Understanding CHILD DEVELOPMENT provides insight for wise parenting.
The child’s development can be looked at in 7-year cycles —
- birth to 7 yr old,
- 7 to 14 yr old, and
- 14 to 21 yr old –
Each reflects the orderly birth of a new part of the human being. The four parts of the human being are
- the physical body,
- the etheric body,
- the astral body or soul, and
- the ego or self or I.
BIRTH OF THE PHYSICAL BODY
begins ‘pregnancy’ of the etheric body from birth to 7 yr old
At birth, after a 9-month pregnancy, the physical body enters earth experience more directly. Birth of the physical body is the baby’s official date of birth. The baby begins to breathe air, experience gravity, light, dark, hunger, smells, sounds, touch, warmth and cold, and human presence. The baby’s life forces (see Etheric body) support the enormous physical growth that is to take place in the first seven years. The etheric body then emerges from this task, free for the next task, at approximately 7 years old (see below).
Earth life, as we know it, is a new experience for the baby, sounds, sights, smells, the pull of gravity. Ideally we would not confuse the child early on with mechanical or electronic sources of sound and sights, but we would let the child be first accustomed to the real human and natural sources of sense experiences. Sing, recite, read aloud, pick up the guitar you used to play, and you give the child a reliable foundation of sensory experience, ‘live’ from the human being. The baby learns that voices and music come from people, not from screens or boxes. This orients the child to a basic reality in the world. Later, the child will easily take in reproduced sound, and sense the differences.
During the first seven years the young child is experienced by adults as full of activity and movement. Young children explore, led by their senses, and experience the world by imitating it in movement. Rudolf Steiner has said the young child is a sense organ, absorbing everything deeply, participating dreamily in the world through the senses, and building an ‘inner garden’ of experience. The young child’s will follows the sense experience the child has. What they see, they imitate, and this is a foundation for learning in the first seven years.
As parents of young children (1-7 yr old), you are protectors of the life forces of the young child, which he or she will use throughout his/her life. As enormous physical growth takes place, the child uses limbs and explores movement thoroughly. The child is imitative, copying the way Daddy sits with the newspaper, or insisting Mommy sit at only her right place at the table, like a learned ritual the child has mastered. This physical life is accompanied by a mental connection with images, not reason, at this point. Thus the child has a love of bedtime stories, preferably told, not read. The child will often want the same story repeated until every beloved detail is memorized. He or she often especially loves stories the parent makes up , or tells from the parent’s own childhood. Telling a story instead of reading a story gives a parent a beautiful gift: you can watch your child’s face, full of love for you, wide-eyed at certain points, responding to each nuance. You cannot see the wonder of your child’s face hearing you tell a story if you are looking at the pages of a book.
Ease of academics later in life is based on thorough neurologic integration from physical movement in the earliest years. The relationship a young child has to gravity is very important. A child is best served if he or she earns uprightness, by being allowed to lie on a warm smooth surface (floor with clean rug and blanket, for example) and learn by degrees to master his/her own movement in space. It is not helpful to pick a child up into vertical position by too much time spent in an infant carrier, a johnny-jump-up, or other seats that position the child upright before he or she can become upright under his/her own power. This interferes with the neurological integration that occurs when the child lies flat on the ground, and learns under his/her own power, sequentially to roll and lift, and creep and crawl, and stand.
Children are known for asking questions, sometimes big ones, or ones that are asking for adult information. You will find the young child’s questions more satisfactorily met by a picture than an analytic explanation. Accurate material information is important later, but not in the first seven years when the child lives in a world of images. Some questions are even better avoided, if they are asking for adult information. A parent can always comment ‘What a wonderful question! I wonder!’ This may be enough. The child has made contact, and you have responded lovingly and appropriately.
