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Karen Brennan
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I’ve got rhythm—the importance of rhythm in the life of a child

Monday, February 10, 2014

This song is stuck in my head—“I’ve got rhythm, I’ve got music…” and all because we are starting Chapter 4, “Rhythm”! Fascinating rhythm, you’ve got me on the go, fascinating rhythm, I’m all a-quiver.  Okay, here we go:

If you spend any time hanging around with Waldorf early childhood teachers, you will hear a lot about the importance of rhythm in the life of the young child.  Even though it is easy to lose track of it, we live in a world of rhythm, starting with the bodily rhythms of the mother when a child is in utero, and out into the bigger world of day and night, waking and sleeping (hopefully in that order), the week, the seasons of the year, the cycles of life.  Through these rhythms, children come to know the world and their place in it, grow in security so they can begin to venture out into the world.  Rhythm “can facilitate [the child’s] mapmaking: the connectedness they are charting in their brains.”  Kim Payne tells us that “increasing the rhythm of your home life is one of the most powerful ways of simplifying your children’s lives.”  He also tells us that if our lives don’t allow for a regular rhythm, we can at least bring more predictability and transparency.  We often have a bigger picture of where the day is leading us, but small children usually don’t, so if we can’t get to rhythm, at least we can help our child chart a course through the day with some landmarks he can count on.  In this chapter, Kim shares many stories from families he has worked with to give us ideas of way to make life more rhythmical and predictable.  He devotes large sections of the chapter to meals and bedtimes, so we will be talking about those more in the next few weeks.

I previously mentioned the “three r’s” of early childhood, rhythm, ritual and repetition.  “Meaning hides in repetition.  We do this every day or every week because it matters.  We are connected by this thing we do together.”  You can bring rhythm to any repeated part of the day, from meals to bedtime to waking up in the morning to brushing teeth, anything you can do regularly.  I will put links to a couple of articles about rhythm on my blog, if you are interested in reading more.  But I would invite you to choose one repeated part of the day to bring more rhythm and ritual to.  Small, doable changes are the best.  Don’t forget to use the change plan if it is helpful to you. What would you do?  Let’s share some ideas and support each other in this.

When parents ask a Waldorf EC teacher about how we work with discipline in the classroom, part of the answer will be that we establish a strong rhythm for the children.  We think of it as a breathing rhythm—the in-breath is a time when we come together for circle time, perhaps, or snack, the outbreath is free play, indoors or out.  With a strong rhythm, there is less need for instruction from the teacher and transitions are easier.  Of course, some things are easier at school than they are at home.  At school, we have a dedicated time to be with the children, although on the flip side, there may be as many as 18 of them.