Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: Beyond the Rainbow Bridge

Beyond the Rainbow Bridge
Nurturing our children from birth to seven
Barbara J. Patterson and Pamela Bradley

When Millie was around three months old, my neighbor let us borrow a play gym-type toy.  I was pretty much holding my girl all day and figured this might be a good way for me to do things that required bending over, like loading and unloading the bottom rack of the dishwasher.  I laid Millie on her back under the arch, and upon kicking her legs made contact with a pedal that caused three brightly colored wheels to turn above her head while the toy simultaneously made a loud sound, like gears turning.  After the wheels were done the toy played a happy little tune.  Millie smiled and looked intrigued, which caused her to kick again, resulting in more toy movement and sound.  However, with each subsequent round she became increasingly agitated and eventually started to cry.  I put the toy away, thinking she was still too young and would bring it out every few weeks to retry, but it was the same each time.  This was confusing for me - weren't toys supposed to be fun?  I began to think more deeply about what constitutes a good toy.  I wanted her to be stimulated but not overly so, and as she grew I hoped she would experience imaginative play like I remember from my youth. This led me to do a bit of research on play in general which eventually led me to Waldorf education, where from birth to age seven children learn primarily through imaginative play.  

Beyond the Rainbow Bridge is written by a longtime Waldorf educator.  The book gives a good overview of Waldorf education and it's founder from the early 1900s, Rudolph Steiner. This is not an evidence-based or scientific book, rather it felt like sitting at the knee of a wise grandmother as she taught some really great principles.  Waldorf learning for young children focuses on learning through homemaking activities and work.  One of the best pieces of advice I got from this book was to not hurry and clean up the table so we can do an activity, rather to make cleaning up the table the actual activity, having Millie help and singing a little work tune as we go.  It also stresses unstructured play using natural materials like cotton fabrics, shells, wooden blocks, and baskets for filling and emptying.  Each of these toys are less "fixed" and can change their purpose depending on the situation the child creates.  Waldorf dolls are typically very simple, with their proportions equal to that of the child and with simple facial features which allows more input from the child regarding the doll's emotions, etc.  Rhythm is also stressed in this book - creating rhythm at home with predictable routines, as well as recognizing seasonal rhythms and allowing the seasons to dictate our daily activities.  The chapter on discipline showed that this type of approach is loving and child-centered, with adults encouraged to seek out their own self improvement as children see everything we do and are likely to imitate our moods, tempers, etc.  Keeping a tidy, orderly environment helps children stay calm, and distraction at this age is one of the best ways to redirect behavior (something I've certainly noticed with Milllie).  One thing I'll definitely take away from this book is the advice to avoid too many questions and choices as this can be burdonsome or overwhelming to young children.  I find myself constantly asking Millie: "Should we go outside?" (hey, Megs - she's 17 months old, she isn't going to say no!), instead of "It's time to go outside!"  The book ends with instructions on how to make simple Waldorf dolls, something I've found is quite common in Waldorf books.  Since reading this book I've watched a few You Tube videos of Waldorf preschools, where long-braided hippie-looking instructors gently guide children through their daily routines which involves nature, play, baking, and storytelling from memory.  Sadly we have no Waldorf schools in this area, but I hope to use these principles in our home.  Overall, this was an easy read with lots of good principles and something I'll probably re-read as Millie continues to grow.