Waldorf Rhythm – Musically Speaking

FullSizeRenderIf you’ve done any reading at all about Waldorf education, you have surely encountered Waldorf’s three R’s: rhythm, rhythm and rhythm. Yes, rhythm is a BIG DEAL in Waldorf world! Visit any Waldorf-inspired blog and you will likely find a post. Google “Waldorf rhythm” and you get 461K results! Pinterest is full of Waldorf rhythm pins and every Waldorf book will include it. In fact, there are actually entire Waldorf books just about rhythm – why you need one, what it is, how to tweak it, what to put in it, how to get your family doing it, etc.  Every website I’ve visited, every book I’ve read, when they get to the practical steps to establishing a Waldorf home starts with rhythm. There’s just no escaping it, no skipping it, no racing on to the gnomes, play silks and knitting. Even if you do race on to the gnomes, play silks and knitting…you will eventually find yourself back where you started trying to figure out rhythm!

If you haven’t done any reading at all about Waldorf education, check out the links on this post. For rhythm-specific reading, my favorites can be found here on Waldorf Essentials by Melisa Nielsen and this post at Waldorf Inspired Learning. These ladies do an amazing job of explaining what you need to know about rhythm – what it is, why you need it, how to do it, etc.

Fortunately for me, we already had a good start on rhythm before coming to Waldorf. I don’t consider myself to be especially organized, but I am a rather regularish sort of person – a regularish sort of person with two small children I homeschool, a household to run and a menagerie to tend. Out of necessity, I have had routines in place for a long time! But as I dove into my rhythm reading, I realized that what I was doing was not a rhythm. A rhythm is not simply “Breakfast at 7, Lunch at 12, Rest at 1” or “clear the table, put away leftovers, wash the dishes” or even “floors on Monday, bathrooms on Tuesday, kitchen on Wednesday” – a rhythm is so much more!

Rhythm is a pattern of in breaths and out breaths.


Yeah. That breath thing made no sense to me. So, I read some more and then put it into terms that mean something to me – music terms!

What does rhythm mean in music? Well, as a Kodaly-inspired educator, this means the children first learn to “pat steady” to a bank of folk songs. Once they can do this, then I give them the term “steady beat” to name that constant patting, stomping, clapping, dancing heartbeat they have experienced. Then I guide them to identify that the words of the songs don’t plod along following that steady beat exactly, one word to a beat. Some words do fall exactly on the beat – but some crowd together and move faster than the beat. And sometimes there are no words at all – just a beat or more of total silence. Once the children have found places in their familiar songs that do all of these things, I give them the term “rhythm” to name the concept of patterns of short and long sounds and silences. Next come the names for those sounds and silences – quarter note, eighth note pair and so on.

As their musical repertoire grows and they create their own songs, we explore how different rhythmic patterns evoke different moods and sensations and this is where Waldorf rhythm starts to make sense to me! They experience the excitement – and exhaustion! – of many rapidly repeated notes, of accelerando (speeding up). They feel soothed by a succession of slow, sustained notes and ritardando (slowing down). They feel anticipation or completion at a rest and the engagement that happens when rhythms vary, the lack of satisfaction when changes are too abrupt.

Here is the song we were singing before I thought about home rhythm in these terms.

Daily Rhythm
6:00             Good Morning!
6:30             Breakfast, clear table; dress, teeth, hair.
7:30             Outside Play/Mom does chores
8:30             Monday – Friday: Main Lesson; Saturday – Sunday: Free play.
9:30             Snack Time
                     Monday – Friday: Lively Arts
                     Saturday: Library/Baseball
                     Sunday: Free Play
12:00           Lunch, clear table
                     Free Play
1:00             Rest Period
3:00             Walk Dog
                     Free Play/Housework and Dinner Prep
5:30             Evening Activities
6:30             Dinner
7:30             Shower, Pajamas, Teeth, Etc. Maybe a story if we aren’t furious with each other.
8:00             Good Night!…maybe. Probably not. Up and down, and round and round.

You can see there was a lot of free play while I tried to get things done – free play that usually became a free-for-all. Someone almost always got hurt, something almost always got destroyed – and I wasn’t really getting any of those things done I was trying to do! And meals and rest times were battlegrounds!

