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The Heart of the Matter



Babies are born with the wisdom of the universe shining in their eyes, and the long evolution of life on earth architected in their brains. But they are entirely vulnerable and dependent. Unlike reptiles and most of our other mammalian friends, human babies are born “unfinished”.  In her great wisdom, Nature chose the perfect trade-off: in order to bring beings with such large brains into the world, She chose to have them born while still under construction, rather than risk death of the mother at birth.   Unfinished, vulnerable and dependent though they are, She also gave them particular tools for survival, which spring from the gifts of the limbic/relational brain.

At birth, infants are hard-wired to see only one thing , the structure of the human face. This is not only the template upon which all vision is then built, but also the nursery of human emotion. The infant even a few days old will intently study the face of the beloved parents.   The limbic brain is designed to collect sensory information, “read” it for emotional content and then send this information on to other parts of the brain for further consideration. We now know that facial expressions, which contain exquisitely subtle emotional cues, are universal across time and cultures, and this emotional substructure is innate. Darwin knew that a baby born blind knows to smile when playing with his mother, or frown and fuss when in need, having never seen either of these responses. Although the substructure of emotion is in place at birth, the infant begins the considerably subtle undertaking of fleshing out the vast landscape we call human emotion through the capacity of limbic resonance.Through the innate awareness of emotion, the baby’ nervous system is drawn into attunement, or imitation, of the parent’s emotional state. Like violin strings side by side, when we are in the presence of and gaze into the eyes of another, through limbic resonance our separate nervous systems begin to vibrate in harmony.

Limbic resonance works in tandem with a host of other tools not just to survive, but to thrive.   Brain/heart entrainment and mirror neurons are two of these. We are wired to be in attunement with one another because mammals and especially humans, not only need one another at birth and the early years, but throughout all of life.  When two people come together, it is within minutes that their heart and brain rhythms have enmeshed; this is entrainment. The amazing phenomenon of “mirror neurons” equips us to very subtly share the same experience as the person we are with.

Our children imitate us with their whole heart, literally, as their heart/brain rhythms follows ours.   They imitate us from the inside out, their neurons mirroring our every emotional fluctuation. Who we are and how we respond to them—our consciousness, in other words— is the most essential element in their development. You see, we are the heart of the matter.


Your Family CultureCan Be a Shining Star!

Your Family Culture can be imagined as a five-pointed star: the first four points ( the arms and legs of the star ) make a foundation for Discipline, the “head” of the star.  Think about it like this:

Point One:  Family Rhythm ~~   Create daily and weekly rhythms that are simple, slow and nourishing.  Slow down and let your whole family b-r-e-a-t-h-e!  Set your goal to  celebrate yearly festivals in a conscious, non-rushed or media-influenced way.

Point Two: Family Work and Family Play ~~ Model for your child work-sharing:  show them the “how-tos”  in accomplishing the work-load a family requires.  Remember:  slowly over the years,  hand more and more responsibility to them, as they develop more capacity.   But don’t forget that families need to Play!  Think of weekly play-together days and yearly get-aways for play!

Point Three: Children’s Art and Stories ~~ Give your child plenty of time and space for artistic exploration.  No, you don’t need to enroll her in art classes, just make simple open-ended art materials available for her self expression: crayons ( buy 100% organic beeswax Filana crayons! ) paper, watercolor paint, modeling material, scissors, tissue paper, glue; you get the idea?   And remember good stories are nourishment for the imagination, just like good food nourishes the body!

Point Four:  Child’s Play ~~ Be sure your indoor play-space is full of imaginative possibilities.  Choose toys and play materials that are open-ended.  If the toy “plays itself” or talks to your child, it is not open-ended enough.  Think of old-fashioned toys:  wooden blocks, simple soft dolls, child sized kitchen toys, dress-ups, wooden wagons and plenty of empty baskets.  Empty boxes, as we all know, are the very best!  Be sure your outdoor space has plenty of exploratory possibilities!

Point Five: Discipline ~~  When all of the above are well taken care of, many discipline problems disappear.  What to do when all is in-order and discipline is still needed? The watchwords here are Firm and Kind!  Use simple non-emotional statements.  Breathe slowly, settle into your heart-space, speak slowly.  Allow yourself to “slip inside your child’s skin”, to understand the situation from their point of view.  With this insight, firmly and kindly insist.  You can do this, and you will love it!

I will be at The River Valley Waldorf School in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania this Friday night talking about Family Culture.  Join us there!  610-982-5606



Our Children are the Gift of Life’s Longing for Itself!

They run toward Life, arms open, and Life loves Itself through their small bodies. Pressing themselves into the sand, sifting dirt, watching an inchworm measure a branch, reaching toward the black cat who looks at them through inscrutable green eyes….it is their biological imperative to reach toward Life. We, their care-givers, must structure the way in which Life reaches back, the the way they are touched in return.

They need to be touched by grass, flowers, sunshine, birdsong. They need a pile of dirt and earthworms. They need songs, stories, paints, costumes. And games that go on without end….

