By Katie Helms
The fall season, in my experience, is the most difficult to talk about, which makes sense when you think about the energetics of metal, the element linked to the season. Autumn is a time of letting go, the trees drop their leaves and there is a sense of openness in the crisp air. The metal element is linked to your lungs and your large intestine, this is the energy of breathing in and out and of gleaning the last bits of what serves us and releasing the rest.
As my lessons for young children begin to evolve around the gifts of autumn, focus falls on honoring, ritual, inspiration, data collection and breath.
When we engage in familiar sensory play, we have a chance to participate in a ritual activity or something that we do many times that offers comfort and calm. The act of pouring rice from one container to another, the feeling of sinking our hands into the deep container full of small grains, the repetition of phrases we hear our parents say as they prepare food for us to eat…all of these are opportunities for us to engage in rituals.
Even the rhythm of the our day together with the same song at the beginning, the same pattern of activity, cooking and eating together, ringing a bell and taking breaths together to say goodbye, this rhythm becomes ritual. What are the rituals you create for yourself and your loved ones? Designing this kind of space for breath in our lives matters deeply, I say. Noticing the repetitive actions we do that bring comfort and ease can offer healing even in the presence of chaos. This is work worth doing.
When I work with young children, I offer them opportunities to practice observation and to be little scientists discovering the world around them. One way we do this is with magnifying glasses and clipboards of paper outside charged with the goal to collect and draw the beautiful items they see. Data collection is linked to the fall season, a time for noticing what has value and worth and for gathering information. A backyard of maple leaves is the perfect place to do this kind of work. As children collect interesting items from nature, they practice looking and seeing, they develop the ability to focus on a task. They walk and they breathe, couldn’t we all use practice doing just those four things? Walking, breathing, looking and seeing? When children make drawings of the things they notice, they show us what they deem valuable to pay attention to. What are you paying attention to and how does it promote balance?
There is a balance in these lessons involving data collection, we also take time to arrange our items together in an altar space and we take time to talk about them and honor each other as we listen to our friends speak about what they notice. Sometimes we are too chaotic to do this work so we only come to the altar to talk or examine closely with our magnifying glasses when we are able to do it peacefully with focus. Isn’t that how it works for you sometimes, too caught up in the daily grind to take a second and be grateful and honor what you have? It is for me and I will honor that too by noticing that I can practice arranging the altar of my life and that it won’t always be a compelling arrangement at first glance.
Honor also shows up in the way we follow the children’s lead during class. By allowing the children’s interests and ideas to guide our explorations, we show the children that their ideas have value. Offering children a chance to inspire their peers to use materials in unintended ways is one way we honor their wisdom and creative spirit. Telling children how they inspire our own creative thinking has value. Do you let yourself be inspired by the children in your lives?
Inspiration and breath are two other gifts of autumn. The breath work we do with the bell at circle time helps us to practice breathing long, slow breaths together. We inhale until we can’t hear the bell sound anymore and we exhale as long as we can. As we develop the ability to breathe in this way, we cultivate valuable life skills. What if all of us practiced breathing in and out three times with intention every day?
My students and I invite you to take three breaths and welcome Fall.
Katie Helms is an artist and a teacher living near Baltimore, MD. She offers adult and child workshops several times a year and is available to travel should you be interested in a group class outside of the Baltimore area. Her blog can be found at www.radlabs.wordpress.com and she can be reached at email@example.com.