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.

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“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 

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

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