Neurologic Development: Opportunity, Experiences and Encouragement

 

Dear Friends,

This week a wonderful article written by Susan Johnson, MD has been circulating around one of the Waldorf homeschooling Yahoo!Groups:  http://youandyourchildshealth.org/youandyourchildshealth/articles/tv%20article.html

This article is called, “Strangers In Our Homes” and is about media and its relationship to the neurological development of the brain.  However, when I read this article for the second, third and fourth time, what I garnered was this: a profound interest in how what we do in Waldorf Education, within learning, affects the neurologic development of the child.  And, most importantly, how does this fit in at HOME where we are NOT re-creating Waldorf Schools within our living room? 

This part of the article was most interesting to me:

It is important to realize that a six-year-old’s brain is 2/3 the size of an adult’s though it has 5–7 times more connections between neurons than does the brain of an 18-month-old or an adult (Pearce 1992). The brain of a 6–7 year old child appears to have a tremendous capacity for making thousands and thousands of dendrite connections among neurons.

This potential for development ends around age 10–11 when the child loses 80 percent of this dendritic mass (Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998). It appears that what we don’t develop or use, we lose as a capacity. An enzyme is released within the brain and literally dissolves all poorly myelinated pathways (Pearce 1992, Buzzell 1998).

So, if in the Early Years are job is one of protection, rhythm, and routine, and community so our children feel loved and accepted and that they belong,  I strongly believe our job in the early grades becomes one of  providing opportunity, experiences, and encouragement.  I argue in this back post that experiences form the basis of what happens in the upper grades of Waldorf homeschooling, and whilst this is not completely incongruent with “what a child wants to learn”, part of Waldorf homeschooling is accepting that you are a teacher and it is okay to introduce things that your child will need as a foundation for what comes later on:

http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/20/unschooling-and-waldorf-the-student-teacher-relationship-in-the-grades/

 

Some children are more self-initiated than others, especially in areas of challenges.  We all tend to want to work in the areas where we are comfortable, yet most of us will admit that we have grown the most out of the areas we are most uncomfortable. 

So, we must ask ourselves:

Where are we in our inner work and MOVING FORWARD?  We cannot just wallow in the feeling life of what is going on with our children, our spouses, ourselves – how do we move this to ACTION to move forward?

And, most importantly, where are our children:

Physically?  Here is a list of Grade Three physical milestone from one of my favorite websites:  http://www.movementforchildhood.com/standards.pdfOpportunity for physical movement, for HOURS each day, is the most important key toward increasing and developing movement. If it is a priority for the family, it will be a priority in the life of the child.  Physical movement is the basis of learning.  One cannot develop further skills without a sense of the body.

Fine Motor Skills?  This is an article written by an OT that points out fine motor skills and some activities to strengthen the shoulder girdle and hand:  http://www.connectionsmag.co.il/articlenav.php?id=1170

From a Waldorf perspective, no creature on earth has hands with the potential that the human being does. Our helping hands are what can create beautiful music and art and writing and serve humanity.  Here is a wonderful article by Ingun Schneider, a physical therapist who is now head of the Remedial Education program at Rudolf Steiner College, about “Supporting the Development of The Hand”:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/journal_articles/GW4102.pdf.  She,  in part, writes:

After four years of age most children can hold the stick crayon or pencil through thumb opposition to the index and long fingers with the ring and small fingers in flexion beginning to stabilize the hand. As the ring and little fingers take up the role of stabilizing the hand against the drawing or writing surface, a subtle ‘arch’ of the hand develops longitudinally from the wrist to the space between the base of the ring and long fingers. (Like the feet, the hand has two arches—a transverse and a longitudinal—which create a cross.) Gradually, small movements at the metacarpophalangeal and interphalangeal joints begin to control the movements of the crayon or pencil. The shoulder, elbow, forearm, and wrist act as stabilizing joints, along with the core muscles of abdomen and back, giving support and a firm foundation from which the finer movements of the hand and fingers can operate.
By the time the child is five to six years old, his or her hand development has matured to the point where he or she now can eat and draw with a mature, ‘adult’ grasp. When writing, the mature hand rests on its side, stabilized by the little and ring fingers. The stick crayon or pencil is grasped in a relaxed, graceful manner with the ends of the curved thumb and index finger across from each other on top of the crayon, supported by the side of the long finger’s distal phalange underneath the crayon.

