Living Arts Weekly: Many Hands Make Light Work

August 27, 2023

In the first couple weeks of August, LifeWays instructors were busy in three locations around the country holding in-person retreats for our latest Fundamentals course. Shortly after, our participants began the online portion of their course with The Living Arts: Cornerstones of Care, which serves as a deeper introduction to the Living Arts and how to practically apply them to life with children. Only one week into the course, the content of dialogue from our participants is already rich and inspiring; I had to share a few answers from our first lesson. Each from different perspectives- grades teacher, EC teacher, care provider for friends, aunt, grandfather- all beautifully illustrate the power of meaningful work with children.

Have you noticed anything about how you or the children benefit from your mindful involvement in practical activity?

Being mindfully involved in the mundane has been a lifelong struggle for me, particularly when my children came along. The yo-yo experience of feeling as though I was not present with my children as well as never feeling adequately productive is exhausting.  Thankfully, through time, I have learned to slow down.  Since working in a Waldorf Kindergarten I have really learned to relish the slow dance of little people washing dishes.  It certainly was a challenge to unlearn the urge to rush them.  Have you ever watched a three year old wash a spoon? really watch them? It’s fascinating.  At first I was a bit bewildered by how it could take what felt like a 1000 years for a child to meticulously wash a tiny utensil but then barely wipe their crusty bowl. My first year working at a Waldorf school has certainly been a lesson in mindfulness. Perhaps I have learned more from these children than what they have learned from me.  

I had to laugh when Cynthia mentioned cleaning the toilet, seeing as I cleaned mine today, along with the rest of the bathroom, with a house full of children. A few years ago I couldn’t imagine cleaning a bathroom without another adult in the home to keep the children totally occupied. I suppose it was a bit of a testament as to how far I’ve come in regards to joyfully working in the presence of children. The chore which I usually loathe actually brought so much satisfaction and fueled me to complete other tasks. The feeling was contagious! I lead the cohort of gleeful children up and down the basement stairs to tend to the laundry. Afterwards they happily took magic erasers to my living room walls.  ( we had some toddler-era “murals” that were long overdue for removal) What a joyful bunch we were making the home so cozy and bright.  Instead of having more work on my hands with extra children in the home today, I, in fact, had a little team of happy helpers. Would the chores have been accomplished quicker had I been on my own? Perhaps. Or perhaps not, considering that the joy we shared in working together energized us, and it certainly encouraged me. Many hands make light work!

~Mishka, from the Oklahoma Fundamentals group

Children always want you fully involved in physical activities.  When they wash their hands, take baths, wash dishes, make the bed, etc, they love for you to be fully present with them and totally engaged in an activity. I have noticed that they are drawn to activities you do with all of your mind and body. They want to imitate. At our house, I am always the person who does sewing repairs – buttons, hems, broken seams, etc. My grandchildren are fully aware of my focus. They ask for their own fabric and needles and thread without me encouraging them to do so. They are always interested in the sewing box and what might be created. My oldest granddaughter (6) is sewing small clothes for her stuffed toys – from the cutting out process to seaming together. This started with her watching and then learning to take stitches in and out.  

~Floyd,  from the New Hampshire Fundamentals group

At our school, we have a routine of Fridays after dismissal being a “whole school cleaning day”; we all do a deep cleaning: mopping floors, taking out the trash, vacuuming, dusting, etc. Many parents will also come on Fridays to help out with this endeavor. Well, one EC student, I want to say three or four years old (I’m not even sure! But her sister was in my 1st and 2nd grade class), started to make her way all the way up the stairs to the grade school classrooms. “Miss Varasteh, do you need help?” she’d ask me with wide eyes. “I sure do! Come with me!” I replied that first day, and every subsequent Friday from then on, in what became a sweet tradition that she and I both looked forward to. (Her mom later informed me that one of her favorite games to play at home was “Miss Varasteh”, in which she would clean up and organize things!) I’d have her open the bottom drawer that held the clean and dirty rags (and this alone was a challenging task for her! But she gave it her all!), we’d sort the rags together, she’d help me to organize my little drawings for our daily schedule, we’d fold napkins for the next week’s snacks and lunches, replace the bags for the garbage and recycling bins, erase the chalkboard with a dry rag, and then wipe it clean with a wet rag, and more. As the weeks continued and we’d do this work together, I realized how much I truly enjoyed it; it was work I was already going to do. And this child, who wasn’t even my student, so clearly enjoyed doing it with me, and what’s more, she was really doing the work! This work was getting done because she and I worked together to do it. I will cherish our time doing this together and am grateful to have provided that opportunity for her to truly accomplish tasks, and am even more grateful for her presence that made these tasks such a delight! 

~Desiree, from the Oklahoma Fundamentals group

As a very young adult, I remember how I rushed through the way I dusted my dresser in my room. In the end, the way it looked never appealed to me. One day, my niece who was 4/5yrs at the time came over and really wanted to help me. I gave her the task of dusting the dresser and reorganizing the bottles and other things there. I remember coming back into the room and feeling like something magical had happened. The room was glowing and I wondered why. I needed to know my niece’s secret. She didn’t know how everything looked beautiful so I decided to have her come back a couple days after to do the same chore, only this time, I would watch what she was doing. Well it turned out that she wasn’t rushing and she was really thinking about what she was doing. I realized that she was present in that activity. I was so jealous, I wanted to be present as well and I tried it. I immediately felt the need to rush had left me and my focus was on the dusting/organizing activity. Ever since that day, when I get tempted to rush, I would remember that lesson that my niece taught me- bring my whole awareness to the activity and it will look magical. She had definitely benefited from her mom’s mindful involvement. 

~Nahidia, from the Florida Fundamentals group

After completing this course, our Fundamentals participants have the chance to delve into two more crucial topics for life with young children in the online courses: Discipline with Loving Awareness and Building a Strong Foundation: Care of the Young Child’s Senses. Learn more about our Fundamentals course or our Full Certificate training here