I have a confession to make. I don’t like summer. Certain summer things are good: the smell of grilling steak, vacations (though I’d rather take those in the spring or fall), swimming. Even beaches, to me, are not a summer thing; I’m a Northern Californian. Beaches are for gasping at the threatening majesty of the ocean, for poking around tidepools and slipping on rocks, for freezing one’s feet and ankles.
Summer breaks the rhythm of the year. It lumbers like a semi-truck laden with heat, mosquitoes and boredom into the circle of the calendar. Days sprawl in stifling monotony with only the dim promise of a post-bedtime dusk.
Those bloated days are slimming down now; sunrise lingers at the table for a second cup of coffee, sunset is edging toward dinner time. Michaelmas will be here soon.
As that last sentence entered my head, the last few years of my children’s education crystallized. Waldorf education emphasizes rhythm: the rhythm of the year as it cycles through the seasons, the daily rhythm of simple routines, the alternating cycles of expressive and quiet time throughout the school day. Rhythm follows the children throughout their days and years. In the kindergarten, the children begin their morning in a circle, singing a greeting to nature. In the grades, teachers move to the next grade with their classes, establishing a pattern of predictability, a constant rhythm. Rhythm infuses the curriculum. Children in the lower grades use copper rods and clapping to beat the rhythms of counting and addition patterns. Music begins early and is treated as an essential part of learning, rather than as an “extra.”
Seasons and festivals are celebrated at predictable points throughout the year in ways that emphasize tradition, simplicity, beauty, and family. Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael marks the shortening of the days, the need for light and courage during dark times. Halloween follows, with the beautiful traditions of the Protected Path – a fairytale journey for younger children, and the Perilous Path – a more challenging and fearsome quest for the older students. The candles of the Advent Spiral brighten the dark of winter, as do classroom visits by Santa Lucia and St. Nicholas. As spring approaches, excitement builds. The third grade garden begins to peak, field trips and activities blossom with the campus flowers, and May Faire approaches. And, then, we slide into summer, our daily rhythm disrupted once more.
For me, the challenge lies in bringing that sense of rhythm home for the summer. With day camps and summer camps, visits to grandparents, vacations and work schedules, summer feels fragmented and uncertain. In June we heave a sigh of relief, casting off the obligations and structure of the school year. For a week or two we frolic in freedom; bedtimes are extended, TV rules are relaxed. Then, like children after a birthday party or day at the fair, we begin to feel queasy and insecure. Sleep deprived and heat exhausted, we lurch from one week to the next.
We are a couple week back into school now, and a sense of peace is settling about the house. Clamoring demands to “watch a movie” have given way to the construction of living room forts. Legos and handwork have reappeared from the cupboards. Homework and bedtime have returned a sense of order to the week. Soon we will face the dragons of meetings and over-commitment, but for now, our rhythm is steady.