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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Shine on, Harvest Moon

Songwriters have crooned about it. Farmers have counted on it. A Chinese festival honors it with special mooncakes. It’s the Harvest Moon, which traditionally shines its all-night beacon to help farmers gather their crops. In addition to being timed well for the job, the October full moon travels particularly close to the horizon in the Northern Hemisphere, so that it appears larger and closer than do other full moons throughout the year. It’s also visible for a longer amount of time than other moons — often all night — so that, especially before electricity, the harvesting needn’t stop at nightfall. And, if that weren’t enough, it also brightens the night sky for many successive days in a row.

All this week, those in northern latitudes have been and will be able to go outside on clear nights and witness the Harvest Moon. It’s due to be at its absolute fullest at September 30 at 3:19 Universal Time, or  11:19 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 8:19 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on September 29 in the U.S., so you’ll get good full moon shows all weekend, and fine shows throughout the week, whether you’re harvesting food, memories, or one of the last possibly warm full-moon nights.

Gaisberg_and_rising_full_moon

 

Photos: Roadcrusher, Matthias Kobel

You might also enjoy:

The Wheel of the Year: Summer Turns to Fall
Walt Whitman’s Ode to the Harvest
Fall Foliage at its Peak
Celebrate May’s Full Moon

Empty Calendar, Full Days

Last weekend, we experienced one of the rarest of occurrences. There was not a thing on our family calendar. The coming weekend spread before us on paper, a completely blank pair of days. There were a couple of things we thought we might do. The annual Fall Arts Festival would be in our town, an unusually lovely art show with fine artists’ booths that wind along a path in a redwood grove. The Jewish New Year began Sunday night, and I knew I wanted to cook a special meal. But unusually, we had all of the two days and nights to leisurely do those things and whatever else struck us.

We rode bikes to the art show fairly early on Saturday. We immediately saw good friends and beautiful art and artists, some of which also appeared as old friends, as they’ve been happy fixtures at the Festival since we started attending 20 years ago, the very weekend we first moved to Mill Valley. The grove had the moist redwood-duff smell that I’ll always strongly associate with my first days here. Still other Festival memories? Being seven months pregnant and buying a backpack of books at the adjoining library sale and laughing that they were balancing me front to back, and taking Anna to the Festival the next year when she was almost a year old. (This picture was taken that day.)

This weekend, we joined younger families in taking in a sweet and magical marionette show (its qualities only enhanced by being performed in what is known as the “fairy ring” of redwoods). I marveled at how very enraptured and still the audience of small children was as they sat on their tarp and on tree stumps. Other talented friends of ours, father and daughter Austin and Caroline de Lone, sang and played a variety of instruments through a fabulous set to which other of our friends wandered over, lured by the beautiful music. We saw more friends and got into long, deep discussions under the trees.

The looseness of the day called for meandering. There was a bliss to the spontaneity and complete lack of schedule. We didn’t have to be anywhere else, then or later. Still later, we ran into another friend while buying food for a simple dinner and ended up inviting her over. This so rarely happens — people call first and plan and shoehorn events into busy schedules far in the future. And yet the way the whole day played out struck me as the way things are supposed to be. This certainly seemed like a way to build community, by taking the time to stop and engage with people we meet in our daily travels.

 

Sunday brought more relaxation. We read. Anna did homework and worked on her essays for college. We leisurely planned dinner and I went shopping and later made two of my favorite dishes, Chicken Marbella and honey spice cake. Michael made mashed potatoes. At one point Anna called our attention to colorful oak leaves that were falling and swirling in the wind outside, and we all talked about how much it looked and felt like Fall.

At dinner we talked about the New Year and the big change to come of college. We dipped apples in honey to signify a sweet new year. We lingered at the table an especially long time, precisely because we had time. We even cleaned up in a leisurely way.

While many people relish an empty calendar, still others are afraid when confronted with one. Both of these extremes should tell us something. Lots of us are so conditioned to being booked up that free time is a rarity, and sometimes even a burden. This weekend showed me that an empty calendar can result in exceedingly full and rich days.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let them Play

When German Frederick Froebel created kindergarten in the 1800s, little could he have envisioned what it would become. Those first kindergarten students, indeed the first children to experience early childhood education, learned through play, music, movement, paper-folding and games. Froebel recognized that early childhood was a a period of dramatic brain development during which children thrived when they learned holistically. His work influenced Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner (whose work led to Waldorf Schools), and the Reggio Emilia approach to education, all of which are popular and well regarded today.

Kindergarten, as recently as many of our own childhoods, was a laboratory of discovery and wonder, social skills and play. It was not viewed solely as preparation for grade school.

Fast-forward 150+ years since Froebel to arrive at a time in which not only is kindergarten regarded as preparation for grade school, but preschool is considered preparation for kindergarten. Online parent message boards are crammed with questions from anxious parents, asking, “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” Kindergarten readiness tests and commercial kits denote and teach multiple precise skills children should know before starting kindergarten, including the abilities to count from 1 to 10, identify colors, cut with scissors, create rhyming sounds, and skip.

