Wow! I have had not one, not two, but three mothers who are raising their children according to the tenets of Attachment Parenting tell me that they did NOT chose a Waldorf-inspired education for their child as it was not “child-centered” enough, it did not seem respectful of the child, and it was not “democratic” enough. They are currently searching for schooling methods that are learning toward democracy and equality in the family.
I understand their concerns, and thought this was interesting as we consider ourselves an attached family – we breastfeed for years, co-sleep for years, practice gentle discipline, seek to put respect and empathy at the core of dealing with our children – and we have always considered Waldorf to be EXTREMELY compatible with this type of parenting. No where in “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher” or “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge” or in “Heaven to Earth” is there mention of spanking, or yelling or treating a child with anything but respect, warmth, love and delight. . I have not read of all of Rudolf Steiner’s works yet, (which total something like 400 lectures and 40 books) but so far all I have seen mention of is the notion that the under 7 child is one to be protected, delighted in, respected, and worked with within his or her physical body. On the other hand, the small child is not asked to comment on the state of the world or to plan the day for the classroom either.
To me, this boils down to if you believe in Steiner’s seven year cycles and if they mesh with your view of childhood development. Do you believe that while a child under the age of 7 COULD learn all kinds of things, be involved in all kinds of family decisions and situations but perhaps they SHOULD NOT be when they are under the age of 7 for their own health and well-being? Do you perhaps, like me, view the making of children into small adults in our society as a by-product from our society where we are more fast-paced, more stressed, and where American children are involved in more scheduled activities than ever before in history because there is no time for the children to be children? Do you really believe the American child has “evolved” and now is a higher organism than any other child at any other point in history to now have adult understanding at the age of 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7?
I recently got a book entitled “Black Ants and Buddhists” which is about teaching within a model of democracy, peace and thinking critically in as early as in the first and second grade. These kids tackled things such as deconstructing the story of Columbus, touching on the slave trade, looking at homelessness and social programs – lots of different subjects that are not tackled until later within the Waldorf framework. I wondered if these very small children, who just about sixty years ago in this country would have been having a half day of first grade followed by a nap, would understand these subjects or would they just become factoids within their brains? How much do you remember from your early years of education? How much do you remember from your early family life? I often feel ashamed I do not remember more of my mother, who died when I was eight years old. My neighbor, whose father died when she was 12, also says she has very few memories of her father and also wonders why we do not remember more from when we are little. If we cannot really remember important personal memories of such individual life-changing events, are we really going to understand something as impersonal, far-away and multi-faceted as Columbus and the treatment of the Native Americans who were here when we are only six and seven years old? Is is respectful to act like the children understand and are ready to hear the sins of humanity?
Waldorf treats children in a respectful manner that coincides with the appropriate developmental stage of the child according not only to anthroposophical childhood development, but also traditional development as seen by Piaget and as recorded in the Gesell Institute books. So where do these attached mothers feel that it is falling apart for them? I thought about this at length. Attachment Parenting does not mean that you and your child are equals – hopefully you do have more experience and guidance to bring to the table at this point! It seems as if many, (not all), attachment parents are rather afraid to be a parent that sets down anything contrary to what the child wants, in some ways, in fear that it will damage the bond they have with their child. Treating the child will respect does not equate to equality, nor does it equate to the child having a vote in every family issue.
To me, being a respectful parent does not only involve meeting your child’s needs, and some of the things they want, but introducing the right thing at the right time within the developmental cycles. Many parents worry about what their relationship with their child will look like as the child grows. I worry that if we treat our small under the age of 7 child as an adult, then what will the parent-child relationship will look like in the teenaged years? Perhaps it would be more respectful to the child to exude confidence in the decisions that the family makes and that the family does include and think about the child. Perhaps the things that build a strong family and lead children strongly from chilldhood into functional adulthood are things that may or may not involve the child – a child-inclusive household, but not necessarily completely a child-centered one – this may include seeing work around the house, going outside and being in nature, and having the parents have a intimate, loving relationship so the child has a model of a marriage. The adult does and should have responsibilities above and beyond a small child. The adult has needs and wants that may be above and beyond that of a small child’s needs and wants. We are not equal in so many ways.
