What is ritual, really? Textbook definitions don’t do it justice because they just don’t go deep enough. They don’t get at the root of the thing, the thing that a ritual really does, is, explores… they don’t get at its soul. Because there’s no denying the practice has got soul, mama, and whatever your rituals do for you, they’re meant to be just that—deeply yours. Here is some inspiration for bringing rhythm and celebration into your own family life.
By Ayva Cowell | Assistant Editor
Rituals can be quite literal—they are reflected in the calendar holidays, in religious celebrations, in the media… in painted eggs and Christmas trees and sprinkle cakes. But sometimes, maybe even in the best of times, they can be more subtle. Less manufactured. More you.
Ritual inspires rhythm. Observation. Confidence. Creativity. It’s celebration and remembrance and learning. It’s a self-care practice that digs deep into your heart, because the way you choose to ritual is an extension of who (and what) you are. How you ritual is how you speak your truth.
Here are some less conventional ways that this can play out for us with our little ones.
Honouring Natural Connections
(The Moon, The Stars, The Seasons)
If something in the rhythm of the natural world calls to you, explore it. Many home education approaches—Waldorf in particular—place a strong emphasis on honouring the ebb and flow of life in this way, and it does help to foster a deep and lasting connection between our children and the earth on which they walk.
These can be, and often are, simple, personal, and lighthearted practices. I love following the cycles of the moon and its playful behaviour, so baking and sharing this gorgeous and delicious blood orange meringue cake to honour a blood moon (more oftenly called a lunar eclipse) is a ritual inspired by @woodlandkeep that I’m drawn to.
My toddler loves to work in the kitchen, and the measuring, mixing, and creating of this treat gives us space and reason to talk about the interaction between the sun, the earth, and the moon, and what that means for us as humans.
Many folks explore and honour big, clear shifts, too, like the transitions between seasons. Waldorf mamma Josie Elston (@onwillowsbend) and her family have carved out a physical space in their home for a nature table, which they add to, shift, and care for throughout the year:
In our family, our seasonal nature table is a central part of our home. It has become an expression of the joy we share when we are outdoors and a way to remember our experiences in nature. It’s actually a set of shelves, which holds a seasonal scene, relevant pictures and postcards, seasonal books, and most importantly, natural treasures. On the bottom shelf we keep a little row of empty collecting baskets ready to grab when we head out for our daily walk.
As the seasons change, so do our shelves. Natural treasures are added on a daily basis, and others are cleared away. Jam jars of flowers appear in the summer and are replaced by glowing leaves in the autumn. At the start of a new season, we begin to make small changes to the display, eventually creating a completely new scene when it feels that the transition is fully underway outdoors. So in this way, our nature table truly reflects what is happening when we step outside. It’s not necessarily determined by a date on the calendar.
Often as we do this, we will make a seasonal craft together too to decorate our home… such as beeswax dipped leaves in autumn, or paper snowflakes in winter. We also cook a special meal from seasonal produce and talk together at dinner time about all the things we look forward to in the coming season. This is a ritual that my children eagerly anticipate and it means that each new season is acknowledged and welcomed with reverence and joy.
And let's get this straight. All this is not always easy—especially at first! In The Creative Family Manifesto, Amanda Blake Soule does a lovely job explaining the growing pains she experienced as her family laid the groundwork for what would eventually become their established rhythm.
In the early days, I remember moments of fumbling toward awkwardness as we created new traditions for our family—traditions that grew out of our values and beliefs and pulled more from the ways of the past and less from our own contemporary childhood experiences and memories. We were crafting a new way of being in so many ways, and, at times, that activity had all the markings of trying something new on, uncertain which parts would fit and which parts would not.
A Winter Solstice celebration, for example, was never something I participated in as a child, but when we found ourselves parents to young children and wanting to celebrate the passing of the seasons in a thoughtful way, there we stood at the newly lit candle, poem printed on paper because I hadn't yet memorized anything, as two wide-eyed toddlers stared up at us wondering what to do next.
Nearly everything we did felt new—in all the ways of that word—both exciting and awkward as we worked on creating new traditions and crafting new family rhythms. But the blessing of a child's openness to creativity, desire for appreciating the natural world, and exploration of curiosity is that they were as hungry for receiving all of that as we were for receiving it. Their eagerness fueled us all.
