Waldorf and RIE: A Beautiful Pairing

This post can now be found on Learning Parenthood. Click to continue. 

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Love, Respect and Disagreement

I don’t have to agree with you to love and respect you.This is a phrase that I have been pondering lately. I find that it applies to two areas in my motherhood, my relationship to children and especially my relationship with other parents, caregivers and friends.

With children, there are many things we disagree with on a daily basis, like whether or not shoes should be worn outside, or if we should feed the dogs our dinner, or if it’s a good idea to eat bugs that are found in the dirt. “I don’t want you to do that.”  Is a phrase that I say more often, but I would like to start saying “I don’t agree with that.” I like the latter because in that instance it implies that both myself and the child have opinions that matter. When I simply say that I don’t want something to happen, while being honest, I am still never allowing room for negotiation when it’s appropriate. There is never negotiation when it comes to health and safety, but perhaps eating bugs is something I can learn to understand even though it is SO gross to me. I have a boy, so I will have to learn to tolerate the gross. :) As Magda Gerber of RIE says: “Respect is the basis of the RIE hilosophy. We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being.

With adults, there are always things we disagree on, especially when it comes to parenting philosophies. We will never be in complete agreement with anyone because there are so many intricicities to parenting, well, to life actually! This is where it is important to say to another person, “You may not agree with this point of view and that is okay.” With all of my experience and information I have a great deal of opinions and ideas about parenting that I love to share, but this does not mean that I am ever right or better in my views. I recently had a conversation with a good friend about spanking and how I am not at all for spanking and she is. I really wrestled with this for awhile (and still am) but I am determined to come to a place where I accept and trust her point of view on the matter. I still love and respect that mother dearly, and her choice is her own. As a mother, teacher, nanny and friend, I will always strive to view any other parents choices in a positive light and come to peace with their choices.

I very much believe that our children come to us for a reason, for all of our good and all of the mistakes we will make as parents. It is our job to love and respect our children unconditionally throughout their lives, even when we completely disagree with their actions and our job as grow-up children to strive to see the good in our own parents. Perhaps we can work to extend this task to our parent peers as well; to learn to respect other parents choices and strive to remove our judgement of them. In doing this, our hearts may be lighter and our children may learn from our effort to be better human beings.

Here are a few GREAT books for working with your children: Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect, By Magda Gerber and Bringing up Bebe, by Pamela Drukerman.

Here is a great book that will help remove judgement and cultivate love: The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. (Or read brief summery here)

Those are only a few books and I would LOVE to learn about more books to help me on this quest.

 

What are your thoughts? Does this seem like an impossible task to you or something to strive for? What would be something that you would struggle with in others parenting choices?

Protecting Childhood in Our Modern World: Early Childcare in the Light of Anthroposophy.

I have decided that it might be nice to publish my final paper on Early Childhood Education from Sound Circle Center. It is a little lengthy but worth a read. Let me know your thoughts! Enjoy!

Protecting Childhood in Our Modern World: Early Childcare in the Light of Anthroposophy. 

Four essential characteristics that can be implemented into mainstream childcare

Introduction

In Autumn of 2009 Helle Heckman, director of Mixed-aged Kind came to lecture here in Seattle and spoke of how our children were not entering Kindergarten after a long stay at home while mothers cooked and cleaned and children played; children were entering care very young, during a crucial age for growth and bonding. Then after years of multiple caregivers we finally receive them in Kindergarten programs, in great need of the work we do. I knew that what she spoke was the truth; our children have needs that we are not meeting! Childcare from an anthroposophical point of view is relatively new and it has been a little controversial. It is viewed that the child should be at home with the mother of father. In an ideal world, this is very true! However, we do not live in an ideal world.

I was privileged to visit Nøkken for two weeks and work directly with Helle Heckman, who then directed me to the work of Bernadette Raichle. I took a workshop with Bernadette Raichle, which was deeply inspiring to me, as she shared similar views and passion as Helle. These programs are based on the work done by Rudolf Steiner and Emmi Pikler[1]. Through researching their programs and the work of Steiner and Pikler, I have attained what I see to be the four main principles to giving holistic care to the child from birth to age three. Waldorf childcare is a new idea that has been taken up by prominent leaders in this field. In Denmark, Helle Heckman has created Nøkken, a mixed-age Kindergarten with children from 1-7 years. In New Zealand, Bernadette Raichle has created Awhina, a day nursery for children 6 months to 3 years. I chose to research these models because of the experience I have with them[2].

