Newsletter Articles

An Invitation to Open Our Hearts

Creating the Festivals for Our TIme - by Somer Serpe (SCC EC Program Director Assistant)

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An Invitation to Open Our Hearts

Creating the Festivals for Our TIme - by Somer Serpe (SCC EC Program Director Assistant)

As Waldorf Early Childhood teachers, we have accepted the important task of providing an atmosphere of love, warmth and gratitude in which the young child feels recognized and accepted as a newly journeyed being from the spiritual world. We carefully weave reverence, beauty and intention into our environment and activities to acknowledge this journey while gently guiding the young child into the earthly world with joy and wonder. In the eyes of the child we can see our own souls' purpose as we begin the sacred task of renewing the relationship between the spiritual world, mother earth and the wisdom of the stars. The festivals are the celebration of this sacred task and therefore need to honor what each child has come to earth already knowing.

The festivals bring us together in a social and spiritual deed. They are physical manifestations of the soul quality of the seasons. They unite our souls’ rhythm with that of the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars. We know these rhythms deeply and yet we also know that many of the physical forms of our beloved festivals do not speak to the universal human. In our attempt to remedy that, we have made well-intended changes to our festivals over the years in many ways. We have kept old traditions but given them new names so that we won’t offend. We have incorporated as many cultural festivals as we can into one season so as not to exclude. We have celebrated the purely physical aspect of nature to eschew any spiritual ties. In some cases, we have even considered giving up the festivals altogether. Sometimes we have created these new forms because of or in spite of our own inner life. Often our “new” festivals can feel contrived, truncated and unenliven. In the end, are we not left less united than when we began and are we truthfully meeting the children before us?

If we remember that each human is a spiritual being, then we can be unapologetically spiritual in our festivals. Moreover, our festivals can serve as a healing balm for our world at a time when society places the importance of science over spirituality and the individual over humanity. To imagine a festival life that honors every human spirit, we need to honor the spiritual essence of the cosmic year which has informed the beautiful festivals that we have come to cherish and will inform the new festivals we wish to create. To always be aware of and truly know the other, we can look to the festivals to inform each other, weave into each other and echo in one another.

This is a process of renewal like any other. It doesn’t happen all at once; it is a living, breathing picture. This process doesn’t discard that which came before, but it happens precisely because of the wisdom from which it was born. The transformation happens within us, not outside of us. There is a certain amount of individual work and self-reflection needed before connecting to the other. It is the being of love within us all that makes this possible. It goes into us, creates forces within us, weaves through us and then out of us. When the spirit informs us and we are open to receiving it, a certain alchemy must take place in order for us to bring it out into the social sphere in a way that truly unites us all.

How do we do this in a conscious way? We look to the spiritual world and we look to the wisdom of the earth. We look to the elemental world and the mood of the seasons. We look to the indigenous people who celebrated the land on which we stand and we look to the threads that are universal in all cultures. This is an invitation to consider the universal threads:

Light and Dark, Warm and Cold, Movement and Stillness, Balance and Breathing

Breathing Out and Breathing In, Nature Consciousness and Self Consciousness,

Expansion and Contraction, Birth, Death, Rebirth,Transformation

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

Sun, Moon, Earth, Stars

Air, Fire, Earth, Water

Sylphs, Salamanders, Gnomes, Undines

Movement, Ballance, Touch, Life

Astral, I, Physical, Etheric

Thinking, Feeling, Willing

Roots, Leaves, Flowers, Seeds

Food, Song, Art,

Gratitude, Harmony, Love, Courage

We will begin to know these essential imaginations intimately if we consciously begin to feel the shifts in nature and the cosmos in our souls just as the young child feels them unconsciously. Then we can bring this essence into a physical form of celebration to the children, their families and our communities with love, authenticity and joy.

Once we have worked through the inner meaning of the season and the festival, we can ask the following questions of ourselves and with our colleagues:

  • How can I bring this festival in a picture that captures the essence of this festival and is appropriate for the children in my class?

  • How will I engage their four senses?

  • What part can the parents or families play?

  • What is the giving and receiving in which we will all participate?