And with each year that passed, the newness of it all (for the adults) wore away to reveal what we had really created in those rhythms and rituals and family habits—the steadfast rock and rhythm that has become our family values, our family calendar of the year, and the only way the children have known to navigate the world.
Holding Space For What You Need
(Eating, Sleeping, Resting)
Building a sense of ritual into each day around a particular activity can also help articulate a rhythm for your family when you are working through new phases of life. Meagan at Whole Family Rhythms, for example, shares this approach to adding quiet time into your child’s day when their napping needs start to shift:
Afternoons can be hard when you have little ones who don’t nap anymore, but really need an hour or so to recharge and be still. To be honest, I think we all need this time to decompress, reflect and let go of the day thus far. This is why the tradition of the afternoon ‘siesta’ rest still thrives in parts of Europe.
And here’s the hard truth: He’s not going to do it on his own.
He needs a lot of handholding, guidance, encouragement and consistent modelling to get used to this new ‘quiet time’ part of his daily rhythm […] This is now a sacred time to be quiet and still in whatever way suits your family and you need to hold this space.
Some simple ideas for holding the quiet time space are:
* Reading a few books together on the couch
* Creating a small resting area separate from the bedrooms with a little pillow and blanket on the ground
* Singing nursery rhymes to your child while they lie down close to you
* Playing an instrument (the lyre is beautiful) or sing lullabies in a chair or rocking chair while they rest near you
*Telling a story with a candle and then blow out the candle and lie down together for a rest
*Putting on a children’s meditation and listening to it together
*Listening to an audio story such as Sparkle Stories
By creating this sense of ritual around an activity or time of day for our kids—whether it’s a rest time, a meal time, or a morning circle—we hold space for it in such a way that it develops significance and meaning. We create, as Meagan suggests, a sacred time in our home, and in their hearts, for what we feel is essential to our daily life. We bring our soul into it.
(Starting, Ending, or Exploring)
Sometimes, ritual looks more like the celebration or gratitude for an accomplishment, or a way to mark a milestone in your day, week, month or year. Mama of two girls, Abbie Foster Chaffee (@abbiefosterchaffee) shares how her favourite family ritual plays out, inspired by some of her favourite homeschool resources: The Brave Writer and Read Aloud Revival.
When we finish a read-aloud chapter book, or any really outstanding picture book, we celebrate with a tea party. My girls help me prepare the tea and pick out the treats we want to eat for our party too. We don’t own a fancy tea set, and use a hodge-podge of mugs and plates for our celebration; but that doesn’t matter to us at all.
Once we are settled with drinks and snacks, we discuss all the things we liked about the book (and the things we didn’t care for). I try to stick with open-ended questions instead of reading comprehension questions, like: “Which characters were the bravest, funniest, or kindest? Why?”
We also use this as an opportunity to practice our narration skills. My oldest daughter loves to summarise a timeline of events from the book before we dive in to the deep questions. We typically talk about what characters might have been feeling or how they could have solved problems in different ways. We also like to talk about what the plot of a sequel might look like.
We read a lot… so we might have as many as three tea parties in a week! Other times, it feels like we only have one in a given month. It just depends on what books we are working through and what pace we are reading at.
More than anything, this is our special time to just sit down and talk. There’s no real agenda. It’s just my daughters and I with a pot of tea (or hot cocoa, if the mood strikes). They are so young right now, and I truly hope this is the one constant that remains over the rest of their homeschooling years.
This ritual has become so special and sacred to us that a full tea set is on my list of necessary homeschool supplies for our upcoming 2018-2019 school year!
It’s All You, Mama
There are so many ways to bring ritual into your homeschool, and these are just a few. Regardless of how they show up, know that planning and exploring the practices you choose sets a strong example of both self-care (giving value to what’s important to your and your family!) and mindfulness. And by modelling that sense of self-awareness, by showing your little ones how to set and hold intention, you’re giving them incredible tools to foster deep lifelong thoughtfulness, gratitude, and self-worth.
We'd love to know, how does your family do seasonal or rhythmic rituals? Share in the comments below.
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Mulberry Assistant Editor
Ayva is our Assistant Editor. She's currently the mama of one chatty toddler and has a baby on the way! A Canadian writer, photographer, and graphic designer, she lives on the road with her son, husband and two giant dogs. When not exploring field or forest with her pack, she can usually be found stand-up paddling, reading profusely, yoga-ing, or some combination of the above!