Sunday, October 2, 2016

Meditative Reading and Reflecting on Steiner’s Lecture: “The Child before the 7th Year" - Part Two

In Part One of this topic I offered my reflections on some of Rudolf Steiner's quotes from his lecture, "The Child before the 7th Year". You can find the post here. Below are my thoughts on another five quotes.

- - - - -

“One can foretell a great deal regarding the child’s future soul life, its character, and so on, merely by watching (the child) at play. The way in which such a young child plays is a clear indication of its potential gifts and faculties in later life.”

Observing the subtlety in the way a child plays is a new process for me. Working in the behaviour management field can often be very analytical and cold, with a focus on only the overt components that can be observed, with the realm of inner life being overlooked, as it cannot be seen. Recognising qualities in the child’s mood, serenity, oneness with themselves and the world expands the task of child-observation for me, and hints at the sheer scope of play, and the if allowed can give insight into the child – not just their level of development. Steiner’s words emphasise the importance of play for me, and thus the importance of creating an environment conducive to quality play for the child. Play is the child’s work, engaging in their head, heart and hands in complete presence to the task. To give adequate reverence to the child while they play seems fitting here, if we are to comprehend what Steiner means about the child’s potential gifts and faculties in later life.

“The child’s imagination represents the very forces which have just freed themselves from performing similar creative work within the physical formation of the brain. It is for this reason that one must avoid, as far as this is possible, forcing these powers of imagination into rigid and finished forms”.

In our modern culture, there is an overemphasis on finished, complete, detailed, realistic reproductions, and presenting adult-designed products onto children. Steiner is saying that these adult concepts of beauty in finished forms (e.g., dolls) leave nothing for the child’s imagination. Many toys have singular uses, where there is no space to create internal pictures. The process of imagination, or thinking and playing in pictures seems nourishing to the child. Steiner emphasises the need to allow children the opportunity for empowerment by allowing them to come into movement in their own time, so it follows for me that the child comes into thinking through the building of internal pictures also in their own time. By providing finished forms, singular use toys, having pre-academic “one right way” activities would all impede on this opportunity for self-created images – imagination, leaving a child unsatisfied and yearning.

“…now the child’s imagination is stimulated, because it can be creative instead of having to put up with fixed and finished forms and contours, the child experiences a far more lively and intimate response.”

I was often told that I was creative for all my schooling years. It seemed people were actually saying that I was artistic; that I could make something that was visually pleasing to others. As I became older it seemed that others did not understand the internal process of creativity and how nourishing and important the process was (and still is) for me. In becoming a parent, my husband and I considered what we wanted most for our child. We spoke of a child growing up to be inwardly creative, freely expressed and purposeful in their role in the world. So we asked ourselves “how can creativity be fostered from birth?” We both felt that it was by not putting focus on the end product or physical creation of anything artificial/external, but by allowing opportunities for the process of creative thinking.

Steiner talks about the development of thought, and how young children see in pictures as the early building of thought. The child’s capacity to build and expand on these pictures for himself, without being given fixed and finished forms (instead, an open-ended toy or a simple doll made of cloth as opposed to a detailed toy made to look like a replica of reality) allows for flexibility in thinking, and this flexibility is creative thinking. Allowing a child to make new pictures themselves, to project their own life and experiences into their play is truly lively and intimate for the child, and we can create opportunity for this by removing the detail and fixed and finished forms. Only then can childhood be a time of true imagination and creativity.

“Games with other children should not be too formal, but they should leave plenty of scope for the child’s imagination.”

I have heard parents speak about the need for organised socialisation (or as it seems to me a fear of their child becoming unsociable) in very early years. This often bewilders me, as I do not understand how anybody exists without being social – so why the need to create artificial social experiences? I have always felt that the child’s interaction with family and a small community is perfectly adequate.

Steiner’s words deeply speak to me, as unstructured play is a fundamental component of a Steiner playgroup. Within the playgroup format that I lead there are no activities where children are forced in anyway to participate. We can create an environment of lightness (no formal pressure) and view the child’s play with reverence. The children are allowed the freedom to speak to or play with other children only if they want to. Playgroup fosters solo exploration for the young child, with the toys and activities provided for the child to have ample opportunity for imaginative, open-ended, self-directed play, with as much closeness to their caregiver, who provides safety and security, as is determined by the child. When this occurs, and children are allowed to play, explore, interact without interference or too much structure, and the parents are often delighted by the imaginative and expressive nature of play they observe. 

