Main Reading, Class 6

Create Nurturing Spaces

We all know the feeling when we go into a space that someone else has lovingly set up, and it’s clear that they care for the space and for the things in their space: we just take a deep breath and really relax. When we are in a space that somebody nurtures, that nurturing feeling pervades the entire space, and fills us up as well. Children are even more sensitive to their surroundings than we are, because they have no filters to pick and choose what they absorb. They absorb everything, and reflect it back. So setting up a space that has the ‘feeling’ you want to impart to your children is super important; children tend to have a calmer energy when they are in a calmer-feeling space.

Look at your space with fresh eyes. Is it cluttered and you find you’re often tripping over toys or other things? Or is it cold and echo-y, with no cozy spaces? I find that regardless of the style, places I love have a great mix of comfort, beauty and practicality. Beauty without comfort feels like a museum space, while comfort without beauty can feel hectic and overwhelming. Do you have spaces with both comfort and beauty? One great way to see your place with new eyes is to invite someone over who has never been to your house, while you’re there with the kids. Seeing your space through someone else’s eyes can help you see how things might be improved, or it can remind you how sweet and lovely your space actually is (or both!).

Overall, there are two major aspects to creating nurturing spaces. The first aspect is setting up the space, and the second aspect is caring for the space and the things in that space.

Inside Spaces

Setting up the space:

Look at your space with an eye toward the comfort, the beauty, and the practicality. How does each of these measure up? Is there one that lags behind the other? What could you do relatively easily that would boost it? Or do you need to think longer-term? Here are some ideas. I’m not at all saying that this style is the ‘best,’ I’m merely giving some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Comfort–Think about comfort for yourself, and for your children. I love to use texture for comfort: lambskins are lovely for a cozy space, velvet curtains, silks, cushions and quilts are all in use all around Rainbow Bridge, and all help to make it feel comfortable. Also, make sure that your furniture is comfortable. I have a friend who has had the same couch for years. She had moved it around from house to house because it was light and easy to move, but it was so uncomfortable to sit on that nobody in her family used it. When she finally got a comfortable couch (from the thrift store; it wasn’t expensive), it immediately expanded the usable space in her home and made her home more homey.

Having comfortable, usable spaces for your family can help you spread out and use your entire house, instead of only congregating in one spot. How could you add comfort to spots that are currently not used much? Set up a ‘cozy corner’ filled with cushions and lambskins. Put an armchair in a corner of the kitchen or a turn in the hallway. Make a nook for your child’s baby dolls in a little-used corner.

Beauty–Make space in your home for beauty. Tacking a deep blue cloth with gold stars to the ceiling and walls over your child’s bed is easy and quick, but changes the whole feel of the room. If your shelves are jammed full of stuff, try hanging an embroidered silk curtain over the whole thing; it will calm the space immediately. In book cases, make room here and there to showcase small, beautiful things that you love.

Look at your child’s toys and the things that are strewn around your house. Are they beautiful to look at? I love toys made out of wood, wool, silk or stone, which are beautiful in their own right.

Flowers do amazing things to add beauty to your home. I will usually get a cheap

bunch from the grocery store and split it up into several small groupings of just a couple of stalks each, so they can be all over the house! I love to have flowers where I see them while I’m washing dishes, and flowers where I can see them while I’m eating my meals. When I worked at Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten, we had a voluntary sign-up sheet for parents who wished to be a ‘flower fairy’ and buy flowers for our classroom. What a lovely gesture! Now in London, one of my favorite weekly rituals is to go to the Columbia Flower Market on Sunday mornings and buy fresh flowers for our flat. The added bonus is that I hate putting flowers in a messy room, so I usually feel inspired to tidy up when I get home!

And of course, one of the best ways we can add instant beauty to our homes is to minimize the clutter. Here are some of the things I do to battle against it:

A) Get rid of what you don’t need or use. I religiously go through my house on a seasonal basis and give away boxes of whatever is worn out or not used anymore to goodwill. Then I go through again and pack up seasonal stuff and putting it in the shed. I also rotate toys in and out of the shed, so that there are never too many at one time. I find that children LOVE seeing old toys re-appear, and a toy that hadn’t been played with for months will suddenly gain new life if it hasn’t been seen for a while.

