The Learning Circle: Winter
Today is the Winter Solstice, and the beginning of the winter season! During the darkest time of the year, we find many celebrations of light, symbols of warmth, and gratitude for life. In many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, our activities are mostly indoor as the weather becomes cold and unpredictable. Still, there are many ways to incorporate nature into your daily rhythm.
In December, we take a break and focus on the holidays. Chanukah, Christmas, Yule/Solstice, Kwanzaa, Zagmuk (from Ancient Mesopotamia), Saturnalia (Ancient Rome), Soyal (Hopi), Las Posadas (Mexico) are all full of traditions, significance, and cultural meaning. We go to tree lightings and chorus concerts, we bake and make gifts. We make ornaments and wreaths. We play the Blowing Ships game. You can fill the entire month just exploring the traditions of all these festivals, which makes for a very rich month!
December Book recommendations: Lights of Winter by Heather Conrad, The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, The Nutcracker (Susan Jeffers does a beautiful version), The Night Before Christmas (we love the one illustrated by Christian Birmingham), The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson, Where Did They Hide My Presents: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs by Alan Katz, The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales From Around the World for Winter Solstice by Carolyn Edwards, Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis, The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie Depaola, When Winter Comes by Nancy Van Laan, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, Chanukah Lights (pop up) by Michael Rosen and Robert Sabuda.
In January, we focus on warming activities. One of the best ways to approach this idea is working with wool. Begin with raw wool, if you can, and show the kids how to clean and card the wool. You can get natural dyes (we buy them here) and make a rainbow of options. You don’t need a fancy spinning wheel to spin the wool into thread, so try this simple approach and make some yarn. Finally, work with the wool in a variety of ways: knitting, felting, and weaving. During this month, we also continue baking and making our own body products (like healing salve, chapstick, and elderberry cordial) that will last us the whole year. During this month, we also celebrate the Chinese New Year by making lanterns and attending festivals. Sometimes the Chinese New Year is in February, this year it begins January 31st and is the Year of the Horse. Every year my kids enjoy exploring the Chinese Zodiac!
January book recommendations: Weaving the Rainbow by George Ella Lyon, The Goat in the Rug by Charles Blood, Knitting Nell by Julie Roth, Extra Yarn by Max Barnett, Green Gables Knits: Patterns for Kindred Spirits (includes patterns!) by Joanna Johnson, The Hat by Jan Brett, Organic Body Care Products by Stephanie Tourles (also check out the recipes online at Wellness Mama), The Dancing Dragon by Marcia Vaughan, Year of the Horse: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin
In February, we celebrate what is left of winter and begin to prepare for Spring. Working with willow (which is now bare and easily harvested) and wood to make toys and structures and working with clay to make bowls, insect nests, bird baths, and sculpture for the garden are all appropriate ways to get ready for warmer weather and are also what I call “heavy work.” These activities incorporate the whole body, which is wonderful for young ones who have been limited by the weather all season. We also spend a few days exploring Valentine’s Day and making traditional Victorian valentines with fancy paper and doilies. The history of Valentine’s Day is interesting, but my own children really get into studying the evolution of the Valentine’s themselves, from when they became popular in the 19th century until now.
February book recommendations: Great Book of Wooden Toys by Norman Marshall, Natural Wooden Toys by Erin Fruechtel-Dearing, The Kids N Clay Book by Kevin Nierman, Valentine’s Day is Here! (Fisher Price Little People), The Ballad of Valentine by Alison Jackson, Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda, Victorian Keepsake: Select Impressions of Affection Regard from the Romantic Ninteenth Century by Allison Leopold (an adult book- but full of gorgeous examples to draw inspiration from!)