In this late winter snow, we dream of the green outdoors

Living in the round of the seasons, as earth moves slowly through her journey around the sun, our souls learn this “round movement” as well. We are shaped by a bountiful grace. To live in the abundance of the natural world, held in the arms of our loving family, capacities evolve that will serve us and the world.

Today we marvel at the flock of spring’s earliest birds eager at the snowy feeder, last summer we found a baby turtle, in the fall we plant bulbs to perfume the coming spring. What is born of this is the knowledge that we are part of a mysterious unity that holds us, cares for us and sustains us. As well as the desire to hold, care for and sustain life itself.

Freedom Tethered by Relationship

One of The Rose Garden parents sent me this photo yesterday.  The exquisite beauty of the young child’s connection to nature is so evident:  these brothers are free and at-large in the woods….living a life larger than the confines of their small bodies.  They are as large as their own imaginations, at home in the forest.  I am reminded of something I wrote years ago, as I prepared to write Heaven on Earth:


“I have found in my many years of teaching young children, and in my years as a mother of young boys, that most children are happiest at play outdoors. Young children are close to the realm of nature because they are still very natural beings. Because their consciousness is not yet separated from the environment, because they still live in the consciousness of oneness, of unity, they belong still to the natural world. In time they will belong to themselves, as the process of individuation becomes complete. But for about the first seven years, they are still at one with the world they inhabit. The process of separating from the parents and from the environment buds only around age seven. Before that, the child is moved along by life, something like the way a tree’s leaves dance in the breeze. The young child responds to the environment in a very unself-conscious way, a very natural way, and the open, complex, and diverse environment of the outdoors gives him that opportunity. If, in his excitement at a butterfly, he needs to dance and pirouette dizzyingly around the garden, no one has to say, “Be careful of the table.” If he needs to shout for glee or weep for sorrow, he is free.”


Through play in the natural world, we give our child the gift of freedom, tethered by and rooted in a deep visceral relationship.   Is that not the fundamental balance humanity strives for?   Such joy!


Mixed-age, Play-based learning: Ancient and Modern

A few years ago, I noticed a dramatic shift in the needs of parents. No longer was I receiving calls primarily from parents of three, four and five year olds, rather, I had as many calls from parents of two year olds. Many years before, at the Waldorf School I had witnessed a similar shift. Parental needs for good, wholesome, creative education of their children at that time, shifted from four and five year olds, to include threes, as well. The world and our lives are changing dramatically, and the needs of families reflect this.

So, a few years ago, with very careful selection, The Rose Garden began to accept children as young as two and a half. What were the benchmarks of “readiness” I looked for in such a young child? There is a time in the life of a toddler and new-two year old, in which the child is the king or queen of the Universe. Just watch how the parents and older siblings, the grandparents, and actually, every adult jumps to run along after the newly-mobile explorer! This is the time when the learning for the child is most efficiently conducted one-on-one with the parents, the other siblings, their primary care-taker. This child has not yet crossed the threshold, and moved from their position of royalty into the realm of simply being “part of the club.” At a certain point, though, the child’s matrix of concentration changes, and they can look further than their one-on-one contact, and wonder about a larger paradigm. The child becomes ready to learn from their playmates at school, to learn as part of the group.

It is a delicate balance, to ascertain when this moment occurs, in each child’s developmental arc. With faith in intuition, both the parents’ and mine, and with help from our twin muses… this enchanted forest and the little stream.…we began. It has been an amazing growth process! Rebecca and I looked at one another in astonished amazement that first year; the innate intelligence of these babies! We were in awe of their curiosity and willingness to join the older Rose Garden children in every aspect of the day, from baking bread to something as developmentally complex as Circle Time with all its focus on language, motor, spatial, imaginary, and social skills! What a confirmation of ours and their parents’ intuition!

In Sept, The American Journal of Play published research studying the kind of learning that takes place in mixed-age play situations. The research examined this kind of play-based learning, from cultures across the globe. Most striking to the researchers was the fact that this type of learning, based on humanity’s long evolution of tutoring (knowledge being passed on within the family unit nested within the village unit) is quickly vanishing in our time. Children are being separated into age-same groups, and playful learning is disregarded as inferior. Yet their research showed, whether in an African village, or a mixed-age, play-based program here in the US, younger children are capable of accomplishing skills, when in the presence of their older playmates, which  they are not capable of  in age-same groups!

This school year, we reap the harvest of our decision to open our doors, our minds and our hearts to such young children. These children, our “babies” of a few years ago, either are already five or will become five years old this school year. Today they walk into school confident, capable, intelligent, empathic,  curious and kind. Older children turn instinctively to their younger friends, helping, instructing, modeling, mentoring. They are being trained, in the traditional way, to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Science on the Playground

“How does the world work, and how do I fit into it?” This is the daily, living question of the young child. We can allow plenty of time and plenty of space for our children to wonder, to explore, to experiment, to keep trying, to learn. And isn’t much of learning discovering the right questions to ask? In this way, the questions remain alive; the “answers” are part of an on-going process. When we allow this hands-on exploratory learning, and do not limit  the questions or answers with our linear adult concepts, the children learn in the same way Mother Nature herself learns: through scaffolding, or “serial functional progression.” The answers become a platform for the next set of really interesting questions. Our children experience themselves as avid students of life.