 

Part of supporting the fine motor development is to develop the upper body and shoulder girdle but also to provide OPPORTUNITY to practice fine motor skills.  Is there a craft corner, do you model cutting paper with scissors and cutting pieces of salt dough snakes, do you draw? Part of this is putting it in the rhythm for your household. 

 

More about speech and the emotional and spiritual life of the child in our next post.

Blessings on your week as you get back into your rhythm,

Carrie

Attachment And Individualization

I think as homeschooling families, one of our  main goals is always the connection of the family and how we stay attached to each other in a society that sometimes doesn’t seem to value that at all.  Some of the homeschooling families who read my blog, many of them, are also what has been termed and made popular in the common literature by Dr. Sears as “attachment parents.”

But what I want to talk about today is the development of the independence of the child  within the context of attachment.  I don’t think attachment and becoming more of an individual, more independent and more capable are mutually exclusive at all – we can still be attached but have separate psychological identities.  In fact, I would argue,  in order to become an adult that has a meaningful role within their own family and and as a citizen of the world, this has to happen.  We have all heard the jokes or seen instances of people whose adult lives were totally enmeshed with their parents.  It is funny for a television show, but not so funny in real life.  Enmeshment prohibits a child and an adult from reaching the fullness and freedom of who they are.

I think healthy attachment starts not only with connection, lots of connection and including but not being limited to extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping, but with loving authority and boundaries.  I think if you have read this blog for any length of time I have made that abundantly clear.  I think I have also talked a fair bit about boundaries.  Boundaries, in its essence, is not just how “strict or loose” your parenting style is; it is about how you GUIDE your child to HEALTH as a growing, developing SEPARATE individual.  It is also about creating balance, and creating opportunity for right growth, especially for those children where self-growth and self-development are not initiated.

Separation, to me, starts around the child is age three and says “I” for the first time.  That is the beginning, the spark of recognition that “I am myself.”  I may not know or understand all that means yet, but I am me.  Bernard Lievegoed, author of “Phases of Childhood,” marks this as a stage of self-awareness.  This can also be a phase of negativity from the child; by pushing against the outside world the child begins to develop the self.

It continues with the six/seven year old change.  Some parents write me and say, “My child went through the six/seven year old change.  They slammed doors, said they hated me, said that I was not the boss of them.  Then they were done.”

Okay, but let me put this out to you:  the six/seven year old change, to me, is not just about “you’re not the boss of me.”   It is about finding a psychological identity that is separate from parents – that they have a role in the family or at school, they know what that treasured and valued role is, and that they do  feel accepted and loved but also a bit “separate”, a bit ready to take a view on something…there is a shift toward the child having real opinions about the world, that may be different than the parent’s view, and that in this view that the child has a continuous self and therefore can participate in learning.   At this stage, children in the six/seven year change usually  also are interested in having friends, being a friend, in having community outside of their family.  I think many times this is neglected and not mentioned in Waldorf Educational literature, because the assumption is the child is at the school in community.  I think this is an important point for homeschooling families when looking at the development of their child.  To me, turning outward toward community and peers and not just within the family, is a hallmark of the six/seven change.

This process can take up to a year and a half, I think especially for sensitive children who haven’t had a lot of opportunity to be around  other children, or just children who develop a little bit slower.  They may not be as interested in peers until the nine –year change, but then I have personally observed that that change may be a much more difficult one than the six/seven year change.

I think one way we can gauge where are children are in the six/seven change is to look at their play(see the many, many back posts on play on this site about how play changes during the six/seven year old change), and to  look at their drawings of human beings, a house and a tree.  Here is an interesting, brief look at drawings made by two thousand German five and six year olds prior to school entrance, comparing drawings made by those who did and didn’t watch media, those who did and did inhale passive cigarette smoke, and those with psychological disturbances:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/articles/RB13_2rittelmeyer.pdf  There are whole books on working with children’s drawings in Waldorf Education; you can check Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop for those titles.