My study of Waldorf rhythm has brought me to compose something new – a day with rhythmic variety without any abrupt changes. I’ve tried to alternate “rapid notes” and “slow notes” and I make sure we have some strategic “rests” as well. I’ve also thought about transitions and incorporated accelerandi and ritardandi  to eliminating abrupt shifts.


James with Flowers
Happy boy!

Of course, I am also learning that no matter where we are in our rhythm, my active engagement is required. We can alternate degrees of my active engagement – I can teach a lesson, then work on computer, read them a story, then fold laundry while they play – but I can’t check out for long stretches of the day to play on Facebook clean. I can have tiny little breaks – a quarter rest, maybe even a half rest – but no tacit for mommy! (A tacit is when a musician has rests for a really long time, pages even.)


Armed with a new understanding of rhythm, our days now look like this:

Daily Rhythm
6:00     Good Morning!
6:30     Breakfast, clear table, dress, teeth and hair
Morning Home Care (Daily chores we do together)
             Outside Play & Nature Walk
8:30     Monday – Friday: Main Lesson
             Saturday – Sunday: Free Play/Special Time
9:30     Snack Time
Monday – Friday: Lively Arts
Saturday: Library/Baseball
Sunday: Free Play
12:00    Lunch, clear table
              Story Time
1:00      Rest Period
3:00      Walk Dog
Afternoon Home Care (Major chores we do once a week, together)
Meal Preparation (which we often do together)
Free Play
5:30      Evening Activities
6:30      Dinner
7:30      Shower, Pajamas, Teeth, Etc.
8:00     Good Night!

Daily Rhythm

You can see that our morning time still begins with a lot of focused activity – eating, getting dressed, morning chores. I have accepted that I am going to have be actively involved many times – they aren’t going to dress, etc., without my being present in their room. This sustained concentrated effort is hard for Scooter and Cheech (and me…) but once done, they get to slow down and play outside and I finish up my morning routine. After a short time on their own, I take them on a nature walk. This time acts as a gradual accelerando into main lesson time and has been smooth sailing since the change! (Gnomes be praised!) Lively Arts act as a lovely little ritardando right through lunch and story culminating in a satisfying and welcome rest.  After rest, we jump right into activity/accelerando – walking the dog and hard-core housework (together!). Handwork, which is somewhat active (mentally) but also relaxing (physically) creates a great ritardando into dinner prep time and free play. Our evening activities are usually another series of “rapid notes” before our final ritardando – dinner, getting ready for bed and a story. By the time we get to bedtime, that rest is (mostly) welcome. Some days circumstances (illness, baseball practice, torrential rains) intervene and we have to rearrange – we play jazz and improvise.  But having once established the rhythm, we can easily reestablish it after any departure.

Of course, rhythm is only one part of those changes, but it is a BIG part! My kids are getting regular doses of intense mental/physical activity and interaction with me and each other throughout the day as well as and regular doses of less intense activity and interaction. Overall, they are calmer, more cooperative and we are more connected. And that is good for all families, right? Not just homeschool families or Waldorf families!




Toddler Crime

2015-04-08 11.23.42Cheech, my toddler, doesn’t get much air time here on mama’s blog. I blog most often about homeschooling and delusional fantasies (aka getting published), and Cheech is not a part of either in any significant way. During homeschool time, he does two-year-old things like sculpt clay, harass the dog and eat boogers. And while I am in writing mode, he pretty much does the same stuff.

However, I realize that someday, Cheech may actually read my blog and I don’t want him to think that I didn’t love and enjoy him just as much as his scallywag brother, Scooter. So today is an homage to Cheech!

They say no two children are alike, and the husband and I say, “Thank goodness!” (No, really. We say that.) We think we should get bonus points for having Cheech after experiencing Scooter, and many of our friends and relations agree. Just today he comforted a little friend at daycare who was missing her mommy. He held her face in his hands and said, “Your mommy will come soon,” before hugging her goodbye. Cheech wakes up happy, he likes to snuggle, he shares very well and he is generally compliant or easily distracted from most mischief.

