We are up to page 34 of the wonderful book “Connecting With Young Children: Educating the Will” by Stephen Spitalny. We begin with the physical development of the child. In Waldorf Education, we see the development of the young child as the most important task for the years of birth through age 7. And, this task is the child’s to hold and own, not for us to push and force. We, as parents, help this unfold by providing a safe environment, physical warmth and by assisting with protection of the nervous system because an infant’s nervous system is not fully developed at birth and it continues to develop throughout the early years. There are many neural connections that are forged in the first three years of life, and in Waldorf Education, we feel protection and repetition, as the way to enhance this development. From page 35: “Repetition is a key element in neurological development, in the development of neural pathways and their myelination. There is a faint neural path at first, through repetition it becomes more distinct, and then becomes covered with an insulating sheath of myelin.”
Random physical movements of the infant give way to the development of the brain that allows for the control of movement. Controlled movement leads to developing capacities for speaking as finer and finer motor activities are developed – speaking involves motor activity of the tongue, mouth, larynx and lungs. Out of speech develops thinking, because thinking is in words. Flexibility in movement during the early years leads to flexibility in thinking in the later years.
The first three years especially are the time for walking (movement), speaking, and thinking – in that order. All of this comes from the child himself or herself, watching the example of human beings engaged in movement, speaking, and thinking. Thinking is founded on the development of speaking because after the early years we speak in words, not images. It is essential for the child that they not be “pushed” into walking, sitting up, etc and that child accomplishes this on his or her own. Therefore, baby walkers and such as not seen as helpful. Sometimes additional support is needed to help children who are struggling to overcome reflexive patterns by professionals, but many children would just be helped by spending less time in car seats, bouncy seats, baby walkers, and more time in movement. The step after learning self-directed, self-achieved movement is to learn how to care for his or her own body – self-feeding, washing, toilet training, basic hygiene and then learning how to take care of the garden and home as an extension of the body. All of this is learned through imitation, and not so much verbal instruction. Verbal instruction is the hallmark of the grades, ages 7 and up.
From page 44, “Play has the utmost importance in the development of the young child. For him, there is no difference between work and play…all varieties of play are the essential avenue by which the young child comes to grasp the physical and social worlds.” Play, not being instructed, is how a child’s brain develops. Direct connections and interactions between adults and children and children and children in play, develops the brain.