Your child will grow and change more in the first seven years than in any other period of life. Early childhood is like spring, burgeoning with growth forces and overflowing with fresh beauty. While the first few months may seem to pass slowly, soon parents are running after their little ones, both literally and metaphorically. As soon as we think we have a handle on what is happening with our child, everything seems to change and we find ourselves full of questions again. These year-by-year descriptions are based on the Waldorf approach to child development and can perhaps be helpful to new parents.
Waldorf early education is based on the understanding of child development unfolding in distinct seven–year cycle, from birth to 7 years of age.
In each seven-year period, one of our human soul capacities comes to the fore. It should not be a surprise to the parents of young children that willing is the predominant capacity from birth to seven. Feeling predominates in the second seven-year cycle and thinking in the third.
That is why we have divided these seven-year cycle approximately into thirds. So, while the first seven years as a whole is understood as the Will period, we characterize the first third (from birth to 2 1/3) as the Willing-Willing phase, the second third (from 2 1/3 to 4 2/3) as the Feeling-Willing phase, and the last third (from 4 2/3 to 7) as the Thinking-Willing phase. Being aware of these phases helps us to better understand the shifts in consciousness that occur in early childhood and how we can support our children in integrating the changes they are experiencing.
Parenting is a process of development in itself. Each year with a child helps us to see how we need to grow and change, but each year also has an abundance of moments that make us smile, laugh, and celebrate together!
My First Year of Life
The processes of conception and birth are no less than miraculous, and the actual presence of a new little soul, especially if it is the first child, can bring to a family a startlingly profound sense of grace and gratitude. Meeting the unflinching gaze of the newborn in the first weeks may even evoke in the parents a new kind of selfless love.
During the first year of life both baby and parents have many new experiences and will make ongoing accommodations for the unfolding needs and capacities of the growing child. The child will gradually come into rhythm with eating and sleeping.
The child will form secure bonds with mother and father and later on, begin to open up to other relationships. The bodily senses will begin to develop, with the sense of touch and life (well-being) being particularly important in the first few months and self-movement (proprioception) and balance becoming increasingly important as the child becomes more mobile. These four bodily senses will continue to be important throughout the first seven-year cycle.
Parents will also observe the exquisite sequence of developmental movements that begin with the child’s focusing of the eyes and discovery of hands and progress to rolling over, sitting up, crawling and, finally, to the crowning achievement of standing upright.
Challenges can arise in any of these areas— in establishing rhythms, in bonding and separation, in sensory or movement development. The following suggestions as to how to approach these challenges come out of the understanding of the nature of the young child in the first seven years.
Slow Down. The pace of modern life is too fast for the young child. The young child needs time, quiet, and occasionally being left alone to be able to access his or her innate developmental wisdom. It can be equally helpful for parents to slow down and enjoy the overlooked treasures of daily life.
Be Present. Bringing respect, reverence, and full attention to the bodily care of your child can strengthen your relationship and help welcome the child’s being into the physical body.
Observe and Listen. Watching and listening to your child will help you develop sensitivity to his or her needs and at the same time, help you let go of unnecessary agendas or worries. You will learn to distinguish the meaning of different kinds of cries and other displays of discomfort, as well as what brings on smiles and laughter.
Warmth. When we speak about warmth in relation to the young child, we mean both physical warmth and soul warmth. The child’s sense for physical warmth is not yet developed and we need to make sure that the child’s physical forces are being used for growth rather than for staying warm. The soul warmth of the family also protects the child and invites him or her into life.
Take Walks in Nature. Give yourself and your child regular excursions in the fresh air and elements. Of course this implies dressing the child in proper clothing for the weather and protecting the child from overexposure to heat or cold. Babies love to lie on the grass beneath a tree and watch the dancing light and shadows of the leaves overhead. The rhythm of walking or walking with the child in a stroller can soothe the fussiest of babies. The younger child is, the more important it is that he or she is nestled in the parent’s arms (rather than facing outward in the baby carrier) or can see the parent’s face when being pushed in the stroller.
Sing. Sing to your child. A baby is very attuned to the sound of the parents’ voices. You will of course speak to your child, but sing to your child, too, even if you only know a few songs. There is nothing as calming to most babies as a lullaby. This is a timeless tradition that is as true now as it ever was.
Trust. Learn to trust in your developing relationship with your child and your own intuition. When questions arise, new parents should, of course, use supportive resources such as doctors, counselors, and more experienced parents, but also weigh the advice given to you with your own growing understanding of your child. Trust also in your child’s capacities. Life is not always easy and we need to allow our children to learn to overcome small challenges.