May 26th, 2010 | Music | Permalink | Comments (10)

Below is reprint of an article I wrote a few years ago. I thought I would repost it here, since this is a perennial question that I am asked by parents of three- to seven-year-olds. Is there a perfect time to start music lessons? Here are my thoughts.

Shutterstock, Dmitry Naumov

I am a trained Waldorf early childhood teacher and have also completed training as a “Music Together” teacher (a music and movement program for preschoolers and their parents) through the Center for Music and Young Children in Princeton, NJ. In addition, I am a Suzuki parent and a strong supporter of Suzuki music education. I have been interested in comparing the similarities and differences between Suzuki and Waldorf pedagogy ever since discovering how much they share in common.

In spite of the number of similarities in approach, one fundamental difference between the two pedagogies is regarding the age at which a child should begin formal music instruction. Suzuki students are encouraged to begin instrumental lessons as early as age two or three. On the other hand, students in a Waldorf school do not begin lessons with string instruments until third or fourth grade. My personal opinion is that Suzuki, for many children, starts too early, and that Waldorf schools may start too late. Based on my research and observation, I believe that the age of seven may be a more appropriate age for most children to begin private music lessons — for many of the same reasons that make seven the ideal age for a child to begin formal, academic learning at school, according to Waldorf philosophy.

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May 22nd, 2010 | Giveaway | Permalink | Comments (6)

Today on Amanda Soule’s lovely blog, SouleMama, Bella Luna Toys is offering one lucky reader one Silk Canopy from Sarah’s Silks. Each canopy is a  gorgeous ringed canopy of silk gauze, designed to hang and drape over a child’s bed, or to create a magical play space. At seven feet tall, the canopy will cover a twin bed. A silk canopy adds instant, beautiful decor to a child’s room. The winner will be able to choose one of five styles: Castle, Celestial, Snowy White, Rose Garden or Under Sea. View all five styles here. (Please note that he Lavender Canopy is temporarily unavailable.) Also, be sure to check out my recent interview with Sarah Lee, founder of Sarah’s Silks.

waldorf philosophy family home

To enter, hurry on over to SouleMama, leave a comment, and the winner will be chosen at random from all comments received. COMMENTS WILL BE CLOSED SUNDAY MORNING, MAY 23 AT 8:00 A.M.

In addition, Bella Luna Toys is inviting Moon Child readers to enjoy a 10% off orders of any size for the remainder of the month of May. Just enter the promotional code SOULEMAMA at checkout. Expires 5/31/10.

Best of luck!

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May 17th, 2010 | Sarah's Silks, Toy Safety, Waldorf Education, Waldorf Toys | Permalink | Comments (7)

Because the play silks and line of products from Sarah’s Silks are bestsellers at Bella Luna Toys, and being that my name happens to be Sarah, I am often asked if I dye the silks and make the line. The answer is no! That honor belongs to Sarah Lee, who founded her delightful company 16 years ago in Forestville, California.

Today, I am very pleased to introduce you to Sarah Lee, the founder and owner of  Sarah’s Silks. Sarah’s company is truly a pleasure to do business with and I am very proud to carry their entire line. Not only are their playthings beautiful to behold, but they also embody the qualities that I am committed to providing at Bella Luna Toys—toys that are nourishing to the senses and that engage the imagination. (Oh, and did I mention how incredibly nice Sarah and all her employees are?)

I got to know Sarah shortly after taking ownership of Bella Luna Toys last fall. I discovered a kindred spirit in Sarah. Not only did we share the same first name, but I also learned that she grew up just up the road apiece from me in coastal Maine. I thought it would be fun to interview her so that you could get to know her a little better, too. If you’re not familiar with Sarah’s Silks, when you’re done reading the interview, head on over to Bella Luna Toys, and take a look at the play silkstoys and dress ups from Sarah’s Silks. (Though sadly, photos on a website just cannot covey the rich, shimmering colors, and the wonderful tactile experience of silk!)

sarah baldwin moon child blog

When did you start Sarah’s Silks and can you tell us how your company came to be?

I started Sarah’s Silks 16 years ago, shortly after my middle son Noah was born.  I wanted to stay at home and nurse him, yet still be able to pay for my four-year-old to attend a Waldorf kindergarten.  Our local school, Summerfield in Santa Rosa, California, had a lovely teacher, Ellyn, who had play cloths in her classroom. I saw the creative play and use of the cloths and thought it would be wonderful to have some at home, too. I bought some silk scarves and dyed them with the help of my neighbor and our four-year-olds, while wearing Noah in a sling.

