Nurturing our children from birth to seven
195 pages, Michaelmas Press, Mass. USA
by Barbara J. Patterson & Pamela Bradley
"My mother was a homemaker extraordinaire in my youth, turning her everyday tasks into works of art. Even her laundry line looked like painting: all the socks on the line matched, then came all the men's shirts hanging neatly side-by-side, then all the colorful kitchen towels flapping in the breeze." Shirts: "She folded them and laid them on the dining room table in such a way that the second shirt came up to the collar point of the first, then the third to the collar point of the second, and so on, in one long line. She usually ironed twenty-one shirts a week!..."
Although this may seem obsessively pre-feminist neatness, Patterson appreciates "...especially now, what a gift she gave me. I did not have to learn to bring rhythm and good habits to my own children's lives and to the children of my classrooms. I already had them, inside. I had grown up with them."
My mother wasn't like that at all. She ironed my Dad's shirts all right, grumbling all the while, but he preferred the local Chinese laundry, where wrinkles Mom never saw were painstakingly eliminated. I loved her anyway. Barbara Patterson, however, is a Waldorf school kindergarten teacher, and she is making a pedagogical point by holding up her mother as a paragon of rhythm and order. In these days of social chaos, single-parent families, working mothers, the rhythm and order that children need in their lives is lacking – and it is necessary to put them back, at least for the time they spend in school, especially pre-school.
The authors' intention is to show how to raise "healthy, happy and capable children". This is quite an ambitious task. Many parents wish their children success in life rather than happiness. If computer skills aren't taught from the age of three, they think their little darlings will be handicapped when looking for that well-paying job after their brilliant post-graduate thesis. Patterson and Bradley think differently, and from experience. They write about "creative play" as something that nourishes the soul, something far from the plastic, ready-made toys offered by industry. Their toys are simple, made of cloth or wood, without details in order to allow the child's imagination to supply them.
Waldorf education doesn't try to force intellectual development before the child is ready and able to absorb it. Does it matter if the child is taught to read at seven instead of four? It does, because that interlude can be reserved for what children need and want to do: play. In other words – don't faint – later is better, at least as far as intellectualization is concerned. And it makes sense: when the child is more mature, the learning experience is easier and non-frustrating. The child is doing what he/she wants to do, not what she must.
An interesting chapter in this book is called "Developing the Twelve Senses". Did I say twelve? Sure did. It seems that the dogma of only five senses is a recent development. The authors delve into Rudolf Steiner's indications that in reality there are 12 senses: Will senses – touch, life, movement and balance; Feeling Senses: smell, taste, sight, warmth; Cognitive senses: hearing, speech, sense of another's thoughts, and, finally, the sense of another's "I". This will take a bit of hard thinking. In any case, the authors describe each sense and how each should be nurtured and allowed to develop in a healthy way – and in accordance with the stages of the child's physical and emotional growth.
There's a lot of wisdom in this book, and not only for parents who are lucky enough to have their children attend a Waldorf school. All parents will benefit from the practical tips on how to choose a school, how to play with their kids, how to be positive and even how to improve self-discipline (and stop yelling – they're only kids). Educators, grandparents and everyone else interested in child psychology will find this book to be an important resource.
And, Moms, don't worry about having to go back to ironing your husband's shirts and underpants. Some aspects of the changing times are for the better.