We can allow our heart wisdom to inform our deeds so that the festivals we create tend the garden of our souls and honor every young child’s unfolding. As we honor our connection to the living, breathing earth and our spiritual foundation, let us not forget that we are on this sacred heart path together, and we have all we need within us to create a true festival life for the children, for each other and for all humanity.

A Healing Mood for Us All

Part I: Images and Perspectives for Early Childhood Educators - By Holly Koteen-Soule on behalf of the WECAN EC Research Group

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A Healing Mood for Us All

Part I: Images and Perspectives for Early Childhood Educators - By Holly Koteen-Soule on behalf of the WECAN EC Research Group

This article is a synthesis of a conversation among members of the ad hoc WECAN Early Childhood Research Group that was formed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The goal of the group is to serve as an organ that can observe and help distill what early childhood educators are learning as we try to navigate the unusual circumstances in which we find ourselves. Members of the group include Stephanie Hoelscher, Rihana Rutledge, Rachel Turner, Nancy Blanning, Laurie Clark and Holly Koteen-Soule.

In our recent conversation, we recognized that as the crisis continues and schools began to plan for a likely resurgence in the late fall or winter, we are all- children, parents and teachers- suffering to some degree from the effects of the ongoing uncertainty in our lives. We naturally began to focus on how to support the children and their families in their healing and quickly realized that we also need to check in with ourselves. We realized that we need to acknowledge the spectrum of feelings that we have experienced and to rebuild our inner forces, in order to be able to be fully present for the children and their families when we meet them again in the fall.

The situation that we are facing now and will be facing in the coming school year is full of challenges. Some of them are technical and logistical, while others are questions of priorities, values and integrity. How much can we stretch ourselves? How much should we stretch ourselves?

One of the members of our research group characterized the situation as a “Yes, and…” situation. Yes, this is incredibly difficult , AND we need to find a way to find our serenity in the storm. Accepting where we are, what is happening and affirming our capacity to be present, even in discomfort and danger, is strengthening. Acknowledging this is a good place to start healing.

Healing comes from many sources. We are all well aware that everything we do in Waldorf early childhood education has a healing element. Our WECAN hub is a rich treasure trove of examples. Our emphasis on predictable rhythms and a breathing balance between polarities can be as helpful to us as it is to the children. Especially potent are the healing images and stories that have been offered. We teachers need these as well.

One of our members cited the importance for her of the story of Parsival. Through years of wandering, searching, trials and travails, Parsival finally awakens enough to the other to take compassionate interest in the wounded Amfortas. He asks at last, “What ails thee?” This was the question that opened the possibility for healing. In our current situation, we are warned to not reach out with physical touch toward others, yet we can reach out with our warm interest. Our spatial distancing requirements still afford the opportunity to reach out with our interest to know the other. “What is your life? What is your pain? I want to feel with you so that I can

understand, so we can be companions.” This applies to the work with our colleagues as well as with our families.

While certain aspects of our work are healing for both us and the children, the unique circumstances that we find ourselves in call for a heightened awareness on our part. One member of our group offered the image of “fishing.” For her, fishing means patiently waiting with one’s line in the water- waiting, watching, and sensing- for what is best for the children. The caveat is, of course, that we approach “fishing” with unselfish intentions. It is interesting to note that Amfortas was also called “The Fisher King.”

Another colleague brought the picture of the current situation as a process of purification. For her, each of us is like a point on the periphery of the Waldorf Early Childhood movement as a whole. The situation (like the point and periphery meditative exercise) is dynamic, not static. Some of us may find ourselves taking a step towards what we see as the center, while others may choose to step towards what they sense as the periphery. The guiding question is, “What is essential?” for me as an individual. The same question is being asked by the movement as a whole. “What is the essence of Waldorf early childhood education?” There is a clear appreciation for the importance of working with this question, both individually and together as colleagues, and for the measure of intensity and creativity with which we are being called on to do so.