In these photos we see the Universe hard at work: How many stumps, boards, bricks and pine cones does it take to make the see-saw go down and the children go up? How do “up and down” operate, and what is the relationship between stumps, elbow grease and results? And what might be the relationship between the big black bugs and the small brown one (in the blue bowl)?  When we learn to live the questions, life is rich!

Bridge between School and Home

Hello, friends!  It is September and school has begun again.  The children are full of joy to be back into the simple warm rhythms; enfolded by this rhythmic flow, they grow more fully into themselves.  Here is what one parent wrote me about the bridge her child has built between home and school:

“The school day doesn’t just stop when the day is over. Greer plays school whenever she is at home as well. At home she gets the chance to be the teacher. She sets up our living room like the living room at The Rose Garden. Moving the coffee table and couches so that the space is just right. She brings in her own chair along with a cup of tea and some crackers. She sets her babies up in a semi circle around her so everyone can see and then she begins to “read” her story always starting with the chime of the bell which at our house is the clinging of silverware. She then sips on her tea as she tells her story with a big (all words) book in her lap.

When the time for resting comes up she prepares by laying all the colored silkies around the room and placing each baby it the appropriate place. She covers them says sweet words to them and gives each a gentle rocking motion to help the fall asleep. Once everyone is satisfied she goes to her chair and has a sip of tea.

Watching this take place in my own living room gives me a sense of satisfaction and pure joy. What my husband and I are giving our youngest of three is a treasure that is molding her into the gentle and kind human-being that we had hoped for when we decided to become parents.

Thank you to Sharifa and  Rebecca for keeping us grounded in what really matters in life. The innocence and love our children bring us everyday.”  Shannon

And thank you, Shannon, for sharing this with us! These rhythms create the foundation for a lifetime.  During the summer, I had the pleasure of talking, on separate occasions, with two of my former students who are now college students.  Each young woman told me how deeply her early years had formed and shaped her.  The years spent in this forest busily building “homes” for insects & feeding the birds as well as singing, painting, playing  and listening intently to stories had given them a deep love for the world, and also a beginning direction in their future work.  One young woman is studying environmental law and she said she paints for pleasure, while the other is a poet as well as environmental activist.

The environment of our home gives shape to the young soul; let us be joyful for this gift, as we go about  our “daily round!”

Feed. Play. Love. Virtual Conference April 5-21

It is spring, here in the Virginia woods.  The forsythia reigns golden above the deck, and the daffodils sway in the dogwood-scented breeze.  The Rose Garden children are gearing up for their “summer-games”  Today they found catkins which had fallen from the trees to the ground, and quickly made fairy houses in which to leave presents of “the little ears of corn” for the fairies!  These children are so full of imaginative forces and pure creativity!  If only every parent could understand that this life-imbued imagination is the foundation for a life of thought, filled with creativity and flexibility.  The world of the future (and the future is now!) will need people who have thinking that is flexible enough to move creatively with change, people familiar with “flow”.  These capacities begin to grow in early childhood.  Let’s nurture them for the future!

Tomorrow  will begin an amazing( and free)  virtual conference:  Feed. Play. Love.  It is designed for mothers, to empower you to choose, consciously, how you will parent and educate your children.  I will be speaking on the necessity of creative play to foster this wide, up-welling creativity that they will need for the future.  To find  more information,  to see the other fine speakers and contributors, and to participate, follow this link

Here is a little from the web-site:

Our incredible speakers are going to teach you so much about being a parent on purpose…

We’ll teach you to FEED your child’s body, mind and spirit…

Give ways to allow them space to PLAY and foster their own ingenuity and creativity…

Inspire ways to LOVE being a Mom, to feel confident and purposeful in the choices that you make about raising your child.

You will also receive the 2011 Feed. Play. Love. Workbook so that you have a tool to implement the strategies, techniques and ideas that you want to incorporate into your life.

Click here and see what good things are in store for you!

The Rich Abundance of Simplicity

It had rained in the night, and the playground was wet yesterday morning.  I had kept bags of raked leaves from the fall, for this exact sort of moment.  I emptied a bag, so the children and I could rake a path of leaves from the gate to the door.  When I emptied  the other bags of sweet and fragrant leaves to be spread into their play-space, the children greeted this addition like I had given them mounds of gold!  They rushed for the rakes; they worked and played, laughing and jumping, raking and tumbling until they dropped, exhausted and giggly in Rebecca’s and my arms! 

Indoors today, a royal gathering was held.  Kings and Queens gathered to plan the affairs of state, and to share a banquet feast.

When we adults can give ourselves so fully to the joy of the moment, we will have become rich in our simplicity!