More About “Social Experiences” For the Four-Year-Old

This is a GREAT comment from a reader regarding my post on “Social Experiences for a Four-Year-Old” that can be found here:   and a few thoughts from me I wanted to share.  Here is the comment:

I’m two ways about this idea. On the one hand, humans are social creatures, and I think that includes children of all ages. In a close knit community, children would have endless opportunities for playing. It would be more like an extended family, rather than a “play date.” On the other hand, children in our culture really do not seem to play that well together. And I’ve found over the past couple days of my parents and brother being away (my son (2.5) and I live with them), my son’s behavior has improved tremendously, which I have found to be the case before when we’ve been alone for a while together. Anyway, I wonder what your thoughts are on only children, and on our isolated nuclear families (which seems unnatural to me, since humans are so social) in relation to this idea of staying home.”

I agree with you!  In a close-knit community, a community that is like an extended family,  there are LOTS of opportunities to play and to see play modeled for our smallest children by other children of all ages.  My neighborhood actually still functions much like that with children in third and fourth grade playing alongside the preschoolers.

I also love the idea of just extended family in general.  I grew up as an only child raised by grandparents, which does not sound like the pinnacle of socialization…..However, my grandparents were in business with my Dad and my Uncle who came to dinner every night during the week, my great-grandmother also lived with us,  my grandmother had five brothers and sisters who would come frequently for extended visits (weeks, a month, whatever) and bring along their children and grand-children and I lived in a neighborhood where probably ten of us or more played outside daily.  I also have so many cousins; last time I went home for Thanksgiving I think there was at least 40 or so of us who gathered.   Our household  was  also the kind that always had neighbors, kids, everyone just hanging out.   So, while I was and am an only child,  I felt anything but alone!

However, and I think this is the caveat, is that in our society at this time, the push is not toward  extended families for socialization or even for free play experiences of children that span wide ages.  Let’s focus on free play for a moment.  The push is for four-year-olds to all be together, or for four and five year olds to be together, but not to put eight and nine and ten year olds together with preschoolers.  (That is why I ALWAYS advise to start play dates with children of the same age with some structured activity because unless they are very, very social and have had lots of group experiences (and even if they have had these experiences!) there are bound to be problems without the modeling influence of children who are four or more years older or parents).

I also feel due to the general nature of our fast-paced, get-in-the-car-go-somewhere-every day society, our children probably need way less stimulation than they are getting and need parents who are more conscious about keeping those twelve senses protected. This includes play dates, playgroups and other outings, especially for children under the age of 6.

Another interesting issue with “play groups” etc, is that parents act as if it is unnatural if their small children want to stay near them and just watch.  We forget that indeed if a small child was playing with a large group of truly mixed ages, a small child would likely be watching more than participating, or they may be imitating and playing along the sidelines, so to speak rather than in the midst of everything.    I am thinking of videos I have seen of village life or whatnot.  The smaller ones watch and participate when ready.  Here, I think it is more, “I bring my child to playgroup and they just stand there and what is wrong with my child?!”

I think the other problem  we are encountering as a society is that  we are pushing so many classes and lessons and structure for this age group (3-6) that we are really destroying the foundation of the Early Years of childhood.  We are taking the time period when in years gone by a four and five year old would still be napping and seen as little and playing with mud pies and  essentially filling up their days the way we do as adults and then counting these classes and lessons as “social” experiences.  In the United States I feel public PreK and Kindergarten is also turning into this as well, because the push is not to play with blocks and color and put on plays but to sit as a desk and learn to read and write.

In order to combat all of these realities of where we are today, I do believe that the family is the structure for socialization at this point and the preference should be for firm entrenchment within the home and then branching out into the neighborhood.  I prefer having the big extended family for socialization, but realize that this is not reality for many people these days.  Some families create their own “extended families” out of friends with small children, but unless you live in the same neighborhood it seems this involves lots of  planning, getting in a car, etc, all of which can be hard on a small child.

My vote is to work on creating the  rhythms within the home, strengthening your own inner calm, simplifying life, carrying your child warmly within the family structure you have, forming your own adult network of parenting friends (but not necessarily dragging your child into it because this is adult support for YOU!) and then when your child is five and a half or six thinking more about the once a week out-of-home play date and such. 

I am well aware this is a counter-cultural view.  However, the protective bubble of staying home  that Waldorf parenting should be about really is for the first seven years.  Around eight years of age, rest times every day are VERY important, sleep is very important, but it is a good age to get out and do things.  This time of less stimulation is really short!  And the time to socialize is quite long; many children also experience profound changes within their social relationships around the nine-year-change and into the teenaged years.  It seems to me the experiences of a three-year-old  and four-year-old socializing plays way less into successful later socialization than we consider, but that the effects of over-stimulation and of assaulting the twelve senses lingers and influences things for much longer and in much greater ways than we probably imagine. 

Much food for thought tonight, I probably will be pondering this at 2 am!

Many blessings,


“Social Experiences” For A Four-Year-Old

A mother recently wrote in and asked about how to consider social opportunities for a four-year-old who has an infant sibling.  There are many choices out there for the three to five year olds, at least in the United States, ranging from classes to playgroups to park dates to field trips.

Well, you asked for my opinion so here goes!

I believe truly that the best unit for socialization for a four-year-old is the family and is siblings.  This is one of the best things about being home with our children; we get to spend so much wonderful time together.  In our society we talk a lot about “quality time” which in many ways I think is a fallacy for a young child.  It takes a lot of repetition for a child to remember what happens in childhood – sometimes YEARS of doing the same things on the same day is what they later remember into their teenaged years!  “Quantity time” is the truth.

Some four or four and a half year olds are socially interested, depending on the type of  little person that they are.  Awhile back this  age used to be when all Steiner/Waldorf kindergartens started accepting children; this has since dropped lower and lower to include three-year-olds in Kindergarten and also now Mother-Parent groups that may include walkers to three-year-olds.  (And I guess once you are three, you don’t need your Mommy anymore!  But I digress!)

