Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Homey Home


In this wintery time, it's easy to start feeling cooped up in your house. If you have toddlers, you're bound to feel cooped up! There are two things to do. The first is to make sure that children get outside-time every day, no matter what the weather. I'll write an article next week on how to approach that to make it feel feasible and enjoyable in snowy weather. In the meantime, the second thing to do is to work on making your house a welcoming and homey place.  When children are in a calmer space, they often respond with calmer energy.

Think about places or homes you've been to that feel warm and welcoming. Where were they? What were they like? What was it about them that made them feel especially homey? How could you make your home more like that?  I know that for myself, there are a few things that make a home feel really homey, and I use them all at Rainbow Bridge. Give these some thought and see if they apply for you, too.

Comfort, Beauty & Practicality
A home that feels really homey makes sure that each space is not only practical, but has both comfort and beauty as well. Beauty without comfort feels like a museum-space instead of a home; comfort without beauty can feel hectic and overwhelming. Do you spaces have both comfort and beauty?

Comfort—Think about comfort for yourself, and for your children. I love to use texture for comfort: lambskins are lovely for a cozy space, velvet curtains, silks, cushions and quilts are all in use all around Rainbow Bridge, and all help to make it feel comfortable. Also, make sure that your furniture is comfortable. I have a friend who has had the same couch for years. She had moved it around from house to house because it was light and easy to move, but it was so uncomfortable to sit on that nobody in her family used it. When she finally got a comfortable couch (from the thrift store; it wasn't expensive), it immediately expanded the usable space in her home and made her home more homey.  Having comfortable, usable spaces for your family can help you spread out and use your entire house, instead of only congrating in one spot.

Beauty—Make space in your home for beauty. Tacking a deep blue cloth with gold stars to the ceiling and walls over your child's bed is easy and quick, but changes the whole feel of the room. If your shelves are jammed full of stuff, try hanging an embroidered silk curtain over the whole thing; it will calm the space immediately. In book cases, make room here and there to showcase small, beautiful things that you love. Painting the walls can really change the feeling of a room. If painting a room feels overwhelming, try painting just one wall. This can often change the entire feeling, at only a fraction of the time and effort. Also, look at your child's toys and the things that are strewn around your house. Are they beautiful to look at? I love toys made out of wood, wool, silk or stone, that are beautiful in their own right.

Make it Practical—A home that is truly homey is not just beautiful, but also practical. This sometimes means giving up how we 'think' things should be, and figuring out what works, and how to do it gracefully. At Rainbow Bridge, I was convinced that I wanted a full-sized table for all of us to sit at, because I didn't like the idea of having a kid-table in my diningroom after the children left for the day. But getting a table to sit fourteen is not easy. Not only was it enormous, but I had to get three or four different kinds of chairs to fill it up. When I finally gave in to practicality and got a kid-friendly table, the space felt so much more spacious and open, I wondered why I hadn't done it earlier. Other practical ideas might include having a play-space near the kitchen, putting a low book case in the hallway for toys, etc. What would be a practical change for your house that would make your life easier, and your house more of a home?

Perhaps the biggest thing you can do to make a space feel welcoming is to de-clutter. This can feel like quite a challenge with a busy life and toddlers in the house, but it makes an enormous difference in how a space feels, both for your and for your children. Here are some low-hanging fruit that can get you started de-cluttering:

Toys—Go through toys and weed out the ones that don't get used anymore. Then go through them again and put half of them into boxes so that you can rotate toys in and out of use. We do this at Rainbow Bridge, and children are always thrilled to see old 'friends' reappear. I often change toys when the seasons change, but you could also do it at a birthday time, or other holidays.

Use shelves—One great way to help keep clutter down is to have more shelf-space than you know what to do with. Have shelves by the back door with baskets for hats and mittens. Have shelves by the table to keep kid-bowls and kids-cups, and they can help set their place at the table. Have shelves in your study and put baskets on for mail, computer accessories, anything else that would normally be cluttering up your desk. If you can, get beautiful wooden book cases; to me, nothing says homey more than golden wood book cases!

Cover things up—Having twelve kids per day at Rainbow Bridge means that we have a lot of 'stuff' around. One of the ways we handle this is through the judicial use of curtains: velvet curtains cover up shelves filled with table-settings, dry goods, extra hats, you name it. We put curtains on the changing table to hide nine packs of diapers. Now when you look around, you see warm velvet instead of crowded shelves.

Hot Spots—Every house has 'hot spots': places that collect junk. Often this is near the door, or on a desk. The 'stuff' isn't likely to go away, but how can you make it feel warmer? Baskets to catch mail and papers? A beautiful iron hook for your purse? At Rainbow Bridge our cubby space was always a huge mess. I took cloth grocery-store bags and sewed a pocket on the outside of each one in beautiful cloth, and wrote each child's name on one. Now the cubbies are three neat rows of blue bags with beautiful pockets. What a different feeling! Not to mention that it's easier for parents to pack up and leave at the end of the day.

Clean as you go—Make sure that you include clean-up as an integral part of each activity you do with your child. Not “something we have to do when the activity is done,” but as a real PART of the activity. This can include helping to clean up after meals, making their bed after naps, etc. Kids love helping to put things to rights and showing that they know where everything goes, so let it be an activity that has its own value, not something that you're trying to rush through. Take a moment after the clean-up is done to reflect on a job well-done.

So, those are a few of the ideas I have.  I hope this inpires you to look at your home with fresh eyes, and make some changes, however small. I've lived in many spaces in my life, and the ones where I take the time to create a beautiful, homey space are the ones where I've been the happiest. We're going to be inside for most of the time between now and spring. Let's make our homes as homey and as welcoming as we can.


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