I am only recently beginning to discover the Waldorf approach to family life and education. From all that I have read it seems to fit very neatly with my own ideals and parenting approach. Being connected to nature means being grounded in the land in which you live and the natural cycles such as moon phases and seasons. I believe that at birth babies are a part of nature and that this natural state of being is quickly lost as the child grows, spends the majority of time being shielded from the elements and has her imagination stifled through exposure to technology, the media and early academic learning. Children have their need to play overlooked as they enter the classroom environment at a young age. Natural curiosity for discovering the world through free, unstructured and imaginative play is stifled and the toy box is filled with noisy, battery operated toys that bombard the senses with information. Gradually the child loses the precious connection to the natural world. So how do I go about helping a four month maintain her connection to nature and how do I plan on taking this forward into her toddler years?
First and foremost we go outside virtually daily. We aim to spend outdoor time every day but life with a small baby sometimes means this doesn’t always happen. We mostly spend our outdoor time at this stage in Glastonbury Abbey. This is such a lovely place, a real sanctuary in the middle of the town. Despite if being a tourist attraction which gets quite busy at times there is always some suitable place for quiet time. I love that the Abbey grounds consists of a number of distinct environments so that we can experience something different every day of the week if we choose. There is the wildlife sanctuary which right now is a tangle of nettles which for the moment hide the badger tunnels which can be seen here in the winter. There are two separate pond areas which are home to fish and water fowl. There is the apple orchard, the parkland and the ruins itself as well as the herb garden and the numerous trees, many native alongside the more exotic. On these visits I carry a bag with a thick wool blanket so that I can let her have some time on the earth. If it is dry enough then she will lay on the grass. Often this is time spent beneath a tree where she can feel the earth beneath her, watch the movement of the branches in the breeze, hear the sound of the wind in the leaves and feel the sun reaching her through the canopy. Through this simple time she gets to experience each of the four elements which are considered so important in the Waldorf approach. During this outside time I try to ensure that for at least part of the time I allow her to simply be present with herself and the world around her. As tempting as it is to respond to her chatter with the trees I’ve seen how doing so has the result of breaking her connection with whatever it is she is observing. I have learned to just wait quietly and let her be. In her own time she will decide to engage with me once more. I anticipate this outdoor time increasing as she gets older and more able to explore and engage with her environment. I intend this to be year round and regardless of the weather. Children love to play in puddles and to crunch in snow.
I am also finding ways to engage her with each of the elements. I am writing about this in a series of posts which began with connecting to earth. Earth, being the most physical and tangible of the elements has seemed the most easily accessible to a baby of this age. In my next post I will write about ways we have been working with water.
“The four elements, earth, water, air and fire, are the basic elements which children are nourished by and from which they grow. No shaped toys-be they wood or plastic-can compete with these materials. The seriousness with which the children play, the deep concentration speaks for itself, and shows how important this “playing” is.” – You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin Dancy: p184.
In the Waldorf approach children aged under seven are considered to be naturally connected to the world around them. At this age it is seen as important to nurture this and to avoid actively engaging them in activities which detract from this natural state of being and which shift them prematurely into their head-space. For me this means no television, minimising technology by choosing simple toys and later on by choosing not to allow computer games. According to Rahima Baldwin Dancy, author of You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, babies are sensory beings without the ability to filter or choose what they engage with. This means that they take in everything around them and through these sensory experiences they are sculpted into the older child and adult they will become and learn about the world they are born into. When considered fully, the implications of this are enormous. It places us as parents in a position of tremendous responsibility. We must be the filter through which our baby meets the world. We must be responsible for what sensory information our baby experiences in these first special years. So, consider, what do you want your baby to feel, hear, taste, touch, see? Rudolf Steiner taught that there are in fact twelve senses rather than the five conventionally recognised, a subject for another post. I know that I want my baby to experience beautiful, natural sounds and sights. I want her to hear my voice gently singing her to sleep and the birds calling. I don’t want meaningless flashing images on a screen to be her early visual experience. I want her rather to see my smiling face and to see the movement of tree branches in the breeze. I don’t want her feeling hard, cold plastic or have her skin stifled by plastics and chemicals. I choose instead natural toys, cloth nappies and organic wool and cotton clothing where possible.
Simple toys can include those made of natural materials. We have play silks which are pieces of silk fabric which I have dyed using natural colourants such as beetroot, a natural rubber giraffe and a wooden rattle. There are online shops which sell incredibly beautiful hand made and natural toys, often at premium prices. None of these are really necessary but you may choose to create a list of lovely things that you can provide to friends and relatives wanting gift inspiration. You can draw upon any skills you have to create toys yourself or learn a new skill. Currently I am trying needle felting for the first time and am making my daughter her first ball out of washed raw wool. Toys for toddlers and older children can include those which promote imitation and of course, nature herself provides plenty of playthings. Natural objects such as pine cones, shells and pebbles can be collected to help bring nature indoors. Sand play, modelling and water play provide further opportunities to engage with natural materials. We plan on providing a nature table on which our little girl can place objects she has collected herself. A seasonal display can be a focal point in the home.
“Young children are close to the realm of nature because they are natural beings. Because their consciousness is not yet parted from the environment, because they still live in the consciousness of oneness, of unity, they still belong to the natural world.” – Heaven On Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, Sharifa Oppenheimer: p99.
My role as a parent is not so much about connecting my baby with nature – she already IS nature. Rather it is about protecting this connection in any way I can, a task which is not easy in the modern world in which we live. I see this as a sacred undertaking. These first years are precious. My theory is that she will be better able to learn about the world and how and why things work by first really knowing how to be in this world. I believe that there is far too much emphasis on learning from the head. Perhaps our earliest learning needs instead to come from our heart and soul. Our little ones must be allowed to hear the wisdom of nature spirits, to have their senses protected and to fully incarnate before they are tasked with moving into the world of schooling and adult priorities.