In a rural setting, in the beautiful rolling hills of Pennsylvania, lies a residential Anthroposophical life-sharing community for children with physical and developmental disabilities. Camphill Special School, Beaver Run, is where I grew up, alongside the children with special needs. In this essay I will give an Anthroposophical approach from the kindergarten age and a teachers’ aspect on how to incorporate the appropriate activities in school life in order to further nourish the child’s development in a healthy and full rounded way. I will share, the importance of the lower senses (touch, movement, balance and the sense of life) in relation to the growth of children, and how it has led me in the direction of wanting to pursue a further education in Waldorf Kindergarten teaching. Since I have grown up in an alternative setting, my memories live strong in me, and the connection to children flourishes, I find in myself a certain mystery to how the human being develops. It all starts in the womb, but most importantly when the child has the first experience of touch, which is through the birth canal. Furthering that, I will share some of my childhood memories and what I have gained through these experience and how it has shaped me today.
In kindergarten, the world is seen with gratitude and goodness. There is an openness to the world through the senses, specifically the lower senses (touch, movement, balance, sense of life) which manifest in the metabolic-limb system, and there is an unlimited trust, a paradise innocence, to the world. The child learns best through the will of doing, unconscious imitation, rhythm, and repetition.
The rhythms of physical development correspond with rhythms of psychological development, alternating rhythms of head, trunk, limb development within each seven-year cycle. In preschool, 5-7 years old, there is the first pronounced growth of the limbs in length, especially the legs, but also there starts to be a visible development of the muscles and joints. The trunk becomes slimmer and the chest and abdomen differentiate. The spine begins to develop and show the S-curve as the bone structure also becomes visible. The child’s movement becomes angular, purposeful, agile, and quick (Lievegoed, 1993).
In infancy, there is no conscious will, it is all based on drives. The will is born when the productive stream of imaginative/creative play which then changes to become goal oriented. When the awareness of the gap between reality and imagination come about, the child asks for help to make things look the way he/she imagines them to be. The child begins to have respect and see that adults can do things that they cannot do, which brings a new separation from the world. Once the child has a boundless respect for the person who can do things, authority, they are ready for school (Lievegoed, 1993).
By the age of 2 ½ to 3 years old, the child has already some form of self-awareness, they are already saying “I” to themselves, which brings the experience of a separation from the world. They begin to hold onto their first memory and remember it. This is also the time where they say “No” to everything. They have a consciousness which is based on resistance, but gradually they develop the continuity of self consciousness and memory, which is related to thinking. This continues to develops until the age of 5-7 years old (Lievegoed, 1993).
As a kindergarten teacher it is important to address the lower senses, have a daily rhythm, make big arm gestures which they can unconsciously imitate and show gratitude and goodness to the world to support the growth of the child’s development. When addressing the lower senses, the sense of touch gives us the experience of our own bodily boundaries. When not active, we do not recognize the existence of the sense of touch, but if the sense of touch doesn’t exist during the day time, awake time, people have panic and experience constant fear. The sense of touch is the most important thing, for the whole day it gives us the consciousness that I am in my body. Basic trust for the world is to have the perception of your own body. One first experiences full body touch when at birth going through the birth canal. However, in kindergarten a teacher will focus on having the children roll down a big hill, or play with silks by wrapping them around their bodies, or just the light touch feeling the silks give, and or, playing with rough wood, sand, wool…etc. Any kind of feeling that gives a sensation of soft, hard, slimy, dry…etc gives the child the experience of sense of touch and can learn boundaries through that (Thomas, 2014)
With the sense of life, it is important for the child to show how they are feeling and not restrain it, to show and support them on how to deal with struggles in a gentle, good and gratuitous way. But most of all, to have a rhythm for the day so that the child can take in and out breaths and feel comfortable, happy and at ease as he/she goes through the day. If the sense of life is not completely developed, it will show itself in the disturbance in the intellect, language skills, missing out in understanding the spoken word, not being able to give contact, no imitation skills, not being able to develop language means, not developing the sense of thinking. This then can lead to the person not able to express their soul state and will scream, that means a spiritual excluding, hallucination, fixations, tempers, bipolar nerves which are not nourished (Thomas 2014).
In addition, movement gives us the feeling from our own being, gives us a sense of freedom, a sense of joy to be, sense of purpose and is at the same time a response to the world. Movement develops into facial expressions and facial expressions serves and underlines the spoken word, it gives us the sense of direction. Without movement it gives us a sense of despair and depression, loss of inner relationship to our own activity. In regards to school life, it is important to do many activities with the muscles and joints and one can do this through verses, rhymes and songs with bodily movements to bring a consciousness in a very discrete way to the body (Thomas 2014).
With the sense of balance, it allows us to experience the connection from our body to space. Balance makes it possible for the human being to make a relationship with the surroundings. With the uprightness we are exploring the different dimension, up, down, right, left, forward and backwards. Without balance, we would have no orientation in space. Only when a person has an uprightness and moves freely through space, this experience makes it possible that you can say, “I am”. In relation to school, an obstacle course is a great way of trying to figure out how to go through something and to use your surroundings and yourself and incorporate them into the figuring it out part. Going for walks in nature, and using nature as an obstacle course, for instance, stepping on stones while crossing a creek, climbing over a big tree trunk, how to get your leg over and then your body…? and in general, being out in nature is a natural de-stressor and is a natural way of orientation and balance in the world (Thomas, 1993).
