The pink bubble of the Waldorf kindergarten does not last forever, that is true. However, this does not mean that the world is so quickly expanded for the seven and eight-year old that suddenly they become miniature teenagers. This is not what a seven or eight-year old needs, although this is the tact our society often takes. I was pleasantly surprised to speak with a friend the other day whose second-grade daughter is doing no extracurricular activities outside of attending public school. This, however, is the only person I have talked with where this is happening. Around my part of town, for example, many of the first and second graders I see are on the go from early morning – up at 6 AM to catch a bus and go to school, to attending school all day, to aftercare or sports (do you all honestly remember playing competitive sports in first and second grade? Do you? I don’t), out to dinner with parents (at least they are all eating dinner together!), off for homework and off to bed around 9 – to start all over the next day.
I respectfully must say that this is far too much for a seven or eight-year-old. I think there is a direct relationship between the rates of ADHD/ADD, ritalin use, behavioral problems and the fact that we are asking these small children to “put in a full day”, just like a grown-up.
I think as Waldorf homeschoolers, we have a unique opportunity to treat our seven and eight –year -olds the way they should be treated – with imagination, with creativity, with watching their skills and development unfold, providing plenty of opportunities for sensory experiences and outside play, for provoking academic work through art and music.
We also have a chance to establish strong routines and rhythms in our homes with periods of in-breath and out-breath. We can establish a bedtime routine of 7:30 for a first grader, and 7:45 for a second grader or earlier, as suggested by this Waldorf school: http://www.stpaulssteinerschool.org/home_rhythms.html
We have an opportunity to provide healthy food, regular snack and meal times in an unhurried setting (which is often not the case in public school where lunch may start at 10:30 AM with 20 minutes to eat).
We have the chance to bring spirituality into our curriculum and homes. We can foster gratitude, beauty, respect, reverence and responsibility in our children through stories, example and modeling as opposed to just slogans fostered in character development campaigns.
Most of all, we still can have the influence to slow them down. The Gesell Institute mentions in the book, “Your Seven-Year-Old” that one of the main hallmarks of a seven-year-old is the fact that the child wants to do everything, but is prone to fatigue. In our society we often take what our seven or eight year old “wants to do” and run with that to the point these children are so involved they are worn out, irritable and exhausted. Their small lives, instead of being full of imagination and wonder, are full of factoids for tests, long days and to-do lists that only adults should have.
The seven and eight-year olds in our society are vulnerable. Let’s protect them a bit longer, until the true skill of reasoning and logical thinking starts to be born, until the true signs of needing separation from the adults in their lives happens. Let’s protect them now so they can flourish later.