Most mischief. To his credit, Scooter never got into things or ate non-food items. Cheech, on the other hand, has made both activities signature moves. I have called Poison Control twice in the last six months, once for a “child-proof” bottle of liquid NSAID and again for a cocktail of toothpaste, triple antibiotic ointment and skin cream. (Doesn’t that sound scrumptious?)

Before you judge my parenting, please understand that Scooter telegraphs his every move twenty moves in advance. We know exactly what he’s plotting as he’s plotting. We can make preemptive strikes and take evasive maneuvers. It looks like parental vigilance, but really, Scooter just doesn’t have the crafty gene.

Cheech, on the other hand, is stealthy. He has learned (probably from watching big brother get caught all the time), that quiet disobedience is the way to go. Crime – quiet crime – really does pay. Cheech is either a ninja or a future star on a poker reality show. The little old lady in me does not really approve of gambling, but since the little old lady in me would also like to end her days in a swanky rest home, I am hoping for poker star.

Anywho, I hope video evidence of his most recent crime brightens your day.



Opportunity: While Scooter and I were doing school, Cheech wandered off and grew suspiciously quiet. Rest assured, no toddlers were hurt in the making of this video. Not even when I scrubbed off the mess!

Mother’s Day: Listen to Your Mother

In 2013, I was cast in Listen to Your Mother Show Austin. LTYM features curated, live readings by local writers on the topic of motherhood in celebration of Mother’s Day. As of this year, Listen to Your Mother shows are in 39 cities and Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now was released April 7 of this year, featuring a number of essays from past shows. Fellow 2013 LTYM Austin alumnae Ruth Pennebaker and Wendi Aarons (who also co-produced the 2013 LTYM Austin show with Elizabeth McGuire) both contributed to the book! (Cool, eh?)

Not all of the writers are mothers and not all of the writers are professional writers (Ahem. Me.) It was fairly intimidating and a lot surprising to find myself sitting around a table for our first read-through with all of these real-life pros. It was realizing you’re at the wrong wedding reception after you’ve already taken a piece of cake. What are you going to do? I sat there and ate the cake.

I ate the cake, but I spent the rest of the party fairly disengaged. Which is a sacrilege since LTYM is profoundly moving and even transformative. But, it wasn’t like that for me. Which isn’t a statement about the show, my castmates or producers – it’s a statement about me and where I was in life.

In May 2013, Cheech was a six month old infant. No. Not an infant – a nursling with a lip-tie. He nursed all. the. time. So he came with me from Waco to Austin for the audition, rehearsals and the show. My husband cared for him in the green room until after I read, I cared for him until curtain call. Yeah. My husband didn’t even hear me read. And I didn’t hear anyone else read except for those rehearsals – the ones where I was caring for Cheech at the back of the auditorium. And forget about any after-parties or meet-ups. Those were just not happening with adorable Leech Cheech in tow.

I was present, but I wasn’t present. I was in the car. I was in the green room. I was hiding in hallways. I was in the ohmygodheneedstonurseagain frame of mind (and thankgoditsaustin as I flashed random strangers out of necessity frame of mind).  The moment I was experiencing just wasn’t the moment everyone else in the cast or audience was experiencing. I didn’t need tissues because I wasn’t crying – I was trying to keep my small human from crying. I was doing what so many of us do – missing out on things because babies don’t keep.

But moments like LTYM don’t keep, either. You don’t get a do-over. Once you’ve done it, you don’t get to do it again. People submit to this show year after year after year hoping to make the cut. And then they don’t. Or they do. And then, some of them end up on their local news and some of them end up in a book – and I am still a lot surprised that my submission, written on a whim as part of a New Year’s resolution – made the cut.

And I know, I know. I did the right thing, the only thing. Cheech needed me. But in honor of Mother’s Day, I get to say that doing the right thing stinks sometimes. I missed out on the full experience of LTYM. I missed out on what was a super big, once-in-a-lifetime deal for an amateur like me because mothering.

I ate the cake, but I don’t know what flavor it was.

So, here is a link to my LTYM video. Note the nursing-friendly, wrinkle-resistant outfit (which coordinated with my baby-wearing gear). I haven’t actually watched it myself – I hate watching myself on video/tv – so they could have dubbed in Vincent Price reading the classifieds for all I know, but I hope you enjoy it. I haven’t posted it before because of all the feelz I have about not really getting to enjoy my 6:52″ of fame. I was just too busy thinking about that hungry baby in the green room.

