Caring for Very Young Children While We are Home
The only thing we can control is how we show up for each other every day.
Somer Serpe is the Parent-Child Garden teacher at Berkshire Waldorf School. She works with infants through age three and a half, holding smaller versions of a nursery classroom that includes both children and parents. Their daily activities include a puppet show, circle time and movement games. Children take out the compost and feed goats, sheep and cows. Somer has been an early childhood teacher at the school for 15 years, and also helped start the Apple Blossom Family Center in Wilton, Connecticut.
Here is an excerpt from an email she recently shared with her very young charges’ parents.
Having predictability in children’s days and weeks helps them to feel safe and held like a warm, cozy blanket. They find great comfort in routine and don’t react well to spontaneity, or hours of unending stimulation. They like to hear the same story over and over or walk the same way to the market or have the same sandwich day in and day out. Often when young children insist on these habits with great force, they are actually letting us know that their world isn’t rhythmical enough, and this is one way they can manifest it themselves.
We spoke the other day in more detail about advice she’d share.
“One thing I tell parents of kids in this age group [toddlers to preschool] is to always be creating a purposeful and nourishing rhythm to the day. Children thrive on knowing what comes next, and having things come at the same time each day, and same time each week, whether it unfolds naturally or you need to create a new rhythm.
“It is so easy to throw everything out the window and have a weekful of Sundays, but in the end that does not nourish the little child, and it causes stress for all of us. The adults need a rhythmical life too. It might be the only thing we can rely on, the only place we know our roles in the day. The most important things are meal times and bed times. Those should stay constant.
“I find that having boisterous, active times together outside followed by quiet indoor play or craft, or straightening up toys, is like breathing. Children find comfort to these moments, and transitions are easier between the two. If the children know what is coming next, and the same time is given to each type of activity every day, they flow from one to the next more easily. They don’t get upset because they know what to expect next. They feel safe and held when things are the same. There are fewer tantrums and need for discipline. It’s like a ship that carries us along. Once a rhythm is established we don’t have to do a lot of thinking about, ‘What am I going to do next?’
Somer Serpe, grinding wheat with a Buttercup student.
“Young children want to do what we’re doing. The more opportunities they have to join in our daily tasks, whether it’s folding laundry or sweeping the floor, the better, because they are connecting with us. Also, by doing tasks together, they get done and when kids are down for the nap or night we have more free time for ourselves. If you’re on the computer, you can have a little desk near you where the child can imitate what you’re doing. The child has some semblance of that work, maybe a basket of favorite toys or books. If there are play spaces near where the parent is working, and they can feel your presence, they don’t feel the need to pull your attention to what they are doing. It takes time, but the more rhythmical this can be, the more they do things on their own. Once they’ve had that connection, they can go off by themselves and create their own magic.
“The younger ones need more attention, and their ability to concentrate is limited. But if you have to work while the child is awake, make your time with them really present, so they can then move away. The littlest ones can accomplish this in smaller chunks of time. Typically a two year old could not do much more than 30 minutes independently. Three year olds could work closer to 45 minutes or an hour.
“If you do everything for a two-year-old, they can’t be left much on their own. But closer to three, they want to do things on their own. They have their own mini versions of things we have. The more opportunity we can give them to do things on their own, the better. Through struggling to put on their boots and jackets, the more willing they will be to struggle to create something on their own later. This depends on how often they’ve been allowed to do things on their own.
“When children are constantly entertained by their parents, they don’t develop those skills. Boredom is great because children are on the cusp of creating something new for themselves. Children who are left on their own don’t get bored. If they are allowed the chance to be without constant stimulation, they will have the capacity to let that happen.
“It’s hard for us to let that happen. Even babies can lay on a rug and play with their hands and toes for hours, but we don’t let them do that, because we want to pick them up and cuddle them. But they can be on their own. That’s the beginning of them spending time with themselves.
“We all want the best for our children and we want them to be able to do special things, especially if we didn’t have these things when we were young. We overcompensate. But I think we forget that children have an innate capacity for imaginative play, and if we provide the right environment and step back as adults, it is magical. And every child can do it. But if they are not allowed to, they lose the capacity to do it. They’re working things out, and if they don’t now, they won’t be able to when they are adults. This is building resilience and self-love. You can play in the woods and make your own rules and learn to listen to yourself and so navigate the world.
Somer Serpe feeding sheep with Parent-Child students at the school.
“Also, remember not everything has to have an end point. It is a process. There is no outcome. There is no, ‘Now, we’ve learned it.’ It is just a flowing through life, taking in everything, and integrating it into themselves, and allowing things to unfold in their play.
“In this anxious time, we are living through ‘now,’
“For the youngest children who are just learning to be in this world, if we are showing that it’s scary and we’re stressed, it is hard for them to go forth. I like to do a quick glimpse of news in the morning and not constantly check what’s going on throughout the day. It is hard to hide our emotions, but we have to let it out where the children aren’t around us, finding time to breathe and meditate and find the silver lining and the good things that are coming out of this. Stuck at home’s flip side is that we get to eat together. We can slow down.
“It has never been like this, where we press the pause button on the world. The only thing we can control is how we show up for each other every day. The really little ones don’t need to know all about this. They feel our gestures, our thoughts. They know. But the extra love and holding and cuddles, and joyful expressions, will go a long way to help them feel safe.
“We have to be gentle on ourselves and remember our children young and old love us no matter what. We don’t have to be perfect or efficient, especially efficient. Those two things are the worst things we can strive for right now with children this age. Even if we are not having the perfect day, they love us and we love them.”
For more information and to join Mrs. Serpe’s Parent-Child classes, please contact Robyn Coe at firstname.lastname@example.org.