B) Cover it up. I’m a huge fan of curtains (especially velvet curtains). I got curtains from World Market and cut them in half to cover shelf-space with tension-rods (kids learn not to tug at them pretty quickly), to cover dishes near the table, to cover seven sets of diapers in the changing area, and any other shelf space that is used for storage. I also put a curtain across my upstairs hallway to hide the space where kids never go, and in my downstairs hallway to muffle the nap space from the play space. Many people are not as into curtains as I am, but I think they make the space more cozy and less distracting for children. If you have a place that is a dumping-place for newspaper and mail, set a pretty basket there to catch them. Put a pretty hook on the wall for your purse.

C)Arrange the rest in an inviting and pleasing way. Have a place for everything, even if everything isn’t ALWAYS in its place! When every toy is put away, the space should be inviting for children; they shouldn’t have to dump out a big box full of toys in order to find something –that only leads to piles of toys most of the time. Read the post I wrote on A Case Against the Toy Chest for more thoughts on why setting up inviting scenes is helpful for children and for you.

D) Tidy Up. I highly suggest tidying up as the beginning of your transition process, whenever you change activities: before meals, before going outside, before nap and bed, etc. If you involve your child with short clean-up times half a dozen times each day, it helps keep things from becoming overwhelming. For myself in my own home, I know if I keep things tidy and don’t let them get out of control, everything is OK. But if I let things get beyond a certain point, it feels overwhelming and I avoid doing ANY clean-up. I know this is counter-productive, but it’s hard to avoid. I have two things I do to get myself out of that situation: the first is that I’ll ask my husband if he’ll help me clean up for five minutes. Just the act of jumping in together gets me started, and then I’m happy to continue even if he then goes back to his own tasks. The second thing I’ll do, if my husband isn’t available, is I’ll set the timer for 12 minutes, and I’ll get as much done in that time as I can. Twelve minutes doesn’t feel overwhelming, and I always get much more done than I expect. If your house feels overwhelming to you, try the 12-minute technique.

Make it Practical—A home that is truly homey is not just beautiful, but also practical. This sometimes means giving up how we ‘think’ things should be, and figuring out what works, and how to do it gracefully. At Rainbow Bridge, I was convinced that I wanted a full-sized table for all of us to sit at, because I didn’t like the idea of having a kid-table in my diningroom after the children left for the day. But getting a table to sit fourteen is not easy. Not only was it enormous, but I had to get three or four different kinds of chairs to fill it up. When I finally gave in to practicality and got a kid-friendly table, the space felt so much more spacious and open, I wondered why I hadn’t done it earlier. Other practical ideas might include having a play-space near the kitchen, putting a low book case in the hallway for toys, etc. What would be a practical change for your house that would make your life easier, and your house more of a home?

Toys

People asked about toys, my ‘must have’ list. Mostly, I think that children do better with fewer toys than we would ever imagine. If you want a more comprehensive list, look in Kim John Payne’s book “Simplicity Parenting.” But here’s my list:

First, colored silks. These are so versatile and can be used for so many different things: as a cape or skirt, as a baby blanket, as a sack for carrying things around…etc. etc.

Next, a basket of soft balls of various sizes. These balls are what are appropriate to throw inside, so whenever a child forgets and throws something else, you can remind her: “What can we throw inside?” If she’s too little, you can answer for her: “Soft balls! Where IS a soft ball?” And she can run over to the ball basket.

Third, a play-kitchen. The first step of imaginative play is largely imitative, and children will act out what they see around them in their play, as their way of processing experiences. Since many of us spend lots of time in the kitchen, a play kitchen is paramount! (warning: I don’t love those vegetables that come apart into

pieces with Velcro in between. It seems cool in the ad that the kids can ‘cut’ them apart, but the reality is that they never go back together, at least with little ones.)

Books. Many Waldorf programs don’t have books, but I know that many children use books as a way to self-soothe, and when kids are tired it can be really nice to snuggle on the couch together and look at a book. I don’t usually read the words; most of the time I talk about the pictures with them.

-Dolls. Not too many, though; each doll should be really special and cared for. I tend to think that three is a good number.