“What can be accomplished with forces available only at a later time, should never be crammed into an earlier stage, unless one is prepared to ruin the physical organism.”

For the first few times reading this I felt Steiner sounded dramatic talking about ruining the physical organism. I’ve always viewed the human body as extraordinarily resilient. Upon reflection however I find his statement to be true. Cramming and forcing anything (e.g., movement, speech, thinking) at any time before the child is ready is a disservice to the child. It not only deprives them of certain experiences when this is done, such as the opportunity to come to something in their own time and to build experiences of empowerment and knowledge of self, but it also impacts their future bodies and health. For the young child the etheric forces are working on the building of the whole physical body, and by bringing them into the intellect (e.g., remembering) we divert them from this hugely important early physical development.

In leading Steiner playgroup, great importance is placed on practicing to recognise each child as they are, and not rushing any particular behaviour or skill. One simple suggestion to practice during each playgroup session is to find a quiet moment where you are one-to-one with a child and ask internally “who are you today?” I have practiced this during the hand-washing activity in the playgroup I led. From my experience this is a beautiful private moment of connection and heartfelt consideration for the child, unknown to anyone else in the room. What was so interesting to me is that parents would sometimes relay feedback from their child at home. For example, one three-year-old child had said,  “Vira loves me. She really looked at me”. The silent practice has great impact. Steiner’s words remind me of the need to meet the child as they are, on that day, with their unique combination of experiences and unfolding destiny and feel in no rush for them to be anything other than they presently are.

S I M P L I C I T Y 
F R E E D O M 

- - - - -

I would love to hear your thoughts on the quotes above and what you might have observed with little ones.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Meditative Reading and Reflecting on Steiner’s Lecture: “The Child before the 7th Year" - Part One

As part of some study in Steiner early childhood education we were asked to reflect on Rudolf Steiner's comments on the young child from his work "The Child before the 7th Year" and what we had observed from our own experience. For this experience has been in Behaviour Management, leading Steiner playgroups and parenting. I find this process of reading and reflecting on Steiner's lectures to be greatly rewarding and so important in digesting what is said and how I may bring it into my life and work. I'm sharing some of my reflections here...

- - - - -

“If one listens to what lives in the human heart, one can find that man’s true happiness on earth depends on the awareness of this human freedom, on his appreciation of human values and on his feeling for human dignity.”

The listening Steiner asks of us requires great internal work. To me this also looks at the practice of knowing oneself. This leads to questions of how can I truly know myself, and how can I bring this knowing with authenticity to my family, children and all? What “lives” within each of us? Or perhaps “the human heart” is not so individualistic or internal. Perhaps the human heart is a collective experience that we all share. I truly believe that the collective desire of humanity is for equality, justice, compassion, kindness and love – these desires are not unique to individuals, they drive us as a species. I see these as the human values and the feeling for human dignity that Steiner refers to.

I see the human freedom he describes as the opportunity we are faced with in our time in physical form to separate, if only momentarily, from the state of oneness that is our cosmos. To me I see happiness as the soul being able to continually expand within each person – bringing us back to oneness within our time as separate individuals, and being human is not about yourself in isolation, it is about seeing and hearing another, to love and serve the world, to have respect for and ability to relate to others, for others. 

“Anyone in charge of young children… must ask the question: Have I been specially chosen to fulfil the important task of guiding and educating this child, or these children? … What must I do to obliterate, as far as possible, my personal self in order to leave those entrusted in my care free from being burdened by my own subjective nature? How must I act so that I do not interfere with the child’s destiny? And, above all, how can I best educate the child towards human freedom?”

In early childhood the child’s etheric forces are tied up in building the physical body. Steiner indicates that during this time we must refrain from interfering; yet understand that everything we do in the child’s vicinity impacts on their development.

In my work in behaviour management, I am involved with families of varying socioeconomic and educational positions, who have children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. I sometimes doubt my abilities as a healer and educator in this capacity. In reflecting on Steiner’s words I can see this as my personal self and subjective nature overpowering. When I see my involvement and presence as part of the child’s destiny, to be there, to listen and see the child as they are, it comes to me that my work is of great importance, dissolving any doubt and unburdening those in my care.

My choice to study early Steiner education stemmed from an overwhelming personal and heartfelt truth that intention is fundamental to all therapeutic, educational, leading and nurturing roles that I am drawn to (behaviour management, teaching, playgroup leading and mothering). To me this intention is two-fold, to act in a way worthy of imitation and to trust the child’s innate capacity for extraordinary growth and development.

