During my Waldorf Teacher Training at Sound Circle Center, I focused on Early Childhood. In Waldorf, Early Childhood essentially means the first seven years of a child’s life. However, Rudolf Steiner did not lecture much on ‘educating’ children under the age of Kindergarten because, at that time, children stayed home until going off to school at the age of 6 or 7. Today this is not the case, children are often leaving the home as early as 6 weeks of age to be cared for by someone other than their mother. I am in no way criticizing this new trend, as we all make the best choices for our family that we can, but now that this is becoming the norm, I knew that I wanted to find a way to bring Waldorf Childcare to the earliest of ages. This is how I discovered the work of Magda Gerber and her RIE methods. The book, The Child from Birth to Three is a good read as it seems to combine these two philosophies.
Rudolf Steiner, creator of Waldorf Education, spoke equally about protection and independence when lecturing about the first seven years of life. As caregivers and mothers, our presence around the children, down to our very thoughts, could have a calming and beholding manner. When we work with and address the children, we do so with a respectful, peaceful way. Rhythm and routine are of great importance when entering the world as, according to Steiner, it helps the child develop a healthy sense of life. He speaks of a ‘breathing rhythm‘ where we spend quality time with our children and then let them go off and explore on their own in independent, self-directed play.
Magda Gerber shares these very concepts in her book Your Self-Confidant Baby. The respect of the child in how you address them and communicate with them in a respectful manner. Being present and attentive when you are with your children and then letting them discover their independence when they are on their own. Gerber speaks of routine giving small children ease of mind knowing what to expect in their day. She too speaks of spending quality time with your child during feeding, changing and other care times and then letting them be on their own to discover the world in self-directed play.
In this article, Two Streams Entwined by Trice Atchison, she shares her thoughts on how RIE and Waldorf are related to one another. I like where she speaks of independent play. “There is a need for a greater understanding of the difference between inappropriately pushing the child toward independence and what Pikler and Gerber intended in their caregiving model: sharing in the child’s joy of movement and self-mastery, which means remaining aware and respectful. Celebrating the development of independence is not the same as leaving the child alone or unassisted.” I feel that in Waldorf and in RIE the concept of independent play IS a little controversial, especially when it comes to babies. When, with both philosophy’s it is about letting a child discover the JOY of independence in the world.
Atchison does such a good job of sharing how the ‘streams entwine’ when she discribes how “Rudolf Steiner, Emmi Pikler, and Magda Gerber all recognized in babies and toddlers the awe-inspiring process of growth and development that takes place during the first three years of life. During this brief time, the child’s organs are still forming and she learns to roll, sit up, crawl, stand, walk, speak, and think. She is becoming herself.” Steiner, Pikler and Gerber all recognized the great importance of coming into ones body and we, as adults, must give respect and space to allow to this process to unfold.
There are already a few centers that care for children with both philosophies in mind, though they are still limited availability. Two great examples are Awhina in New Zealand and Sophia’s Hearth in New Hampshire. It is of course a dream of mine to bring one such center to Portland, OR.