Another member of our group commented on the likelihood of our movement being tested again and again. In her view, our task is to build up the requisite immunity without losing our humanity. She echoed an earlier colleague’s test for herself: “Can the children feel my devotion, even if I am wearing a mask?” We reminded ourselves of the struggles of humanity’s great leaders and the inspiring efforts of individuals who created new initiatives out of anthroposophical insights, both past and present. In his time, Rudolf Steiner has to persist against many negative influences. Waldorf education and the other initiatives were not easily won.

If we were to look for a common thread in the conversation, perhaps it is the quest to find a dynamic balancing point between polarities: between stretching and standing firm, between the self and the other, between surrender and action, between past and future, between listening and acting, between knowing and not knowing. We do not know what is coming towards us, but we do know that our inner life is a place where we can build up a sense of certainty and trust. We are grateful our work together and these imaginations and perspectives that can, hopefully, strengthen us for our chosen tasks.

A Healing Mood for us All: Part II

Supporting the Children and their Families - By Holly Koteen-Soule, on behalf of the WECAN EC Research Group

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A Healing Mood for us All: Part II

Supporting the Children and their Families - By Holly Koteen-Soule, on behalf of the WECAN EC Research Group

At the end of Part I of “A Mood of Healing,” which summarized the conversation by the WECAN EC Research Group on how we can work on healing ourselves, we recognized that in this time of uncertainty and questioning, each of us is trying to find a personally authentic balance point on a continuum of two polarities. Some of the opposing values that we articulated included knowing and not knowing, stretching and standing firm, listening and acting.

The situation continues to unfold, and as we approach our future work with children and families, we may still need to adjust our positions to account for newly found perspectives. Three new polarities that come to view as we think about reopening are those of risk and safety, comfort and discomfort, and trauma and resilience.

One member of our group remarked that a sense of safety is more relative than absolute. In communities that face yearly risks of hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and earthquakes, people prepare as best they can, and then have to rely on the creativity and compassion of their human companions when these unpredictable events actually happen. This is a reality that is even more pronounced in communities where residents are already living on the edge of sustainability and whose lives are particularly vulnerable to disruption.

How can we be “a shelter in the storm” for the children and for their parents?” In Part I we discussed the need to recognize and work with our own inner weather- stormy or otherwise unpredictable- in order to be a calm presence for others. Because the children live in our soul moods, this is our first responsibility. A child’s sense of safety will arise, not only out of our own inner work, but also from the way we work with colleagues and parents. Mary Pipher wrote a book about the importance of family that was titled, “The Shelter of Each Other.” The title is reminiscent of Covid signs that remind us, “We are all in this together!”

We can find shelter and safety in our conscious caring for one another. We have heard from many teachers about how their spirits have been lifted from the intensive work they did with their colleagues to find creative solutions that allowed them to stay connected to their families. Teachers were also buoyed by the collaborative mood that resulted from having to utilize

different ways of working with parents.

In this situation, while we may be required to let go of some of our cherished ideals, the essential aspect of Waldorf education- the quality of our human relationships- is what we need to preserve and protect above all. The focus of our second conversation was not on specific interventions, but on ways of being and doing that can be therapeutic and create the healing mood in which we can all continue to learn and grow. “Letting go is not abandonment, “ one member of our group reminded us.

The responses of individual programs range from taking a year off and supporting their parents to find alternatives, to becoming an outdoor program or an essential worker care center, and to restructuring classrooms and schedules to accommodate requirements from state and local health departments. One colleague characterized the situation in an image: “If I opened my front door and there was a baby on the doorstep, what would I do?”

As early childhood educators, we know that everything we do in the Waldorf EC classroom has a therapeutic quality, but in this time, we need to pay particular attention to certain elements of our work. We have already underscored the fact that the young child lives in the surroundings and especially in the soul life of the adults around him or her. In addition to that, we discussed the potential importance of simplifying the physical environment and the daily schedule or rhythm as much as possible. One colleague shared that her new motto has become, “What CAN I do?”

Less stuff, more time; moving slowly and spending lots of time in nature; minimizing the number of transitions between activities; all of these things will support a child’s free breathing! Being aware of our own breathing in all its aspects, not just our physical breathing, will also help. The more the children are able to work out of imitation, rather than instruction, the more they can stay in their dreamy selves. Ritualizing and taking lots of time with necessary activities, such as handwashing, and imbuing those activities with warmth and reverence will also allow the children to find those activities to be restful, rather than wakeful.