Some four-year-olds are not very socially interested, or act as if they are interested until they have to be in the car, and then they are hungry and ask when they are going home after about five to ten minutes.  At any rate,  I believe the best social opportunities for social interaction outside of the family would be meeting once a week or so with one other family at a natural park or playground and to be able to plan to start with something STRUCTURED, whether this is a little craft, a song or singing games, digging in the sandbox together where the adults can hold the space and MODEL for the four-year-olds all those areas that are problematic – taking turns, resolving conflicts.

This is also unfortunately NOT the time for adult socialization, I am sorry to say. I know that is what so many of us as isolated, stay-at-home mothers crave, so I feel badly saying that.    However, many four-year-olds really need you there to see what is going on, and they need your help!  Just as you would not leave them to learn how to cook and operate a stove on their own, why do we feel it is okay to leave four year olds alone to “work things out”?  Four is a very expansive, out-of-bounds age (typically!  maybe not if you have a quiet little person!) and fours typically do need help and guidance because otherwise things quickly deteriorate into tears, aggression or other not so fun areas!

My last thought would be to keep the playtime short – an hour truly is plenty. 

Food for thought,


Realistic Expectations for the Four-Year-Old

Four is a great age:

For sitting on laps!

For snuggling together!

For telling stories!  Rhymes!  Silly stories and silly poetry!

For exploring nature together!

For practicing gross motor skills!  Running, climbing, walking foot over foot up and down steps, standing on one foot, skipping on one foot, running or standing jumping, jumping off of things with feet together, hopping on one foot, riding a bicycle with training wheels, catching a ball, sliding down a slide, digging in the dirt or sand, lifting, tugging and pulling!  Stirring. crawling, crab crawling, playing wheelbarrow

For practicing fine motor skills!  Buttoning, unbuttoning, lacing shoes, stringing beads, pouring and carrying water, drawing, coloring, painting, modeling

For doll play, dressing up, building

For encouraging creativity! 

For music!

For sensory input!  Rolling down hills, kneading bread dough, sand play, making mud puddles, playing outside in the rain,

For close supervision – many four-year-olds are destructive in their own environments just through innocently exploring and not having a great idea of the consequences of their own actions.  And why should they be able to predict the consequences of their own actions at this young age?  That is your job!

For snuggly co-sleeping – but also can be a great age to try sleeping in their own bed around four-and-a-half or so.

Having a quiet time each day – four-year-olds need this as they play and run so hard all day long!


Four is not a great age for:

“Field Trips” – This is an area where people will disagree with me.  Four-year-olds love “new” and going “new” and “special” places.  However, in my experience with many different  four-year-olds over the past ten or twelve years, most four-year-olds are interested for about 10 minutes in whatever you are looking at, and then the importance of the tiger at the zoo or the shark at the aquarium and the pink shoes of the child next to them and that child down the row who is eating something registers about the same on the scale of awe and education.   And then they are hungry and need to use the bathroom and are ready to play.   They could be just as happy with a field trip to somewhere within your own neighborhood that is “new” and “special”.

Expecting a child to do things alone without you being right there to direct or supervise.  Some four-year-olds do a great job at this –they can get up and go to the bathroom alone and get dressed, (and I would say for the most part this is the quiet, mature, less physical little girls who are first born)  and some four-year-olds really cannot do much  unless you are physically present because they just sort of forget what they are supposed to be doing or find something more interesting along the way!

Leaving a four-year-old with younger children without close supervision

Playing well with others (in general – again always exceptions) – Friendships are important at this age, they love to play with other children generally, but still need your help.  Do not tell two four-year-olds to “work it out”!  Help them!

Answering things in a scientific, logical way – if they ask you a question about the world, they are not looking for the ADULT, DRY, LOGICAL explanation (unless this is the way you have always talked to them and they play all those verbal games with you!).

Competitive games

Dragging them on endless errands.

Expect them to cooperate while you are on the phone!

Don’t expect them to stay dry through the night – girls might, but perhaps not!

Sitting through a whole meal without becoming restless!

Pushing academics!  The Gesell Institute in their book “Your Four Year Old” says on page 81, “Especially, do not feel that you must teach your preschooler to read.”  Waldorf Education begins reading around the age of six and a half or seven, and many countries around the world also do this.


Ways to connect to your Four-Year-Old:

Listen to them!

Love them!

Be silly with them!  Play! Have fun!

If you have a very active four-year-old, try to enjoy it rather than feel as if you are suffering along and waiting for them to “calm down”.

Leave your lectures and guilt trips behind!

Let your child know you love and appreciate them for who they are!  Active or not, shy or not, able to fall asleep well or not – be warm and loving!

Set loving boundaries in a gentle way – an out-of-bounds four-year-old is really going to feel more secure if you do this!

Avoid moral judgments of your child – just because they love potty talk now does not mean they will love potty talk when they are 15!

Structure your environment so you are not always saying “no”

Show them how to do things, have special times to show them how to use art supplies nicely, how to create a card for Grandma

“I’m Homeschooling My Four-Year-Old”

We often say this out of convention, right?  Well-meaning people ask, “Oh, is your four-year-old going to preschool?  Where do they go to school?”  and we answer something to the effect of, “Well, we are homeschooling.”

However, I think we need to be very careful and clear within ourselves as to what we mean when we say this if we are Waldorf home educators.  Waldorf Early Years is about bringing warmth to our child, love to our child, rhythm to  our child with a strong cornerstone of rest and sleep, helping to foster imaginative play, working together on practical things that create an ensouled home, singing together, and fostering a love of nature and reverence and respect.  It is not at all about direct academics at this point because children under the age of 7 are living in their bodies, in their motion, in the movement of the moment.  They are not living in their heads.