For the nine/ten year old going through this change feels utterly and sometimes desperately alone, apart from humanity, out of the Garden of secure family.  They have an experience of self and it is a tragedy; there is no shelter of the family or of being with friends. Therefore, I believe firmly that children who do not have a strong sense of community and belonging built up through early childhood through family, extended family and strong friendships can have an even more fragile nine year change.  Boundaries and loving authority can also make this change better, along with loving connection.  The child is becoming an individual.

From the viewpoint of Waldorf Education, three things are traditionally seen as helping a child become an individual:  childhood diseases, what author Edmond Schoorel in his book “The First Seven Years: Physiology of Childhood” calls “naughtiness” (which made me chuckle!), curiosity, and we develop memory.  One that Schoorel mentions briefly, and that Bernard Lievegoed discusses further is that of the force of antipathy.  “Very often there is the tendency to concentrate only on positive feelings.  This is impossible.  It destroys  the drama, the basic law of feeling.  Any attempt to present only positive feeling results in superficial sentiment.  Feelings are brought forth from contrast and the nature of their polarity…It is not a matter of guarding children  from negative feelings or denying them as such, it is a matter of presenting the feelings as opposites in the correct way.” (Lievegoed, page 170).

I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I do want to leave you with a few teasing comments by Edmond Schoorel:

  • “Children do not need to understand everything; it is even better when they don’t..It is essential for children to have the opportunity to ask questions; yet they do not need answers on the level of their understanding.  Mysteries are interesting because we do not have an answer.”  (page 260)
  • “When children have too little curiosity, we face the question:  can we stimulate curiosity?  I think that we can do this only in an indirect way.  When weakness has to do with the child’s constitution, we may have to work with movement development.” (page 248)
  • “Naughtiness can be a first exercise in waking up.  With naughtiness, the child turns away from the order of which he or she was a part.  It is a first step toward freedom and individuality.”  (page 246)

And this process of connection to others, and connection to ourselves,  continues as we grow and change throughout our lives. And sometimes we realize, yes, our circumstances and such may have been specific to us, but the tumult of different ages was by no means unique but being part of the human race.

Many blessings,

Carrie

Boundaries

Friends, I have been hearing from a lot of you recently via email and many of you are struggling with boundaries in your lives.  I am not a counselor, and I am not a psychologist, but I wanted to tell you a few things I have learned about boundaries along the way in the experience of my life and I hope it will be helpful to you. I encourage you if you are having challenges with this to go and talk to a qualified counselor.  This can be so helpful in getting your life, your family and your parenting going the way you want it to!  What a wonderful way to start the New Year!

Boundaries, to me, are a skill that many of us have to learn.  Perhaps our ability to set boundaries was damaged in childhood or early adulthood.  Perhaps we are not even sure what a boundary is or why we would want boundaries.  Or perhaps we have too many boundaries and have erected relentless walls in order to keep the world out.

Yet, healthy boundaries are so necessary.  A boundary is something we set in order to separate ourselves from other people; it tells us how far a person can go with us and how far we can go with another person.  It keeps us from becoming enmeshed with another person:  enmeshment is a complete state of feeling so empathetically with that person that we take on the other person’s feelings, responsibilities,challenges and problems completely and wholly as our own.   As parents, we are separate from our children; we are different people. And, boundaries not only separate us from our children, but it also shows how we are linked together in familial roles.  We are linked together, but we are not the same.  We are the adult.  The relationship is not an equal one.  We have more experience and more guidance, more logic and reasoning to bring to any situation.  We also have a duty to honor the developmental stage of our child and we can do this with boundaries.

Relationships without boundaries cause dependency and stunted emotional growth for both ourselves and the other party involved.   If we have too many boundaries, no one can get close to us at all and we end up isolated and alone.   With good boundaries, we learn to develop an appropriate sense of roles amongst family members and the other people in our lives. We learn to respect ourselves and others.  We can trust and listen not only to ourselves, but to others.

Specifically in parenting, boundaries allow children to feel safe and secure.  Boundaries helps children learn self-control and how to function with people outside of their immediate family. Parents who set good boundaries for themselves and for their children are modeling for the children, how, in turn, to set emotional and physical boundaries for themselves.  If we can be calm as a child tests out what the boundary and line in the sand actually is, then we are modeling for our child how to handle this in their own lives.   We help them learn how to function in the world.