And maybe I’m okay with that now. Thanks for listening.

* This post includes affiliate links. If you click on them and make a purchase, I get small change to support my coffee habit.

Good Mothers Do: Self-Care for Moms #1

I posted last week about my friend who peed her pants in a pet store. She was just so busy attending to her children’s real and imagined needs, you know? (That poor friend. I think she’s doing better.)

She is the only parent I have heard of who peed her pants in a pet store, but she’s not the only mother I know so overwhelmed by parenthood that she neglects her own basic needs.

I am not talking about foregoing a spa day to put food on the table. I’m not talking about the occasional day (or three) with a greasy pony tail. Life gets messy. I’m talking about women who can’t remember doing basic things done regularly BC (Before Children) – showering daily, filing fingernails, or reading a grown-up book. It’s difficult, maybe impossible, because we are so busy taking care of everyone else.

But, that’s a lie. A bold-faced lie.

Here’s my truth: I do not have to be so busy taking care of everyone else.

Yes, children need meals, clean(ish) clothes and supervision. But children do not need every moment, every shred of dignity, or every speck of pixie dust glittering in our souls. They don’t need them – and mamas do.

It is a lie that I haven’t had time for my weekly mani/pedi or good haircuts every eight weeks or watching the nightly news. And it is a lie that good mothers don’t. “Good mothers don’t waste time on daily showers.” “Good mothers don’t care about raggedy nails.” “Good mothers don’t read magazines or novels – just picture books out loud in different voices for each character.”

But after my friend’s pee pee accident? My new truth is “Good mothers do.” Good mothers do take daily showers and file raggedy nails and read novels. Good mothers do make dates with friends and the significant other. Good mothers do prepare their favorite meals occasionally, even when those meals don’t cater to their toddler’s neurotic food preferences. Good mothers do engage in activities that make their hearts sing. Good mothers do care for themselves. 

And good mothers do teach their children they are not the center of the universe.

And good mothers do close the bathroom door. Yes, dear readers, they do.

I confess spending the last six years doing my private business for an audience. Mayhem ensues when the audience is banished: screaming, banging, clawing under the door frame, and shouting pronouncements of eternal hatred.

But in the days BM (Before Motherhood), I would never have dreamed of relieving myself with the door open. It was just not done. But PM (Post Motherhood), it has become the norm in the name of assuaging my children’s anxiety and believing that chaos is preventable from the porcelain throne if only the door is open. Truthfully, I have never hobbled out, pants around my ankles, in time to prevent any chaos. Never. And so, I have begun to close the bathroom door every time and I even lock it.

This is my hard and fast rule. Putting away clean towels? Shut the door.Checking the bath tissue stockpile? Shut the door. Wiping down the mirror? Shut the door. Dropping the kids off at the pool? Yes, I do shut the door.

My children have not died. My SO has applauded. And I love the freedom that comes from that closed door. And now that I do it every single time – every single time – my children have learned that I shut the door and no police escort, supervision or judges panel is required. The bathroom is private. What mommy is doing in there is private.

And they have also learned that mommy comes out again. They have learned that mommy goes in, mommy shuts the door, mommy does fun and mysterious things without them (Is she taking a bubble bath? Is she using my very special dinosaur washcloth? Is she playing with my rubber ducky, the wench?) and then mommy comes out again. I am helping them develop object permanence and individuation, right?

But I can’t do this! you say. What if they get into something while I’m in there? Well, then, they get into something while you’re in there. You will handle it when you get out from the zen that is peeing alone.

You deserve privacy in the bathroom. Studies show[1] that most women spend four or fewer minutes in the bathroom for each trip. You deserve that four minutes of privacy as many times per day as Nature calls.  Start today. Commit to shutting the bathroom door.

Next week, I’ll post my second step in living out my new truth. I’ll report on how it went and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[1] Ok. To my knowledge, there aren’t really any studies. But, time yourself. Seriously. I bet you’ll be surprised at how little time it takes you to do your thang and tidy up (unless you had the El Grande with extra chipotle sauce the night before). Close the dang door, okay?