This is,  of course, difficult to explain to well-meaning strangers.  However, when one joins other Waldorf homeschoolers and talks about “schooling” their four and five year olds, I think we all need to get clear.  The Early Years is not about academic preschool skills the way conventional schooling is.

However, it is also not about doing NOTHING, which is what many parents conversely seem to think.  There should be a strong rhythm to your day, there should be times of out-breath and exploration in nature, times of fostering quieter reverence for a special told story.  Waldorf Kindergartens in Waldorf schools often make the day look seamless – outside play or walk, practical work for the day, preparing for snack, having snack and clean-up from snack, special songs and a story, rest time, more play in nature; and all the while the adults are engaged in strong practical work with their hands –  but the reality is that is takes quite a bit of planning to make this come off as easily as it looks!

Many mothers of Kindergarten-aged (and remember while Waldorf schools plan for children ages 3 to 6 in Kindergarten your child will most likely be five and six before having great attention for festival preparations, bread baking and etc without a peer group to carry them along) ask about planning.  Less is more for the Kindergarten-aged child.  Seasonal stories and verses can be simple and revisited year after year.  Craft ideas can also be re-done year after year.  There is comfort to the child in knowing that there is dragon bread on Michaelmas,  lanterns are made around the time of Martinmas. 

Many mothers collect songs and verses and stories by season on their computer in files and then take the time to organize it by day over the summer either by writing it down by hand in a spiral notebook or in a computer file that is printed out.  It takes time to collect verses, songs, stories, ideas for festival preparations and gardening.  This is the time for you to really sharpen your own skills – learn to play that blowing instrument, learn to garden and identify some plants, learn to knit.  Check out all the Waldorf Kindergarten posts on this blog, they will hopefully help guide you as to what you should be doing and what a typical Waldorf homeschooling Kindergarten day might look like.

The day should be short in terms of attention for practical work and the circle/story.  Steiner said if we got just 15 minutes of work done that the child could observe that that was wonderful.   He didn’t say hours of work, and in a Waldorf Kindergarten school setting there are multiple teachers and assistants and older children to help carry the group along. 

Mothers say, “Well, my child doesn’t want to do beeswax crayoning, they just do a scribble and run off.”  The point is that YOU do the activity and model it for them.  Children are notorious for not liking their mothers to sing or do whatever, and then lo behold, there the child is singing the song you were singing this morning!  The one they hated and ran away from.

You can work in a two-pronged manner:  stories and songs and activities that are interesting to the child within the realm of practical work for the day, and also by NOT forcing the child.  The child is free to weave in and out and just watch what you are doing.

Your child IS learning academic skills, believe it or not.  Many nursery rhymes and songs have letters and numbers in them, many things about science can be learned by fostering a connection with nature, many fine motor skills needed for handwriting and other things can be learned through arts and crafts and festival preparations.  You may find your child easily meets the PreK and Kindergarten requirements for your state with no direct academic work at all!

Get clear with yourself; there is a reason for the first seven years to be one of movement and will and not regurgitation of dry facts.  In fact, children who are treated to just dry facts by the age of 7,8, and 9 often seem to rebel against this and need more imaginative stories, more sensory and active movement.  Perhaps this is because this stage was missed earlier, and perhaps because even a 7, 8 and 9 year old needs to learn in this manner.

Four is a great age for sitting on laps, four is a great age for loving each other.  Do not underestimate the most important goal for homeschooling:  spending warm, loving time together and fostering close bonds between siblings.  This is the real and true goal of homeschooling.

So, if someone asks you if you are homeschooling your four-year-old, just know and be clear within yourself that you are giving them the foundation that will make academics even better later on, that you are giving them the foundational skills for relationships they will need later on.  Be clear that you are giving them the best education possible by the things we do every day as Waldorf home educators.

Many blessings,


Nokken: A Review of Two Books and A Few Thoughts

(Post updated 6/28/2012)  Nokken has come up on almost every Waldorf Yahoo!Group and Waldorf forum I am on, so I thought it was about time to address the work of Helle Heckmann.  More and more, Nokken is being held up as an example within the Waldorf community of what to do right within child care for young children, and as an example of the value of outdoor play and outdoor time and connection with nature for young children.  For this post, I read both “Nokken:  A Garden for Children” by Helle Heckmann and “Nokken:  A Garden for Kids September 2003 Celebration Edition.”  I hear there is also a lovely video about Nokken that I have not yet seen.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Nokken, Nokken is a Danish approach to  Waldorf-based childcare in Copenhagen, Denmark.  The minimum age for children to enter is walking age.  Helle Heckmann writes, “The child must be able to walk away from her mother and into the world on her own,” on page 26 of “Nokken:  A Garden For Children.”  The center is open for six hours a day only, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  “Our idea is that we share with the parents,” writes Helle Heckmann on the same page.  “We look after the children for six hours, the parents have them for six waking hours and the children sleep for twelve hours.  In other words, the family will still exert influence on the child’s development.”  The staff at the center does not change during the day, unlike child care centers in the United States that are open for long hours that necessitate shift changes.  The children are together in one group from walking age to age 7, and sibling groups are welcomed and kept together, which is again different from the vast majority of child care centers in the United States.  Most Americans would agree this is a huge and vast improvement over the majority of daycare centers in the United States.

Helle  Heckmann writes on page 27 of Nokken,”  It is obviously difficult.  Parents often need longer opening hours, while at the same time they want the world’s best early-childhood program with a motivated and relaxed staff.  This is a difficult task, and knowing that we cannot accommodate all needs, we have chosen to favor the children.  It is a conscious choice we have made as a child-care center. Most of our parents also have to make a choice.  They change jobs, reduce their working hours, or work flexible hours:  the solutions are many and varied as they consciously choose to spend a lot of time with their children.”

