We can create an environment that nourishes young children with beauty, warmth and joy to support their growth in body, soul and spirit. The first realm for simplifying to have a calmer and happier home is the environment. Children are very sensory beings who are greatly affected by the environment they are in. The key is to provide them with an environment that is both calming and rich in sensory experiences. I will share our experience for how we achieved this, and offer some tips and advice for how you can also implement these ideas at home.
Like any family with young children we wanted to be prepared with all the "gear" and "toys" but as we accumulated more "stuff", it quickly became overwhelming. Children will often feel anxiety when surrounded by too many choices. A shocking statistic that Kim John Payne shared is that the average child in America has over 150 toys. I can only imagine the headache this excess causes both parents and children. When we reduce the amount of toys children have and choices they need to make in their daily play, we encourage the child to engage with their toys in deeper and more creative ways. When they have 100 toys to choose from, play can be a very superficial exercise in throwing toys around, unsure of what to play with next amidst the abundance of choices and distraction.
Choose Simple & Open-ended: the first thing we did was take away all the toys that were broken or had too many moving parts. Toys should be simple and developmentally appropriate. A good guideline to go by is remembering that a "good toy is 90 percent child and 10 percent toy". Flashy plastic, battery operated and noisy toys are not ideal. They are high in stimulus and low on creativity, and can quite frankly be annoying and distracting. Swap out anything that is already "formed" or can only be played with in one way with "open-ended". "Open-ended" simply refers to the ability to be played and interacted with in many ways. The only limit to an "open-ended" toy is one's imagination. Thus they encourage creative, imaginative, independent and collaborative play, which is just what toys should be instead of superficial entertainment.
Some ideas for open-ended toys: wooden blocks, play silks, wooden bowls, stackers, peg dolls.
Keep it Wholesome & Appropriate: Consider keeping toy guns, weapons, monsters, etc. away from your young children. They do not encourage positive behaviours.
Children learn through imitation. Provide toys that allow for them to mimic what they see and develop everyday skills. Examples: try a play kitchen with pots and pans so they can practice "cooking". Dolls and doll bed/pram to practice caring and nurturing.
In order for children to feel secure and for their imaginations to grow, we need to provide them with a space where they are not bombarded with sensory overload, whether it's too much stuff or too much stimulus (loud music, screens, harsh lighting). In our home, we have chosen to further create warmth by surrounding them with warm colours, soft fabrics and gentle stimulus (music etc). Young children are in a dreamy state, and creating a womb-like environment using warm and soft colours helps them feel calm and secure. I'm not suggesting that everyone lazure paint their room (yes we did this!) but colour choices on the warm spectrum can help warm up the space. Drape some soft fabrics, a silk canopy or even pink/red or white linen curtains to create soft diffused lighting can further add to the warm ambience.
Reduce screens from their space. Having the television on is very distracting and detrimental to young children, it's been shown to hinder brain development and increase problematic behaviours (more on this later). If you have a television in their space, consider draping a silk or cloth to cover it when it is not being used.
Set the mood with Music
"Song is an earthly means of recalling the experience of per-earthly existence." - Rudolf Steiner.
Music can greatly influence and help set the mood of an environment. Steiner suggests music in "the mood of the fifth", this is referring to the pentatonic scale. I like to play the pentatonic kinder harp often. It really has a calming and sweet effect. Suggestions: Play music gently in the background. Not everyone likes classical music, but if you're going to play pop, rock or rap music etc. be mindful of the words and keep it at a quiet level so it does not overwhelm.
Provide Natural Materials
Natural toys made from wood, wool, silk etc. are better for children's developing imaginations and better for the environment! Consider the warmth and grounding effect of wood versus cold, hard plastic. By providing these natural materials of different tones, textures etc. to build and play with, we are providing our children with a play experience that is rich in sensory experience and connected to the natural world.
I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful. I'd love to hear how you have implemented these ideas and the impact they've had.
"It’s about warmth and being available. In simplifying parenting we get closer to our children, they no longer have to fight for our attention, everything becomes easier and it is actually achieved by doing less." - Kim John Payne
- This post originally appeared on my Willow Play School Blog -