Return from Winter Break: Musings on Warmth
Working with Children:
As we return to school and work after the holidays filled with wonder, family, vacations and cocooning, teachers and caregivers strive to maintain this sense of warmth. The holidays provide an opportunity to gather in our communities and acknowledge the abundance, both spiritual and material, that most of us enjoy. I have found that the start of a new year ushers in a sense of hopefulness and can spark our will forces. Children return a little taller, eager and with many stories to tell.
As we settle into our routines again, we introduce a new circle to help children re-enter our center community. We reflect on the elements–perhaps the winds whip a bit more sharply, the skies darken for longer periods and rains or snow make layers of clothing an important focus.
I have found the Ellersiek hand gesture games a rich source for many of my circles and weave them in; children are eager for them and enthusiastically participate. Here is a sample movement circle that has been well received:
After gathering the children in a circle we greet each other with the “Good Morning Song”
Good Morning Dear Earth (hands as if holding earth on abdomen)
Good Morning Dear Sun (stretch arms above head in a circular arc)
Good Morning Dear Trees (stretch arms to side, like tree branches)
And the Flowers Everywhere (hands holding flowers on ground)
Good Morning Dear Beasts (hands as if petting a dog,etc..)
And the Birds in the Trees (hands “fly” away like birds flying away)
Good Morning Dear You and Good Morning Dear Me. (hands reaching to each other, then hands cross over our chest)
We follow this with an invitation to listen by drawing the children in to the movement game, “Jack Frost.” This provides movement and fun and helps children be more fully present. Next we take up the gesture game, “Drop-Drop-Droppeli,” which gives a wonderful sense of self-movement and can be followed by guiding the children to sit as I begin the story of “Shingebiss.” Told in a tone of reverence, this story fortifies children by illustrating courage and inner resolve. A gentle segue reminding children of something seen in the wet winter garden, leads to the hand gesture game “Earthworm;” the burrowing and in-folding gestures reassure children that this is so at this time of year–some things burrow inwards, some animals hibernate; perhaps you have told stories of this earlier in the year. Leading the children to close the circle we stand and join hands and play the movement game
“So Play My Hands” and finish with
“Down is the earth; (arms open downward with a bow of the head)
Up is the sky: (arms lift up wide)
There are my friends; (gesture to in an open welcoming embrace)
And here am I. (arms cross over our chest as we draw in slightly bowing our heads) and transition to the next place or activity.
Working with Parents:
A parent meeting with resource materials provides a rich opportunity to have a conversation about how children experience the world and naturally need encouragement to wear the layers sent from home. It probably comes as no surprise to you that many or most contemporary parents need to be convinced that warmth needs special attention, and they may need reminders about keeping children dressed warmly.
It can also be helpful to invite parents to consider different ways of understanding and speaking about warmth. I’ve found that a simple question like “why do you think the dictionary has these definitions for warmth?” can start a good discussion:
Merriam-Webster’s definition of warmth
1: the quality or state of being warm in temperature
2: the quality or state of being warm in feeling <a child needing human warmth and family life>
3: a glowing effect produced by the use of warm colors
Synonyms for warmth: affection, compassion, enthusiasm, zeal, glow, kindness, spirit, passion
Antonyms for warmth: apathy, coolness, cruelty, harshness, indifference, meanness, hatred
This can open up some rich conversations and make people more receptive to complex and alternative perceptions of common everyday language. I have found Susan Johnson’s articles very helpful and accessible for parents. Her article, “The Importance of Warmth,” provides an opportunity to read and discuss and to plan our work together to provide a bridge between home and center. Through these activities teachers can guide children and parents back into the life of the center after the winter break. As we chart our path through the winter it may be fun to give “homework,” perhaps family star gazing or nature walks to encourage play in all sorts of weather.
We can also affirm that in spite of our best efforts, children will likely catch a cold or develop a fever during the school year and explore these functions from an Anthroposophical perspective. It may be a good time to delve into Steiner’s 12 senses: the five everyone is familiar with (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touc), and the seven senses of warmth, life, self-movement, balance, word, thought and “The I and Other.” It helps to remember that young children do not have a well-developed sense for warmth; we see their refusal to wear a jacket or coat as defiance rather than as their response to different experience.
