The following are the basics from which we at Christopherus work with parents and their questions around early parenting. These “basics” arise out of my – Donna - own experience as a mother, and from my studies with women who are advocates of attachment parenting and/or Waldorf education. I ran mother/baby groups when my sons were small; I ran Waldorf-inspired early parenting classes as well and have worked with countless parents on their questions arising from the first weeks and months of a child’s life. My family and I also lived in 2 anthroposophical intentional communities which worked out of the impulse of Rudolf Steiner’s curative education. The impulse behind the work of Camphill communities has been a major influence on my views of healthy human development.
As an anthroposophist, I try always to base my understanding of human development on the basis of a threefold and fourfold human being. What does a child need at every stage of her development? What does she need as a being of thinking, feeling and willing? How do these aspects of her being come in to play and how are they strengthened? How do we nurture the fourfold human being and understand the unfolding of the child’s physical body, etheric body, astral body and “I”.
I am very aware that much of what is commonly accepted in Waldorf early years education and in anthroposophical medicine regarding breastfeeding, co-sleeping and even use of a sling is very much opposed to what my research and experience tell me.
And these differences do not end there. The work of Dr Emmi Pickler and Magda Gerber, founder of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) has made inroads in some Waldorf early years education circles which concerns me greatly. Those interested in the work of RIE can read Magda Gerber’s book The Self Aware Baby (need I say more in the face of a title like that?!). You can also read an article by Joyce Gallardo, Waldorf Early Years educator about her impressions of a RIE facility. Whilst appreciating RIE’s emphasis on not pushing babies to walk or doing things before they are ready, and whilst appreciating the need for parents to observe their babies (though I would say this is better done from the close proximity of the family bed or sling and not across the floor), the very verbal approach which Gallardo praises is exactly counter, I would say, to the foundational basis of Waldorf early years education where one is trying to not bring a child into premature self-awareness or awakening.
I would go so far to say that premature self-awareness and the early intellectualism that necessarily accompanies it are major contributions to the specter of unhealthy children in our society who cannot “fit into their bodies” and who exhibit a range of disorders from Sensory Integration problems, ADHD and similar. (Please click here to listen to my free audio download on Therapeutic Waldorf which addresses many of these issues). I also think that the whole concept of attachment is misunderstoood by those who follow the RIE approach. Although one can indeed find unhealthy situations where parents practicing attachment parenting lose their balance and make Baby the center of their lives and attention, this is actually not the intention of Attachment Parenting. The practice of what I call "benign neglect", whereby the baby is almost an afterthought, passive in an outer sense but active in an inner sense, taking in the healthy life of the parent, is the basis of Attachment Parenting (see Jean Liedloff's work for more on this). This is where the notion of the Madonna Cloak comes in. Trying to understand where Waldorf early years education has, in my opinion, gone so very wrong on these basic issues and where Attachment Parenting and Waldorf pedagogy can meet is an important consideration for Christopherus early years work.
Here then are some thoughts on Baby’s First Year:
- This first year is a sacred time in the life of every human being and as parents, as a community, as promoters of health in our society, we should treat this first year as such. A spiritual being has come to earth, to be welcomed into a family (and families come in many forms) and to slowly begin the very long journey of awakening into earthly life. From an anthroposophical point of view, it takes 21 years for the “I” of each human being to properly mature: that is a long, long time and needs to never be rushed.
- The first 40 days of the new person's sojourn on Earth are especially sacred. Traditionally, most cultures had rules about this time - this is the time of the doula, and when women relatives would care for other children and for the new mother/baby couple. Those who make the effort to keep this time especially peaceful an try to consciously keep it a sacred time can palpably feel the aura of blessedness that surrounds the newborn. Some anthroposophists advocate that the newborn remain in the same room for the duration of these 40 days. This is interesting to me and well worth consideration. At any rate, the child should be held close to the mother during this time and there should be a real effort to honor this special time of life and not subject the newborn to everyday modern busyness. There will be no other time like this in a human being's life until it is time for him to die.
- Slowly, gently, organically, during this year one starts to bring the child into a life of rhythm. Rhythm is the healthy in and out breathing which sustains life, all life. Though a baby is wise in her potential and in her connectedness to the spiritual worlds, she is neither aware of this wisdom nor should be. It is the task of her parents to gradually bring her into a right relationship to the world so that she may unfold and reach the potential that lies dormant within. This potential is also not “finished”: human growth is a journey of metamorphosis. As the child’s capacities unfold in their season they then, under healthy circumstances, change into something new, something appropriate to the next stage of life. This gradual unfolding is best served by being held and formed by rhythms. This is not, for the baby, about scheduled feeds and such. It is about the parents being aware of the baby’s needs and helping her grow into life here on earth. Now we sleep; now we are awake; now we eat or play or bathe. These foundations are the bedrock of your child’s health and the peacefulness that will enable your baby to grow into a toddler and child who, because he feels safe and because life is predictable, is a pleasure to be with, both for himself and others.
