Sunday, November 15, 2009

Let the Little Children Come

This is the drawing prepared for this Christmas fair's silent auction for the nearby Waldorf school. It is drawn after a portrait of Amy Carmichael, who devoted her life to helping children.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

After Helle Heckmann

Last weekend we had the wonderful opportunity to meet Helle Heckmann in a three day conference.

It started Friday night with the question: What is a child? When is a child no longer a child? and looking at the children today in their environment.

She noted: "there has been a lot of wanted children nowadays, but we do not have the time for them, societal pressure, jobs, etc.." and what the child needs? "time with mom and dad", says a survey interviewing a large number of children with the question: "if you could have anything in the world, what would you want?", interestingly enough, time is the most difficult thing to give to our children.

With this firsts concepts she then elaborated on what is essential for children, from holding ourselves back in orden not to project our needs to the children, to sleep routines, security and safety in repetition, movement and learning, food and nutritious meals, and other basic needs of the child.

On Saturday morning we started with songs, and then Helle presented a part of the DVD of her kindergarten Nokken, by first stating the importance of inner work, the strenght that comes from it and the trust that others develop to you from it. " The adult who has chosen the life of caretaker should not be living in the realm of feeling, should of course have feelings but not be entangled by them. "

She talked about the five golden rules for daily life, and explained the rythm in her kindergarten, why we need to model behaviour in duty, working for others, and why the fights arise between children, how not to get tired as grown ups that live in the thinking, while children outlast us by living in the will, the importance of having time to get bored, for the 6 years old, so something from the inner life may arise, and the importance of quiet, safe time alone for the smaller ones, away from the social interaction of the group.

She also commented on how to work with the parents, again starting from the line of trust and weaving them in the life of the kindergarten with the festivals, parent meetings, etc....

One of the things that surprised me was the change of tone from Friday evening to Saturday morning. On Friday the family and parents where held as the primary need for the children, and on Saturday the kindergarten took the center-stage and the family played a secondary role.

That is why on the afternoon meeting, when the WECAN represantative and Helle as member of the IASWECE asked for questions and concerns, I voiced my hope: " where there is an anthroposophical support for parents, for families that choose to be with their children full time and for those families that might choose that as well if they had more information about the benefits?" many times parents feel inferior when they compare themselves to a kindergarten teacher...doubts like: " how can I ever have such a beatiful and magic space as this kindergarten?" " how can I ever be a better care giver than this centered waldorf teacher?" " how can I ever give my child the riches of fairy tales and puppet stories as it is given in the kindergarten?"...questions and doubts like that may disappear if the truth about children needs is disclosed in an open way; more than that, an awareness of what is needed can be strengthened and families that choose to delegate the responsabilities of raising their children full time can feel at ease and honest about their option, and families that choose to care for family members full time can find support and fellowship amidst waldorf teachers... we all want the same goals, the best for the children.

Helle responded to my question, there is in Dornach, at the Goetheanum, some group that works for insights and research into the homemaker role. I haven't found it yet. And there is in Denmark a support group for homemakers and their families working out of spiritual investigation. I haven't found it yet. But perhaps this can inspire us to work for something similiar in this country.

Other concerns were discussed, mainly how to educate people in other countries to become waldorf teachers, and how to support financially and mentoring all this initiative efforts.

I am very enthusiastic about all this work in kindergartens, as I think it is the 4th best option for children. First option for me would be to be at home taken care by the parents, second option would be to be at home as well but taken care by a relative or close friend, third option would be to leave the child in a family setting working out of high values and spiritual knowledge, and forth but not minor option would be to leave the child to a kindergarten lead by someone who knows about spiritual and child development, and has also high values. Helle's kindergarten seems to fulfill this 4th case scenario.

On Saturday afternoon we also had the opportunity to be at some workshops. I was very fortunate to attend one on how to create your own home based childcare, and the other on how to create a quiet mood for rest.

