We read a lot about protecting early childhood in the literature of Waldorf education and Waldorf parenting, but did you ever stop to think that the time of middle childhood is also a time to also be honored and protected? There are certain watermarks in Waldorf education where the child is seen as undergoing substantial developmental and transformative change – usually at six/seven, age nine, age twelve and age fifteen/sixteen. So, the logical conclusion is that a child experiences the nine year change and the twelve year change before he or she enters the fifteen/sixteen year old change. This seems so obvious when one says this – that the years between ten and fourteen are steps leading up to the changes at fifteen and sixteen – and yet in our society it all seems to become rather blurred. I think we should honor and protect this time instead of rushing through it on the way to driving, dating, and getting ready for college. The years in which a child is ten to fourteen is truly the heart of childhood in so many ways, this truly golden middle of childhood if we as parents and we as a society can really take a step back and protect and honor this time.
Nourishing play is one of the top ways to protect these years. Ten to fourteen year olds still really play and play hard if you let them and this impulse for play has not been squashed! This is a ripe age of all kinds of outdoor play, large games of different types of tag and pick-up games of any kind of sport are enjoyed typically. If you give a child unstructured time instead of a busy structured schedule, this can be such a gift in nourishing play!
Simplicity is another key in protecting the middle years…simplicity in scheduling (and not over-scheduling) a child in these ages leads to the time to play, daydream, rest their growing bodies, read, create and tinker. These can be some of the most fruitful years for this sort of exploration and freedom. Ten to fourteen year olds are full of wonderful, innovative ideas.
Autonomy is another way to protect this beautiful age of the golden age of childhood…but perhaps not in the way we often see in society. Please, please remember that there really is a difference between a ten and sixteen year old, and yes, even a fourteen year old and a sixteen year old. Let us not rush into freedom of technology without boundaries, or such a peer-oriented state that we associate with those who are on the verge of young adulthood. Freedom for this age group might mean being able to shop alone in a store for a few minutes while you are in another part of the store , maybe it is the ability to ride or walk somewhere in a group of peers, or being able to find and be in some secret place outside alone. All of this, of course, depends upon what kind of place you live in and safety factors, but I think it is safe to say that many of us remember being this age and having the freedom to be gone most of the day riding our bikes or being outside between after school and dinner without parents knowing where we were every second. Every family will feel differently about this, of course, but I think that is one example of the type of freedom that seems normal for this age group and wanted by children of this age.
Lastly, I think one of the most important ways to protect this stage is seeing the sacred. One of the things I have noticed about children today of these ages compared to years past is this “dropping down” of an attitude of toughness and boredom and “I am too old for that”. I am sure many of the mothers out there remember playing dolls or Barbies at ages ten to twelve, whereas for many little girls these days, these are not activities for ten to twelve year olds anymore. Nurturing wonder, nurturing joy and love and compassion are really important for these ages. Toughness, boredom, rolling of eyes and not wanting to participate in family activities may be considered part of these ages these days, but I think parents of children these ages really need to step in and gently guide and lead. Lead with love and connection.
Please share with me your favorite ways to honor the child who is ages ten to fourteen…and how to make this a lovely, slow stage that is honored and not rushed into the realm of being an older adolescent.
Blessings and love,