- Talk less, sing more. Burble to and interact with your baby but do not create a situation where you feel you must constantly talk to your baby. Let your baby hear you talk with other people – your partner, the lady at the shop, your visiting friends. Do not make baby the center of the universe and do not buy into the advice which says you must address your baby directly as much as possible. Such an approach makes for nervous, precociously head-orientated children whose growth forces are stunted, prematurely shifted away from full-body activity and doing, and into head-learning. Do not question and inform your baby: sing to her; recite nursery rhymes over and over and over and over again... do finger plays and peek-a-boo... That is the way for your baby to learn and to interact with you and the world. By singing and humming, reciting nursery rhymes and such, we support our child’s imagination and bring her into our warmth and sense for musicality. Musicality supports rhythm, the life-blood of every healthy living organism.
- Silence is golden. Do not be afraid of silence. Do not have music on all the time – even peaceful quiet music. Let baby just be – on a mat, on the bed, in the sling. Let her absorb what is happening around her so she can grow and flourish without constant stimulation (including background music). Let there be times of liveliness and music and noise – let there also be times of contented, centered, peaceful silence. Work around the house and yard – sometimes singing, sometimes in absorbed silence. Let your child experience that riches come from within, not only from without. Silence is a gift, not something to be avoided or feared.
- Wear your baby, carry your baby. But take care – the key ideas are quiet, peace and not stimulating baby. The idea is to keep baby sleepy and dreamy and to not overstimulate him. Protect his senses and help him grow into a solid and grounded child, not a nervous and fretful child, the kind of child that is all too common in our society. Let him soak up sense impressions via you: this is the single most important reason, in my opinion, for wearing your baby in a sling. Instead of being directly subjected to impressions pouring into him, you are right there to soak up the excess and mediate between him and the outside world. Steiner likened young children to sponges – able to soak up everything that comes at them. They have no filters, no ability to discern. Your number one job in this first precious year is to do just that – to be his foundation and filter, bringing him gently into the world. Babies raised this way are more peaceful and content, able to cope without either freaking out or shutting down.
- Not just any sling will do. Please do not, on any account, wear your baby in a front facing sling. Strapped like a filleted chicken, going face first into the world, this is simply not the right gesture for a young child. The baby needs the protective, enfolding gesture that a wrap sling provides. In earliest days the baby is completely wrapped in the folds of the fabric and there is no stress on her developing limbs (or your back). Then as she grows, she can peep out and eventually sit in the sling on your back or hip. Backpacks are very good for older babies and toddlers but be extra, extra careful about little legs and feet sticking out – they are not protected and usually need more warmth than most parents seem to realize.
- Many of the ideas I have shared here owe their origins to the work of Jean Liedloff and the Continuum Concept. She has many interesting things to say about co-sleeping, the “in-arms” phase, the need for baby to be passive and, most importantly, not making baby the center of the universe: always remember, child-inclusive, NOT child centered! Big difference! Here is a blog I wrote about her work – while I appreciate what she has done, as an anthroposophist, I have some pretty serious disagreements with some of her foundational assumptions.
- Following on from the need to not over-stimulate your baby, is the need to remember to always protect the senses. Avoid television, computers, shopping malls, and gatherings which are great for teens and young adults but not for tiny children! When noisy crowds, for instance, are unavoidable, do wear your baby so at least you can soak up some of the excess stimulation for her. But do carefully consider your schedule and commitments and at least for that first year, really live as quietly and peacefully as you can. On that note, I need to quickly say that the noisy everydayness of boisterous family life is not the same thing at all. Indeed, if yours is an especially large family, baby will just need to get used to it all! But the healthy noise and activity of family life is not at all analogous to the partying life of a young twenty-something! Have a read of this article by Carrie Dendtler, a Neonatal Infant Care Unit therapist who is discovering how important anthroposophical knowledge of the need to protect the senses is to the work that she does. Her article is full of helpful practical advice for new parents.