Steiner’s questions for caregivers of young children are daunting to me at times as they highlight the sheer magnitude of responsibility the adult holds… then I read them again and feel an authentic simplicity that dissolves the need to have the answers, that it’s the continual questioning of ourselves to come back to the best intentions.

“What really matters in education is the mood and attitude of the soul, which the teacher carries in his heart with regard to the being of man.”

This quote highlights the importance of our inward belief that the world is inherently good, that there is the capacity for goodness in all circumstances and in all people. For me, this is the soul speaking. In my experience it is my responsibility as the educator to be in the right frame of mind, so that these moments of trust in the goodness of the world carry through in my mood and attitude.

I see that the role of a Steiner playgroup leader is to be a nurturer and participant in joyous warmth. I am meeting parents and small children often in their first structured setting. In a practical application I would approach the children with insight, in my own individual way, with respect and view of my own freedom, to offer the same opportunity for each child. My intention is to deliver this through love and warmth, connecting with others through my actions (e.g., giving, receiving, speaking and listening) and offering true empathy for someone. I show this with warm attention, enthusiasm and understanding.

“(In the first two-and-a-half years) the child becomes a perfect mimic, a complete imitator. This imposes upon the grown-up the moral duty to be worthy of imitation, which is as far less comfortable task than exerting one’s will upon the child… Education during these first two-and-a-half years should be confined to the self-education of the adult in charge who should think, feel and act in a manner which, when perceived by the child, will cause it no harm.”

If the child is a complete imitator, they are absorbing all that we as caregivers offer. We cannot select specific components of ourselves to control what we would like a child to absorb and simply hide parts that are not ideal. The true essence of each of us comes across in all we do, our gestures, beliefs and attitudes are entwined, and the young child is most open to see this. This highlights the importance of adults to engage in self-work, to then be able to offer one’s true best to the child in care.

As a mother of two young children, I have found that my self-work is the integral component of parenting - to forgive myself in the areas I feel I can improve upon, and continually trust in and practice being worthy of imitation. It is these moments of my own conscious practice that I am most authentic, calm, warm and loving with my children, and they in turn respond with loving kindness. There is no suppression of will and no harm inflicted. Yelling, requiring the child to obey and losing composure and compassion seem to be when the adult ego and will overrides.

I often felt that my attitude to work on myself was selfish, compared to what I see other parents doing, such as offering activities like structured craft, giving intellectual answers, playing with the child and offering more, but when I observed the children and adults engaging in these activities they seemed contrived and inauthentic - despite parents believing them to be educational or entertaining. To me this is part of the parent exerting their will onto the child.

“…great care must be taken when the child develops these two faculties (to speak and to walk), which are instrumental to the upbuilding of the soul. The child continues to live by imitation and therefore we should not attempt to make it remember anything of our own choice. At this stage it is best to leave the evolving forces of memory alone, allowing the child to remember whatever it pleases.”

In leading a playgroup and working with parents I have witnessed much adult behaviour surrounding children 2-4years of age. It seems tempting to many parents to view their children as little adults; recalling facts, having knowledge and thinking. I have witnessed parents using the child’s budding faculties as entertainment (e.g., the parent asking a young child to count aloud in Greek in front of other parents) or to fast-track things a child is capable of doing independently in their own time (e.g., propping them up before they can sit, making them shake the morning circle bell when the child is content to simply hold and look at it) with a feeling of achievement-based competitiveness to meet developmental milestones. From Steiner’s indications, this kind of interference is carelessness and a disregard for the child’s whole being. To me the goal of true education is about living as a human being, in the world of all living things, of all humanity – not academic skills and information recall. With this in mind we can take great care of our children, offer loving clarity and trust for the child’s innate capacity, and allow their faculties to truly evolve.

- - - - -

Continued in Part Two here

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rhythm of a Steiner Playgroup

For the last few years we have been involved in leading Steiner-inspired playgroups. They are really beautiful and nourishing, and it only takes a little understanding to create them. They can be formed with just a few families, simple and natural resources and a good dose of parent enthusiasm.

Steiner playgroups intentionally follows the same rhythm each time, like a flowing “in” and “out” breath, creating a warmth, sense of security and knowing for all. The songs, rhymes and actions gently move the parents and children from activity to activity, without need for verbal instruction, such that even new families on their very first day can seamlessly join the group.

