The Rant: Development of the Whole Child, Part Two

I think one thing parents should be very aware of is how the development of movement takes place.   Movement of the ages before birth to age three is especially tied to relationships with other human beings.   I love how Rahima Baldwin Dancy writes about this time period:

This change in consciousness from infancy to three years involves waking up, in the sense that the participatory consciousness of the newborn gradually becomes replaced by a strong sense of self (just try opposing the will of a two-year-old!).  Before this strong sense of I can emerge, the child must first develop language, thinking and memory.

Penetration of the body, which culminates in walking, is a fundamental task of the baby’s first year.  Talking is a key task of the second year. And thinking and memory are areas of tremendous development in the third year.  -You Are Your Child’s First Teacher,  page 67.

If we think about this from a sheer physical, materialistic perspective, the brain starts to develop around the third week of gestation and continues to develop throughout the lifespan of the human being.  By age 6, the brain has about 90 percent of its adult volume.  The characteristic gyri and sulci of the brain develop between the weeks of gestational week eight and gestational week 36, with some  development extending into the post-natal period.   The human brain is an unfinished organ,  and Rudolf Steiner saw this and wrote about it — quite a remarkable idea for the early twentieth century, especially considering that the decade of the 1990’s was the decade labeled the “decade of the brain”.  What Steiner added to this thought about the unfinished brain being influenced and developed by movement and the development of the senses was that the soul and spirit within our bodies works on the brain itself, and that the environment works on our internal organs.  The limbs and dexterity of the limbs has much to do with the health of the child in  the physical, social, emotional and intellectual realms.

If one talks to pediatric therapists, they can outline a pretty set standard of  physical development that  they learned in school.  Not every child will go through this path of development, but the pieces children do accomplish is beneficial.  Every self-initiated movement and accomplishment  not only brings development of the body and the brain, but develops the will of the child and his or her own satisfaction.

The quality of movement is most important, and the physical path typically looks something like this, (as an example we will use the progression of an infant who is on his or her back): Continue reading

The Rant: Development of The Whole Child, Part One

(I encourage you to read the really thought-provoking comments on this post!- Carrie)

My basic premise this week is that not only is childhood under assault, but childhood development is not understood in North America, and unfortunately not even well understood by many parents or even the professionals who work with children.

Movement is a foundation for all learning.The first key aspect to understanding childhood development is to know and understand that the child is not an object to be acted upon,  but that the child is a unique person whom we approach with love and understanding.

Too many times in our society we treat the infant as an object to be fed at “x” number of hours, an object that should be sleeping through the night, an object for us to do something to and put down.  If the child is a person as I have posited above,  then we are not here to parent to “do something” to that child.  The infant, for example, is not an object to just feed or diaper.  At the heart of infant care (and at the heart of  being with children of any age) is connection and cue-based interactions.  The child is shaped by the impressions it takes in of its environment.  The brain is developing throughout the lifetime.

A loving relationship with a primary caregiver is a  force in helping the child’s development unfold.  Connection is a primary motivating force for an infant in movement.  We have all seen the studies regarding infants who are in an orphanage and are never touched; they don’t thrive.

If connection is a necessity and it is  foundational  to movement, then cue-based interaction gives validity to the infant as a person.  If I am in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Continue reading

The Rant: Development of the Whole Child

So, this week I am just going to let it go and have a good little rant.  I went to a wonderful conference this weekend that was a gathering of Waldorf Early Childhood Educators  in my region, and it was said in this conference that childhood development is the best-kept secret in North America.

I would go a step further and say the development of how children move is under assault at ridiculous proportions.  No one seems to see anymore the link between sensory- motor development and later academic success.  No one seems to see the link between sensory- motor development and later emotional-social regulation.  And no one seems to see the link between being comfortable in the body in childhood and how we later become healthy adults.

We have so much information out there and yet we have practically nothing at all that is developmentally appropriate.  It is so frustrating!

We are seeing panic attacks in tiny children, anxiety and depression in our teenagers, rising obesity rates in our children, children whose fine motor skills at the kindergarten levels that are so far behind what we used to see in children entering kindergarten, and we are seeing children with sensory challenges and motor development issues across the board.  And yet, somehow, all we can think about in this country is stuffing more information into these children with snippets of factoids and making sure they know how to press buttons on a computer and that they are satiated with every cheap material good that is around.

So, this week, come delve with me into the world of the child and how movement develops and what you should be looking for at home and what you can do to help your child thrive.  I know I am probably preaching to the choir with those of you who read this blog, but perhaps together we can all lobby for change in the typical way childhood development is approached in North America, and yes, the world.

Peace,

Carrie

Simplicity Monday: Children and Sports

It was a most beautiful fall weekend here in the Deep South…and I spent the majority of my weekend at a continuing education course for my physical therapy license renewal.  It was long hours in class, but very interesting information.  In the Pediatric Sports Medicine track I attended, there was a really interesting session regarding “Youth In Sports:  Are We Pushing Too Hard?” and I wanted to bring this information to you all because it is so important.

This information comes from the medical community – doctors, athletic trainers and therapists –  who love and care for student athletes and who really do want children to have free play and yes,  also to be on the field too,  but in a safe and healthy way.

The presentation opened up with a case study of a student athlete who was practicing a certain sport three hours a day, conditioning for an hour, plus scheduled practice at night, plus weekend tournaments, and was being homeschooled because there was not much time available for other activities.

The kicker?  The student was ten years old.