- Warmth is of vital importance for all young children, especially the younger ones. Children do not develop an accurate ability to interpret and understand their own body temperatures and needs until after their 8th birthdays. One constantly sees young children and babies with little limbs poking out, sometimes bare feet, no hats on, in strollers or hard plastic car seats or in slings – and yet look at the parent! S/he has a jacket on and perhaps a hat too – and is moving about. All babies under a year should wear a hat at all times. Silk-cotton is best and this can protect baby from heat as well as from cold and just adds another layer of protection to his delicate and vulnerable head, where so many sense impressions are centered. Here’s a blog entry I wrote on this subject called Let’s Hear it for Hats. And look at little Charlie Marshall proudly riding on his Dad’s back – with footwear and a lovely little hat! What a happy baby!
- Following on from these points about the senses, click here to read my review of Daena Ross’ excellent DVD on the 12 Senses and to purchase it. This is an extremely important topic that every parent concerned about their child’s healthy development should consider.
- Many of the points I raise above are touched on in my free audio download on Therapeutic Waldorf. Although the purpose of this recording is to help parents with children with a variety of challenges, the main point of the talk is that many of these challenges are manifested precisely because of how children are parented in their early years. On our audio downloads page you can find a number of talks I have made on parenting in the early years.
Breastfeeding on demand and co-sleeping (or the family bed) are two major parts of early parenting that we at Christopherus strongly advocate. Here are some resources to help:
- See what Dr William Sears, a pro-extended breastfeeding, pro-family bed, suspicious of vaccinations pediatrician has to offer: here is a link to his website, which he shares with his wife, who is a nurse, and a couple of their sons, also doctors: http://www.askdrsears.com/default.asp
- Here is the La Leche League’s page on breastfeeding questions which is an unbelievable resource: http://www.llli.org/nb.html
Their book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has been a gentle and helpful guide for several generations of breastfeeding women.
- Breastfeeding.com has a very thoughtful and helpful article on the family bed: http://www.breastfeeding.com/reading_room/family_bed1html
- Here’s former Christopherus consultant Lisa Marshall on her family’s adventures with a family bed.
- And here’s a very special article, submitted anonymously to protect the identities of the children who are now older about adoption and the family bed.
- Lastly, we are pleased to link to an article about anthroposophy, the family bed and breastfeeding which appears on Barbara Dewey’s website, Waldorf without Walls. Barbara, a friend and colleague, can in many ways be considered the grandmother of Waldorf homeschooling and her thoughts on such matters are very close to ours. This article is very important as it is an interview with an anthroposophical nurse speaking about things like extended breastfeeding and the family bed. As there are some rather unhelpful if not downright damaging ideas in some anthroposophical circles regarding these subjects, this interview is very refreshing. The nurse speaks both to some of the reasons why many anthroposophical doctors hold the views they do and puts forward her own sensible and helpful advice: www.waldorfwithoutwalls.com/articles/breastfeeding
- We do, however, generally agree with anthroposophical doctors regarding their opinion on vaccination. Here is an excerpt from The Vaccination Dilemma a compilation of articles written by a number of anthroposophical doctors and nurses on this subject. We now also have an article by Waldorf homeschooler Shannon Rizzo about vaccination: Thinking about Vaccination
Please check out the Waldorf Baby articles listed in the navigation bar on the left-hand side of this page - these were submitted by members of the now closed Waldorf at Home forum and other readers of the Homeschool Journey newsletter. While it can only enrich this website to have more voices participate, we do need to let everyone know that we do not necessarily endorse everything that our authors advocate. Those pieces which are entirely personal, which are in the form of stories, are included to give readers a picture of the joys and struggles of real mothers working to parent, to grow and to learn. We hope you enjoy reading these contributions and consider sending us a piece yourself.
Waldorf education rests on the premise that human beings are spiritual beings. Thus the birth of a baby, in addition to being a time of joy, is also a sacred time as the new parents welcome into the family someone who has only just left the spiritual worlds. Incarnating into physical form is a long, long process which should not be rushed. In those early days of babyhood, peaceful quiet time for the new mother and child to bond deeply are paramount.
On our Early Years page we spoke about a number of things which characterize Waldorf Early years education. Nurturing of the senses is critical – and for a baby, it is even more important than at any other time of life. A baby needs to be gently brought into the world and the link between her and the spiritual worlds should not be prematurely broken. As a young child, the sense of Oneness that is the hallmark of a child’s consciousness before age about 6 or 7 needs to be protected and preserved.
Many of the blog articles linked on the Early Years page will also be of relevance to those with small babies.
We also recommend that parents consider the following books:
- The Incarnating Child, Joan Salter – While we do not agree with her opinions about extended breast feeding or the family bed, she provides invaluable insights into the stages of early child development.
- You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin Dancy – We also love Rahima and the work that she does though, again, we do not agree with a number of her conclusions orr assertions. But there is much to be learned from this long-time midwife and Waldorf parenting advocate.
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League - Much gentle help and advice from the La Leche League.