Through this paper I will share the benefits of how and why Waldorf Early Childcare can be beneficial to the young child. In my research I have discovered that there are four areas of which we can use as a foundation for building a care center that focuses on the needs of the growth period from infancy to around 3 years. I will then share my exploration into how we can implement these aspects into a mainstream childcare center to better serve the young child that is not able to benefit from Waldorf Early Childcare.

Four Foundational Aspects

 

Upon speaking with Bernadette Raichle and Helle Heckmann about how they support the child and based on what mainstream research has shown, these aspects have stood out as major areas of improvement in mainstream models. While we all know that the mother is the best option of care in the first years of life, this is not a fact of life. In 2005 roughly 70 percent of children under the age of 5 were in non-family care. Childcare is on the rise as careers become more demanding. It is our job not to shun these mothers but to understand the work that goes into raising a child and having a full-time career. We are here to provide support and understanding and to help the parents. Raichle states “the feelings of the mother are the biggest concern after the child. The child and mother are bonded and we must support and respect this.” In this new work that we do, we can make it the best possible option to serve the parents and to serve the children. The four areas that we may work with the children are: the relationship of the child to the environment, the relationship of the child to the other children, the relationship of the child to their caregiver and the relationship of the child to their growth process.

In Waldorf it is primarily the Kindergarten and Preschool that is the focus of Early Childhood trainings and schools, but can it be different? Can we build a mixed-age training so that we may provide the support that is needed?

Relationship of the child to environment

Clinical experience and developmental research reveal the importance of environmental stimulation on children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. There are examples of extremes of environmental care (e.g., children raised in orphanages) that provide clear evidence of the impact of a lack of stimulation on development. The poor developmental outcomes of children who experience extreme early sensory deprivation reveal that the need for novel, stimulating experiences is not ‘biologically extravagant’, but required for survival and successful development.

Sensory stimuli that young children require does not need to come from being entertained by adults of from interactive toys. The stimulation infants and young children need comes from the everyday care and experiences such as being held or swaddled, exploring a textured object, tasting breast milk or a new vegetable, smelling mother’s breast or a rose petal, looking at objects or people, or listening to a caregiver’s singing. All of these experiences occur naturally in the environment, and no special toys, tools, or technology are required to provide the range and variety of experiences a baby naturally seeks out for healthy development. Therefore, what children need to grow and develop adequately is typically provided for during everyday experiences in the context of a relationship with sensitive caregivers in the child’s natural environment.

Simplicity is essential for the very young child as is the care of the environment. How we prepare a space greatly affects the child and how they perceive their environment. We know that a space is best when naturally lit with simple surroundings and toys but we must go a step further in this. When we clean and prepare a room everyday, the pace at which we do this is crucial. If we rush around and create flurries of energy, the young child feels this and will become agitated.  Everything we touch in the environment must be cared for with a sense of unhurried reverence. When we fill the environment with peace and calm, this is a loving gift that we are giving the children. As Bernadette Raichle so lovingly states “The task of the day nursery for the young ones is to take care of the child. The bigger task is to re-awaken the need for protection of the child.”

Relationship of the child to the other children

When our grandparents stayed home with their mother’s, it is likely that they had many siblings and cousins around them and that the children in a community were much more connected than they are now. There was so much to learn in all of that good mixed-age play, and mom could count on older siblings to help with the infants and toddlers.  One of the essential things we have lost during the individualization of our culture is the mixed-aged children’s relationships that are built in home situations. Not all is lost however, this is work that we can take up and re-create. Nøkken specifically addresses this very need.