It is apparent how important it is to address the lower senses in a creative way. In addition to this it is very important that the adult/teacher, who is working with such a young child is through and through true to what they are thinking and doing from their own personal life.
One must as a teacher be aware of the growth of each individual and support and further that as best they can. In kindergarten, as stated before, their growth to the world is new and things need to be learned starting with the lower senses, repetition, imitation, rhythm and above all, the will of doing.
My strongest recollection of my childhood in Beaver Run is the land…we roamed all over the campus – the woods, fields, creek, everywhere. With four siblings and so many staff children I was never wanting for playmates. Our parents would tell us to go play outside and not come back until we were hungry. It was awesome!
To have such trust from our parents was incredibly liberating and empowering. We would venture into the woods and build forts, many of which I still see on walks today. Dressed in our rain gear, head to toe in rubberized clothes and boots, we would build dams across Beaver Run Creek and then wade in and float on our backs. On another day, at 12 o’clock our community bell would ring and we knew that in the community hall a colored light shadow, displayed with music, would be performed. Color light is a therapy that is calming, harmonizing and at the same time stimulating for children. By channeling daylight through colored glasses, shadows would become visible on a translucent screen. And behind the screen, movement, gestures and many stories were formed with the accompany of music.
At advent time, also accompanied by beautiful lyre music (which to this day, I now play for the other children), I would be taken by the hand of an angel, who would lead me to a moss spiral which had crystals and plants growing on it. In the center of the spiral was a big candle placed on top of a tree stump. The angel would give me an apple with a candle in it, and guiding me the way, I walked behind her into the moss spiral, lighting my own candle from the big candle and walking out of the spiral and being allowed to place the apple in the moss garden, wherever I chose.
We lived in a huge house at the top of a hill, called Rowan, with roughly 20 people residing there. If by chance, our mother needed us (my siblings and I) she would yell from the front porch – “Jacoba, Emanuel, Diotima, Anna, Benjamin – Time to come home!” It carried down the hill and we would yell back, “Coming!” then scramble to make it home as fast as we could.
Despite their intense work and responsibility, our parents made the five of us a priority. We always had breakfast together in the morning– no matter what- our parents were there each night to settle us at bedtime. These rituals kept us a close knit family then – and now.
We also had the privilege of growing up with the students – more playmates, friends, and teachers. They taught us mutual respect, patience, and how to share. On days we had off from school we even got to help in the classrooms.
I grappled with what to do after high school. I tried college. I tried going to another life-sharing community. Nothing fit. I finally realized that the Camphill Academy and curative education program was just what I needed. The fact it focused so intensely on childhood education, fascinated me and I knew that Curative Education was my path. I am now in my fifth year (Prescott College) and not only do the accomplishments with the students build each, day, week, and month, but I get to better understand how and why I grew up the way I did. I am gaining self-development and learning so much, especially about myself.
Because of my experience of growing up in Beaver Run, I have come to look at people and life in a very different way. Through the friendliness of the people around me, and the happiness of the children who made Camphill their second home, and take joy in the little pleasures of life. I have learned that there is kindness, and people do not just think about themselves but of others and their needs. Living and working in this environment, patience has become a must, because we all work and learn at different paces. One of the best lessons when learning patience is through the different people who we meet from different cultures around the world.
There are always people around to help, but most of all, people who are wanting to help. The flexibility, sharing and openness that hold this community together is beautiful to witness.
Working in an intentional community, one learns that we all have different strengths and weaknesses. We learn that it is ok to not be good at all things, as the people we work with are able to pick up the weaknesses we have and willing and happily help us out. We’ve learned that there are different ways of learning and teaching and growing up as a staff kid in this community, I’ve learned that mainstream learning is not the right thing for me. I’ve experienced the mainstream teaching when going to a community college, and after my first semester I dropped out as I felt I was not learning inwardly, I was learning how to throw answers out on a test. I felt that there must be a different way. In regards to the students I work with, if you teach them something one way, it doesn’t mean it will work the same way for another subject. Therefore, we have to be flexible and constantly thinking of new learning strategies.
The home that I lived in was a nourishment for all my senses. The friendliness how people spoke. The singing. The baking with organic foods. The cleaning and constant penetration of the house. Crafts/activities always in the making in relation to a festival. I never had plastic toys. Always homemade or wooden blocks that allowed my imagination to become creative and form those blocks in my mind to whatever I wanted them to be. My dad would always tell stories. And now reflecting back, I realized he was sharing with us, his children, the most incredible moral stories, creating spiritual and imaginative images. To this day, fairytale stories are a deep passion of mine. From my first day on into this world, I was surrounded by creativity.
What I’ve learned, seen and experienced here at Camphill, it presses me to asked the question: how do I take the knowledge that we have here at Camphill Special School a kindergarten through 12th grade residential school and pass it on? The answer lies in becoming a teacher and create the imagination and images for the next generation, so that they can pass it on to the generation after them.
Lievegoed, B (1993). Phases of Childhood: Growing in Body Soul and Spirit. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press.
Valerie. Curriculum and School, Kindergarten. Lecture. 2014
© 2015 Diotima Janisch