She goes on to write that the role of child care has changed; in the past it was for primarily for social stimulation and now,  “The centers must teach children the basics to help them achieve the necessary skills to choose their life style at a later stage.  The parents’ role is mainly to stimulate and organize activities of a social and/or cultural interest.”


Okay, I guess since I am home with my children, perhaps I have a different perspective on this as a homeschooling mother.  Why as a society do we throw up our hands and say, this is the way it is?  People have to work, people have chaotic home lives, so the children are better off in child care than with their own families?  Why are we not coming up with more ways to support and develop parents?  Why in this age of abundant information (yet, often contradictory and just plain wrong information!) are parents feeling so confused and isolated as to what children truly need?  Why is there not more understanding of children as children and childhood development and such as opposed to treating children as miniature adults?

Back to the things that are good about Nokken.  On page 31 Helle Heckmann writes, “Our first priority is to spend most of the day outdoors.  We spend five out of the six hours we are together outdoors.”  The children and staff walk daily to a park with open natural spaces and also have a garden with many fruit trees, berry bushes, sand pits, a hen house, rabbit cages, a pigeon house, a vegetable garden, a herb garden, flower beds and a laundry area.  The children who are younger and need to nap sleep  outside in an open shed, which is common in Denmark.

Children are met in the morning with a handshake, which I find uncommon for Early Year Waldorf programs in the United States.  This seems very awakening for the child, and something I truly only hear of teachers of Waldorf Grades doing with their students in the United States.  Perhaps my Danish readers can tell me if this is a cultural difference?  My husband’s family is from Denmark but have not lived there for a long time, so I have no one to ask!

The daily schedule is something that is lovely and takes into account the ages of the children.  On page 60 of Nokken, Helle Heckmann writes, “We are careful not to let the youngest children participate in story-telling.  If it is a long story, the three year olds sit in another room and draw, because in my experience it is important not to engage them in activities for which they are not ready.”  She also talks about how festival celebrations are mainly for children over 3 as well.  I love this.

The part I have the most difficulty with however, outside of the few things I mentioned above, is the perspective of child development based upon the work of Emmi Pickler and Magda Gerber and their Resources for Infant Educarers.  I realize this puts me outside of most in the Waldorf community, which has embraced RIE.

I liked Helle’s description of the need of the infant to cry as a form of communication.  However, much of the thrust of her perspective of infant care seems to be “to leave the infant in peace and quiet to sleep or, when awake, to get to know herself without constant intervention from her surroundings.  Often it is difficult to show this infant respect and leave her alone. Constantly satisfying your own need for reassurance and your need to look at your beautiful baby will often influence the infant’s ability to be content with herself….By giving the infant peace and quiet for the first months of her life, she will get used to her physical life; the crying will gradually stop, and the baby may start to sleep during the night without waking up at all hours.”

As an attached parent, I believe I can respect my child and still enfold her within my protective gesture and be physically close.  I believe I can still carry her in a sling and nurse her and  have her act as a (passive) witness to my life without overly stimulating her.  I believe in our particular culture at this particular time, parents need reassurance to enfold their child within themselves and their family unit, not to separate their children in their infancy to be independent.  Perhaps this is a cultural difference than Denmark, I don’t know.

However, I also have to say that I  do not believe baby-wearing is an excuse to take my children everywhere I went before I had children.  I believe in protecting the senses but doing this in an attached way.

I do agree with some of Helle Heckman’ s statements regarding infants, including her statement on page 17 of Nokken that, “The more restless the adults are, the more restless the children will be.”  However, statements such as “The less we disturb the infant, the better chance she has of adapting to her life on earth,” rather bothers me.  I agree in not initiating the disturbance of  the infant, but I fear too many parents will take this as license to just set their infant down and let them cry or to keep them passively in a crib.  I do  agree with Helle Heckmann’s assessment that it is difficult to care for children under walking age within a child care setting  because of the high needs of care and because infants need peaceful surroundings.

As a homeschooling mother, what I take away from Nokken is the lovely thoughts of a forest kindergarten, napping outside, using action to communicate with small children and not words (see page 32 of Nokken), using singing as a way of talking to small children (page 51), Helle’s constant inner work and development, her obvious love of the children.

And as a homeschooling mother and attached parent, I don’t like the whole notion that is invading Waldorf Education that children under the age of 4 or 4 and a half should be out of their homes, I don’t like the notion that the child care center, no matter how outdoorsy “shares” the child with the parents, and I don’t like the idea that parents are not as empowered as they could be in childhood development.  Why are we positioning anyone but the parents to be the experts on their children and acting as if someone else knows better?    Waldorf schools are also taking children earlier and earlier into Kindergarten, and I also have an issue with that.   I would like to see more effort to again, empower and inspire parents within the Waldorf movement to be home.   The hand shaking to greet a small child with such pronounced eye contact also baffles me.

There are many wonderful things at Nokken, and many American parents who need child care would be thrilled to find a center such as Nokken in their neighborhood.  Many mothers attempt to create such an environment as part of their homeschooling environment or take in children from outside their family for care so they may stay home with their own children.  These are all realities.

However, I would love to see a movement toward empowering and inspiring mothers to be homemakers, to be truly spiritual homemakers, to encourage families to make tough choices to be home with their children,  because I feel this is where the power of the next generation is truly going to disseminate from.



A Waldorf Parenting Perspective: Won’t Choices Strengthen My Child’s Will?

In our society today, we tend to think that offering choices to children is what prepares them best for later decision-making. 

