Here are a continuation of some notes I made for my talk for The Waldorf Connection on development and how to best support development in children during the first seven year cycle of life.
Rudolf Steiner said that by the time children learn to speak and walk, formative forces released from the head join those being released in the chest region. Whether or not this description resonates with you, I think one can see a change evidenced by the vivid memory and wonderful imagination children develop between the ages of two and a half and five. The memory is not ready for academic work at this point; it is emerging. The child is still learning through imitation and play.
Here are some suggestions for the best ways to support your child’s development in these ages:
- We must continue our own inner work and personal development; to have clarity in speech and thinking, and to really SLOW DOWN and not speed up. Things for this age need to be kept SIMPLE. If we are not careful as parents, this can be a time where we feel pressured to enroll a child in classes, step up “socialization and enroll in preschool. I have mentioned before that the age of Waldorf Kindergartens used to start around age four and a half and now is starting younger and younger. To me, social experiences are wonderful to think seriously about when a child is five, definitely by six. Ages three and four are still very, very little.
- To provide unconditional love and healthy boundaries. Boundaries with chances for restitution and even with logical consequences are important for this age. Boundaries involving YOU taking the child by the hand and essentially saying, “You may not do this but you may do this.” Using movement and singing and verses and fantasy to help the child meet the boundary.
More notes about this important subject: First you must be clear what the boundaries in your home really are, and what are the consequences (see more on that below), and what would the restitution be? And three and four is really, really little, so you are going to have to repeat the movement toward the boundary and what is and is not allowed 500 times before the child really and truly understands it. Some things also work in phases, and some of the things that drive parents to irritation really will pass. Draw less individual attention to what you don’t want, but keep drawing the child to what you do what. Keep striving to act as if you are the Leader in Your Home – because you are, and you must be!
Logical consequences for this age (ages 3 and 4) are not so much “announced”, but just happen as part of tweaking your rhythm throughout the day. For example, if a small child is just falling apart and hitting you and such, then the small child is obviously tired and does not need to go out and play with the neighborhood children. You don’t need to announce this so the child goes into another fit of tears, but just do it. Arrange your afternoon so there is something physically repetitive outside, an early dinner and an early bedtime. You must step up and be the parent for this age. It is not being harsh, but guiding your child, because what a child of this age needs is not always what a child of this age wants. If you are resolute in what should or should not happen, what the rules in your house are, how people are treated with respect in your house (including yourself! Are you being treated with respect by the members of your family?), then it is much easier to hold the space and hold what is RIGHT. You are showing your child how to be an upright moral human being, you are calmly setting boundaries and you are staying calm when the boundary is pushed against.
- To provide age appropriate expectations – see all the back posts by age on this blog
- Sensory protection!! Sleep, warming foods, rhythm, physical movement is all important. Protection from the stress and anxiety of the parents, protection from negative world news and screens.
- Connection – how are you connecting with this child even if they are in a tough developmental phase of disequilibrium?
- The lower four senses are being developed from birth, but I think especially in this period one must look at the sense of touch, sense of life, the sense of balance and the sense of movement. Some remedial (Extra Lesson) Waldorf Teachers view excessive unruliness as stemming from a disturbed sense of life/well-being, excessive insecurity as a disturbed sense of touch, and a lack of inner understanding indicating a disturbed sense of movement and balance.
- This is not the age to make children memorize things – building a rich array of language experiences through singing, verses and stories is important and children obviously will be able to remember things, but to not force memorization. The basis of learning at this point is experiential; hands-on. Why we are losing this in US schools when every mainstream childhood development textbook points this out is beyond me.
- Less talking about things and more doing, matter of fact responses and calm responses to about of bounds behavior and language.
- Children of these ages need hours and hours a day outside. You can view the posts on Nokken on this blog regarding the concept of a Forest Kindergarten.
- Show the child practical work – de-mechanize your home as much as possible; do tasks and figure out what your child can do to help
- Provide a bit of benign neglect – see back post on benign neglect
- Help foster creative play – see back posts on fostering creative play
- What are you doing to nourish yourself? When are your breaks? How does your spouse or partner play into this picture? Are you on the same page? If your spouse or partner cannot help you, would there be someone in your neighborhood who could come over and be a mother’s helper so you could still be home and yet do what you need to do for a few hours a week? What artistic and spiritual activities are you doing to nourish yourself each and every week?
In the fifth year, we also recognize that the child begins (BEGINS!!) to be understand a bit about what is right and what is wrong. As the adult shows over and over what it means to be an upright human being, then faith develops in that adult. Faith in an adult induces a feeling of authority, which is very important as a child moves from the fifth year into the six/seven year transformation and the grades.
The next post will be the last in this series, and it will take a peek at how to support development during the six/seven year change.