I recently have had questions from mothers regarding their small under 7 children and the children’s behavior or tendency to 1 – “wanting to sit around” all day rather than being physically active; 2- wanting to sit and look at book after book after book after book and 3; wanting to sit and have the parent tell story after story after story after story after story and 4; wanting the parent to play all day long with them. In many cases this is an older child or an only child with no siblings to play with, but I have also seen this happen with restless children who are just not peaceful yet.
Part of the view of Waldorf education is that children under the age of 9 are prone to “emotional excess” for lack of a better term: they are sensitive to the environment, the stimuli of the environment and are in the stages of learning about themselves. The children are viewed as starting to view themselves as separate from the environment, their parents, etc around the age of 9. I am sure we can all recount the four and five year olds who want to grow up to be an animal, a rock, (and at the same time a doctor or artist or whathave you). That is a good example of the consciousness of a four or five year old.
If a child has a tendency (and we don’t look at temperament until they hit 7, so please don’t say they their behavior is due to their temperament quite yet!) to just sit, or want to hear stories over and over, or needing a parent to play all day long with them, please go back and do the following:
1. – Look at yourself! Sometimes it is very hard with only one child. Are YOU physically active outside? Is that part of your daily rhythm? Do you garden, walk, hike weekly, go swimming? Your example and working this into the rhythm will be of utmost importance for this child.
2 – Look at your rhythm! There should periods of in-breath, of out-breath, periods of being inside and quiet, periods of being outside and running around, there should be time for spontaneous stories but also for that one special story with a candle
3. Small children under the age of 7 may need your assistance in playing. Children of this age learn through imitation, and therefore may need your help. However, this does not mean you need to sit down and play with your child non-stop. You can start a child with a scenario and help them set up things for them (or set up things for them the night before), and you can move toward being “the grandmother who does the dishes where the train is going through the town” or some other minor role. You can help the play get “unstuck” but it is part of our job to FACILITATE play, not completely organize and lead it and be an equal playmate.
4. Have some times when you are UNAVAILABLE. There may be times where you just need to wait “for the story fairy to bring you a story, but right now is time to peel the carrots for dinner” and hand them a peeler!
5. Which brings us to an important point: do not underestimate the importance of getting your child involved in helping with the chores of the day. Practical work is the heart of the home. There should be daily chores that are done every day, and also focus activities of each day.
6. If your child is restless, whiny, etc do not feel you have to fix it. If they do not want to peel the carrots, YOU go on and peel the carrots and sing a song. If your child is frequently “bored” (and yes, I have heard very small children use this term), tell them it is okay to do nothing and some idea will come to them through the angels or the fairies. I reassure my children that sometimes I feel like that, but mainly I can always think of some handwork or cooking I would like to do. If you have time, you can always take a quick walk and change the scenery.
Look for a post coming regarding facilitating play in children to come soon. In the meantime, here is an old post I wrote regarding “Fostering Creative Play”:
With children under the age of 9, it is our job to help them curb their “excesses” by using our rhythm, our calm presence, our help to enfold them in our love and warmth and to MOVE THEM FORWARD. If you let your child sit and look at book after book for two hours a day, is this moving them forward in their creative thinking, their play, their prowess in moving their bodies (which is a hallmark of what children under the age of 7 should be doing!) Have your big picture for the first seven years in mind so you can tailor your decisions around that!