A Change for Childhood: Musings on Waldorf Education and Modern Childhood

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore. William Faulkner

Modern childhood is very different from the childhood I experienced in the late 1980s and 1990s. The fast technological developments and pressures from an ever growing commercial world have created a culture whereby ‘childhood’ has been commodified, designed, packaged and sold. Sally Jenkinson in ‘The Genius of Play’ puts this so eloquently.

‘Today’s sophisticated, technological toys leave todays children very little room to be creative and original, only endlessly to repeat what has been done before. Now children are absent as cars dominate our streets, outdoor play is risky; children’s designated play areas with notable exceptions, are sanitised, safe and devoid of imagination. Our children are housebound, waiting for childhood to be over in order to gain some sense of freedom. In cocooned safety they watch television, video, play computers and learn how to think, feel and react to the world they experience as they experience it - as it has been designed for them to experience. Sometimes it seems that a packaged and passive childhood is the only kind on offer’

It seems as myself, my husband and our friends, are reminiscing over our childhoods and trying to frantically preserve these rites of passage for our children, struggling to preserve their innocence in a world that seems to be growing further and further away from what it means to be alive, what it means to be a human being: memories of hide and seek from dawn till dusk, endless laughter in the pouring rain, rolling down freshly mowed hills our hair covered in grass clippings, zip lines in the woods, tree swings and endless daisy chains... we are fighting against a world which seems to think childhood is ‘preparation’ for adulthood and not a right of life in itself. A place where pushing forward education, constantly extending learning and challenging thinking has replaced being present, in the moment and enagaged in what we need further our own unique developmental path. In a world where we now have over worked, stressed executives on burn out, being prescribed ‘mindfulness retreats’ whereby they lie silent in a forest, or garden amongst others. You really have to wonder why some governments are pushing more and more academics on younger children.

Waldorf Education emphasises that childhood should be protected and nurtured. Children should be allowed space and time to experience the world through play, to slowly come into their bodies as they develop physically, as they learn to speak, develop memory and thinking, as they express their thinking through play, as they make friends and begin to unfold into who they are as individuals.

Parents and Early Years workers, Teachers etc are bombarded with information on a daily basis, the best approach to parenting, handling behaviour, how to have a healthy child, ensuring academic success from a young age, which education system is best, what area has the best schools, phonics books for babies, top ten toys this year etc. It can be easy to become overwhelmed, to worry if you are making the right choice for your child, is your child missing out because of what you may see others doing. Buying toys and books, teaching at home we are told is the answer to your child being happy and developing into a capable human being. Our six month olds are bombarded with the alphabet, phonics and flashing lights as they discover simple joy of what their body can do when they push a ball along the floor. Our babies minds are occupied with televisions, tablets and visuals, when they otherwise would be searching for a human face, for connection, eye contact, a smile and the warmth of human touch.

Waldorf Education in its 100th year addresses these modern issues and asks... who is your child? What do they need? How can you help them be who they need to be? In a commercial world children still need whole processes, to make, cook and bake. In a technological world children still need tangible real experiences; song, movement, laughter, the kind of friendship where you can hold hands and run around silly with rosy cheeks. In a world which is crumbling under the pressures of modern human life, children need to and it is vitally important that they connect with nature, to be part of it and for it to be part of them. In a world where everything around them is being designed packaged, sold and marketed to them from a very young age, children desperately need a parent, an advocate, to LOVE them,to listen to them with enthusiasm and care, to let them speak to you about who they are, to feel a valued and unique member of their family and community. None of the above include expensive toys and silks and although all these things are lovely and can nourish and enrich play, I can guarantee there will be children out there with no toys, who have better play experiences than those who have everything. Mental wellbeing comes from inside from our experiences and our connection with the world around us, not from a store.

Modern life will still happen. We are living in an age of advancement which is only going to move faster as the years go on, however the way Waldorf Education nurtures a childs, thinking, feeling and willing (doing) gives our children the tools to choose the life they want, and be who they want, not the life on the shelf which is sold to us, the one we see on a screen. This respect and nurturing of the thinking, feeling and willing really allows the child truly find them selves and have the confidence to impose their own inner will on the outside world, with love and care. Every child's journey is unique as is every family unit, by embracing each individual child and celebrating the unique gifts and beauty they bring to our lives, we bring together communities, we connect as human beings and thus we build a better world for ourselves. If I think back to my own childhood memories, playing chip-shop with box hedge cuttings and newspaper over my garden gate, rubbing flour and butter between my fingertips with my nanna in the holidays, cycling along the sea front to Blackpool in the Summer, feeling the breeze on my face, the sea air in my lungs (and sometimes sand in my eyes). The thinking, feeling and willing so important in Rudolf Steiner’s work and the work of every Steiner~Waldorf school was present.

Together let us forge a change for childhood. Let us nurture and raise a better future.

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