For parents who have trouble setting any boundaries for their children, out of “respect” for the child,  I often will ask the parent: Continue reading

A Traditional Developmental View of The Eleven Year-Old

Eleven is a really interesting time in which to observe development; in many ways it is more akin to the six/seven year transformation and change.  That same burst of complete restless energy is there, along with crying outbursts from both girls and boys, and a complete preview of adolescence to come. It is a different energy than children going through the nine year change, where the child is feeling lonely and separated.

Let’s take a closer look at the developmental qualities of an eleven-year old from a traditional perspective: Continue reading

Taking Stock

I know everyone is focused on the holiday season right now, but it really is a wonderful time of year to take stock as to what has gone on in homeschooling…Really look at your child, look at what you have done so far, and look at what is essential to finish up this year.

Child Observation is such a strong key. This is a good article by Stephen Spitalny regarding the polarities of childhood development and starting points for balance:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=444:springsummer-2002-issue-42-characterizing-the-balancing-polarities&catid=15:gateways&Itemid=10 Continue reading

How The Shy/Fearful Child Learns To Expand Their World

So, I have no  research studies on this at all…this is from my own experience and observations in working with families who have had extremely shy and almost fearful children.   I am not really talking about children who are more inward; all of us are on the continuum of extrovert to introvert if we look at personality.  I am thinking hear of children who are rather socially anxious, fearful a bit… Many of these children whom I have observed were only truly comfortable with their mothers and no one else.   Many of these children were first-born children, but not all of them, and many of them were girls, but again, not all of them.  This is my special small population sample.

This is how I have personally observed this type of child’s progress into the world outside of his or her mother: Continue reading

What Is In Your Way Of Being A Light?: Anger and Fear

(So, this is the kick in the fanny post that is a continuation of the post I just did about showing warmth and being a light for others this season, but from the polar opposite side of the issue.  If you are not in the mood for this, feel free to return for the next post, which will be lighter!  Smile)

Part of parenting, and a huge part of Waldorf homeschooling, is the spiritual journey we should all be on to develop our spiritual lives.  What we are is what we teach our children and what we show the world and how we interact with the world.

Fear and anger cannot drive a family life or a community without ripping it apart, even if you try to cover it up with other happier things. Continue reading

The Work of Biography: The First Two Seven Year Cycles

I talked a little about my experience with doing biographical work at my Foundation Studies course in this post:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2012/09/01/the-work-of-the-biography/  . If you have not done the preliminary work outlined in that post, you may want to start that first and then return here to deepen your work.

Based upon some of the ideas in my course regarding each seven year cycle, I have formulated some open-ended questions for you to answer in order to take a closer look at your own journey. Continue reading

Keeping Healthy Through The Winter

The winters of 2012-2013 and the 2013-2014 could be particularly frigid, according to some reports. (Here is one I was looking at:  http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/combination-of-factors-could-m/36990).

This is also the time of year when many mothers, especially homeschooling mothers, find themselves in the throws of trying to homeschool, bake, cook, craft, make gifts, visit family and travel…and essentially overextend themselves and get sick on top of all the holiday bustle!  Many homeschooling mothers I know seem to have long-term health issues that affect their immune systems, which really doesn’t help as well!

One of the first things that I find helpful is to make sure warmth becomes a priority.  I love Green Mountain Organics, and I notice they are having a 10 percent off sale on all their warm woolens.  http://www.facebook.com/notes/green-mountain-organics/winter-woolen-sale/166623896683512.  If you are unfamiliar with the importance of warmth, this back post may be helpful to you:   http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/12/06/warmth-strength-and-freedom-by-mary-kelly-sutton/

Rest is another huge priority; and I think rest extends even past going to bed every night at a decent hour.  I think it also requires Continue reading

Relating And Connecting

I absolutely love the book, “Connecting With Young Children:  Educating The Will”, by Master Waldorf Kindergarten teacher Stephen Spitalny.  (If you have not read this book, I really think you should.  Here is the link for it:  http://www.amazon.com/Connecting-With-Young-Children-Educating/dp/1105320820/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351371198&sr=8-1&keywords=connecting+with+young+children+educating+the+will.  It is chock full of wonderful thoughts for the self development of the adult, how to guide small children, and yes, how to work with and shape the will forces of the young child.)

Mr.  Spitalny begins his book with this paragraph:  Continue reading