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Heartmoor Farm Education Centre
Family Life Enrichment Blog

to support and inspire parents creating a vibrant, nurturing home environment for children

Dining

Begin by asking yourself: how do I feel about mealtimes?

In your home, is it a rush to get food on the table? Do you enjoy cooking and preparing food for yourself and your family? Do you automatically think of and dread the questions: what will we have? who will make the food? who will clean-up? Look truthfully at your own sentiments around dining and then consider what attitude you would like to engender in your child. Here are some intentions you might consider:

  • a sense of calm and nourishment
  • a time to slow down from a busy day
  • a chance for conversation
  • a gathering together with the ones you love

It is possible to go from a chaotic experience around meals to slowly, step by step, establishing form and rhythm, opportunity for you and your family to recharge.

We know that children are extremely sensitive to the emotional environment in which they find themselves. Consider using the word “dining” instead of “eating”. To me, it conjures a sense of the experience, not just the practical effect of putting food into one’s mouth. Children are attracted to beauty and interesting language catches their attention, they pause to listen.  “Dining” feels special and includes items such as flowers, a tablecloth, cloth napkins (perhaps folded in a new manner), a candle. When guests visit, we always add place cards. From an early age, your child can decorate the cards then put them at each seat. Laying the table is a ritual that the young child enjoys; show her how to place the utensils, gather flowers for a bouquet, and when she is ready, she can use a pitcher to fill water glasses. There are many wonderful tasks that compose a dining experience; consider making a list for yourself of the details you would like to share with your child, and then invite her participation.

In these photographs we see children who are 2 – 21/2 years old dining together. This is a common occurence in a Montessori toddler community. We were fortunate to host an amazing Assistant to Infancy (AMI) trained teacher who led parent/child and parent/infant classes in our home. In the photo where we see one child dining, she has lovely breakable dishes with small servings of fruit — it’s a tea party! Notice the chair on which she sits, it is a sturdy “first chair” with a broad seat, which assists the child in establishing the routine of coming to the table and remaining seated for the duration of the meal. She is sitting up straight and feeding herself.

Here children are dining at a picnic table in the garden. Again please note the place settings: napkin, utensils, real ceramic dishes, and breakable glasses. There is also a tablecloth, a small bouquet of flowers, and most of all perhaps, a relaxed enjoyable opportunity for these four children to share an intimate space and experience delicious food prepared for their nourishment.

Lately I have become more conscious of pausing before I take the first bite. I stop to reflect on the preparation of the food before me. For a moment, I try to imagine how much effort, intention, and energy went into the growing and harvesting of my food. Teaching our children about pausing to notice, to allow gratitude to rise up from within, is heartwarming. When we stop and bring our full presence to the mealtime, we are communicating how important our relationship is to the other people at the table, as well as our relationship to the food. We are models for the children and they easily emulate what they see. When I give time for this awareness, I can discern more about the textures and flavors. As a result, I am deeply satisfied.

Thank you for joining me for the Family Life Enrichment blog of Heartmoor Farm Education Centre.

 

 

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Meaningful Contribution

Young children are interested in participating in the life of the family. All too often we forget that they are striving to be active contributors in life: she can take a small cup or bowl from a prepared cupboard in order to serve a snack, he can pour a glass of water from the perfectly sized pitcher at the table, she can help to fold clothes, hang them on a line to dry, help to wash dishes and put them away, he can carry a bag of groceries from the car and unpack it, she can move the stool to the sink for herself. There is a wonderfully simple book by Aliki, All By Myself, it illustrates this desire of the young child to participate, to move, to do, and to become. It is imperative that we allow for this expression, that we facilitate involvement for the child to feel peaceful within himself because it is these purposeful steps that build his self-esteem and self-respect. We are near enough to help as a guide and support, but we are careful to avoid substituting ourselves, our efforts and actions, for the child’s. Is your child at liberty to move, explore, and participate? When these tendencies for development are impeded, we observe discord, frustration, malaise. There are profound constructive powers within the child that need to be flexed and employed so that he may grow to be himself and she can grow to be fully herself.

