I was going through some papers this weekend and came across an article by Michael Howard that I had printed out called, “Educating the Feeling-will in the Kindergarten” and this quote just popped out at me:
“The defining characteristic of feeling will is the capacity to live deeply into the inner quality of something outside us, knowing and feeling it as if we are within it or it is within us. In the early childhood years a healthy child is naturally inclined to drink in the inner mood and qualities of places and persons. It is one of the tragedies of our times that the ways of the world, including the life of the family and school, can dull rather than foster this natural soul attachment. Tragically, many young children come to kindergarten with a sense-nerve disposition already strongly developed. Their thinking has become prematurely intellectual and abstract, and their feeling life inclines toward strong personal like or dislike.”
I have been seeing so many tiny children yet with so many big opinions. Have you been seeing this as well? This, is, of course, not directed toward children struggling with “opinion” due to sensory challenges, autistic spectrum challenges, etc. but more tiny children who just are so in themselves at an early age.
Within the grades, ages six and a half and up, we do work with feelings of sympathy toward something or antipathy toward something. That is an appropriate vehicle for teaching in the grades, and we elicit these feelings through stories, biography, history in story form, art, color in art, drama, poetry and recitation, singing and playing musical instruments, modeling and painting, movement, folk dancing and other activities. The curriculum in the grades is one of doing in order to learn. It is not one of “after I do my main lesson I will fit those art things in”. Art is the curriculum.
However, I think in the Early Years of birth through six and a half/seven, these strong feelings are stemming from
1. The cultivation of mood in the home. Can we surround this small child with what I call “A Christmas Mood” all year long? You can see this back post about that here:http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/12/12/surrounding-the-young-child-with-a-christmas-mood/
2. Too many choices.
3. Not enough BOUNDARIES. You can see a back post on that here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/12/15/gentle-discipline-connection-plus-boundaries/
The fine art of parenting is to know when to respect what they child is saying, when to know to respect the child and their developmental stage by setting a boundary and essentially knowing you cannot listen to what they are saying (for example, a small child cannot predict the amount of cavities they will get because they have a strong opinion that they never want to brush their teeth), or when to know this is something whimsical the child is saying and it will flip just a few minutes later. Anyone who has dealt with a two year old knows what I am talking about! Even a five or six year old will say many different things, many of them contradictory and if you put so much WEIGHT on their words and trying to meet everything they are SAYING but not telling you through their whole attitude, body, demeanor, etc. you are missing the big picture by focusing only on the words. Look at and observe the WHOLE child. In American society at least, we put far too much stock on the individuality of the child and that child’s words.
4. Too much information at an early age. Stop talking! Even seven and eight year olds need simple explanation, not a book. http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/12/31/the-need-to-know/
5. Not enough time in nature to just “be”, undirected. The “will” in Waldorf Education is often spoken of in conjunction with the arts, using that artistic side of the brain, but we do not “teach” children art in the early grades – we expose them to “artistic” activities that are part of the rhythm of the week and the day. Baking and digging in the dirt and such is the “handwork” of the Early Years child! So many mothers ask about handwork for the small child – yes, as they get bigger, finger knitting and such, but truly the first experiences for handwork are those whole-body experiences! The article I quoted above mentions specifically sand play, digging in clay (which has a cold quality and I know many Waldorf Kindergarten teachers who would not consider this activity due to that quality for small children, so that was interesting to me), using beeswax modeling material in a earth toned color (which I would say salt dough in place of beeswax modeling).
The article talks about how something as small as vibrant and bright color affects the children and diverts them from looking and living closely into doing and making form. The author also talks about creating things in a process without making anything specific – I think we see this best in wet on wet painting for small children, but I think in many other areas, we often fail because as adults we turn it all into more of a “project driven” thing rather than experience- driven thing. Just food for thought.
5. Movement, movement, movement – being outside and going across logs, up and down grades of land, riding trikes and bikes, swimming, imitating animal movement, gestures in song and verses.
6. RHYTHM and SAMENESS. These are also not popular things to say in American culture, where children are prized for their ability for being able to be dragged to all kinds of situations and places and caregivers at any early age. Yes, there should be a tight knit community for the child to grow in – a neighborhood, family, close friends. I am not saying that the small child should only be with its mother. Fathers, grandparents, friends, even the school if you choose to send your child to school at age four as many in the US do – school then is part of your community for that child. Treat it as such.
But Americans in general completely undervalue the need to protect a small child and to know that the small child will be the most healthy adult with a solid foundation of rhythm, good rest and sleep and sameness. There is far too much emphasis on giving children new experiences and novelty – only to discover these children in the high school years are “bored by life” and feel as if they have seen it all.
I know this sounds like I am feeling in a sour mood today, and I really am not. I love parents and families and their children. What I want is for us, as parents, to have a greater awareness that the Early Years are not a miniaturization of the adult years, that there are differences in children of these ages, and that we should have a healthy respect for that.