This past summer I had the privilege to visit Nøkken and work first hand with Helle Heckman. Here I saw the beautiful potential of the mixed age program. In Denmark the citizens are privileged to have one year or maternity/paternity leave after the birth of their child, so infant care is less of a demand. Because of this Nøkken takes children at the age of one and they stay with the program until they leave for first grade. All of the children spend the morning walk together and interact with all the ages of children and with all four caregivers. The caregivers give space so that the children may succeed in caring for one another. It is such a beautiful thing to see a 5-year-old rush over and help a one year old that has fallen down or needs help or to see the 2 year old sit and watch the older children play together, observing the social skills. From these interactions there are crucial skills they learn. The older children learn empathy and learn to care for the younger children, skills that will translate into their own parenting when they are adults. The young child learns the proper manners and behaviors from the older children, at such an imitative age, they pick up so easily how to properly play and work. Because this cycle has been going on for more than 20 years, generations of childhood wisdom are passed on over and over to incoming children. The same rhythm has been in place for so long that the caregivers and the children always have it deep within their bodies making it a therapeutic experience for all. Helle spoke a great point: We have the grades children with one teacher from 1st to 8th grade so why are we splitting up the young child’s care?

Relationship between caregiver and child

One thing we can do to truly serve the children is practice bonding and attachment to the children in our care. Switching between multiple caregivers during the first years of life have negative side effects on the child. One of these is Reactive Attachment Disorder based on the Bowbly Theory of attachment. Bowlby[3] believed the task of the caregivers in the first years is to offer the child a secure base to build solid, emotional bonds.  The quality of the primary attachments affects the child’s functioning throughout life.  The child forms an internal working model about the world based on his/her first primary relationship with the caregiver.  It becomes a map for all future relationships.

If a child did not develop secure attachment with a primary caregiver by age two, it may have serious negative consequences for the child’s social and emotional development. Some of these side effects are a lack of emotional bonds in relationships later in life, a lack of empathy and detachment or lack of interest in life.

Bernadette Raichle has established a Primary Care system at Awhina. Up until three years the child has a primary care person who does all of the care for that child from feeding to changing to napping. Primary care does not mean exclusive care; everyone in the environment knows that the one individual is that child’s main person. So the other caregivers help the child, but the child is bonded with that caregiver. Here in the U.S. it is common to have separate classes and teachers for each age group: infants, toddlers, preschoolers, pre-kindergarten and finally kindergarten. That separates the child from their caregiver many times and the children do not like this. They have bonded with a caregiver and are distraught when they have to move up to a new class; they are distraught because they are trying to tell us something: They have a fundamental need to be connected!

Relationship of the child to their growth process

Another crucial element to the development of the young child is the way in which they learn motor skills. In 1930, Emmi Pikler started research on how children best develop these skills. She found that children who received little or no help learning to do activities such as roll over, sit up and stand fared much better than those that were encouraged or taught how to do so. In writing about Pikler’s work, Susan Weber[4] states, “that the very basic elements of competent behavior are self-dependant initiation of action, independence of performing the action and the effectiveness of the action-in which the formation of contact with others is deemed the primary capacity above others.” In our work with young children it’s important to let the child do activities themselves. If we are always doing the activities for them, they will never become self-reliant and suffer in the long run from lack of confidence in their bodies. When I visited Nokken, it was seen as essential that the young children complete tasks on their own. A sleeve was helped on or off with little assistance, but the child completed the task in the end, thus building confidence.

Magda Gerber[5] speaks of Selective Intervention, which means knowing when not to interfere with the child. When the children get into a difficult situation (such as climbing, or putting on shoes) it is important to wait until they resolve it themselves. She speaks of being near the child so they know we are available but when we leave them be it lets them know we have confidence that they can do the task themselves. If a child is having a hard time, we can speak to them and ask if they need help. In this case it’s important to do a small part of the task and then let the child have some sense of completion. This is not only about giving the child a chance to develop motor skills, this is above all giving the children our respect and trusting that they are capable individuals.

How we can implement these 4 ideas into established care centers in Seattle.

 

Ideally, It would be the best idea to start a little home program for small children, however I chose to focus on how to change the state of current mainstream care centers with the hope that if this work could be taken up, more children would be reached and helped. In care centers in Washington, there are strict rules determined by the Washington Stare Department of Early Learning Licensing. These rules are in place to maintain safe environments for children, so it is a good thing to have a department looking after our children’s safety. However, it is sometimes hard to meet the children’s fundamental needs within some of the restrictions.

Licensing requires that in a center, for the infant and toddler we provide materials and opportunities for large and small motor skills and a wide variety of learning and play materials that are easily cleanable. It states that the environment must be free of clutter. The room must also be well lit, but this can be done with daylight-balanced lights. This is all that is spoken about the environment, so there is quite a bit of liberty to create a cozy, simple space with natural toys.