You see the flashes of individuality in the young child who is waiting to show him/herself fully. Your wisdom holds the child’s day steady, rhythmic, fed and bedded, building the strength of your child’s life forces as foundation for life-long health. It requires trust and patience to let the child unfold in his/her own time, and not call on adolescent or adult qualities too early. This time of life can be challenging and boring for parents, who have full adult capacities and often thrive on variety, not routine. Your sacrifice is commendable. Parenting is among the hardest jobs there are, and each stage of childhood gives parents an opportunity to learn and practice different forms of love.
The change of a child’s teeth, at approximately 7 years old, from baby teeth to adult teeth, signifies the completion of significant physical growth. Some of the etheric or life forces are now available for a different kind of learning. The life forces helped to build the physical body, and now also will help to build thoughts and thinking. This may be considered the birth of the etheric body. Ideally, academics should not be pushed into the child’s life before the change of teeth. Spending etheric forces on early thinking competes with physical health later in life.
THE BIRTH OF THE ETHERIC BODY
begins the ‘pregnancy’ of the astral body or soul: 7 to 14 years old
As the maturing of the etheric body (life forces) is accomplished in the first seven years, the growth of the soul or feeling life begins (see Astral body / soul). Emotions are not yet mature in the child from 7-14 years of age, but are incubating. (The feeling life is born more fully at puberty, see below.)
The 7-14 yr old child is no longer an open sense organ, but opens to the environment and people around him/her through his/her feelings and through a sense of what is beautiful or artistic.
From 7-14 years, the child does not imitate the physical movements of the adults around him or her, but instead feels the soul movements of the adults in the child’s life. In response to feeling the integrity and caring of the adult, the child gives respect to this worthy authority.
This time is called the heart of childhood — 7-14 yr old – when a respect for worthy authority is natural, and feeling opens for beauty itself in the world around. This is often the age of the least illness, and the most harmonious time of childhood.
The child’s seeking for ideals, such as courage and strength, is best met with stories of ideals in the lives of human beings, such as heroes and heroines and saints. Exposure to real artistic expression feeds the beginning of the child’s moral nature with the beauty and strength it is seeking.
Schooling best meets the child of this age by being based in arts and stories. Thinking and memory eagerly follow the feelings of the heart and the love of beauty, as the child unfolds academic capacities. In school a child begins to develop a new kind of memory, sense of numbers and space, seeing patterns, foundations of thinking, and the other academic skills that grow from these capacities.
The age of 9 years old brings a particular threshhold of self-awareness in the child’s life, and a feeling of aloneness or separation. The child may loudly determine to ‘run away from home,’ and prepare extensively for an eventual journey that concludes with the request for a parent to take him to a park, and ends in returning home after one and a half hours. Or a child may have difficulty falling asleep for a period of time, asking at bedtime ‘What will I do when you and Daddy die?’ Whatever the outer manifestation, the child’s feeling life senses his/her separateness in the world in a new way for the first time. The child does not yet have analytic thinking to put the experience fully into words as adults would. The child is still a creature of feeling more than thinking in the full sense of the world. The parents’ ability to listen with empathy, and respond out of authentic love, are the first support that is needed.
The natural unfoldment of the heart of childhood is distorted by the enormous challenges in our times which disrupt the child’s opportunity to be a child. Early intellectualization and materialism are major influences resulting in this disruption. Today puberty comes into this harmonious time much earlier than is healthy, shortening the ‘heart of childhood’ and bringing adult experiences into what should be an age of innocence.
THE BIRTH OF THE ASTRAL BODY OR SOUL
begins the ‘pregnancy’ of the ego or Self or I: 14 to 21 years old
Change comes into the harmonious middle years, even in normal childhood. Parents may find a young Philadelphia lawyer has taken over their loving child. New thinking capacities are evident. He/she casts a disgusted glance at the parents who have brought him/her thus far — usually some time around 8th grade. No more do the parents have a contented baby learning movement and the physical world, nor a sweet-natured heartfelt child growing before their eyes. The intellect is unfolding, and the first object of critical analysis is often the parents. It’s good timing that powers of judgment and analysis begin to unfold just as puberty begins. Let the intellect’s sharp powers master the hormones that rage.