Friends started asking for some and soon I was selling them to the local Waldorf toy store. Then my four-year-old son, Josh (now 20 and an artist), wanted capes and tunics to dress-up in, so I expanded to dress-ups too. I made the first silk blanket for Noah. He loved the silky feeling, and I found silk wonderfully warm.

Voila! Sarah’s Silks was born.

Last February, I attended the NY Toy Fair where I saw many cute dress-ups for children, but noticed they were all made from polyester or other synthetic fabrics. Why silk?

Silk for no itch!  Many children are sensitive to synthetics; they may like the look of dress-ups but wear them only briefly, as they don’t feel good. Silk is also a renewable resource, encouraging Mulberry Tree farmers to plant trees in China. Furthermore, silk takes dye beautifully and flows well.

Where are Sarah’s Silks products dyed and made? Can you describe the process?

In the beginning all of our silk was dyed here in our home.  We still dye some items here, like most of the play silks.

However, cost became an issue and so my husband Mike went to China and worked closely with a man named Yue Fung, who has a degree from a Silk College!  He works with people in a small village who hand sew and dye much of our silks.  The rainbows are painted with a paintbrush.  Mike has visited the village, seen the women sewing in their homes, and carefully monitors the dyes for safety. We use non-toxic acid dyes, which are called acid because they use vinegar as the solvent.  It is much like dyeing Easter eggs!

toys boys girls maine wood

There has been much concern lately about toy safety and worries about toys made in China. How can customers know that Sarah’s Silks products are safe and non-toxic?

We employ small village workers who are closely monitored.  Also, all of our products have been safety tested to the highest European standards and the new U.S. CPSC standards by independent test labs.

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May 14th, 2010 | Toy Safety | Permalink | Comments (2)

In recent weeks, members of the Handmade Toy Alliance have met with members of Congress in Washington to call for amendments to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). There is now a draft bill pending, which may or may not be taken up for discussion. This bill would ease restrictions for small-batch makers of handmade toys and small retailers of natural toys like Bella Luna Toys, and could prevent hundreds of toy makers and retailers from going out of business due to strict restrictions, originally aimed at large scale manufacturers of toys produced overseas.

Cecilia Leibovitz, owner of Craftsbury Kids and president of the Handmade Toy Alliance, a grassroots organization advocating for makers of small batch children’s products, has sent out this urgent call for action to bring the discussion before Congress and to help save handmade toys and keep their sale legal in the U.S. I am happy to share her appeal here, and urge all of you who believe in safe, quality handcrafted toys to join me in taking action!

Handmade Toy Alliance

Republicans and Democrats disagree on a CPSIA amendment that would offer relief to thousands of small batch children’s product makers.

Will small batch makers and specialty retailers of children’s products survive the CPSIA? This has always been the question, and as from the beginning, this law has left us suddenly on the verge of extinction. Eighteen months of hard work has resulted at least in recognition of the fact that our preservation was not considered when this law was passed. However, we are still very much endangered, and action is needed now more than ever.

Thanks to the collective voices of American small businesses and citizens, we were heard by the media and our representatives, and could not be ignored. Once again, we must raise our voices, to prevent handmade children’s products from becoming a casualty of Washington’s inner partisan disagreements.

Recently a bill was introduced by the Department of Energy and Commerce, to amend the CPSIA, offering important relief to thousands of small batch business owners. This relief would prevent many from closing their doors. Democrats and Republicans in Washington cannot see eye to eye on the need for the proposed agreement.

We need to tell our representatives today that it is time to take a stand, and show their commitment to keeping our businesses alive. We at the Handmade Toy Alliance urge you to call your representative in the House Commerce Committee and ask for the CPSIA draft bill to go to mark up and become open for discussion. We have been told time and time again, that we must call, call, and call if we are to be heard. The combined power of our voices is what it will take to keep small batch children’s products from becoming a distant memory in America. Please help! Contact the Minority side at 202-225-3641, and Majority side at 202-225-2927. You are likely to get an answering machine. Leave your name, city, state, House Representative’s name and urge that they must work together openly in committee to bring about an amendment to the CPSIA now.

waldorf dolls silks games gifts paintsDo you love handmade toys? Tell us why.

Did you take action? Report your calls here.

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May 3rd, 2010 | Education, Natural Toys, Play, Waldorf Dolls, Waldorf Education, Waldorf Toys, Wooden Toys | Permalink | Comments (21)

 

When I am asked by a new acquaintance what I do for a living, I explain that I am a former Waldorf teacher and that sell and share my love of Waldorf toys. I am frequently met with a blank stare, in which case I know that more explanation is needed.