When we look at the relationship between the children to themselves, it is actually encouraged by licensing that the children do activities that strengthen self-awareness and control. It’s a matter of giving ample time for the child to do these activities. It must be put in the schedule of the day that the transitions will be very long to help the children develop the skills they need to become confidant in himself or herself. This is not really a matter of working with licensing; it’s a matter of educating directors, caregivers and parents that self-initiated activity will ensure the growth of the child’s fundamental needs. It is often the case that when a child becomes distressed, the adult will rush to them to finish the activity. This does ease the immediate distress, but causes more distress and harm in the long run.

The child’s relationships to other children and to the caregiver are both issues that come against a wall. It is of course encouraged to form bonding relationships between child and caregiver, but this does not help with the consistency of care. This is a place in which we must get creative to help with this issue. According to licensing, in a center there are strict rules to which ages may be together. From birth to three is the crucial age where bonding takes place and this is the stage that is spilt up the most. An infant under one must be separated from children older than this age. From 12 months to 29 months this is considered a toddler and 30 months to 5 years is considered a preschooler and these 2 age groups must be separate to maintain maximum staff to child ratio. There are two exceptions that allow for some combining of these ages. You may combine walking toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children as long as the class size does not exceed twelve children. You may also combine infants with older children for one hour if the class size does not exceed eight children. Based on these requirements, you could have a class from walking age to kindergarten age. Since infants are not allowed to be with the older children for longer than an hour, they could perhaps visit when numbers are lower, but it’s generally the case in childcare centers to fill to the max that licensing allows. So the infants are still in danger of having as little as 3 different caregivers during these first 3 years (mother and teachers). It seems, as this issue is so paramount that the only real solution is to work with licensing and try and make a change and bring more awareness to the negative effects of lack of bonding.

 

Conclusion

I have a background working in mainstream childcare. The whole time I was in the centers, especially with the infants, my heart would ache a little at the way they were treated. Like little objects that produced the results adults wanted. Often these results were achieved through shame or punishment. After coming to Waldorf, I was confused for some time about where my place was. I knew what my options were, but I saw the need of the child under 3. This year, having worked with Helle and Bernadette it has given me hope that my passion for helping and protecting the young child is something that we can and should be working towards in the realm of such a beautiful philosophy as Waldorf Education.

Through the four foundational aspects we can serve the children that must leave their homes at an early age and through Waldorf Early Childhood philosophy, we can create a loving home-like environment to nourish the soul. As stated before, the controversy of Waldorf Childcare is the view that the child should be home with the mother. For whatever reason, the appeal of staying at home to raise children has been somewhat lost. In time perhaps, through our work with these children and the joy we ourselves have in home-like tasks, we can re-enliven the great and beautiful responsibility of the homemaker for future generations.


[1] Emmi Pikler was a Hungarian pediatrician who devoted her life to the development of the young child. Because of her work, she was invited by the Hungarian government in 1946 to create an orphanage for children from birth to three years old whose mothers had died in childbirth or from tuberculosis.  This center was called the National Methodological Institute, or more familiarly ” Loczy, ” after the name of its street location.

[2] I would also like to point out that the Lifeways program has also taken up this work, but was not an area I researched at this time so I suggest further investigation into this if you are as moved by this topic as I am.

[3] John Bowlby (February 26th 1907–September 2nd 1990) was a British psychologistpsychiatrist and psychoanalyst, notable for his interest in child development and for his pioneering work in attachment theory.

[4] In New Hampshire, Susan Weber has created Sophia’s Hearth, a childcare center with children from 3 months to 6 years. Sophia’s Hearth has a foundation in the RIE method and a RIE training is offered at the center.

[5] Magda Gerber was born in Hungary, and received a master’s degree in early childhood education in Budapest. Gerber incorporated many of Emmi Pikler’s theories into her own philosophy, which she termed RIE. In 1997 she wrote Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities from the Very Start and in 2003 she wrote Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect.

