Hold the space while your child plays
In the Waldorf-inspired preschool, the child’s work is to play and the parent’s work is to create rhythm in the home. Rather than engaging the child directly in activities for much of the day, we let the child play. And it’s the adult’s activities and sense of rhythm that “hold the space” for that play.
Your child already knows how to play, but it helps her really sink deeply into her imagination when she feels held by a rhythmic container. You can provide that container by creating a daily rhythm, by being present with your child, and by working nearby. Sometimes it's when you're engaged in your own activities that you best hold the space. But what you're engaged with makes all the difference. Some activities hold the space really well and other activities only inspire your child to really need your attention right that very second!
You can notice this for yourself (and you probably already have), but in my experience some activities which do not hold the space for my children to play are chatting on the phone, doing anything on a computer/phone/tablet, or reading a book. When I’m engaged in this way I am not present in the space I share with my children. My mind is elsewhere. And children really feel that difference.
It’s not that I never do those things in front of my children! Probably in an ideal world I would never need to check my email during the day. As a working mom in modern America, though, that just isn’t my reality! But I am conscious of these things and the effect they have on my children’s play. I set boundaries for myself and I am clear that if I am on the computer I'm not holding the space.
There are also many activities which do hold the space for children to play. These activities include handwork like knitting, spinning, embroidery, or hand sewing, and rhythmic work in the home such as sweeping, washing dishes, gardening, raking leaves, folding laundry, or baking. Drawing, making art, form drawing, and making or repairing anything by hand also can work well. And one of my favorite ways to hold the space is to sing! If there’s a rhythmic or creative element to it and you can sink into the activity while still being aware of and mentally available to your children, it’s probably perfect for holding the space.
This feeling of a rhythmic container is palpable in any Waldorf early childhood classroom and it's one of the things that truly sets them apart. The teachers are neither passive nor reactive. They're not standing back to supervise and then swooping in to intervene. They don't distract children from playing but they also don't mentally vacate the premises. They are busy (with carding wool, knitting, sewing dolls, ironing, polishing, cooking, gardening, setting up, tidying up, guiding transitions with songs and movement, telling stories with puppets, and any number of things) holding the space. The teacher's activity sets a quiet and gentle hum to the room. It provides opportunities to imitate and participate but it doesn't distract from the child's own imagination.
The amazing thing about all this is that the more you are fully present in the room and with what you are doing the more your children are fully present with what they are doing. That’s a subtle connection worth paying attention to.
How to hold the space while your child plays:
1. Start noticing the relationship between what you are doing and how relaxed and engaged your child’s play is.
2. Think about whether you need something to keep your hands busy while your children play. This is a great reason to take up knitting, crochet, needle felting, or embroidery. I love taking my knitting along to the park!
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The most important way to learn something new is to do it and the second most important way is to share your insights and ask questions. Please share with us in the comments below!
What have you noticed about holding the space while your child plays?