In Waldorf parenting, we tend to think that children under 7 can handle small choices, such as do you want your water in the red cup or the blue one but we don’t always offer an alternative to water if water is what we feel the child should be drinking.  We don’t always offer a whole heap of explanation either; it may just be built into the rhythm of the day that we have juice with breakfast and with all the other meals we have water.  The choice may be to wear a green sweater or a blue one, but not whether to wear the sweater at all as we work with the concept of warmth in the family.  The same thing goes toward such things as setting awake times and bed times, rest times after lunch and times of in-breath or out-breath.  The Waldorf parent feels the healthiest way to teach a child is not through an adversarial relationship regarding these things, not by having a battle of wills, but by having the rhythm of our day do the talking so to speak.  One does not argue with the seasons changing, the sun going down and the moon coming up, and one becomes a rhythmical being by practicing rhythm as set.  Negotiation regarding things sets in more somewhere after age 10, and certainly as the child heads into the third seven year cycle, more and more choice heads into it all.  There seem to be many Waldorf homeschoolers of age 14-16 and older who are very independent, well-adjusted individuals capable of mature decision-making.  I believe this is due to the foundation laid in these early years.

The physiology behind the small choices offered to a small child have to do with Steiner’s view of the seven year cycles.  A small child functions in the will, in the body, in the limbs and not in the head.  Decision-making comes in during third seven year cycle around the age of 14.  If you need further assistance with this notion as seen through the lens of the three-and four fold human being, please do see this post regarding some of Eugene Schwartz’s wise words:

These words that Eugene Schwartz wrote might in particular speak to you if you have familiarity of the three-and four-fold human being:

“On what basis will a seven year-old make a choice? Invariably, on the basis of sympathy and antipathy. And whence does he get this sympathy and antipathy? From his astral body, that is, from a member of his being that should not be “activated” until adolescence. An analogy might prove helpful here:

We can think of the child’s astral body as “soul principal” which is being held in a “cosmic trust fund” until such time as the youngster’s lower members are developed enough to receive it, i.e., ages 13-15. As is the case with a monetary trust fund in an earthly bank, it is the trustee’s responsibility to see that the principal is not disturbed for the apportioned period, knowing that the interest that it generates provides sufficient funds for the beneficiary’s needs. If, however, the trustee proves to be irresponsible, and the youngster for whom the principal is intended gets hold of it long before he is mature enough to make wise financial decisions, the principal will be drawn upon prematurely. In the worst case, the entire trust will be depleted, leaving neither interest nor principal at a time in the young person’s life that they are most needed.

In the course of healthy development, the young child has just enough astrality apportioned to her to sustain those organic processes requiring movement and catabolism, and to support such soul phenomena as the unfolding of interest in the world. And where do ADHD children have their greatest difficulties? In developing and sustaining any interest in anything for very long! The environments that we create for our youngest children, the way we speak to our grade schoolers, and our inability to differentiate between what is appropriate for an adult and not appropriate for a child – all of these phenomena eat away at astral “interest” early in life and devour astral “principal” long before it has ripened. By the time many “normal” young people are twelve or thirteen they seem to have lost interest in learning, or even in life; they have “been there, done that,” and take on a jaded, middle-aged attitude toward their own future. The ADHD child is only an extreme reflection of soul attitudes that will be endemic to many American children at the century’s end.”

Powerful and sobering words for us to think about as parents.

A way to help your child’s will be strengthened is to model having a will of your own – not a dictatorship, but not being completely wishy-washy about how things are done in your home.  Being compassionate, being a good listener, but also being able to hold the space in a loving way.

I would love to hear your thoughts,


The Twelve Senses

I am going to try and synthesize a few things for you all that I recently learned from Donna Simmons at the Waldorf At Home conference held in Atlanta,  a presentation by Daena Ross for Waldorf In the Home (available through Rahima Baldwin Dancy’s on-line store in CD and DVD versions) and Barbara Dewey’s section on the twelve senses in her book “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge”. 

I am by no means an expert on the twelve senses, although I will say the twelve senses make a whole lot of sense to me due to my background as a neonatal/pediatric physical therapist.

Steiner postulated in his lectures that there were not only the five most obvious senses that we think of, but actually twelve senses that required development.  This has been proved in the medical community, although sometimes in medical literature and therapy literature you see reference to “systems” rather than “senses” although they are truly talking about the same thing!

The twelve senses are what unites the inner and outer world of the individual and what allows us healthy interaction with other people at the highest developed levels.  It takes a long time for these senses to be developed, but the foundational senses needed to develop some of the upper senses are most developed in the first seven years.  There we are, back to my soapbox about the first seven years!

The Lower Senses are seen in our will forces, they are unconscious, and they manifest in the metabolic-limbic system.  These include:

The Sense of Touch – through the organ of the skin.  This includes what is inside of me and what is outside of me.  Important ways to boost this foundational sense include vaginal birth, swaddling, holding, positive tactile experiences (NOT PASSIVE experiences, like through media or Baby Einstein! Active experiences!)  The lack of completion of this  sense is strongly related to ADHD according to Daena Ross. 

The Sense of Life or sometimes called The Sense of Well-Being – this encompasses such things as if you can tell if you are tired, thirsty, hungry.  The best way to boost this sense is to provide your children with a rhythm to help support this while it is developing.  Some children have great difficulty recognizing their own hunger or thirst cues, their own need for rest or sleep. A rhythm can be a great therapeutic help in this regard.

The Sense of Self-Movement – this is probably more familiar to therapists in some ways as the “proprioceptive system” in some ways.  This sense encompasses the ability to move and hold back movement, and can also encompass such sensory experiences as containment (which can be a form of massage for premature babies) and also swaddling.  Childhood games that involve starting, stopping can also affect this sense.

The Sense of Balance – This is balance in two separate realms, from what I gather from the Daena Ross presentation.  It is not only the ability to balance by use of the semicircular canals of the ears  for midline balance so one can cross midline but also refers to the  balance of life and being able to be centered, which again goes back to rhythm and the idea of in-breath and out-breath.  Donna Simmons calls this one a gateway to The Middle Senses.