I will go on to explain that the kinds of toys we carry are wooden, eco-friendly and organic toys. You know, “green toys.” This gives most people a better idea, but there is so much more to it than that. Beyond simply being natural toys, what exactly makes a toy a “Waldorf toy?”

Waldorf Flower Fairy Dolls

Nourishing to the Senses

Since families have become more eco-conscious in recent years, toymakers are producing many more eco-friendly and natural toys to meet the increasing demand. But Waldorf schools, which originated in the 1920’s, have always provided children with toys made of natural materials, such as wood, silk, wool and cotton.

Yes, these kinds of toys are good for the environment, but most importantly, they are good for children! I’ve written previously here about the importance of sensory experience in early childhood, so one important hallmark of a “Waldorf toy” is that it be nourishing to a young child’s senses.

Imagine the sensory experience of a toddler cuddling a rigid, hard plastic doll with synthetic hair, and then cuddling a Waldorf doll stuffed with wool, covered in cotton with a head of soft mohair. Not only is the Waldorf doll more aesthetically pleasing, but its softness and warmth will having a calming and soothing effect on a young child.

Beautiful to Behold

Waldorf toys should also be beautiful to behold, because sight is as important as touch. We want to nurture children in a beautiful environment and their playthings should be beautiful as well. By surrounding children with beauty, we are not only contributing to their sense of wellbeing (or “sense of life,” as Rudolf Steiner referred to it), but also developing their aesthetic awareness and appreciation.

Toys that are made from natural materials, with rich, natural colors, and that are lovingly handcrafted are inviting, and contribute to a child’s “sense of life.” A child is much more likely to feel reverence for a beautiful handcrafted toy and care for it accordingly than he is for a mass-produced plastic toy. As Plato so eloquently recognized, “the most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”

Inspiring the Imagination

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, suggested that children’s playthings should be largely unformed in order to stimulate a child’s imagination. What does this mean? Waldorf toys are often simple, without a lot of detail.

Waldorf teachers believe that toys should be simple and open-ended. Baskets of tree branches (like our Tree Blocks), play silks, stones, pinecones and shells all can be transformed into a myriad of objects. During a typical morning in a Waldorf kindergarten, one would likely see shells become money; wooden blocks become food; a small piece of tree branch become a telephone; silks become skirts and veils; and so on. By giving children objects that are not highly formed and detailed, they can easily become more than one thing, and give children’s imaginations free reign.

If you are familiar with a Waldorf doll, you no doubt have noticed that such dolls have minimal facial features, and sometimes no faces at all! As is the case with most aspects of Waldorf education, the reason is not arbitrary. Waldorf dolls have minimal or no faces in order to encourage the imagination of the young child—to cultivate her “inner picturing” abilities.

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Again, think of a hard, formed plastic doll, with a highly detailed face, and a fixed, frozen smile. If a young child is playing “house” and caring for this baby, it is hard to imagine this baby to be sad or crying. Children want to imitate real life. Real babies smile and laugh, but they also look sad or cry when they are hungry or need changing. If a doll has just two eyes, and a suggestion of a mouth, the child is more easily able to imagine this baby expressing a range of emotions, living richly in her imaginative life. For the same reason, Waldorf puppets have only the barest suggestion of faces.

Imitation: Play is a Child’s Work and Toys Are Her Tools

Children naturally want to imitate adults and their daily activities. As Waldorf teachers, we strive to be adults “worthy of imitation” and bring consciousness to our gestures as we engage in the daily tasks of living, such as cooking and cleaning in the classroom. Knowing that children will imitate our activities we attempt to work in an unhurried and careful way.

Bringing consciousness to one’s daily activities at home, and providing children with child-sized versions of household items such as a play kitchen, wooden play dishes, and tools such as a broom, or dust pan and brush will allow children to fully engage in their imaginative imitation of daily life, and build real life skills as well.

Playing House

As I’ve tried to stress to parents over the years, choosing toys is not about “good toys” vs. “bad toys.” Rather, it’s about bringing new consciousness to selecting children’s playthings. Is it beautiful? Does it feel good? Does it leave room for the imagination? Will it inspire imitative play? If you can answer yes to these questions, you will be providing your child with all the tools needed for years of healthy play!

Have a question about Waldorf toys? What are your favorites? In the coming months, Bella Luna Toys will be greatly expanding its inventory, and I’d love to hear your ideas!

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