Things for kids to push. These could be wooden trucks or metal Tonka trucks outside, or a baby carriage, or a duck that flaps its feet as it walks.
Paper and crayons, to be brought out periodically.

Sometimes, a little inspiration helps! I’ve started collecting some fun indoor play-space ideas on my Indoor Play Pinterest board.

Caring for the Space

After your space is set up, a big part of creating a nurturing space is how you take care of the space and the stuff. Our attitude towards our ‘stuff’ shapes how children view it and treat it. Of course, the domestic tasks, and how we approach them, are a large part of showing children that you are caring for the space. But even more than that, you can show children how to treat the things in your house: how to put away the silks, how to tuck a dolly into bed, what we do with our clothing when we take it off at the end of the day, what you do when something breaks. When you treat your stuff with reverence and

care, the children will do so as well. I collect anything that breaks and put it in the Mending Basket, and once a month or so we’ll bring it down and see what can be fixed with wood-glue or a needle and thread, and what is done-for. If something is done-for, I express regret and care, and often will talk about what would be needed to fix it if only I had the skills, or how a new one could be made.

People have asked me what products I like, and my favorite all-purpose cleaner is Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, the geranium scented one. It smells so good! I know some people who use vinegar-water as a nontoxic all-purpose cleaner. Not my style (I hate the smell), but it’s nice because even a very little toddler can spray and wipe it. For wooden toys, use a nontoxic beeswax polish to keep them lustrous. You can polish them as often as you like, and the kids love to help; you just dab a dry cloth into the wax and rub it into the toys. You can find some here: http://www.bellalunatoys.com/beeswax-polish.html

 

Outside Spaces

Setting Up the Space

Again, there’s setting up the space, and caring for the space. Kids love outside spaces when there is lots of different textures, and when there are lots of different sizes and shapes of space. Kids love small, kid-sized spaces especially. Look around your yard with new eyes: how can you create some real, kid-sized spaces? Here are some ideas:

Create space under a pine tree. Cut the bottom branches from a pine tree up to about 3 ½ feet high. Put a wood pallet beneath it. This becomes a house, a ship, anything.

Make a trellis house: Get a plastic strip of trellis from home depot, and make an arch at the corner where two fences meet (where one edge of the trellis sits flush with one fence). Attach it with zip-ties, and plant a vine next to it. In the one in the photo, I augmented it by getting a second trellis strip, cutting it in half, and zip-tying it to the front.

Tree stumps are one of the best toys ever! Put them in a clump or in a row along a fence, or spotted here and there around the yard or in the sandbox. They will be played with. Also, take a stump and cut it into one-inch rounds. These can be stepping stones through the molten lava, plates at tea party, boats for mice, or anything else.

Make a Fairy Wood: Any area with bushes in it, consider cutting the bushes along the stalks so that they form a canopy with empty space below. Kids love to crawl into little spaces like that.

Make a sunflower tunnel. Plant two rows of sunflowers about 2 ½ feet apart. When they get tall enough, bend them towards each other and use twist-ties to secure the heads to one another.

Make a Bean Pole Teepee. Get seven-foot lengths of bamboo from any gardening store and make a teepee out of them. Plant scarlet runner beans at the base of the poles, and watch it become a living playhouse! It has to be in a sunny location, where deer won’t eat it.

 

Plant things that produce food. Children who are the pickiest eaters at the table will eat things that they’ve watched grow. Not much of a gardener? Plant a raspberry patch or a blackberry patch! They don’t take any care and they produce year after

year. Raspberry or blackberry patches are also great as kid-spaces because adults don’t tend to go in them. Also, try throwing in some vegetable plants along with your flowers. If they don’t produce, at least they have interesting foliage! If you have vegetable beds, plant marigolds around the edges, as many bugs will avoid marigolds.

Make a sand-box. Not a carpenter? Put tree stumps or logs as your edges, and make it an unusual shape. Then just put down gardening cloth to prevent plants from growing through, and pour in the sand.

 

-For photos from other people’s yards and gardens, I’ve been collecting photos online that inspire me, and arranging them on Pinterest boards. Here are a few, and feel free to poke around at my other boards as well, once you’re in there! Here are the links:

Outdoor Play Spaces

Garden Nooks (not just for kids!)