Encouraging Baby’s Independance…And Mother’s Sanity

When my Son was 4 months old, he never, ever wanted to be set down on his own. When I needed to eat or use the restroom, he would get so mad that he was out of my arms and scream the entire time. Carrying around a 15 pound child all day long was not only physically exhausting, but emotionally exhausting as well, as I did not have my own space to take care of my basic needs. In addition to what I was feeling, my Son was not getting what he needed either. Sure he WANTED to be held, but he NEEDED to be able to move on his own and explore his individual place in the world. In her book Dear Parent: Caring for your Infant with Respect, Magda Gerber writes: “Parents who carry their babies most of the time are not giving their infants the opportunity to move according to their readiness. Most animals can show emotion only through touch, but we as humans have an extensive, varied and refined repertoire of ways to demonstrate love.”

So I was in a position where I was ready for something to change before I had a breakdown. Following Magda Gerbers advice, I would set him down for longer and longer periods of time. At first, he was so mad, he would cry and cry. After a little time, I would pick him up and instead of just mindlessly carrying him around as I had done before, I would really be present with him. I would talk to him about how great he was doing, getting used to being on his own, and how it IS hard to adjust to life here on earth and it’s perfectly alright to cry about it. Eventually, he was on his own longer and in my arms less and we were both finally free to be independent beings, co-existing with respect and love for the other.

Now I have my Son who couldn’t be happier crawling around my whole house while I sit in peace drinking tea and working on my own. He has finally gained the confidence he needed to play on his own. In her post Infant Play-Great Minds at Work, Janet Lansbury writes: “Babies are self-learners and what they truly need is the time, freedom and trust to just “be.” She shares a video of a boy who was left to play on his own for uninterrupted play from infancy:    

 “The first section is a four and a half month old boy playing outside. We then see the same boy at two years old focusing on a puzzle.  This boy spent his early years in free exploration between naps, feedings and diaper changes.  He was never directed, taught, or otherwise shown ‘how’ he should play. He was only interrupted when absolutely necessary.” I try to remind myself of the last part, and let my Son play uninterrupted. When he needs me, he always lets me know.

One thing I want to be clear of after sharing this story is that this what what my son and I needed. I know of so many mothers who choose to hold and wear their baby for large portions of the day, and I think that is great. It shows me that those mothers are responding to what THEIR children need. If it works for you and your family, then it must be the right fit. If it doesn’t work, which in my case was true, children are adaptable and intelligent beings that will fit into the lifestyle that works for you and your family as a whole.

Children as Zen Masters

I recently read this article on Mothering.com about the Spirituality of Parenting. Mother Cheryl Dimof speaks of how our children are little Zen masters, living very fully in the moment. There is quite a bit we can learn from the way children go about their day. We could learn so much about ourselves and our children if we took the time to simply be present  in our daily activities. While we may not find the time everyday to make space for a meditative practice, we can make our daily activities meditative; slowly and purposefully doing the dishes or cutting vegetables and fruit with love and care. By doing this we can quiet our mind and create a peaceful mind space during our busy day.

Not only is having a meditative practice a gift to ourselves, but it is a gift to our children as well. In this post on Janet Lansbury’s blog about Magda Gerber, she gives two examples of how being zen-like can benefit our children:

“By holding back our impulse to teach, direct, or otherwise intervene when a child plays, we are often amazed by the child’s developing abilities. Through observation we gain insights into the origins of a host of psychological issues, major and minor. Some strike a chord. Parents have reported realizations in RIE parenting classes about personal issues that eluded them for years in psychotherapy.”

Quiet objective observation or what Gerber calls’ wants nothing’  quality time ” encompass a wide range of experiences, but all we are asked to do is pay attention and have no agenda of our own. It can mean being quietly available as a baby explores patterns of light on a blanket beneath him, or standing nearby while he has a screaming meltdown because he cannot have another cookie. It may be trickier to see the benefit for parents and caregivers in this latter scenario, but it is clarity. When we pay full attention to our child for intervals each day, no matter what the tone of our exchange or the outcome is, we are giving him the quality time he needs. We are doing our job.”

Taking care of children can be incredibly joyful as well as draining; I hope these articles can help bring a little peace to your day.

Here is a little video I captured that has 5 minutes of me observing my son. It is not as if he is doing anything particularly exciting, but he is just right there in the moment. I often wonder how he decides what he will do next in course of actions…