About the first one i have to confess some things, it was very well conducted and all the paperwork to file for State Licensing or County licensing was provided, also a living example was shown by the presenter, of her own home based childcare, with a slide show of the beginnnings and the evolving of the project. It was a beautiful session. I was left with the same impression I had three years ago when I started taking care of children and I was looking at licensing: " it is not worth it for me". Why? you may think...well, in the first place, when you apply for licensing you get reimbursed some money, that means that for some families that may enroll, depending on their income, instead of paying full tuition they can pay half of the tuition, the other half is provided by the administration. just this alone gives an idea to the family that can be wrong, I value money very much spiritually, and if a parent has to pay less money for having their child taken care, there might arise the idea that is convenient to do so, and lead the parent, usually the mom, to work outside the home, it is financially worth it! but I do not think is morally fair, is actually pushing some families to follow this trend, even though they might not be convinced inwardly; is like cheating them. Another drawback of the licensing is that you have to conform to ceratin rules, like having three snacks a day and two meals, and bring some kind of foods, or offer some amount of water, etc....I do not agree in many of those mainstream guidelines, so it would be difficult for me to conform with them, it is like the WIC food, the county pays for food, like Cheerios or low fat processed milk....who wants this "food" for is a temptation, because it is free, might as well use it.....well, not for me, thanks. Also and lastly, I have an idea of childcare situation that ressembles a lot a family, so spacing children in ages, having an amount of children that a family would naturaly be able to conceive. up to seven children under the age of nine ( I give room for twins to appear, and think of naturally spacing as in breastfeeding), so following this pattern you could easily have for example a baby, two toddlers, a three year old, a five year old, a seven year old, and a nine year old; or any combination that follows the natural laws. In that situation, especially if some of the children are your own, you can work a lot in letting the love out of blood bonding transform into a love out of will, so you are actually making very lively the commandment of love your neighbour as your self. I often track my thoughts at home, why I responded this way to my own child, why am I responding this way to the other child I have in care, and trying to bridge these feelings into one same love. Another questions that arised in the workshop is the need of short work hours for the care givers, and I challenged that, why a childcare has to run for three days a week? why it has to end up at three? I think waldorf teachers and caregivers are burned out and they try to balance with shortening the work hours, I would prefer they look into their work, to see what needs to be changed so they do not get tired. it is easy to love your boyfriend, but no so easy when it becomes your husband (especially if he works in the same place as you!), when relationhips become longer and without interruptions is when we have to stretch ourselves, when we have to work the inner self to overcome it and aspire to higher love and understanding.

On Saturday night Helle guided us into a meditation, in order to become more aware of our surroundings, to have those eyes on the back of our head, to develop the sensitivity to know what is going on at the other end of the room, to stretch your etheric body and connect to the spiritual world. She also explained what she uses with her team in Nokken, having the verse meditation, so they are united in going to approach something higher than them. The individualities are carrying the group, not the group is carrying the individualities. and I would add : " When two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst". I want to make the parallel between the team group of teacher and assistant, and that of husband and wife.

Finally Sunday morning there was a discussion about the festivals, and it appeared at some point the prayer of Saint Francis, from one of the attendants, summarized also in these words:"TRUST you will get what you need, LOVE for the love of it."

She stresses out the importance of the inner life of the festivals, it is more about inner language than outer language. we might sing songs and do crafts and put up plays, but if we do not carry the spiritual of it, is just a decoration. After that talk there was a sensation that less is more, instead of rushing from one festival to another, might as well swim deep into the essential ones for us. Also to use the things from one festival to another, in order to weave through the year a lifely stream of events.

