Finding your family rhythm

What is rhythm?

You may have heard your child’s Waldorf kindergarten teacher mention the importance of rhythm in the unfamiliar context of schedule and routine. When we talk about rhythm in Waldorf education, it is not so different from musical rhythm. We are considering the beat of the child’s day. Is there a routine to which they can return no matter how far out into their imaginative life they go in their play? Do they know what comes next in their day so that they don’t have to take up that imaginative head-space with concern about when they will have lunch, go for play, or take a nap? Why does rhythm matter, and why is it specifically important for the young child?

The philosophy upon which Waldorf education is based tells us that from birth to age seven, the child’s “forces” are primarily dedicated to the development of their physical bodies. This is why more typical academic work is not presented to the children until first grade. The young child learns and grows through play and imitation. Diverting those growth forces away from the physical body, and toward more abstract thinking can have a real impact on their physical stamina and general wellness. When the child is comfortable in a rhythm and routine, they are not forced out of their dreamy imaginative mood and into an awake, thinking mood.

Rhythm is different from a schedule. Though we adults may have an awareness of certain times in our heads (lunch is at noon, sleep is at 9 or 10 pm.) what is important for the child is to experience a consistent order and routine. For example, after we morning circle we go the sand pit and then we have fruit time followed by drawing and so on… This is not a recommendation for rigidity. Having the comfort and foundation of a steady rhythm allows for the flexibility to make adjustments when needed.

Having a consistent rhythm at home can help the youngest children with the transition to school. Children who are accustomed to a steady rhythm at home quickly understand what to expect from a school rhythm.

What does rhythm look like in school?

Waldorf teachers work to incorporate in-breaths and out-breaths into the rhythm of the classroom. A more free activity, like outdoor play, might be followed by a quieter group activity, such as verbal learning, story time. Early childhood teachers avoid placing activities that are too similar in mood one after another. This gives children time to settle after more outward activities and time to energise after very quiet activities. It also makes sure that the needs of both quieter and more active children are being met.

The daily rhythm includes time for play, eating, using the restroom, circle, story, nap, and more. Each teacher has the freedom to consider the children in their particular class, and form a rhythm that feels healthy and beneficial.

In addition to a daily rhythm, the rhythm of the week is taken into consideration when creating a plan. Each day is associated with a particular activity. Teachers make a plan for a painting day, colouring day, pasting day, beeswax day and so on.

Even more broadly, teachers consider the rhythms of the earth-the monthly rhythms. Paying attention to the changing seasons, the rhythms of nature are reflected in festivals, outdoor activities, circles and stories, and room decor.

How do I incorporate rhythm into home life?

There are many ways rhythm can be incorporated into the home life, and it doesn’t have to happen all at once. Choosing one part of the day and creating a ritual around it is a healthy way to begin to introduce rhythm, and you may learn that you and your child come to deeply value these times.

Meal times are a wonderful and healthful way to incorporate rhythm into the life of a child. It can be as simple as eating at the same time every day. The experience of rhythm can be enhanced by sharing certain rituals each time. Some ideas include, setting the table a certain way, playing and cleaning up together. It is important to consider implementing a “no devices” rule during meal times and all sitting at the table together. Although we can sometimes feel too busy to sit down for a meal – especially when we have young children – taking those moments together can ease stress and energise us for the next part of the day.

Like meal times, it is highly beneficial for children to have a routine bedtime and bedtime ritual every night. This might include a bath, stories and songs, and a special toy to cuddle.

Finally, as adults, we don’t often consider transition times as part of our daily routine and schedule. For the young child, each of these things is part of their daily rhythm, and may take more time and effort to complete in a healthy way. Making sure that ample time is planned for putting on shoes or eating or getting ready to go to school, is important not only so that we are not in a constant state of panic and running late, but also so there is time for the child to develop their independence. It is tempting to do things for the children because it is faster. But, allowing them to develop these skills themselves gives them a sense of accomplishment, independence, and patience that will serve them well throughout their lives, and will help them to be successful at school.