Imaginative pictures can ease children out of fear and into playful engagement, often quite magically. “Making soap soup” helped a child who was refusing to wash his hands, come along with alacrity. Imaginations that we live strongly into ourselves will draw in even the most reluctant children. We may have to work hard to find the right picture for a particular child. In this task, we will need to exercise our capacities for observing, listening, and carrying that child into sleep. What we do for an individual child ultimately supports the class as a whole.

Much of what is true for the children also holds true for the parents. The quality of our relationships is what matters the most and “one size does not fit all.” Are we willing tend to the specific needs of individual parents out of a genuine interest in their well-being? One of our colleagues shared how often she failed by overwhelming parents with too many expectations and too much advice. Offering one concrete suggestion and helping parents build upon their sense of success was much more effective.

During this hiatus, some teachers have found that being more available to parents for phone conversations has strengthened their relationships and the children have benefitted. Early childhood teachers feel their relationship with parents has grown because, on one hand, the teachers have had to share why and how they do what they do and, on the other hand, because they have listened more deeply and responded to the concerns and needs of the parents. While it is usually easier to practice non-judgment with the children, non-judgment is the key to being truly supportive to the parents.

In addition to the primary element of a loving relationship, suggestions that emerged from our conversation circled around three themes: simplification, ritualization and working with imagination. At the heart of our work with the children is the joyful sharing of everyday wonders- dewdrops on a leaf, a sky blue piece of shell falling from the nest of a just fledged bird, the sound of an owl in the distance, a black beetle crawling out from beneath a rock in the garden. Can we make space for these “less is more” moments? Can we affirm the children’s wish to be here on earth at this time in this place?

Week by week, it has become increasingly clear that we will not be returning to the old normal. What began as a health crisis has also become, in the United States, a full-blown racial and social justice crisis, that is echoing in cities around the globe. In our communities we are facing a trial of the soul as well as of the body. In Waldorf education, as in other realms of life, we are not able to rely on our old assumptions. We are being asked to dig deep into our individual and collective resources, watch and listen with new awareness to the phenomena that we are witnessing, and bring new impulses into our work and movement.

Part III will focus on Healing Images in Stories, Fairy Tales and Puppetry and their Role in Building Resilience in Ourselves, our Families and our Movement.

Working Together Digitally and Staying Whole - By Michael Soule SCC Pedagogical Coordinator

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Working Together Digitally and Staying Whole - By Michael Soule SCC Pedagogical Coordinator

Almost overnight, there has been a significant shift towards the use of screen technology as a primary means of communication. While this technology is not new, social distancing has brought us into a new level of dependency on it. As a consequence, many people are experiencing increased stress and a lack of vitality, phenomena described recently in articles in the National Geographic and the New York Times.

We already know about some of the negative effects of extensive screen time: exposure to EMF’s and screen light; the lack of physical movement; and an over stimulation of the eyes. All of these are particularly harmful when not balanced with in-person human interactions , time in nature, full body movement and play.

Here are some thoughts about how to counteract these effects and stay healthy both in this challenging time and beyond.

Be grateful every day for the opportunity to connect online. Appreciate everything and everyone who has helped make our computers, the internet and video conferencing possible and be grateful for the technologies themselves. They are truly amazing tools. When we are grateful for something, our relationship to it changes for the better.

Appreciate Real Human Connection. Do not think for a moment that web calls can replace real time face-to-face in-person meetings. They are only a substitute for those situations where it is not safe or spatially possible to meet in person. The power of human connection cannot be replaced by a virtual meeting. Even now we can find ways to connect with people in face-to-face conversations from a safe distance. Do not underestimate the power of a single in-person conversation to bring joy into your day.

Have the Right Expectations. Do not expect virtual meetings to provide you with the warmth and the range of experience that in-person meetings offer. At the same time, treat an on-line meeting with the same respect you would an in-person meeting. Many people are finding it helpful to prepare for an online meeting by imagining the others who will be on the call and thinking about them ahead of time. Even when we are meeting face to face, this is a helpful practice.