Gardening with Children

Kitchen Gardens–fun ideas for growing things you can eat

Another great resource for inspiration is the blog “Let the Children Play.” I especially love this post, aboutSimple Ways to Create a Backyard for Play

And finally, look at this blog post of this fabulous backyard!: Outdoor Play Space

 

Toys

Outside space needs even fewer toys than inside space, as nature is filled with its own ready-made toys. Here’s my list:

Something to dig with. This can be shovels in the sandbox, or old kitchen implements in a dirt pile under some bushes.

Things to carry/build with. Bricks are great for this, as are river stones, or thin rounds of wood.

Things to carry other things with. Mostly, buckets of various sizes. Kid-sized wheelbarrows are also great, and require real coordination!

Tools to care for the space with. Watering cans, garden trowels, gloves, clippers

Things to throw. Bouncy balls from the dollar store work just fine

Things to push and/or ride. A trike, a metal Tonka truck. We have four metal Tonka Trucks at Rainbow Bridge and they get tons of use in all seasons.

Some way to spin, swing or slide. If you don’t have room or can’t install anything, those spinning toys that hang down from a branch are great. They are called Twizzler, and can be found here. They are also great for kids who are sensory-seeking: tend to bang into other kids/people a lot, etc.

Something to climb. This can be a climbing structure, a low tree, a slide, a pile of tires. Some yards aren’t set up for this, and if you rent you might not be able to do anything. So make sure you get in trips to the park!

 

Caring for your space.

I find this really easy to do, because there is always work to do in the yard! Watering, raking, mulching and collecting are all things the kids can help with, watch, or play nearby while you do them. I don’t have kids under 2.5 help with weeding, as this almost always leads to the pretty things being pulled when my back is turned. I even have a pair of hand-held grass clippers that I will use to trim the edges of the yard while the children play. I still mow the lawn with a lawn mower when the kids are gone, but just the act of caring for my space with the kids is something I enjoy.

Also, use the time while your kids play outdoors to work on creating more and more interest, texture, and kid-sized spaces in your yard. Kids will treat something they’ve watched you build with much more care and respect than something that just appears overnight.

At BWK we had an area of the lawn that got too much traffic and the grass couldn’t grow. I worked a little each day on digging up the dirt and laying down flagstones, for about a month. The children loved to help and their play was much more peaceful and cooperative than it had been before! The trick is to work on it for awhile (about 10-15 minutes), then pause and do an activity with the children, and then go back to work for another little while. You’re not working continuously; it’s like a dance you do with the children. Here are some photos from that project:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring imagination into your projects: I love this story I heard from master Kindergarten teacher Betty Peck, where she brought mystery and imagination into their sandbox construction for their play-yard. The carpenters came and built the frame, and the Administrator told her the sand would be delivered that weekend. She asked him not to do that, and told him her plan. The frame stood empty for two weeks. “But where’s the sand, Mrs. Peck?” the children asked. She told them that they would have to make sand by rubbing stones together. Each day, for two weeks, the children rubbed the stones together and made a very small pile of sand. Then finally the day came when she knew the sand would be delivered, and the man with the truck drove by several times, very slowly. “Look!” said the children, “There’s a truck with some sand!” “Let’s wave it down,” said Mrs. Peck. “Maybe they’d give some to us!” The children all stood by the fence and jumped up and down, waving and shouting. The truck turned into the driveway, and the children eagerly asked him if they could have some sand. The driver agreed, and the children watched with rapt fascination as it was dumped in the sandbox. The children were amazed and grateful, and loved and appreciated the sand many times more than they would have if they hadn’t been trying to make it for two weeks! Children thrive when hard work goes into a project, work that they can see and appreciate.

Questions for Thought

-How much time did you spend outdoors as a child? Do you enjoy spending time outside still? How much time do you actually spend outside these days?

-What’s your relationship to clutter? Do you struggle with it? You can’t abide it? How could this relationship become more healthy and productive? Do you feel like the way you treat ‘stuff’ in your house is imparting the lessons you’d like your children to learn? Why/why not?

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