Within the pedagogical literature of Waldorf Education, there seems to be a lot more press about the developmental changes at ages six/seven and nine than there is about the developmental changes at twelve. This is unfortunate, I believe, because some of the biggest changes within the first two seven year cycles take place at age twelve.
Ages six and seven may be more of a “you’re not the boss of me” age, and nine may be an age of sensitivity and tenderness as children often seem to experience an underlying realizations about loss, life cycles, and separation, but twelve, to me, has the most dramatic changes and unfolding out of these three transitional periods.
A good deal of separation of the child’s own personality really begins at this age, and shows in the will of the child. The child may set now set goals, especially in learning, and may work at activities to really conquer something in the outside world that they are interested in intently. The will shows up coming from a place of inner individual moral development and personality.
The social element awakens; there can be a grouping off, especially after grade six. You start seeing this generally as early as around age ten, which is where fractions is introduced into the Waldorf curriculum in grade four, and this grouping off continues to progress. Many people remember this about the middle school years. It is important to make sure the children are in a group in a healthy way at this point – trekking, hiking, kayaking, caving and other bodily will exercises in a group is stimulating for this group and age.
You start seeing development that looks more based upon gender at age twelve than ever before. Girls tend to band together socially in a way that can be different than the boys – more hanging out, daydreaming, talking. The boys can be brimming with activity. Physically the girls are different than the boys. As the girls approach puberty, they are often fatigued and tired. Girls can sometimes border on depression during this time leading up to the first menstrual cycle, and girls can be (physically) anemic during this time as well. However, this leads to a general period of balance later.
The exciting part of this twelve year period is that twelve year olds are acting in relation to the world from their own inner being. Cause and effect really develop, and children start noticing things in greater detail than before and making more and more connections. In the book “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” Molly von Heider notes, “The increasing ability of of the children to use their intellect, to think logically, and to understand cause and effect manifests itself in individual ways. They begin to question much that was previously taken for granted. They become acutely aware of how the teacher tackles difficult situations. There is a new understanding between teacher and child, and new recognition of each other is demanded.”
Children of this age have a strength, energy, and vitality that needs to be used. It makes it a very exciting time!