Create a Comfortable Space. The space you create for the meeting is important whether you are all together in the same place or in a virtual setting. Be comfortable. Be aware of what is behind you that others can see. Dress appropriately. Limit background noise. Try not using background pictures of a different setting, as this can be distracting to you and to the others and it adds nothing to the meeting. It just brings in another illusory element to the event. It is helpful to have something beautiful to glance at when you need to turn your eyes away from the screen. It is much like driving – it is good and less stressful to keep your eyes moving, not just peeled on the road ahead. Sit where you can occasionally glance out the window or glance at something beautiful.

Be Conscious of Your State of Mind. Take a minute or more before the meeting to check in on your mood and your frame of mind. Your thoughts and feelings are real and have an effect on you, on the space around you, and on other participants. Bringing your most positive self to the meeting may have a significant effect on what can happen in the meeting. Simple rituals can also help you feel more present. Consider lighting a candle or holding a stone in your hand. Consider turning off the video for parts of the meeting/conversation. Just listening, without added visual distraction can be less stressful.

Go Slowly, Breathe and Look for Balance. The added stress of web conferencing requires more rest time for both your mind and your body. Find a few moments each day to be quiet, especially between meetings. The mind and the computer can move at a pace that the body cannot. Virtual meetings are better when breaks occur regularly that allow everyone to breathe out and recenter. You will find your own rhythm for this. Many people use games, breaking into small groups, or other activities to break up longer sessions. Make sure that the mission of the group is touched upon regularly. Make sure that everyone touches in (when groups are not too big). Begin and end the meeting with an inspirational quote or poem.

Recognize the difference between the picture and the person. It helps to remember that the other person is not what you see on the screen. The screen offers only a facsimile. The real person is vastly more dynamic, complex, whole and wonderful than any screen image can convey. In many ways, the picture you have in your imagination, with all of its connections of memories, stories, feelings etc. is a much more living picture of the person than what you see on a screen. Bringing an image of the other into your mind can help the screen connection be more living. When meeting with new people, take a few minutes to introduce each other, to share something personal so that the screen image is more alive. It helps to think of the person(s) before the meeting to bring more life to the online interaction. The interest you take in others, whether in person or virtual, can make a significant difference in the quality of your connection and your time together.

Take an Active Interest, Stay Open-minded to Others. Keeping an open heart and mind to colleagues, friends and new acquaintances can make a significant difference in the quality of interactions with them. There are many practices to help maintain an open attitude with others. Try to see them in a positive light. Be grateful for how they are part of your life. Loving interest is a living force that can overcome all manner of interpersonal hinderances.

Separateness and Wholeness. In an online meeting, the digital nature of the medium cannot capture the wholeness of the meeting or of the group. The participating human beings give the meeting a sense of wholeness, purpose, and camaraderie. To be really enlivening a meeting needs to provide a sense of individuality and wholeness.

We always live life on two levels at the same time. We experience our life as a world of separate things, people, and places. At the same time, we also experience life and the world as a unified whole, interpenetrated, interwoven and full of unexplained wonder.

It is the combination of these two levels that allows us to create wholeness out of separateness.

One imagination that can help is to remember that the physical distance that separates people also connects them. We stand on the same earth. We breathe the same air. We are warmed by the same sun, see the same moon in its phases, and wonder at the same stars. The mountains, the valleys, the rivers and the seas are all connected. Through them we are and can feel connected and in touch no matter where we are.

All of these suggestions have a common foundation – the practice of interest, respect, and care for the self and others. One possible result of this global pandemic will be a much greater understanding and consciousness of the ways we are and can be connected, heart to heart, even over long distances.

Michael Soule

Whidbey Island

May 2020

Michael Soule has been involved in Waldorf Education since 1983, as a parent, teacher, school administrator, board member, AWSNA Executive and school advisor. Currently he is the administrative director of Sound Circle Center teacher training in Seattle and works with experienced colleagues in Leading with Spirit, an initiative to provide training, professional development, resources and advisory support to schools and school leaders. You can contact him at or visit his website,