In order to observe many possible ways for your child to engage in the life of home and family, take a moment to center yourself. Be fully present for three complete breaths before looking afresh at patterns and systems that are in place. Consider when making a meal how you might invite your child to assist you: peeling carrots or sweet potatoes, chopping zucchini or squash, stirring the batter or kneading bread dough. Included here are several photos of a young child in the kitchen, preparing food, joyfully!

These photos give us information about the child’s environment. Notice in each one that she is at a height appropriate for her arms and hands to work, move while she is steady. Notice the hooks mounted on the wall over her left shoulder where a broom, feather duster, dustpan with broom are all hanging. In two photos she is wearing an apron, this step helps prepare a child to enter the activity. She washes her hands and puts on her apron before working in the kitchen. In the fourth photo she is sitting at a low table for dining. She has a small cloth napkin, miniature blunt knife, and lovely ceramic plate. These are items she found in her cupboard. In the next post I will share details about dining for the young child. Thank you for joining me for the Family Life Enrichment blog of Heartmoor Farm Education Centre

 

 

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Silence

Children need time to reflect, process, and digest. What time is allowed for your child each day to tune in to self? Our current societal environment is comprised of countless disparate influences; it is a constant flow of information, voices, noise, and opinions. Your child deserves time with his own innate wisdom, the sensitivities which he carries.

Consider the simple act of lighting a candle. Take a deep breath, allow yourself to feel your feet upon the earth, center yourself, strike the match, touch the light to the wick, and pause. Take time to do this for yourself and you may be surprised how these few moments can multiply and ripple out into your life. I have never met a child who was not captivated by a lit candle. Perhaps add this ritual to your mealtimes or light a candle at bedtime for evening reflection, allow the child to enjoy silence, and then to extinguish the light when he is ready.

This photograph shows a young child walking in a public herb garden. She found this place of reverence and was immediately attracted to it, she felt welcome to enter. What places invite your child to be mindful? Does he have the opportunity to venture in, respectfully, with your guidance?

When your child enters a quiet place, notice, how does he respond? What can you observe about him? Our children are magnificently endowed with an awareness of subtleties around them. If we protect them and refrain from overwhelming their senses with unnecessary input, they are free to grow in their understanding of themselves and the significance of personal silence. If we listen well, a child might voice what he is noticing and offer inspiration to us.

In the Montessori Children’s House, children play the Silence Game wherein the teacher explains what silence is and she tells the children that she will call each by name but only in the tiniest whisper so as not to disturb the shared silence. The silence is completely dependent on every child’s participation. For some, the focus necessary to calm their bodies and minds is almost impossible which makes the achieved silence all the sweeter. The community shares the powerful experience of creating this unique space and time together. For some groups, it can take many attempts in order to finally reach silence. The marvel in their eyes expresses to me that they understand silence as something precious.

Please remember to offer your child a taste of silence every day as this chance to slow down, contemplate, and notice is vital to his wellbeing and sense of inner peace.

Thank you for joining us here at the Heartmoor Farm Education Centre Family Life Enrichment Blog. Please visit again, and feel free to contact us if you would like more information about creating a vibrant, nurturing home environment for children.

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Joyful Belonging: Nature and Children

These two entities are being talked about in education circles; thankfully more and more people are recognizing the value of a child’s connection with nature for her whole development. Nature’s rhythms are comforting and grounding to the human nervous system. A child in nature can breathe deeply, her heartbeat can attune to the surroundings. There is a general invitation to explore, wander, and watch. Nature invites stillness and the attitude of reverence can be developed. Her orientation to herself and others, as well as within the environment is refined.

It is important to ask, how can children have access to nature, its sounds, and textures? Can all of the child’s senses be employed to experience the natural environments of life: to feel sun, wind, rain, and snow? Gardening is being done in many schools, children are being given the chance to plant seeds, dig in the earth, find worms, harvest food, and prepare it for sharing with others. What experiences can your child have at home that offer time in nature?

In this photo, a young child, just over three years old holds in her hand one of the first eggs laid by chickens on the farm. As an observer, notice the wind gently moving her hair while the sun warms her face and body. Her small hand holds the egg with care and intention. She is absolutely aware that she is holding a precious egg.

