Eldbjørg gjessing Paulsen, Cape Town, February 2012

In December 2011 I read in one of the biggest newspapers in Norway that researchers recommend that the curriculum for training kindergarten teachers needs adjustment when it comes to knowledge about the child from birth to three. We need to deepen this crucial time of a human being’s life.

In February 2012 I read in the Cape Times that the early years are the most crucial in shaping the individual’s personality development and that we need to invest in early childhood.

Concern about the care of babies world-wide as a result of changing work and home circumstances, has been regarded as a problem for many years in the waldorf movement and in the IASWECE.
Three international or world conferences focussing on the child from birth to three have been held – the first one in 1999 in Dornach, the second in Jârna, Sweden in 2004, and in 2010 a conference was held in Dornach entitled “the dignity of the young child”.

The IASWECE working group “birth to three” has done research and has shown us that there is a great need for additional training of carers/teachers to meet the special need of this age group. It seems to me that all over the world it is recognised that the appropriate environment and care given in the first three years of life are vitally important for the future development of every child. We have the necessary knowledge and we must use it.

At a meeting of 30 kindergarten teachers at the centre for creative education in Cape Town on Saturday, 18th February 2012, we discussed the issue:

How do we develop and foster the understanding of the birth to three-year-old child (btt) and what is our responsibility as a movement?

As waldorf teachers we all know that we have to start with ourselves. Self-education is not easy, but it is so important, especially when we want to understand and care for the child btt.

The ideal , of course, would be if the child under three could stay at home with family – mother, father or grandparents, but unfortunately that is not always possible anymore. We also know that family life has changed. Contact with the world and with nature is becoming less and less, while the consumption of computer and television is increasing. This makes all our children stressed, and this applies also to the child under three.

Ideally, we need to create a place where we can bring back household work and allow the children be part of that. If we let them experience the sequence of what we are doing. They come to understand the process without any explanations. We do things slowly so that they can follow, and we do it with joy, passion and interest. Children sense how we do things, how we feel, how we think and who we are as a person. Our whole attitude towards a child affects that child; we can’t hide anything about ourselves from them.

We know that children come from the spiritual world into this world. They come with a new life impulse and life forces, with the desire to incarnate and take control of their own bodies with joy. Later in life we lose our trust in the goodness of the world and the people in it, we never again experience the joyful urge to be alive as intensely as we did when we were little. They come with a destiny to fulfil. We are lucky to be able to be part of their journey for a while.
At the same time, the child is so helpless and vulnerable and totally dependent on us, their parents, caregivers and the environment we provide for them.

As caregivers/teachers, working together with parents is essential and helps to create a healthy and wonderful start to life on earth, with the strength to deal with all the possibilities and hindrances the child will meet. The foundation of their lives is being laid in these years. The things that we don’t do right during this period can only be healed later on in life, sometimes with difficulty.
Our common task is to care for them and guide them so that healing later will not be necessary.

So, among other things, we have to acquire knowledge about:

Working with the senses:
One of our tools, besides being a person worthy of imitation, is to work with the senses (Rudolf Steiner’s 12 senses), especially the four foundation senses: touch, life, movement and balance. These senses are connected, and fundamental to, the higher senses: I (the sense of the being or ego of another), thought, language and hearing. These senses connect us and help us to understand other human beings.

Child development:
We need to learn about child development in the three first years – how they learn to walk, to talk and think. Also, how the child uses imitation, and will to develop physically, emotionally and intellectually in its own individual way.

Rhythm in life:
We need to know the importance of rhythm in the child’s life – the daily and weekly rhythms and the rhythms of the year – and how to work with them. We ask ourselves “how do we bring rhythm into the btt years, and also, what the difference is between the early years and the kindergarten years (4-6 years), when it comes to activities, festivals, birthdays etc.?”

Healthy nutrition:
We plan how to prepare and cook healthy, nourishing food together with the children.

Caring:
We consider carefully how we change their napkins, feed them, and put them to sleep, wake them up ….

Activities that nourish development:
We know that we must create enough space and many possibilities for the children to use their own will to gain control and make use of their physical bodies – developing movement using their will forces, by doing! We allow them to develop in their own sequential way, moving from one stage to the next when they are ready to do so. Free play, movement and balance enhance their learning. We help their developing language by conversing with them. We nurture their language further by singing songs, sharing rhymes and simple poems, all with movement, touch and gesture, knowing that this will

Working together with parents:
we understand the importance of the adults in the child’s life working together and being able to put ourselves into the ‘shoes’ of the mother or the father when we meet them in the morning or when they are fetching their child. We need to build up trust and a bridge between the early childhood centre and home.
Together, our task is to help and to make it possible for them to follow their own individual path into this world.

Recommended books to widen knowledge and understanding:
Karl König: The first three years of the child
Eldbjørg Gjessing Paulsen: Trust and Wonder
Emmy Pickler: Give me time
Wecan: The child from birth to three in waldorf education and child care

Eldbjørg Gjessing Paulsen was born 1951 in Trondheim, Norway. She did her Waldorf-training in Stuttgart, Germany. She has got three children of her own and started Stjerneglimt Waldorfkindergarten in 1984 and has been there ever since. She works with Waldorf Education nationally and internationally, and was the representative for Norway for 12 years in the international Waldorf association, IASWECE. She has taught many Modules at the Seminar in Oslo, Norway, and has been a Board Member of the Norwegian Kindergarten Association for many years. She spends time working with the Centre for Creative Education in Cape Town, South-Africa every year, helping with mentoring and teaching in the Townships, focussing mainly on the children under three years.

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