There were many other case studies of student athletes, who by the age of 15 or 16, had had three or more surgeries due to sports injuries, plus hours of rehabilitation.

The presentation went through how in the past, children played games that children created and ran themselves.  The goal was to have fun, the rules were flexible, teams and the players on the team were often switched,  and sometimes better “athletes” were given handicaps to compensate for their athletic prowess.   This was typical when I was growing up, and maybe when you were growing up as well.  Organized sports started somewhere around the later middle school years typically or even first year of high school.

A lot has changed in recent years.  Now forty million children sign up for organized sports each year in the United States.   In contrast to those games of childhood we remember, organized sports are led by adults, with adult rules that are inflexible.  The goal is winning, being better,  and working as a team to win a goal that is often adult-oriented (ie, MVP trophy, all-stars, etc), often with the best players leading and the rest of the children left behind.  The best facilities are often used for elite, hypercompetitive teams, along with the  best coaches while the “leftovers” often go into community sports where the fields or other equipment may not be as in good a condition and the coaches may be parent volunteers.  (Which in and of itself may not be a bad thing, but this particular session was looking at such factors as safety – for example,  the elite clubs may have better access to athletic trainers and medical personnel on the sidelines when injuries and concussion occur as opposed to parent-led clubs).  Most youth coaches, whether professional or a volunteer,  are not typically trained in childhood development so sometimes developmental readiness cues to play an organized sport are not known and the way practices are conducted completely miss the developmental stage of the child.

The kicker to all of this is that recent statistics show by age fourteen, 73 percent of children who were in organized sports DROP OUT.  It is no longer fun.  My family went through this ourselves last year with our then fifth grader, and I can attest to this. Continue reading

Judgment

This beautiful article about judgment, guilt and parenting is something I feel every parent should read:  http://www.lifewaysnorthamerica.org/blog/finding-grace-jennifer-sullivan

My favorite quote is this one:

I held this silent boy for sometime in my mind, carefully turning the situation over and over.  I had judged the father, and I also had judged the son.  In that moment, the boy taught me that all things are not what they seem.   He reminded me we each have a path and our stories are not the same.  Instead of passing judgment, I could have surrounded each person with love.  How else can we find happiness if we cannot elevate the other?  We must also look past our weaknesses, move forward, and enjoy this life fully by discovering our own grace.  I can only strive to do the very best in each moment and that is all.  Then I must remember that everyone else is doing the same.  I have come to realize that life is about balance and grace, not perfection.  We would succeed as parents if the lessons we offer our children were about acceptance, forgiveness, and love.  I must promise them this.

How many times a day as mothers do we judge ourselves?  Fill in the blank: “I am not (patient enough, strong enough, capable enough, smart enough, kind enough”, etc)”

How many times a day do we Continue reading

Computer Gaming and Children: Practical Advice

(As a Waldorf family, our instant answer to the question of computer gaming and children  is “no”!  Childhood lasts until age 21 and it is our job to protect our children. However, I also get mail from many families that are not Waldorf families, and their children are already playing computer games at young ages and playing a lot, so I asked my husband for some moderate thought on this issue.  You will notice he advocates strong limits on gaming for teenagers and to not start until the high school years or longer if possible.  There are many fun alternative ways to spend time, but for families who choose to have their teenagers participate in gaming, he lists the pitfalls to be aware of.  I appreciate his insight here. – Carrie)

For the last five years my lovely wife Carrie has been publishing her thoughts, ideas and experiences to the world in this blog.    In that five years I have supported her and this blog from both the emotional and technical side.  That’s not only my role as her husband, but as the father of our children.

controllerThroughout that time, Carrie would often ask guests to post and add to the conversation where it makes sense.The topic of computer gaming and its impact on children is a question that Carrie has received frequently, though in recent months the requests and comments about this subject have increased.   Clearly this is a subject that should be addressed and Carrie has very nicely asked me to post on this subject. Continue reading

The Twelve Year Old

Here is the picture of the true physical being of a twelve year old:

The forces of growth now become active in the bony system of the body.  The muscles, which were previously bound up with the rhythmic system, become part of the mechanical working of the skeleton….Limb activity appears clumsy when this process begins, and this is made more complicated by the further accelerated growth of the physical body.  The girls have already shown growth in their height and weight, but now it is the boys who take a turn and begin to make visible changes.  If you watch closely, you will notice that the girls start to develop hips and the indentation of the waist, also the breasts begin to form.  Other changes that are not as easy to see are fuller lips and the cheekbones, which begin to emerge from the skull. – Eurythmy for the Elementary Grade by Francine Adams

Rudolf Steiner talked about how this time, the sixth grade year, is a time where the bones are first perceptible.  The child is moving into a heavier, more muscular, time of development.  In this way, things like copper rod exercises as done in eurythmy in the Waldorf Schools show that the rod is indeed the extension of this perceptible bone and provide the challenge and precision a twelve year body needs.  This year of sixth grade and being twelve is a time of challenge, precision, looking forward.

Many twelve- year-olds seem to detest movement outside of a favored sport or two, but they also seem to love a challenge. Something specific such as hiking,  or learning a skill such as how to paddleboard or kayak, can really fill the child’s need for challenge.  They really need you as a model to get out and be physical, and to be outside and be physical as a family.  They need you to help initiate it all.  In Waldorf Schools, gymnastics becomes an adjunct for geometry (Bothmer Gymnastics).  We cannot bring that at home, but we can do our best to bring in movement and also a social experience, so important for twelve year olds.

So, there is this heaviness of the child on the earth that I just described, but there is also Continue reading