Waldorf Without Walls

Play with your child!

by Barbara Dewey

In my Parent/Tot classes and my consulting work, I find the most frequently expressed question is:  “Why won’t my child play by himself?  He needs me to amuse him all the time.  I am exhausted!”  As I observe these parents, I see that they are devoted parents who have read everything they can possibly read about parenting and are trying desperately to apply ALL of it!  They are usually mothers who have given up a meaningful career to stay at home and raise their children, and feel they need to raise children FULL TIME in order to justify their being home with them.  They carry their child around a good portion of the time and interact with the child every waking minute.

Rudolf Steiner indicated that the young child needs to be regarded as a spiritual being in a newly acquired physical body on which the spirit of the child must work, as an artist, to form into the body that is needed to carry out her individual destiny.  The parent (or teacher) cannot know exactly what that life’s destiny is, but can only provide the environment and the materials for the artist to work.

The young child is a being of will (as you know!), a huge sense organ, who explores the world, tasting, touching, smelling, seeing, hearing everything. This exploration is crucial to her development, and must not be interfered with by constant distraction and pressure to learn.  Through imitation she must make sense of the world in the microcosm of home.

A Waldorf kindergarten is a cosy but roomy, warm place, an imitation of a good old fashioned home.  You have the real thing!!  In and around this home are natural materials: logs, sticks, and boards of all sizes, stones, nuts, very large to very small cotton and silk cloths, wooden tables and chairs, yarn, string, rope, baskets, sea shells, etc. The child uses all these things in the freedom of her imagination to make her own toys and play settings.

Since the child learns by imitation, the role of the parent (teacher) is very important.  The parent is balanced and serene, active but calm, speaking little, purposeful in doing her own work: washing dishes, mending, knitting, embroidery, cooking, baking, laundry, gardening. If appropriate, the parent may sing or hum while working. The children may imitate, help, or make use of ‘leftover’ materials. A child wants to imitate, so once she has watched an activity, no explantion is needed, she will want to do it to the best of her age and ability.

There is a regular time in which the parent (teacher) plays finger or movement games or tells a story, but his would be only a small portion of the total time, perhaps ½ hour in 3 hours.

In an article in Mothering, winter, 1994, Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, writes of the misinterpretation of her work. What she says is right in line with what Steiner says about the young child.  In her book she recommends keeping babies in physical contact all day and night until they crawl, as is done in the Yequana culture, where the parent or caregiver may occasionally play with the child, but most of the time pays attention to something else, not the baby.  She says in her article, “Being played with, talked to, or admired all day deprives the babe of this in-arms spectator phase that would feel right to him.  Unable to say what he needs, he will act out his discontentment.”  This is the attention-getting behavior parents interpret as needing MORE attention when in reality, the child just wants the parent to take charge of adult life, because the child needs to see a life in order to imitate it!

In less materialistic cultures and in our grandparents day, parents had to  work most of the time on procuring the basics. In those cultures the child naturally gets to see those activities.  As modern parents, we need to go back to that way of thinking.  In so doing, we will get in touch with ourselves, the sources of our food, clothing, and shelter, and perhaps discover an old art or craft form which really inspires us.

When you give your child the gift of being home with her, she gives you the gift of a life of your own pursuits, the wonders of which you wouldn’t have dreamed in your wildest dreams!  Accept that gift and “Get a life!”