Family Traditions : Celebrating Advent

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The first light of Advent is the light of stone–

Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of the plants–

Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts–

All await the birth, from the greatest and the least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind–

The light of love, hope and thought  

To give and understand. ~ Rudolf Steiner

Advent Sunday begins this weekend and I am currently making a tiny alter on our dining table to light the candle each week, read an advent story and sing a verse.

Each Sunday we light one, then two, then three and then four of our four advent candles, singing a part of the advent verse above and reading a story from ‘Advent Sunday Stories’ by Collette Leenman. We will also open up one window on North’s kindergarten handmade advent calendar and add a special, tiny treasure to the advent display on the table to represent one of the four Kingdoms (mineral, plant, animal and human).

I talk in depth about creating meaningful and authentic family traditions that are unique to your own family in the Whole Family Traditions Guide. Inspired by our own family culture, we have chosen to share the Nativity story with our children while emphasizing the values and moral lessons laid out- bravery, hope, rebirth, perseverance and faith and downplaying ideas and concepts about God or the son of God. When we refer to Jesus we often refer to him as the ‘Child of Light’ as opposed to the “Son of God” or the “Saviour”. The language we have chosen to use to describe Jesus’s birth reaffirms our family’s inclusionary spiritual philosophy. For us personally, the word God feels too closed and absolute. Words like Universal Energy, World Spirit or the Divine speak more to our values and beliefs. Of course, you may choose very different language based on your family’s culture and beliefs.

As our children get older and ask more questions about the holiday stories we try to honestly respond with our own inner truths instead of those prescribed by a specific tradition or religion. But this kind of discussion is best kept for those seven and up while simply living into the holiday stories, preparations and celebrations is enough explanation for younger children.

We also celebrate more light-heartedly with a homemade advent chain. Each day we take a ring off of the advent chain to read outloud the Christmas activity for that day. Some activity examples include making hot chocolate, baking cookies for our neighbours, singing Christmas carols, dipping candles, crafting Christmas cards and collecting food for a local food drive. In this way we try to live into and experience the values we associate with this holiday season each and every day leading up to Christmas.

Since we’ve recently moved to a different community and country I am still searching for a way for our children to experience and observe how others of different faiths celebrate their own traditions during these Winter months. For example, I’d love for them to learn more about Hanukah.

I do plan on adding a new yearly festival to our own family calendar- Bodhi Day. Buddhist philosophy has a strong influence over our family and I would like to honour this day by coming together in a small meditation and perhaps enjoying a simple meal of milk and rice together for breakfast and enjoying vegan foods the rest of the day, culminating with a story book about Siddhartha.

I would love to hear how you celebrate the holidays together- what you think is working for you and what you’d like to change.  You can also click through to my Waldorf-Inspired Advent pinterest board for more inspiration.

Book Club : Sanctuaries of Childhood Chapter Three

Today I will be summarizing and discussing the third chapter of Shea Darian’s book, Sanctuaries of Childhood: Nurturing a Child’s Spiritual Life. The book is written for parents or caregivers who are looking for inspirational ideas on how to nurture spirituality (non-denominational and all-encompassing) within themselves and their children. I will share a chapter summary every two weeks and would love you to join in an interactive conversation about your reflections in the comments section.
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Chapter Three

Voice in the Wilderness – The Sanctuary of Nature

Entering the Sanctuary of Nature

  • When we listen with our heart we can see God (Higher Power, Earth Goddess etc) in all of Nature
  • Daily journeying into Nature can make us more contemplative, playful and present
  • Children enter this space more easily than adults
  • Follow our children into Nature without agenda and observe

Nurturing Children in the Sanctuary of Nature

  • Giving honour to Nature’s little miracles (eg. a butterfly coming out of it’s cocoon and into first flight) creates a more intimate bond between us and Nature
  • Feeding birds in the Winter creates a friendship between the child and her feathered friends
  • The closer our relationship with Nature the more we feel she is a Kindred Spirit and a part of us
  • Even in urban settings there is always a tree to climb, a a potted garden to dig and neighbourhood park to explore
  • Lead by example- also taking in and expressing gratitude for the Natural World

Seeking Wisdom in Nature

Transformations

  • The author tells the story of a rabbit who was hit by a car and took refuge in their backyard. The rabbit was left in a comfortable place to die and a discussion was sparked with her and her young children about life, death and finding grace and gratitude in a time of change and loss.
  • “Nature speaks to us of a partnership between life and death. Creation whispers to us that death is a sacred passageway. Wilting blossoms that fall before the fruit ripens. Compost that ages into rich dark soil.” p.53

