

There is a problem here aside from the obvious issue of the adults causing health issues in themselves from all the worrying and tension. The children are growing up in an environment filled with anxiety. The children sense your anxiety, even when you 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 their anxious parents and caregivers.
  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.

Fear and anxiety is a cold experience. The blood rushed to the heart waiting to find out if running or fighting is coming next. Thereby the limbs become cold from less blood flow. Anxiety is also emotionally cool, missing the warmth necessary for human connecting. All development requires warmth, the children need warmth so they can relax and develop. Not enough warmth, the child cannot develop to their fullest. Fear also results in physical and chemical responses. Blood rushes to the heart from the limbs. The limbs feel cold and heavy. We tend to hold in the breath. In fear and anxiety states, our bodies produce extra cortisol which speeds up our reactions. A continuous supply of cortisol in the bloodstream can lead to serious chronic health issues.

In the child, fear interferes with the possibility of play. Anxious children have difficulty entering into free creative play with others. I have experienced over the years an increase in aggression being acted out in play, an increase in behaviors that are physically harmful to others among young children. Children who live in a sea of anxiety don't feel safe and have no clear (inner) boundary between what is play and what is harm.  True play can live when the environment feels safe to the child. Then protective and defensive behaviors are at a minimum. The child can embrace and explore the physical and social world through play. 

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? 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.

If a child (or an adult for that matter) is in an environment where they feel safe and nurtured and WITHOUT anxiety, then play is possible and the child is open to embracing the world and other human beings. A tense and anxious or fear-filled atmosphere for a child evokes defensive and protective behavior and a closed-off gesture. And it is self-perpetuating. Fear begets fear.

The nature of play involves risk. Children need a lack of outer control over their play. Yet out of fear, how much controlling of the children's play is inflicted. We adults must find ways to alleviate the anxiety we are in danger of taking on at all times. 

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!
  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.
  3. It might be a good idea to assess 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?

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.



Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Are you struggling with your young children?

CONSCIOUS PARENTING/CREATIVE DISCIPLINE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
A Workshop for Parents and Teachers with Steve Spitalny

Saturday, May 11
10am to 3pm
at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School

Have you been struggling in your life with young children? What happens when they don't do what you want or what you tell them to? Are you ready for some changes?

Discover the needs of the young child (Birth through 7 years) through an understanding of physical, mental and emotional development. Steve offers four basic and easy to understand principles that will give us a compass for finding better practices of deeper connecting with the children. The workshop will include tips on resolving conflicts when your child doesn’t do what you want, as well as ways to stay calm in the face of the storms that arise. Come on a journey into the world of the young child and learn to weave a fabric of trust and safety!
Early childhood consultant and author Steve Spitalny has been a kindergarten teacher at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School for nearly 30 years. Since the mid-1990's, he has given workshops, lectures and courses on many themes for various institutions and groups across the world. He is faculty member at WISC (Waldorf Institute of Southern California). Steve is a former Board member of WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America) as well as former editor of Gateways, the bi-annual newsletter of WECAN. His many articles have been widely published. Steve has written 3 books about young children.

www.chamakanda.com

Bring your own lunch!

$50 - $100 sliding scale per individual or couple
Registration:https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4211287

Monday, March 4, 2019

What's the Deal About Boundaries?


All around the globe it seems parent issues are the same. Being a parent of a young child can be a challenge, especially if you are not equipped in advance (who is, anyway?). The question often comes down to what boundaries are best for you and your child, and how to deliver those boundaries.

What is a boundary? In this context, a boundary is a limit on some activity. So why would we want to put any limits on our children? If you were walking down the sidewalk with your child and she suddenly was going to jump out into the street, you would want to prevent that. That physical safety boundary for your own child is an important boundary that all parents want for their child. 

Boundaries can give a child a sense of security, and sense of being guided and cared for by their parent, and can give an opportunity for self-discovery. I find myself at the boundaries.

To me, equally important are boundaries making other children safe, both physically and emotionally. As parents, I think it is our responsibility to help our child to be with others in as much of an atmosphere of safety as is possible. And if we want to bring boundaries in a way that sticks, we have to understand several features of the young child.

1. The primary way young children learn is by imitating. They copy the example of others. If we want a young child to change a behavior, we have to give the example of the new habit we want to (eventually) see.

2. To learn something, everyone has to do it for themselves. That means we have to lead our horses to water, so that they can drink for themselves.

3. The young child is a creature of habit. As adults, much of our time is spent in habitual activity, perhaps upwards of 40% of our waking time. The young child even more so.

4. How we speak to the child can either support an environment of trust, or become an obstacle to connection.

With the young child, as with all humans, trust develops based on experience, the experience of needs being fulfilled, particularly the needs for safety and connection. Human connection gives us the feeling of being loved and being understood. 

Here's an example:
A child is playing with a toy and your child notices. She goes over to the child, grabs hold of the toy, and pulls. She knocks the other child down (you can never be sure about intention, so don't assume) and ends up with the toy.

In my experience with these types of interactions, a common response from the child’s parent is:
“It’s bad to take things from others.” Or, “That was not appropriate. How would you feel if he did that to you?”

This type of response is somewhere along the spectrum of punishment. Check for yourself. What your child did needs to be corrected, to correct we must scold at least. Perhaps a time-out or a spanking is in order?

When we meet our child’s behavior with any sort of feeling that what she did was wrong or bad, she can feel it even before we speak a word, even before our foot starts tapping and our pointer finger starts waggling. As soon as she senses our “attack,” she shuts down her higher neurological functioning and the reptile brain is in command. The options for a reptile brain response are fight, flight or freeze. Learning a new method is not one of the options when the reptile brain engages. When the reptile brain is engaged, there can be no connection with your child. They are in a defensive mode.

Here are some suggested options, some possible script lines for you:
“It’s his turn now. Your turn is next.”
“He doesn’t like toys to be taken from him.”
“I don’t like when things are taken without asking.”

The first step, though, is an inner step for you, the adult. It is to reframe the situation so feelings of wrongness and blame are not coming toward your child from you. To get there, you have to understand that your child has a habit of taking to get what she wants. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with that because it usually is successful, and we can also understand the habit arose out of a strategy to get what she wants.  But the other child does not feel safe, and, in fact, is not safe. 

How do we create an environment with healthy boundaries? We as adults can take actions that create an environment where there is more and more safety for the children with each other by  working on the habit life of the young children.

Sometimes things unfold in a way we didn’t want, sometimes our child does something we don’t like. When we interact with our child in these situations without judging and blaming the child, with openness to creative solutions, then we weave a fabric of trust and connection between us and our child!


I think one of the secrets of parenting - or being a human being - is not to take things personally, not to frame the world into fault and blame and judgment. One can take up as a practice learning how to try on others’ perspectives, trying to see into what needs they are trying to meet. Then it is easier to stay calm and try to find an effective solution to the challenge at hand. 

As adults, I think it is our job to help our child be able to interact with other children so that the other child feels safe with our child. It is our job to teach boundaries for safe social interaction!