As a Kindergarten Teacher I often heard the phrase uttered from a little mouth: I’m bored! Now I would think to myself, what is the best way to meet these little ones needs? Boredom may be taken as the essential human condition, to which God, wisdom, or morality are the ultimate answers. Boredom is in fact taken in this sense by virtually all existentialist philosophers. What a great mind space to be in! As adults, we find instant ‘cures’ to our boredom in TV, computers, tablets, and smart phones. It is so easy to quell this discomfort for us. But with children with minds full of creative thought just waiting to bloom, being bored is the empty space to which they can fill with ripe, juicy imagination!
But how does one get from point A to point B? Through work!
~When the children come calling to you for their answers to boredom, we can wait and remain occupied with our own good work. “Yes dear let me finish my sewing, dishes, sweeping, laundry, etc; then we may do something together,” is a perfectly acceptable answer to this. Then take another 10-20 minutes to fully immerse yourself in some good work. More often than not, the children will find something to do on their own; something far more rich and imaginative than our own limited grown-up minds could have thought up. If after that time, they are still in need of your attention, then stop what you are doing and really spend some good quality time with them. Once they have this quality time, then they may feel free to go and spend time to themselves immersed in their own imaginative world.
It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Portland and we have big plans for our backyard. It’s long been my wish to turn it into something magical for children to play in. Here are a few ideas we were planning on incorporating into our yard.
Grass and Edible Wild Flowers – Greenery and flowers will often become the stuff of potions and fairy houses for you little ones. It’s good to have edible flowers and herbs so that you can bring the magic inside for salads and tea. Here is a great site with a large variety of edible flowers. My favorites are sunflowers, marigolds, clover, lavender, and dandelions.
Large Stones – Children need real, good work, and what better work than hoisting around large stones. On summer days, hot stones become resting places for some interesting bugs.
Wood in a Variety of Sizes – From small sticks to large logs, the imagination can create so much. Sticks become wands and swords and logs become the steps to a house of base for a game of tag.
Living Willow House – I can’t imagine a better playhouse than one that grows and changes every year. Follow this link for great instructions on how to make your own living house.
Sandpit – Playing in the sand is an important task for little learning minds. Sand play is open-ended, the child determines the direction and path of his or her own play creating endless possibilities.
You will usually find these things and more in a Waldorf Kindergarten, and even if you can’t make your ideal Waldorf Magic Land, when left alone, your children will make so much from absolutely nothing. I recall spending long summer days in a completely bare backyard running around with my best friends playing that we were Unicorns, or swinging on the bench making up silly games and songs. There are so many great things you can do to your backyard to make it a place where the imagination can flourish, but the best thing you can provide is space for children to play independently.
When my Son was 4 months old, he never, ever wanted to be set down on his own. When I needed to eat or use the restroom, he would get so mad that he was out of my arms and scream the entire time. Carrying around a 15 pound child all day long was not only physically exhausting, but emotionally exhausting as well, as I did not have my own space to take care of my basic needs. In addition to what I was feeling, my Son was not getting what he needed either. Sure he WANTED to be held, but he NEEDED to be able to move on his own and explore his individual place in the world. In her book Dear Parent: Caring for your Infant with Respect, Magda Gerber writes: “Parents who carry their babies most of the time are not giving their infants the opportunity to move according to their readiness. Most animals can show emotion only through touch, but we as humans have an extensive, varied and refined repertoire of ways to demonstrate love.”
So I was in a position where I was ready for something to change before I had a breakdown. Following Magda Gerbers advice, I would set him down for longer and longer periods of time. At first, he was so mad, he would cry and cry. After a little time, I would pick him up and instead of just mindlessly carrying him around as I had done before, I would really be present with him. I would talk to him about how great he was doing, getting used to being on his own, and how it IS hard to adjust to life here on earth and it’s perfectly alright to cry about it. Eventually, he was on his own longer and in my arms less and we were both finally free to be independent beings, co-existing with respect and love for the other.
Now I have my Son who couldn’t be happier crawling around my whole house while I sit in peace drinking tea and working on my own. He has finally gained the confidence he needed to play on his own. In her post Infant Play-Great Minds at Work, Janet Lansbury writes: “Babies are self-learners and what they truly need is the time, freedom and trust to just “be.” She shares a video of a boy who was left to play on his own for uninterrupted play from infancy:“The first section is a four and a half month old boy playing outside. We then see the same boy at two years old focusing on a puzzle. This boy spent his early years in free exploration between naps, feedings and diaper changes. He was never directed, taught, or otherwise shown ‘how’ he should play. He was only interrupted when absolutely necessary.” I try to remind myself of the last part, and let my Son play uninterrupted. When he needs me, he always lets me know.
One thing I want to be clear of after sharing this story is that this what what my son and I needed. I know of so many mothers who choose to hold and wear their baby for large portions of the day, and I think that is great. It shows me that those mothers are responding to what THEIR children need. If it works for you and your family, then it must be the right fit. If it doesn’t work, which in my case was true, children are adaptable and intelligent beings that will fit into the lifestyle that works for you and your family as a whole.