Caring for the under seven and laying the foundation for a healthy development
Floating in womb waters, the developing foetus is protected by its mother. This is the time when she has the greatest physical influence. From this hidden world of heavenly movements and song, the baby leaves the total influence of its mother at birth and takes its first breath of Soul, one to last a lifetime, to be exhaled out again at death. From the model given by its parents, this individual microcosm in its new body will, for the next seven years, make its own physical body.
The small child is inwardly sensitive to all surrounds and their expectation of the world is trusting that everything is good. In these early childhood years (from birth to the commencement of the second dentition) the principles of imitation and the unguarded absorption of sense impressions are all-important processes through which the child learns. As it is through imitation that they will create the very fabric of their being, it is therefore of the utmost importance that what surrounds the small child must be worthy of that imitation. Our approach, in Steiner schools, is to be in awe of the homo religioso in that small being and take especial care to create a venerative environment for the child in those years.
In the first seven years of the child, everything will affect him on the physical level. If he feels fear, for example, that will harden him or create an imbalance in him as he struggles to protect his inner soul garden. How often do we see children tearing leaves off a tree or pulling a flower to pieces? By doing this, they give us an indication that their feeling life is also shattered – most probably the child’s own little soul garden has been trampled upon too. Also, light and dark – in the form of fearful stories – can only come gradually after the seventh year when the development of the organs is complete.
This fact must be taken in all seriousness, as the individual must live his whole life with the organs that have been developed between birth and the change of teeth. This is the period when the organism and its functions receive their stamp and when the will is adapting itself in many ways to its surroundings. It is also the time when skill, persistency, endurance, bodily strength and the ability to concentrate are implanted for life.
As parents and caregivers, we have the responsibility for the creative growth of our children and so absolutely need to understand that in those early childhood years the more the children do for themselves and imitate us and the less we do for them, the stronger we help them to become in later life. It would ridiculous and inappropriate to teach an infant to talk or walk for example as, when a child plays creatively, the faculty of speech and movement will flow naturally in the seventh year, opening the capacity for living thought.
When we give our children a toy or plaything we should ask ourselves whether it shall stimulate the child’s imagination and help the whole child to develop healthily. Everything ready made, mechanically perfect, in fact cripples the imagination and stamps it’s own form upon the imitative defenceless organism… much better to give the child a log of wood with a steering wheel then a perfectly finished model engine!
Our choice of toys and pictures has a physiological effect on a child right up to school age. (After that they learn less through imitation.) If it were more understood how flexible and malleable the body of a little child is, much harmful upbringing would be avoided. It will not harm a ten year old to build with Lego, but if a five year old presses the standard pieces together, its imagination will be denied an important field of exploration. Also where ordinary wooden blocks or a log would have long since fallen down, the Lego pieces – contracting the law of physics – stick together, giving the child a completely distorted impression and understanding. The same could be said for computer games, videos and remote controlled cars and railways. When playing with such things the child can neither imitate anything nor develop its own creative activities. Confronted with such playthings the child has to behave in an un-childlike way, as he can only watch fascinated how things work out and manipulate them. As for television watching, this is a time when the development of will is radically disrupted as the child, sitting inactive, is not only unable to imitate but receives stereotyped images all too often involving violence, cynicism, sensationalism, indifference and excitement, leaving little room for reverence and serenity.
Whereas a small child in a homely environment, infinitely nourished by imitating the artistry of speech, movement, form, colour and music, will shine.
Statement on television viewing for young children
While accepting that television is an integral part of the World’s communication network, its impact on young people is of concern to us as educators. The early years of development of a child are extremely important to its future. All that the child under seven absorbs, bears an indelible impact on its being and its physical development, which it keeps for the rest of its life.
An Anthroposophical understanding of human development takes into account twelve senses and all these need to be catered for, in a contained way, in the developing child. All of these senses, which include movement and balance, are engaged in play – especially play in a natural environment. These experiences (such as climbing a tree or traversing a rocky beach) establish foundation patterns of understanding, which keep us in good store for the rest of our lives. Scientists recognise that the establishment of such patterns educates the synapses between the brain cells, which could atrophy without exercise. These movement/play-created patterns are applied in later life to the more refined activities of thought, organization and problem solving.
Over-exposure to television limits human functions to a narrow selection of activity. Also, the stress to the eye for example, in processing the 625 lines of a T.V. image together with 800 dots appearing at 25 times per second, is unnatural. The rapid change of camera angles, image content and quick cuts, designed to hold attention, create unnatural suspense and tension. In normal circumstances our eyes do not operate at that speed. Real life in comparison becomes ‘boring’. Added to this is the often-distressing content to which the children are exposed – violence, cynicism, ugliness and coarse language.
Exposure to television for young children is unnecessary and inappropriate. Moreover, in the early primary school years, over-exposure conflicts with our teaching. Morning T.V. before school directly interferes with the children’s learning, as does their “off-loading” of unwanted T.V. imagery and electronic and ugly sounds.
For older primary students, long hours of late-night viewing are not recommended and content guidance is strongly advised.
P.S.: The same applies to computer games! The content of these games is more often than not destructive – killing, eliminating, destroying– whilst all that is exercised by the child is hand-eye coordination.
The Incarnating Child, Joan Salter
You are Your Child’s First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin
Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: nurturing our children from birth to seven,
Barbara Patterson and Pamela Bradley
A Guide to Child’s Health, Michaela Glockler and Wolfgang Goebel
Work and Play in Early Childhood, Freya Jaffke and Christian von Arnin
Storytelling with Children, Nancy Mellon (when children are over 3 years)
Living a Spiritual Year, Adrian Anderson
Phases of Childhood, Bernhard J. Lievegoed
The Plug in Drug, Marie Winn
Some of these titles and many more on the subject are also available in the library – which you can join for a small fee.