To me, Waldorf does mean your child’s thoughts, and feelings are heard and respected, but within the context of the whole family; and this is also the crux of Attachment Parenting. The very best attachment parenting practices involve balance within the family for the parents and the children’s needs; this is also at the heart of many models of democratic living with children. Just the way that Waldorf accomplishes this is often through different means. It does not equate that the best way to be an attached family is to let your child’s voice be the main voice in the family that is heard. Your child’s voice can still be heard strongly within your family because you are the parents, because you are the ones who know your child best, and you can ascertain many things without talking your child’s ear off about things. Just as you read your infant’s cues as an attached parent, you can still read your child’s cues now that they are 4, 5, 6, and even 7.
The thing that bothered me in many of the positive discipline books (because, let’s face it – after the pregnancy and childbirth books, the breastfeeding books, the solid food books, comes the positive discipline books for many first-time parents) was the belief and treatment of all children, no matter what the age, should be spoken to the same and the discipline techniques should be the same. I believe in the seven year cycles that Steiner set forth: that the first seven years are for the body, with a protection of the intellect, the next seven years are for the feeling life of the child with an emphasis on beauty, developing a relationship to the cultural morals that make us a society, stories with good morals and good people, art, music, religion, spirituality, doing! – with the last seven years heading into reasoning, critical and independent thinking. Why are we trying to rush through these natural stages by treating a two, three or four year old like a fourteen year old? Is it not more respectful to the small child to set a rhythm to the day that involves real work for the child to imitate, stories and music and singing and art, cooking experiences, whole body experiences instead of burdening the small child under the age of 7 with attempts to think like a fourteen year old?
Is Waldorf disrespectful to a small child because it does not provide the child the space to make decisions all day long? My thought is that it may be important to consider how decision- making can burden a small child, pull them into their heads early and therefore compromise their physical bodies for the rest of their lives, teach them a lot of verbal games early and take away the protection and beauty of life we are trying to provide for those first seven years. Is Waldorf disrespectful to the child because the rhythm may be set by the parent with the child in mind, but also the needs of the family? I think the child needs to see a beautiful family, a functioning family that involves work and parents who love one another and are committed to each other and the well-being of the whole family. This gives the child something to grow into. It is difficult when the child is small and there are few boundaries when you are attachment parenting as the child is with you 24/7, but as the child grows, some boundaries between child and parent become important – otherwise you have a six and seven year old who is very concerned about the financial matters of the family, whether or not the parents will have another child or not, every thought and feeling of the mother, not too mention it seems many husbands and wives are craving a little more connection by this point! Some boundaries can be important for the whole child, and when the time is right, provide an opportunity for the child to move from being under the Madonna’s cloak of the mother into their own growth and development.
Is Waldorf as an educational method disrespectful of the child because the curriculum is not child-led? My thought would be that because these stories and the entire, detailed curriculum is hand-picked for the proper stage of soul development for the child, for the HEALTH of the child, to speak to the child at that stage, to not provide the child with these stories and subjects at the proper time seems like another unfair disadvantage that has been thrust upon the child .
I know many attached parents who do not hesitate to say no to unhealthy food and provide only organic food, who provide only safe toys, natural cleaning products, have no problem modeling good manners for their child – why would they not want an educational method that is totally built around the physical and mental health their child will attain when they are grown? Many parents are drawn toward Attachment Parenting because of the benefits of health for the child – the benefits of feeding with love, the benefits of loving touch, the benefits of listening to your child and forming a strong bond. And I truly believe that Waldorf is a choice that is made for the benefit of developing the optimum health, well-being, and morality of the child. Perhaps Attachment Parenting and Waldorf have more in common than meets the eye.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.