The Middle Senses are seen in our feeling lives, involve us reaching out into the world a bit, they are seen as “dreamy” senses and manifesting in the rhythmic system.  THE CHILD HAS NO FILTER TO FILTER THESE SENSORY EXPERIENCES OUT IN THE EARLY YEARS.   In the later years, the arts build these senses, which is why the Waldorf curriculum includes teaching through art in the grades.   These senses  include:

The Sense of Smell –  strongly correlated with memory.  This can be an ally in education of the grades age child, but beware of scented everything when your children are in the foundational first seven years. 

The Sense of Taste – Not only on a physical plane, but an emotional plane in naming experiences (a “putrid” experience, a “sweet” experience)

The Sense of Sight  – with two different ways to visualize something:  one is the ability to distinguish color, and the other is the ability to distinguish form (which Daena Ross says is more related to The Sense of Self-Movement).  The best way to help this sense is to protect the eye from media while developing.  A way to bolster this sense in the grades, but not the Early under 7 Years, is through form drawing.

The Sense of Warmth –   Donna Simmons calls this one a gateway to The Higher Senses.  This sense does not fully develop until age 9 and can literally cause a hardening of creativity and new thought as the child matures, but also can refer to a literal inability of the child to be able to tell if they are hot or cold.  Warmth implies not only physical warmth, but warmth on a soul level.  Joy, humor, love, connection are all important developers of this sense along with PROTECTION from extreme and garish sensory experiences that would cause hardening.  This is a very important sense, and children need help with protecting this sense until the age of 9 or 10, so much longer than many parents think!

The Upper or Higher Senses develop during adolescence and require a strong foundation of The Lower Senses and The Middle Senses to come to maturity.  These senses are associated with awakening of the individual, with being concerned with other people and are seen as being centered in The Head.  These senses include:

The Sense of Hearing (which Daena Ross calls “a bridge between The Middle and Higher Senses” in her presentation)  This requires completion of The Sense of Balance – both of these senses involve the organ of the ear.

The Sense of Speech or The Sense of the Word (this is the speech of another person, not yourself) – Requires completion of The Sense of Self-Movement as you must be able to quiet your own speech in order to really hear another person.

The Sense of Thought or The Sense of Concept (again, of the other person, not your own thoughts!) – Requires completion of  The Sense of Well-Being.  Rhythm builds this ability to quiet oneself in order to hear someone else’s thoughts.

The Sense of  the Individuality of the Other (Donna Simmons also calls this the “I-Thou” relationship of boundaries) – This requires integration and completion of all senses, but particularly involves The Sense of Touch according to Daena Ross. 

The most important take-away point for my parents of children under the age of 7 is that children need rhythm, a balance of in-breath and out-breath and protection of the senses from too much stimulation, from media and boundaries set by the parents to wear clothes (VERY difficult with some little nudists!).  The development of these senses is also profoundly related to sleeping and what occurs during sleep to build all of this up.

Waldorf Education is first and foremost about health and the twelve senses provide a glimpse into some of why things are done in Waldorf the way they are!  I encourage you to investigate the twelve senses on your own.  In this age and day of skyrocketing ADHD/ADD, autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, this should be mandatory learning for all parents. 

With love,


More About the Four-Year-Old

I recently went back and looked at the highest ranked posts for the past year, and was surprised to see  that while the top 10 posts mainly involved Waldorf-related things, the top developmental posts amidst all those were the posts regarding the four-year-old (and then the six-year-old).  Ages four and six are obviously ages where parents are finding challenges and difficulty!

I wanted to throw out a few more words about the four-year-old for you all.  These are random thoughts from my own experience in having two four and a half year olds in our family, so please do take what resonates with you and what works for you and your family!

First of all, if your four year old is attending school, please do be aware it takes A LOT of energy for them to hold it together, follow the rules and listen, not to mention sitting down and focusing.  Most four year olds, according to traditional childhood developmental standards, have the “wiggles”, have short attention spans, and have more physical energy than they know what to do with.  Compare that description to what is going on at school, and plan for lots of outside time to blow off steam when they get home.

If you are homeschooling your four year old with a method different than Waldorf, please be aware of “cramming” facts down your child’s throat, and how many times a day you are asking to do them something passive such as seated schoolwork that is not especially hands-on, how much television are they getting, how many books are they reading.  Do they have lots of time for imaginative play, creative play, crafts, being outside, helping with practical work around your home, and work with repetitive sensory things such as kneading bread, playing in mud or dirt?  These are the most important things for a four-year-old.

How many words are you using?  Many four-year-olds in a stage of disequilibrium actually need less words, less choices, more warmth and more calmness from YOU.

The inner work of your parenting at this time is several-fold.  One thing to do is to make sure you are being nurtured by your own things in some way, and make sure you are getting a break at least every day by yourself for a few minutes without ANY kids, and having a break each week is also essential.  It will make you a better mother if you husband can take all the kids in the backyard for even a half  hour or so,  to give you some time.   If your children have an early bedtime, you can also use this time to recharge and reconnect with yourself.

The other part of inner  work at this time is to make sure you are not viewing your child as “the enemy”, or as some mothers I have heard lamenting, “Where did my sweet, nice child go?”  They are still there!  Trying to learn boundaries, trying to be big, but really being small!  They are not “bad” – they are LEARNING.  Go meditate over your sleeping child when they are peaceful.  Think about all the good qualities they have, see them as they are:   still really very, very small.  Meditate on what kind of adult you are hoping you shape them into.

A four-year-old doesn’t need a lecture or a speech or guilt.  Short explanations, possibly.  Restitution for what they did – fixing it in some way- is so important.  But not the lecture or guilt-trip.  They really cannot comprehend it the way you as an adult can!

If you need a time-out, by all  means gather yourself together.  But, don’t expect a child in “time-out” is going to do what an adult would do – sit there and think about how they could have done things differently, sit there and reflect.  The four-year-old is not cognitively ready to do this from any developmental perspective!  Time-in for calming, WITHOUT TRYING TO TALK ABOUT THE INCIDENT, is the first step.  Then comes the action they must do to fix what the problem was.  And you must be there every step of the way to help.  Did I mention mothers of four-year olds really do need their children to go to bed early, LOL?  This takes a lot of energy to do this all day!