If the ego is to be able to perfect the organs so that they endure in good health throughout life, there must be a well-maintained deep body warmth. For…it is the warmth organization wherein the ego works…[In the adult] the ego is fully incarnated and is able to control the body temperature, whereas [in the child] the ego is in the process of incarnation and is not yet fully in charge. –Joan Salter, The Incarnating Child
A good source for major thoughts to share with families is the classic book A Guide to Child Health by Michaela Glöckler & Wolfgang Goebel:
I believe being chronically cold leads to bad health, because the body is too busy keeping up its internal temperature to do its other work, like immune functions, properly.
Thermoregulation and fever also have a soul-spiritual aspect. Heat is more than just a quantitative factor measured with a thermometer. As such, warmth also manifests in the activity of the human soul and spirit. We “feel warm inside” when we meet a good friend or revisit the familiar landscape of our childhood…Conversely, fear, anger, or great sorrow, or even hate, envy, or discontent in our surroundings, makes our blood “run cold.”
Fever helps a child’s I adapt its inherited body to its own purposes, making it a more suitable vehicle for self-expression…From a purely outer perspective, the rapid regaining of weight lost during a feverish illness is an indication that the body is being organically remodeled. The child has deconstructed some aspect of her inherited body and is rebuilding it under the independent direction of her own warmth organization.
These deep conversations drawn from Rudolf Steiner’s insights provide opportunities for parents to engage in their own development as they contemplate their children, the conditions we strive to provide for them and the underpinnings of our work. It encourages parents to talk with each other and with teachers, to grapple with sometimes challenging ideas and to take steps to understand what makes our work different. As teachers we see parents’ efforts and understand that parenting can be daunting. Through our conversations we contribute to their development, making the notion of “parenting as a spiritual journey” a communal process. Of course, we learn from both parents and children, creating loops of support that make our childcare center a sanctuary focused on children’s well-being.
The Teachers’ Work:
Before the children return, we come in to prepare the center. Christmas items are carefully stored, and cleaning and dusting give a fresh shine to our carefully prepared environment. Our songs and loving attention ensoul and warm the childcare space again.
We welcome children back with stories of gratitude for the many blessings we enjoy. Gratitude and enthusiasm generate warmth of heart and have a physical correlation, for research shows that gratitude enhances vitality and energy (among the many benefits). Songs and stories are gentle ways to bring gratitude indirectly into the child’s daily experience and infuse a sense of humble recognition rather than the more usual “sharing” or “show and tell” that may result in boasting over what Santa Claus brought.
In her classic book, Work and Play in Early Childhood, Freya Jaffke reminds us:
“Thus the joy of the child, in and with his environment, must be reckoned among the forces that build and mould the physical organs. Teachers [are needed] with a happy look and manner, and above all with an honest and unaffected love. A love which as it were streams through the physical environment of the child with warmth may literally be said to “hatch out” the forms of the physical organs.” [Rudolf Steiner]
All these elements are part of the “right physical environment” of the children and they exist in the place for which we are responsible. Our activity, along with the comfort of physical warmth and a warmth of the soul and of the spirit, should turn this place into the appropriate physical environment for children in the years following birth, forming a protective mantle for their life forces.”
And so, we dive into the second half of the school year! In the deep winter we forge the hard and dark material with our inner work, enlivening with our striving, warmth and shinning inner light. We draw on our deep reserves in service to the children, families and our communities.
To quote Rudolf Steiner:
“You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.”
Warmly, Rosario Villasana (Rosario is a former LifeWays Board member and Director of the LifeWays Training in Spanish. She teaches at City College of San Francisco and is Director of the Child Development Lab School at Mission Campus.
Drop-Drop-Droppeli ( from Giving Love – Bringing Joy by Wilma Ellersiek)
Earthworm; and So Play My Hands are from (Dancing Hand-Trotting Pony by Wilma Ellersiek)
Shingebiss (from Winter; Poems, Songs and Stories, Wynstones Press)
Good Morning Song- http://earthschooling.info/thebearthinstitute/basic-waldorf-verses/#sthash.SzRctnTW.dpuf
“The Importance of Warmth” by Susan Johnson, source: http://www.youandyourchildshealth.org/youandyourchildshealth/articles/the%20importance%20of%20warmth.html
A Guide to Child Health by Michaela Glöckler & Wolfgang Goebel; Anthroposophic Press, Floris Books
Work and Play in Early Childhood by Freya Jaffke; Anthroposophic Press