An Attitude of Gratitude

  • The more connected we are to the natural world the easier it becomes to see the gifts from the earth that we receive and to express gratitude for them
  • Meals, water, wood and stone furniture, cotton and wool clothing and clay and glass dishes are all daily blessings we receive from Nature.
  • Express thanks for these gifts and highlight these things to your child
  • Say a blessing before meals in gratitude to the Earth
  • Recyling, picking up garbage, composting, reusing materials and avoiding the use of harsh chemicals or toxins in the home are all ways in which we can model our respect for the Earth
  • Do not go into extensive detail about the current environmental problems our world faces but instead make these practices a healthy habit
  • Identifying these harsh environmental realities too early can cause too much stress in young children who need at this age to know that the world is GOOD and BEAUTIFUL
  • Through our daily actions we can demonstrate how we can individually and communally make the world a better, cleaner place to live in
  • Darian recommends the book The New Fifty Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth by Sophie Javna for more information

Simple Blessings to Create a Sanctuary of Nature

  • Keep a Nature Calendar and each night before bed talk about observations or experiences you had with nature that day
  • Decide on a name for that day such as ‘The day of the first snow’ or ‘The day we saw the sunset melt the sky’. Offer a prayer of gratitude for what you have seen.
  • Rain walks are a lovely way to see Nature in her shiny wet brilliance- gather songs, verses and poems that you can sing and chant along the way
  • Practice becoming a part of the Earth together, hug a tree, lie on the ground and become the earth, sit on a rock and become one with it: Seeing the world from Nature’s perspective can be quite enlightening
  • Offer thanks when we pick up pine cones, cut flowers or take a shell from the beach
  • Teach children that Nature is not ours for the taking but that she is extremely generous when we ask and give thanks and “abide by the rules of the land”. There is a give and take relationship between us.
  • Relive moments of communion with Nature through the telling of stories- both imaginary and from our own past
  • For older children, Nature experiences such as an overnight camp or “solo” or Vision Quest are deeply empowering and also act as strong rites of passage into teenage and adulthood

Personal Renewal: For Adults Only

  • Being in Nature refreshes our body, soul and mind
  • A regular walk on a trail alone, daily gardening or nature journalling are all ways parents can observe and be with nature so that we can journey closer to our own inner being
This chapter for me was a reminder that I need to connect and commune with Nature as much as my children do. They so easily enter the Natural World without hesitation and stay fully immersed and present in it. I have noticed in the last month with the addition of animals on our little homestead that no matter the weather I must go outside and feed and water the animals, clean their stalls and observe them. No matter how brief (and cold or wet!) this time is I always feel a sense of calm, presence and gratitude for these earthly chores. They ground me and I feel a greater appreciation for the simple blessings all around us.
Do you make a personal effort to get outside and immersed in some kind of Nature each day? For those in colder climates, how might we make it a priority to connect and get outside on even the coldest days?

DISCLOSURE: This journal entry contains a link to Amazon.ca. Meagan from Whole Family Rhythms is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.ca. Thank you for your support.

“Quotes from Sanctuaries of Childhood by Shea Darian used by permission. Copyright 2011 by Charlene DeShea Bagbey Darian. Revised 2nd Edition.”

How to craft a ‘Healing Story’ for your child

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fairytaleAn ancient human tradition, oral storytelling has now become a lost art. We once gathered around the fire to listen to the stories of our Grandfather’s Grandfathers, to the quests of great conquerers and the legends of brave Princes and High Priestesses. Now it seems we are increasingly relying upon visual media to sugar-coat, water-down and simplify these once wise stories now presented to our children on a screen that lulls them into a one-dimensional world of little sensory input and moral diversity and nil imagination.

Oral storytelling empowers children (and adults!) to listen deeply and to imagine characters places and things in their own mind’s eye without any outside help or prompting. Oral storytelling lays the foundation for literacy, exposing children to the rhythm of language and rich vocabulary while conveying societal virtues, values and wisdom.

Stories can also be deeply healing. In her book, Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour, Susan Perrow writes,

“Therapeutic storytelling is a gentle, easy yet often very effective means of addressing difficult topics with children. The story form offers a healing medium that allows children to embark on an imaginative journey, rather than being lectured or directly addressed about their behaviour. By identifying with the main character or characters, the child is empowered as obstacles are overcome and a resolution achieved.”

Each of the seasonally-inspired stories in the Whole Family Rhythms Guides contain characters who face and overcome specific internal and external conflicts. But what if our child is presently facing a specific challenge of his/her own?

 

We as parents can write and tell a personalized therapeutic story which acts as a metaphor for the current challenges our child faces.