And last of all, be easy with yourself.  Parenting a four-year-old is a lot of work, working to structure your days, working toward less words, less explanation, more warmth, how to fix something rather than just talk about the anger and upset you are feeling at that moment – whew, it is hard work!  Be easy with yourself, love yourself as you grow as a parent.

Just a few thoughts,


Wonderful Words From Marsha Johnson!

This post is NOT by me, but by Master Waldorf Teacher Marsha Johnson, who lives in the Portland area.  She wrote this wonderful post this morning, I so encourage you to read it carefully, consider it, weigh it in your heart.  Please do go and join her Yahoo!group waldorfhomeeducators.  This is an excellent post, just excellent.  Please read Marsha Johnson’s wise words and enjoy!

“One recurring thread that emerges again and again in the various home schooling groups is the embracing of Info-Mation as Edu-Cation. This is an approach that relies on the passing along of facts and figures to the children, rather like filling up a blank sheet of paper with a long list of data. This kind of education is one that many parents themselves were exposed to as children in lower schools and is yet embraced by many institutions of higher learning.
I have jokingly referred to it as Information Vomitus. Particularly in graduate school, one absorbs mounds of information and must regurgitate it accurately within a time period, and those who can do this are considered ‘smart’.
As a species, some of us just love this habit. We have game shows where we love to quiz people on obscure and odd facts and see who can answer the most questions correctly. There are board games that focus on this aimless ‘art’, like Trivial Pursuit. That name does make me laugh at least the use of the word trivial. Small and meaningless.

As parents, we tend to veer unconsciously towards teaching our children in the way we ‘were taught’. This tendency is really one of the most dangerous and damaging stage in the life of the homeschooling family.

Why do I say this? Because the children of today, the millennial children, the Shining Ones, are very different than the previous generation of children, those born from the 1950s to the 1990s, when the Information Age really began to dominate. The idea was strewn about that one could improve a child’s IQ with exposure to this Factoid Education and that children were really blank slates whose minds could be sharpened and very soon after this time period began we started seeing massive testing of children as large population groups and lo and behold, a lot of stereotyping also began to show up in the statistics. All sorts of rather wicked and demeaning conclusions have been drawn from this kind of erroneous practice.

When we begin to ‘school’ children, and some are so anxious they start right away as soon as Baby can focus her eyes, we reach back into our own educational experiences and most often pull forward this kind of teaching that involves a lot of child sitting-parent speaking.

With a sense of humor here, often the children quickly teach the parent that this kind of education isn’t going to persist for too long. As children are naturally good and sweet and want to make us big people happy, they often accommodate us with love and grace, and put up with quite a bit of this kind of dreary boring presentation.

But some don’t. They rise up and run about and wiggle away, dancing, singing, going outside, done-with-that!, let’s have snack happy attitude that is probably the most logically kind response possible.

The type of education that really fits the developmental stage of the child most closely, from my own point of view, is Waldorf education. Within the very ‘bones’ of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies we find the most wonderful comprehension of how children are, what children need, and why we must approach the education of the child with an imaginative, artistic technique. A warm and inclusive attitude. A whole-child, integrated program that moves smoothly from moment to moment to create a kind of living-dream, wherein the child floats, soars, rests, and grows.

And this is probably the very opposite of the Info-Mation protocol, which calls mostly on the forces of the nerve-sense pole, the head, the hearing and memory and goes down dry as a desert rock in late summer.

Will you provide an education that inspires your child and yourself? Can you take a subject and find the Alice-In-Wonderland Rabbit Hole that will allow you to enter in a playful and unexpected fashion? How much of the school time is spent sitting and listening, or writing or copying? How much is spent moving, doing, trying, inventing, creating, cooperating, considering, digesting?

I am struck again and again by how passionate and devoted parents can be to a style of learning that would, well, invoke passion and interest in someone 35 years old or older? (smiles here) But a six year old is in his first decade, not the fourth, and taking the dry factual program to this tender age should really be some kind of crime.

Destroying a child’s imagination and tramping through their fairy land of fantasy with the bulldozers of ‘real life’ is actually a crime against childhood. We are surrounded by immense pressure from commercial marketers, manufacturers, media moguls, and those who want to benefit from premature aging. It is unbelievable, a very sophisticated and invisible force to destroy childhood and create an endless period of ‘tween’ and ‘teen’. Did you know the average age of video game players is actually 29 years old? This means there many older and younger right around 30 years of age who devote most of their free time to staring at screens.

One of the easiest ways to judge how a lesson is being received is to keep a close eye on the recipient. Rather than lose your adult self into the lovely land of facts and transmitting these facts, say a few words and watch the child. Allow for pauses and wait a bit. Does the child keep her attention focused on you, do the cheeks pink up, do the eyes sparkle, doe he sit forwards towards you, hanging on your words? Or does she fidget, grow pale, look down or elsewhere, try to rise and leave? Observe the child closely during the day, during play, during rest, during active vigorous exercise. Learn the color patterns of the child’s skin, the facial and body gestures. Configure your lessons in such a way that the child’s response is one of delight, close attention, desire to participate, and shows a healthy age appropriate expression.

Young children naturally move and use their bodies to learn. Incorporate this into each lesson and every day in your home teaching. Sitting is only one of many types of positions that the young child assumes in the natural exploration of the physical world. Adults tend to sit for the vast majority of each day in both work and play. There is much to be gained from moving often and finding physical ways to enhance the learning experiences.