Early Risers: Ten Benefits of Kids Who Wake Up Too Early

I have kids who wake up too early. Well, one kid who wakes up too early. The other one wakes up because he doesn’t want to miss the party. But, you know what? Just like I’m too old to party past 8 p.m., I’m too old to party at 4 a.m.

Salmonella and Homeschooling Success

Blog Hop Header

Today is the first-ever blog hop at a site I really love – SecularHomeschool.com. As the school year comes to a close (for some, not all), they’ve asked folks to celebrate our successes. So, what have we done successfully this year? Here are my Top 5.

5. We did not make a mummified chicken. No, we did not. Even though I fell in love with our history curriculum because of the mummified chicken project in the activity book, sanity saved the day and I said, “No. Un-huh. We are not doing no nasty mummified chicken in this kitchen with a toddler and a six year old menace. Because ain’t nobody got time for salmonella!” Sometimes, even homeschooling moms need to know when mummifying a chicken is overkill.

4. We figured out what to do with the toddler!!! People ask frequently how homeschool works when you have one that isn’t, technically, homeschooling and has the attention span of a crack-addicted flea. And it is a trick. In a nutshell, he has five busy boxes – and since we only school four days a week, the rotation makes one of them feel “new” every two weeks. (If you want to see what’s in them, I’ll be posting soon.)

3. We have a schedule/routine that is working for us. It’s sensitive to the needs of both of our kids, to both adults and leaves lots of room for other things like outside play, trips to the library and taking care of our ever-growing menagerie. (So that no one gets salmonella.)

2. We took the leap and actually decided to home school full time. It was a process. It was terrifying. But it was what we knew in our guts we needed to do. We looked, we leapt, we landed (mostly) on our feet. And that is something I’m really proud of.

1. But my biggest source of pride and satisfaction is that I’ve managed to carve out time to pursue my own interests. (Gasp!) Yes, interests that have little (or nothing) to do with my kids or homeschool. Interests that give me a greater sense of purpose (other than my kids or homeschool). Interests that connect me to the outside world. This has always been a challenge for me as a mother whether I was working outside the home, working from home, or just working in the home, but it’s been harder now since we leapt into homeschooling. But, I’m doing it. And I hope that, in addition to phonics and number bonds and the names of the planets in the solar system, the lesson that taking care of yourself is essential is a lesson my children are learning well. (That and handwashing. Because salmonella.)

Ta da! For more fabulous homeschool successes, hop on over to some of these other folks’ blogs.

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Online Discussion Group – Parents of Spirited Children

Do you have a spirited child? One who is “more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive and slow to change” than other “average” children you know?

I do. I have two of these little marvels, in fact. And I am facilitating an online discussion group for parents who would like to read the book Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and do the workbook as well.

This book is amazing. The author vividly describes spirited children and the experience of trying to parent one, and gives practical, effective tips for parenting them on a day-to-day basis. Suggestions for selective eating, temper tantrums, bedtime hassles, play date meltdowns and more are included – as well as handy tips for managing the spirited adults in your home. (Spiritedness is, apparently, hereditary…)

Over the next few months, we will work our way through the book and workbook. The forum will be a safe place to vent, share stories and build a community of others who are rearing these hooligans terrors demon spawn special snowflakes. Please note that people of faith are welcome, but there will very likely be colorful language, mention of copious consumption of adult beverages and some dark humor from at least one person. (Ahem. It’s me.)

I’m starting this group because I am fairly isolated here in the Piney Woods. I don’t see very many people other than clerks and servers at our single grocery store and at the occasional drive-thru window when we’ve made the 35-minute trek to the nearest city of size to run errands. And I can’t be the only parent of spirited children who could use more support than the occasional cheerful word from Ron at Piggly Wiggly, right?

So, if you’d like to join, send me a message with your email. The group starts this week and we have space for a few more. We will be doing one chapter (or group of chapters) every two weeks, so there is plenty of time to get your books – especially if you have Prime. If you are parenting a spirited child (and need some help, some community and some colorful language/adult beverages/dark humor), please join us.

2015-04-28 12.17.57