Adults oftentimes miss opportunities for children like this because we swoop in, we have the attitude that the object will break, that the child cannot control her grip. Instead consider how prime this moment is for teaching by modeling and sharing. If the child has seen you take care and hold fragile objects gingerly then she will have a reservoir of impressions, she will know how to respond when something breakable is offered.

Now look at her face. See how she sees the egg and imagine how she might be feeling when holding something so delicate. She found the egg, which only adds to how significant the experience is for this child. To be asked to take responsibility and genuinely participate in an activity that is part of your family’s life is an honor, it is a way of being seen and validated.

Her contribution was not only to look for the eggs, but when she found one or more, to gather them up and bring them inside to the kitchen where then, this food produced and gathered just outside her back door, becomes part of the family’s nourishment.

Imbedded in this image are many principles at work beyond a child’s access to nature. You might ask, what values are important in your family? In what ways are these values expressed in your family? If someone visited your home and family would that person be able to recognize these values? Which ones are dominant, which values might be brought forward to shine?

Family Life Enrichment is about your vision for your family and asking yourself questions about how your ideals can become clearly manifested. Thank you for joining me here at Heartmoor Farm Education Centre Family Life Enrichment Blog. Please visit again, and feel free to contact Elizabeth if you would like more information about creating a vibrant, nurturing home environment for children.

 

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Principles for Designing a Child’s Place

Let’s use this image for conversation. Here a young child, not yet three years old, rests spontaneously under a handmade small quilt, her head on a star fleeced pillow. Her rag rug of blues, peaches and pinks seems to surround her like an ebbing pool. The walls of her room are a pale blue, a soothing color especially chosen for the peaceful sense it provides. She has a nice low window with simple dress so that the sun can pour into her special space. She can operate the curtains easily, drawing them back each morning and closing them as the day ends. Her cherry wood rocking chair is perfectly fitted to her frame. The low shelf lining her wall is simple, at the right height, made of wood, and holds just a few items. There are two small framed photos, a treasure box, and a couple dolls from the near-by dollhouse resting on top. She has a wooden toolbox beneath the shelf and we can see that the electrical outlets are covered as a quiet reminder that these are not in use. The part of the bedroom we cannot see in this photo has a floor bed and a small armadio of three drawers, several shelves, and a short bar for hanging clothes. Storage of the child’s clothing needs to be at her height and a quantity that she can manage: a few shirts, two pairs of pants, night clothes, and under clothing all stored in separate drawers so that she can choose her clothing from all good options and she can stow her belongings independently. Her bed is small, a crib-size organic cotton and wool mattress resting in a handmade wooden frame. She can easily climb in and out of her bed independently. Functional independence: this early stage of child development has as its goal functional independence. How can the environment be prepared so that she can dress herself, tend to her belongings, tidy up, and most of all feel at home, at peace in her place?

In upcoming blogs there will be additional photos used as a way to illustrate guiding principles. In your home, it is your creation and when you imagine yourself to be the height of your child, look around, what do you see, is there an open path or barriers in your way of movement? Do you feel invited in or unsure how to move in the space? How we establish an environment speaks to the child and encourages certain behaviors. In a calm environment wherein each object is thoughtfully chosen, has a purpose and a place, a child knows intuitively how to proceed. She feels how special the space is and how lovingly it has been prepared. This loving preparation calls to the child for her respect and care in return. Learning to care for one’s own space is essential in the development of self-care, an other-regarding compassion and awareness, then ultimately care of the much larger shared environment of our planet.

Choosing the objects in your child’s room takes consideration. Choosing open-ended objects of natural materials beckons to the child’s desire to interact and explore. When we give children beautiful objects, we are telling her that we trust her with them. We know she can manage with a real tool, that she can take care of it, follow directions, and learn how to put it away after each use.

In a culture where there is abundance, it can be a challenge to teach a child how to take care, protect, and conserve. Keep these principles in mind as you determine what you want your child to have in her space.

  • Beauty
  • Order
  • Purpose
  • Simple, uncluttered
  • At child’s eye level

Ask what message you want the environment to communicate to the child and then assess if this has been created or not.

Thank you for joining us here at the Heartmoor Farm Education Centre Family Life Enrichment Blog. Please visit again, and feel free to contact us if you’d like more information about creating a vibrant, nurturing home environment for children.

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