The old saying `give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime’, is a perfect mantra for teaching the young human born in the early 2000s. Consider subject matter from the child’s point of view, figure out what you can do in your lessons that allow the child to use the three elements of self: head, heart, and hands. One of the greatest errors in current educational practice is the sole focus on the head learning, forcing young children to sit at tables for long days, wearying their spirits and graying their outlook. Early academic fatigue syndrome is rampant in our country and fortunately, almost 100 years ago, Rudolf Steiner illuminated a brilliant pathway of education that is more relevant today than ever before. Living artistic age-appropriate lessons, every day, naturally engaging and guaranteed to engender a life long love of learning.

Marsha Johnson, Spring 2009”

Thank you Marsha, for these words that I am holding in my heart,  thank you for being here and sharing with us,


Peaceful Life With A Four-Year-Old

(Carrie’s note:  Links to some other posts about the four-year-old:   and   .  There are many, many more posts regarding the four-year-old in the tags under “the four year old” or “Children Under 7” and “Waldorf Kindergarten.”  There is also a post regarding weaning children over the age of 4.  Hope that helps!)

We have recently looked at the traditional developmental view of a four-year-old.  Edmond Schoorel sums up a Waldorf Education view of the Early Years nicely in his introduction to “The First Seven Years:  Physiology of Childhood”  by writing this:

“The child’s first seven years stand out because of the child’s vitality and potential for growth during this time.  Everything children learn and develop during these seven years is transient.  Children need to think, but only to develop a capacity and not because they need to apply it.  They learn to walk but only for pleasure and not because they need to go where life takes them.  Children learn to play, but only for the fun of it, so that later they may be able to play the challenges of life.  It is characteristic of the first seven years that they are germinal and that they are very precious.  This unique quality may get lost when parents, educators, and other caregivers think that young children have to learn because they need the content of this knowledge later in life.”

So how do I live peacefully with a four-year-old?

The four-year-old should be living in their physical body.  This would include for a four-year-old copious amounts of time outside, and many sensory types of activities – games that involve crawling, rolling.  Experiences such as kneading, grinding wheat, play with different textures, jumping, climbing up and down stairs.  Schoorel mentions if you ask a child of this age to do something consciously, they will become clumsy and awkward.  Make your games of movement with practical work or couched in fantasy.

-The idea that a four-year-old needs to be moving really ties in well to the view of the “out of bounds” four-year-old held in traditional development.  A four-year-old who is out of bounds verbally and physically needs to get their energy out everyday.  If you are having significant trouble with your four-year-old, check out your rhythm and how much activity it includes first.

-A four and a half year old may be starting to play “let’s pretend”.  Encourage this in your home through the use of costumes, dolls, puppets and other props.  Think about how to arrange your child’s toys into inviting scenarios they will want to play with.  There are several posts on this blog regarding fostering creative play (see the tags section; you can click on any subject over there and all the posts written with that tag will come up) that have more ideas regarding this important subject.

-While play is the work of the small child, please do let your child participate in your work at this age.  Find the ways that they can help you; most four-year-olds love to help wash or polish things, to try to sweep the floor or the patio,  to put away silverware or other small tasks.

– Your four-year-old may enjoy simple fingerplays and verses at this time revolving around the seasonal changes.  Your local library most likely has a wonderful collection of these fingerplays.  Lighting a candle and having a few fingerplays, songs and even a short story may be a new thing to add to your daily rhythm with a four-year-old.  There are suggestions for stories under the fairy tale tag on this blog.

-Many four-year-olds will start to like the very simple fairy tales.  If you feel your child is not ready for some of the more simple fairy tales (for suggestions, please hit fairy tales or oral storytelling in the tag section of this blog for posts on these subjects), try simple nature stories that you make up, gardening stories, sweet seasonal stories by Suzanne Down (

As far as gentle discipline for the four-year-old:

-I know I sound like a broken record to so many of you, but start with yourself and the tone you are setting in your home.  Are you requiring “right action” not through punishment, but just by holding the space? 

-Are you talking too much, explaining too much, and giving too many choices?  Gentle discipline books often say small choices for small people, but many four-year-olds are rather overwhelmed and overburdened by having to make any choices hardly at all.  They would rather that you lay out the clothes they would wear, they would rather you sing a song and take them to the bathroom instead of you asking, “Do you need to go potty?”, they would rather have a simple breakfast of your choosing.  Making less decisions frees them up to play!

-Have you checked and double checked the amount of time you are spending outside and  your rhythm?  Does your rhythm include times of out-breath (active) and times of in-breath (inward)?

-Steiner felt that only starting in the fifth year would the child start to have some inkling of right or wrong.  So check yourself, are you expecting way too much out of your four-year-old?  I think it was Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources ( who always said  the age of  four  is a good age for sitting on laps!  They are still small!!

-Set your limits in a loving way and follow through. If your child is doing something to harm himself, harm others, or harm your property, he must be re-directed.  Also try Barbara Patterson’s “magic word”  from her book “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children From birth to seven”, written with Pamela Bradley.  The word is MAY.    She gives the example, “You may hang up your coat here.”  Clear, direct, polite. 

-Be calm, think peaceful energy.  Do not ignore the negative behavior until it just pushes you right over the edge!

-Barbara Patterson talks about how the cure for violent play is REAL WORK. Repetitive work. I think this also goes back to outside time :  what can the children do in a repetitive manner outside?  Can they roll down a hill over and over?  Can they dig holes?  Can they drag wood around?  Fill a cart with something heavy and let them push and pull it around.  Can they do water play outside?  Can pouring be a soothing activity?  Can they take a hand sifter and sift something over and over?  Flour is not that expensive!  Can you fill something up with rice and beans and pasta shapes and pour it?  Can they grind chalk into “sugar”?  Can the children take water and a paintbrush and paint the house, the fence, the sidewalk?

Four can be a delightful age if you are prepared and thinking about ways to channel a four- year -old’s energy and expansiveness. Hopefully this quick view of traditional and anthroposophical development has been helpful to you as you plan the best ways to meet your four-year-old’s needs.

Yours till next time,