It was as I said a wonderful experience and I was very honored to have the joy to see Helle again. In one of the conversations I asked her also where there was a group working for the zero to three years old research that was not following the Pikler/RIE guidelines. I was surprised she mentioned that she was actually one of the people introducing Pikler to waldorf circles! I immediately acknowledged my doubled honored position in meeting her indeed! She confessed that she did not know that things will come this way, she thinks people had misused the information she had given..I am very ignorant of the beginnings of that trend in waldorf circles but I definetely have a strong opinion about it so I told her so:

Last year during the early years training in Spain we had a variety of teachers speaking about the first three years, and they based some of the observations on child development on the Lockzy experience/Pikler. I kept founding inconsistencies in the conclusions they were reaching and so I asked for who was working out of anthroposophy to find out what the child is in these early years and what they really need. Unfortunately all the answers were in the same direction, and the director of my training, whom i love very much and learnt a lot from, acknowldegded that waldorf circles where drawing they knowldege from Pikler because there was nothing else.

I am very unease with what is going on in early years. I think it is a big mistake to draw conclusions from an artificial institution and form just a logical (as much good intentioned as it is) kind of thought. It would be like studying a plant in a pot in an hibernacle, surronded by the same plants to understand how the nature works, you would miss the point. I am very grateful of some of the contributions made by Pikler, especially those firsts years she worked with familes, about the free movement, and the different postures the baby-child goes through, and the observation and carefulness of her studies, the warmth of the children's clothing..., but I have to oppose quite strongly some of the conclusions that are birthing there:

1- that the child onset on walking would be later, -at around 18months it is considered normal- no wonder!!! if you have a child in an environment where all the eight other beings are also in the horizontal position (babies and pre-toddlers), and just one caregiver in a vertical posture, the child has no imitation on the vertical enough. I have seen one and one again, the children on my care start to walk partly because inner driving forces, but part because in their environment they have this vericality, older children, more adult presence, etc...

2-that the child should be spoken to every time there is an adult interaction with him, and given two choices of clothing, and presenting the spoon in the eyes before feeding the spoon in the mouth, etc....there is many other examples of how the Pikler system is actually very materialistic, denying the spiritual in us. How can you think that the only way a child can sense that you are going to feed him a spoon is by the eyes? how can you think that the most important form of communication at an early age is the talking? etc, etc, etc...

3-that the caregivers should be better if younger, and from the country. This for me is exactly the contrary of what is needed for early years, and again is denyying the spirit in us. The younger girls from the country have a strong etheric by nature, and they do not have worked enough with it in terms of spiritualizing it, a child would then no benefit so much from this adult (even though it seems that they have more energy and more patience, it is actually the opposite), but by an older one, who has converted some of the impulsive brilliant energy into golden. Sure it is understandable that in that way of thinking is better a younger childless woman, but why waldorf has to embrace this same materialistic idea? this is very ennerving to me.

There are many other observations, but I could probably summed it up with my question: Where is in the world a group working out of anthroposophy, or spiritual science, researching the early years in their natural environment? is there bibliography that I can gather for my own work and for the work of others around me? is there a way to promote this conscious, truthful reasearch in our community? how can the different initiatives that have come up under the Pikler/RIE/Lifeways movement, be educated on the spiritual underlying all true waldorf pedagogy?

if you read all this I commend you for your patience and please e-mail me if you have any opposing views or answers to my questions, with love,


This is a 10 year old charcoal drawing I made after a photograph of a child taken by an artist.

The artist went travelling and making photographs of children in refugees camps, and some of the pictures were really astonishing. This one captured my heart and so I did a drawing and since then it has been living in my living room.

We call her Maria or Mary, the eternal mother, but others may called her Isis or Sophia. Surprisingly or not, (I have a tendency of projecting myself to my art...), the drawing ressembles my features- if you see the original picture the girl looks younger and rounder- and some people often assume is a self-portrait. I am at awe at the possibility of me ressembling her in some aspect, and i think continuously on how to attain some of the qualities of the Madonna. Because I fall short all the times, the drawing in the wall seems to forgive me and keep encouraging me to the ideal.

It is very important what we see in our walls, and in our house, our home, as a reflection of what we may see in our minds, our hearts.