Puberty differs in males and females, the males descent of testicles and deepening of the voice by an octave and more angular body form showing a fuller connection with the earth element. Puberty in females retains a cosmic connection, with menstrual rhythms, less deepening of the voice, and decided roundness to the body. This is reflected in differing emotional and thinking patterns of the two genders during puberty as well.
From 14-21, the individuality is more pronounced. Decision making should be shared and guided in preparation for independence. Privacy is important. Learning results of choices, such as wise consequences in the home, helps put control of behavior inside the individual.
Schooling should include meaningful questions and activities relating to the present world the adolescent is in. Abstract learning and working for only grades deadens the enthusiasm for truth and a positive connection with life. The threat of depression, anorexia, addictions of different types, and suicide, are all-too-common in our culture and most parts of the adolescent educational system.
The age of legality for drinking alcohol, voting, marriage, serving in the armed forces, has commonly been approximately at the end of the third seven-year cycle, 21 years old. These standards reflect that a completion has occurred, the full birth of the human individuality, (see Ego/Self/I).
A journey of births has been completed, so that another journey may begin.
- In the first seven years: the child is an open sense organ, participating directly in the world around him/her, and directs his/her will to imitation, in a ritual like way. The young child is like a Druid priest, devoted to nature, and seeing all around him/her as good.
- In the second seven years: the child is like an artist, meeting the world through feeling, and seeking beauty.
- In the third seven years: the child is like a scientist, meeting the world through the intellect’s critical and analytic thinking, and seeking truth.
These stages of human development demonstrate that truth, beauty, and goodness, are built into the nature of the human being. It is only by considering the soul and spiritual aspects of the child that we can fully support his/her complete human development. This is more than a question of good food, clothing, and other material resources, but of a new understanding that is needed in our culture.
At approximately 21 years of age, the child has become an adult, and begins the journey of adult development, which does not have the external physical markers (birth, change of teeth, puberty) but does continue in seven-year cycles of development. Adult development is on the soul and spiritual level, showing deepening aspects of character and human capacities.
Parenting through the stages
The wise ‘governance’ of a child goes in stages somewhat like governance in human history has evolved. The very young child is benefited by a benign king and queen, the loving parental authority. In the middle years of grade school, the child natively respects authority, but has a developing sense of contributing his/her wants and using his/her abilities for the benefit of the group. Democracy is built into the adolescent, and the parent gives the structure of what the society of the family does or doesn’t tolerate by virtue of structuring communication and consequences.
The stages of development are given here at their usual ages, but there will be early hints of what is to come and echoes of prior times varying with each individual. Behaviors described may be different due to the family dynamic, or the particular learning path the individual child carries as part of his/her destiny, or our culture. The culture we live in pushes adult information into even the very young child’s life — computers and IQ testing are part of some preschool programs. Adult decisions are often part of the oldest child’s or the only child’s daily diet of conversation. Sexualized clothing and media surround children of every age, and give parents a challenge to minimize this early maturation influence. Early intellectualizing and early sexual information pull the young child out of the dreamy participatory mode that is home for him or her, and require that the child spend etheric forces on coping and understanding rather than healthy physical growth.
What a gift it is to children to be allowed to develop gently through these stages, supported with loving firmness from the adults who provide them with true images of the human being and nature, as good, beautiful, and true.Print This Post
baby moves, Hersen-van Wanrooy, Marianne, Baby Moves Publications, 2006. www.babymoves.co.nz
Resources for Infant Educarers www.rie.org
Sophia’s Hearth Family Center www.sophiashearth.org
Simplicity Parenting www.SimplicityParenting.com
You are your child’s first teacher, Dancy, Rahima Baldwin, Ten Speed Press, 2012
Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America www.waldorfearlychildhood.org
Association of Waldorf Schools of North America www.whywaldorf worksPrint This Post