 

Below is a loose guide to help you write your child a “healing story”. I encourage you to ‘free write’ (stream of consciousness-writing) your ideas and answers to each of the following questions and then sleep on them. The following day you can reflect back on your answers, create a skeletal plot and start writing.

 

Identify the Challenge that needs to be overcome.

Why are you writing this story?

  • Has there been a death in the family, an act of violence, increased anger or fighting in the family, is the child dealing with a particular behavioural challenge (eg. biting, hitting, pinching)?
  • is the child resisting a specific transition (eg. bedtime, going to school, mealtime & foods)?

 

Identify the Need.

How is the child feeling and what does the child need?

  • Identify what he/she is feeling (scared, alone, angry, frustrated, jealous etc.) and
  • what is needed to counteract this (bravery, sense of support, strength, understanding, adventurousness, clarity, frequent and little reminders, repetition, acceptance etc.)

 

Identify the Course of Action and Resolution.

Is there some way that the situation can empower the child to see the challenge in a new light?

  • Challenges require change of some sort. How can the story inspire unconscious change in the child’s behaviour?  As an example, a resistance to new foods can be reflected in a story as missing out on adventure. The story of a prince who doesn’t want to leave the confines of the castle. Everyone around him leaves and returns with exciting stories and having made discoveries without him until he finally decides to “just try a taste” of the outside world whereupon he learns he loves it!

 

Identify the Characters.

Who will represent the current feelings/challenges the child has and resolve them?

  • A hero or heroine. This may be a plant or animal, a fairy or gnome or prince or princess. Choose something the child loves or admires or a character with similar challenging behaviours (for example a snappy crab).
  • A “protector”, “sage”, “guru” or “confidante. This character is not essential but helpful. It is someone who supports the hero on his/her journey. For example, a best friend, a wise old owl, an angel or fairy godmother.
  • A villain or wrong-doer or a physical or mental challenge. Someone or something who presents challenges the hero/ine must overcome.

 

Outline the plot.

What are the possible storylines and lessons learned?

  • The plot should have an introduction to set the scene, a challenge to overcome and a well resolved solution to the hero/ine’s problem.
  • When writing make sure that the challenge is made very clear and that the character explores all possible resolutions to the problem while considering his/her moral conduct.
  • Make sure the story mirrors the actions the child needs to reflect in his/her own life.
  • Make sure the character’s range of feelings are verbally made clear both before and after the story’s resolution. For example, The Prince felt anxious, scared and slightly angry before he embarked on his Quest and when he returned he felt relieved, self-assured and content.
  • End with a celebration of the character’s triumph and achievements and a acknowledgement of his/her hard work to get there.

 

Tell the Story.

After you have written your story read it over each night before bed fro a few days so that you can make changes if you wish and also to imprint it indoor memory. When you tell the story be sure to find a quiet time with your child when you will be undisturbed. I find lying in bed with them right before lights go out is the best.

What is most magic about writing a story for our own child is that before we have even told our child their story, so much healing has already occurred. In clarifying the problem for ourselves (the parent) we approach it with a newer and more empathetic perspective both consciously and unconsciously and which puts is on a new path towards change.

 

The first story I ever wrote for my eldest didn’t even reach his ears! The moment I put everything to paper the sense of clarity I achieved about the situation at hand enabled me to shift my thoughts and actions enough to clear the “challenge” completely. Other stories I tell to my young ones are personalized favourites. “Jack the Monkey” is a silly little story I made up on the spot for my daughter Juniper before bed one night. I am still not entirely sure why she adores it so much (although I’ve thought long and hard about it) but for months she has consistently begged for that story before bed. Without much thought I created a story that has deep meaning for her.

I encourage you to take the time to try this exercise if you feel your child is struggling with a specific challenge. I highly recommend both of Susan Perrow’s books on the subject for more in-depth information and inspiration including age-appropriate tips and many story samples that you can use yourself for specific behavioural challenges.

Please do come back here and share your experiences with this in the comments section if you(‘ve) try it! The Whole Family Rhythms tribe is a community of like-minded women who love to learn from head other and we truly value your thoughts, ideas and insight!

DISCLOSURE: This journal entry contains a link to Amazon.ca. Meagan from Whole Family Rhythms is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.ca. Thank you for your support.

Book Club : Sanctuaries of Childhood Chapter Two

Today I will be summarizing and discussing the second chapter of Shea Darian’s book, Sanctuaries of Childhood: Nurturing a Child’s Spiritual Life. The book is written for parents or caregivers who are looking for inspirational ideas on how to nurture spirituality (non-denominational and all-encompassing) within themselves and their children. I will share a chapter summary each week… read more