Amid the clamor of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the extra unusualness of this particular holiday season, Waldorf Publications shared their annual “Buy Nothing Day” post. Their ideas for handmade crafts, Advent countdown activities, songs, and stories, reminded me that sometimes it is the simple things that really mark the season.
Simple toys and activities are at the heart of the Waldorf approach. It is from simple beginnings that children grow and explore, expanding their imaginations, studying their world, and developing skills needed for higher and complex learning later in life. Take the block crayon, for instance. The warm beeswax makes for a beautiful expression of color and form while their shape develops an understanding of structure and geometry as children discover that each side and edge of the crayon creates a different stroke on the page.
Another example is a simple toy I recently rediscovered from my own childhood—a lengthof cotton rope wound around two pegs. [pic] I remember using the rope to create harnesses for friends while playing horses, marking out imagined towns and roads, and rigging up blankets for houses, or buckets for storing treasure out of reach. This incredibly simple toy inspired hours of play and creativity. As an adult, I discovered that teachers in Waldorf kindergartens and the early grades sometimes use the act of winding the rope to help center and calm a child who is overwhelmed by energy or struggling with transitions between activities. Repeating the crisscross pattern made with the rope between the two pegs also strengthens neural connections between both sides of the brain, connections which then assist in learning reading and writing.
Simple toys can be more than toys; play is a tool for coping with stress and anxiety. And simple toys do not mean simple play. Their value is not confined by a restrictive function. Often there are objects around the house or backyard that can be easily turned into simple and open-ended toys: cloth scraps or pieces of cut wood and branches. While an intricately detailed collection of plastic fruit can seem irresistibly cute, it can only be fruit. Whereas a collection of colorful tufts of wool could be fruit, soup, a fairy bed, flower petals, or space slime straight from the nose of a snorgle-blast. It is the activities inspired by the objects and not the objects themselves that are important. Open-ended toys become an extension of the child’s own passions and their bridge to understanding the world around them.
Simple gifts need not be limited to objects but can include experiences as well. Taking time to make something by hand and being mentored by a family member can have a profound impact on a child. Experiences strengthen bonds between family members and create safe spaces for releasing stress and anxiety. They are also an opportunity for encouraging a love of beauty, science, and discovery. Housatonic Valley Waldorf School’s very own Handwork teacher, Ms. Redpath, has shared a wonderful Salt Dough Ornament project that uses ingredients from around the house to create treasured keepsakes. This simple craft can be adjusted to be enjoyable for younger children or more intricate and challenging for older ones. Baking is not only a science, but also a chance to practice patience, following instructions, and budgeting time.
Remember that it is not about creating that Instagram-worthy moment or product. Ornaments that are imperfect are opportunities for resilience, or even laughter. No matter what, any time spent together is time well spent.
Simple gifts come from the heart. They are about time shared, about encouraging development, and about creating wonder, something worth remembering when preparing for this holiday season.
If you are looking for simple gifts to purchase, our volunteer-run Rainbow Garden School store has just launched an online store full of simple and open-ended toys (including beeswax crayons).