Yes, skip. This piece of information includes the especially ridiculous coda that pre-school children around the U.S. are being taught to skip, in order to prepare them for kindergarten. Sadly, many children do not have enough outdoor play and free time to develop this skill on their own and are now taught it, not as a joyous life skill, but as part of the readiness curriculum.

But what if “readiness curriculum” emphasizes the wrong things? Perhaps our anxieties about “kindergarten readiness” and our rush toward academics for our kids are fueled by our own desires and fears, rather than by education and early childhood theory. We are taught early that there is tremendous competition for college spots and for jobs. Because we’re often busy ourselves, we view time as something to be used efficiently, even and perhaps especially in regard to our children and their childhoods.

In addition, parents today are led to believe that we have to choose between academic preschools and play-based preschools. But what if the play-based schools actually fed children’s academic, social and physical needs and success?  According to studies, that’s exactly what they do.

Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith of The Center for Early Childhood Education writes that “Play is necessary for success in school” and that play enhances language and literacy, counting and math, symbolic thought, cooperation, self-awareness and self-control. Longitudinal studies show that even the gains achieved by some academic preschools are largely lost by third or fourth grade.

If that weren’t enough, recent studies also show that today’s preschoolers spend only 2-3% of their time doing vigorous activity. In our rush toward what many of us think of as academic achievement and readiness, we’re actually robbing many young children of the ability to learn the way they do best — through play.

Alison Gopnik, psychology professor and author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, refers to “guided discovery”, the notion that small children learn best through exploration and interaction, wonder and play. Schools teach mastery, which is wonderful, writes Gopnick, but mastery should follow discovery. She uses an example from baseball:

Routinized learning is not an end in itself. A good coach may well make his players throw the ball to first base 50 times or swing again and again in the batting cage. That will help, but by itself it won’t make a strong player. The game itself — reacting to different pitches, strategizing about base running — requires thought, flexibility and inventiveness.

How do we encourage qualities like thought, flexibility and inventiveness in our young people, the very qualities that underlie later academic and other success? Let them play when they’re young, when their brains are elastic and they learn best through exploration. Encourage various social, physical and other experiences that enhance children’s natural senses of curiosity and wonder. Allow them to move their bodies more, especially in nature when possible, and not be unnecessarily (and unnaturally) sedentary. Studies show that even older elementary students need recess and play and that physical activity helps them perform better academically.

It seems that letting preschoolers be preschoolers is the least — and the most —  we can do for them.

Photos: Let the Children Play, Creative Child, Let Children Play, Academic Advancement

For more information see:

Resources about Play and Slowing
News about Play and Slowing

You might also be interested in:

Slow News: Let the Kids Play
Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast?
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Babies Learn By Playing
New Childrens Book Reminds Us to Play

 

Rhythm of the Home: The Blessings of a Slow Family

I am thrilled and honored to have a piece, The Blessings of a Slow Family, in the Autumn edition of Rhythm of the Home. I have been a fan of this beautiful magazine since its inception. (I have a piece in the Autumn 2010 Rhythm of the Home on Making a Fall Leaf Placemat.) It never fails to fill me with inspiration and beauty — photos are stunning, projects and tips are inspiring, and the contributors are uniformly engaging, wise and warm.

This is a hint of my story, which outlines many of the ways my family has found to honor the changing seasons, the rhythms of each day, and the community around us, through ritual, craft, nature and more.

When my family made a conscious choice to slow down, and reduce modern life’s typical pace, what we really did was get better in touch with rhythms and practices that have more in common with the turning wheel of the day and the year than with the artificial markers of the typical school and social year, not to mention the standard expectations about children’s development that don’t always fit our own children.

Because our modern culture can be poor at creating space for and then honoring life events and the movement of time, we have to create those rituals and activities for ourselves. Fortunately, my family found many ways to do that.

You can continue reading The Blessings of a Slow Family.

There are far too many delightful pieces in the Autumn Rhythm of the Home to list. I hope you will explore the issue for yourself. As for me:

I can’t wait to make these Reusable Sandwich Bags. I also love the Autumn Watercolor Crafts. And this is a very easy and original idea for a Shadow Puppet Show.

I am also eager to Have a Butterfly Celebration when the Monarchs return to their winter home.

This Autumn Pizza with Roasted Fig and Apples looks fantastic, and I’ve long wanted to try making Homemade Ricotta Cheese. I also really appreciate and believe in Using the Kitchen as a Place to Bond.

I am deeply inspired by The Story of an Apple, Nature Lovers, Four Fall Simplicity Seeds, 10 Steps Toward Getting the Break you Need, and A Season of Rebirth.

I am always moved by Erin Goodman and her thoughtful work and am thrilled that the issue features an Interview with Erin Barrette Goodman.

Even with all that, I have only hinted at the goodness in this issue of Rhythm of the Home. Do yourself a favor: Brew your favorite cup of tea, settle into a cozy spot and see for yourself.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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