This is a GREAT comment from a reader regarding my post on “Social Experiences for a Four-Year-Old” that can be found here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/07/social-experiences-for-a-four-year-old/ and a few thoughts from me I wanted to share. Here is the comment:
“I’m two ways about this idea. On the one hand, humans are social creatures, and I think that includes children of all ages. In a close knit community, children would have endless opportunities for playing. It would be more like an extended family, rather than a “play date.” On the other hand, children in our culture really do not seem to play that well together. And I’ve found over the past couple days of my parents and brother being away (my son (2.5) and I live with them), my son’s behavior has improved tremendously, which I have found to be the case before when we’ve been alone for a while together. Anyway, I wonder what your thoughts are on only children, and on our isolated nuclear families (which seems unnatural to me, since humans are so social) in relation to this idea of staying home.”
I agree with you! In a close-knit community, a community that is like an extended family, there are LOTS of opportunities to play and to see play modeled for our smallest children by other children of all ages. My neighborhood actually still functions much like that with children in third and fourth grade playing alongside the preschoolers.
I also love the idea of just extended family in general. I grew up as an only child raised by grandparents, which does not sound like the pinnacle of socialization…..However, my grandparents were in business with my Dad and my Uncle who came to dinner every night during the week, my great-grandmother also lived with us, my grandmother had five brothers and sisters who would come frequently for extended visits (weeks, a month, whatever) and bring along their children and grand-children and I lived in a neighborhood where probably ten of us or more played outside daily. I also have so many cousins; last time I went home for Thanksgiving I think there was at least 40 or so of us who gathered. Our household was also the kind that always had neighbors, kids, everyone just hanging out. So, while I was and am an only child, I felt anything but alone!
However, and I think this is the caveat, is that in our society at this time, the push is not toward extended families for socialization or even for free play experiences of children that span wide ages. Let’s focus on free play for a moment. The push is for four-year-olds to all be together, or for four and five year olds to be together, but not to put eight and nine and ten year olds together with preschoolers. (That is why I ALWAYS advise to start play dates with children of the same age with some structured activity because unless they are very, very social and have had lots of group experiences (and even if they have had these experiences!) there are bound to be problems without the modeling influence of children who are four or more years older or parents).
I also feel due to the general nature of our fast-paced, get-in-the-car-go-somewhere-every day society, our children probably need way less stimulation than they are getting and need parents who are more conscious about keeping those twelve senses protected. This includes play dates, playgroups and other outings, especially for children under the age of 6.
Another interesting issue with “play groups” etc, is that parents act as if it is unnatural if their small children want to stay near them and just watch. We forget that indeed if a small child was playing with a large group of truly mixed ages, a small child would likely be watching more than participating, or they may be imitating and playing along the sidelines, so to speak rather than in the midst of everything. I am thinking of videos I have seen of village life or whatnot. The smaller ones watch and participate when ready. Here, I think it is more, “I bring my child to playgroup and they just stand there and what is wrong with my child?!”
I think the other problem we are encountering as a society is that we are pushing so many classes and lessons and structure for this age group (3-6) that we are really destroying the foundation of the Early Years of childhood. We are taking the time period when in years gone by a four and five year old would still be napping and seen as little and playing with mud pies and essentially filling up their days the way we do as adults and then counting these classes and lessons as “social” experiences. In the United States I feel public PreK and Kindergarten is also turning into this as well, because the push is not to play with blocks and color and put on plays but to sit as a desk and learn to read and write.
In order to combat all of these realities of where we are today, I do believe that the family is the structure for socialization at this point and the preference should be for firm entrenchment within the home and then branching out into the neighborhood. I prefer having the big extended family for socialization, but realize that this is not reality for many people these days. Some families create their own “extended families” out of friends with small children, but unless you live in the same neighborhood it seems this involves lots of planning, getting in a car, etc, all of which can be hard on a small child.
My vote is to work on creating the rhythms within the home, strengthening your own inner calm, simplifying life, carrying your child warmly within the family structure you have, forming your own adult network of parenting friends (but not necessarily dragging your child into it because this is adult support for YOU!) and then when your child is five and a half or six thinking more about the once a week out-of-home play date and such.
I am well aware this is a counter-cultural view. However, the protective bubble of staying home that Waldorf parenting should be about really is for the first seven years. Around eight years of age, rest times every day are VERY important, sleep is very important, but it is a good age to get out and do things. This time of less stimulation is really short! And the time to socialize is quite long; many children also experience profound changes within their social relationships around the nine-year-change and into the teenaged years. It seems to me the experiences of a three-year-old and four-year-old socializing plays way less into successful later socialization than we consider, but that the effects of over-stimulation and of assaulting the twelve senses lingers and influences things for much longer and in much greater ways than we probably imagine.
Much food for thought tonight, I probably will be pondering this at 2 am!