Adults happily participate, keep their awareness to what is happening with and around their child, delay their adult social time with others and be present to the dreamy joyousness of their child. This creates a rich and nourishing space that allows the child to freely come into their own being in their own time, and build their imagination and sense of wonder of the world.

To begin, everyone quietly and calmly gathers outside. With a song the children settle and the whole group comes together to welcome the day and greet each other. With practice this time can be used for the parents to truly tune in, become present and delve into the dreamy consciousness of the children. A quiet and reverent space is created for the children to sit, listen and enjoy. Slow pace, songs, verses, beautiful handmade characters and findings from nature are used to set a scene and tell, rather than read, a simple seasonal story. We told stories in cycles of three to allow the child to come to know them well. The words, imagery and way of storytelling spark the child’s imagination and soul and allow the child to form their own inner pictures to take with them.

Seasonal songs and verses relating to nature are carefully selected, and we would intentionally use simple melodies, clear voices, good humour, rhythm, repetition and easy gestures to engage the children and allow freedom and independent movement. Children are gently encouraged by the adults’ own joyful and sincere participation. Coming inward again, we would wash our hands, gather around the table to receive our dough. Children joyfully knead, roll and shape their own bread while the adults quietly watch. The rhythmic movement allows the hands to come into harmony with the breath, as we prepared food in and for our community.

When bread-making was finished, children had time to completely immerse themselves in free play with the help of beautiful, natural and simple materials. Parents would allow the children to be self-directed, and refrain from interrupting or playing with them. Instead, parents use the time to find a quiet cushion or corner that is out of the way to model silent focussed care and attention to craft. Craft materials and instructions would be provided, with new projects every few weeks. This care and attention to our own work is observed by the child, and over time follows into the child’s own work… that is their play!

At times a child may need a little assistance to begin play. We keep this gentle and use imagery to engage the child’s imagination. For example we may lay a green silk down and say “where are the sheep to eat this grass?” allowing the child to enter into play so we can return to our quiet craft.We've ask that parents do not force their child to share or take turns during play. True sharing comes from within and is an expression of one’s will, so we allow the children to do this only when they wish to do so. There are many opportunities for sharing and turn taking within the playgroup rhythm, such as waiting for our food or receiving our bread, and we trust that the child picks up on our positive model of warmth and care towards others.

In a mood of unhurried devotion and reverence for our children, space and belongings we happily and carefully pack away, and see this as an important activity. With a song, the children gradually transition from their play and begin to put blocks in their baskets, dolls in their beds and vehicles in garages of cloth. A song would lead us outside where our table, cups, bowls, drinks, organic fruit and wholesome treats await. A meal blessing brings an atmosphere of love and gratitude, and the natural conversation and sharing of food around the table builds a sense of belonging and community.

Children then enjoy a time of outward expression, exploration and freedom, within the safety of a large designated outdoor area – no matter what the weather! The children could experience sand, water, earth, mud and rain, with access to simple tools for gardening, digging, building, raking, sweeping and materials for imaginative play. The focus is on self-directed, hands-on, open-ended and real activities in nature. Now parents would have an opportunity to observe their children and chat with friends.

It is ideal for a space to be created where the children can smell, feel and taste the earth through the seasons and weather. In Spring we can prepare gardens, sew seeds, pick flowers and listen to the birds. In Summer we may taste the herbs and vegetables, harvest sweet fruits, wash seashells or play hide and seek. In Autumn we can sweep, rake leaves, fly kites or visit the neighbouring horses. In Winter we may chop and stack wood, gather kindling or polish stones.

In our last activity of the day we pack up our outside play and move inside to sing, celebrate any birthdays and say goodbye. To keep the ending clear families leave quietly, bringing a feeling of completion and quiet contemplation.

Friday, August 19, 2016

An Evolving Kitsune House

Over the last few years we've been all about Steiner playgroups. As parents of a tiny one we went to a beautiful playgroup ourselves, assisted and co-lead it, then over the past two years fully set up and lead our own. From studies in Steiner education, gathering resources and physically building walls and fences it has been a momentous task of creation to have our own warm and welcoming space for others to enjoy. We're proud to have welcomed many families to our groups to join us in song and play and are so thankful to witness parents choose activities for their children with care and devotion.

After much discussion and deliberation we are now embarking on a homeschooling journey, and so Kitsune House will evolve with us again. This blog is a space to document learning and to share resources, parenting inspirations and educational ideas as we guide our children's education and send them forth in freedom!