by Louise Oberholzer
When the child turns ten or eleven a new development takes place. She is now, for the first time able to form what Piaget called concrete operations. She can fully understand cause and effect and can make abstractions. We know when the children have not reached this point when they take us literally. When we say, for example, “If you can find my keys I will eat my hat.” They will want you to eat your hat! Once the child can make abstractions they are ready for geometry and algebra and also for scientific experiment. It is often tempting to bring the child into scientific experiments much earlier, but if we really use our observation we will see that the child has no real deep interest until this faculty for abstract thinking has begun to flower. Now at the top end of primary school the child shows the tender beginnings of adult thinking. So we tell stories about the ancient Greeks who laid the foundation for modern thought, and then the Romans, who showed us how to regulate society and make it laws.
It is as if the birth of true thinking floods in on the child’s whole being at this time. When this moment is sensitively handled the child can become an enthusiastic discoverer of the whole world. It is now no longer, “I look into the world” but, “I step into the world.” In the Waldorf curriculum we respond to this by giving the children the stories about a time in history called the Renaissance; the birth of the individual, the time when people shook off the yolk of the church or the master and began their own enterprises; started building towns and cities. This is the time when people began to explore the world and to map it. At this point again, the children have reached the sea and the wide world lies before them. We tell them stories about the explorers of the world and their discoveries. We also tell them about Leonardo and others who were the explorers of the mind and their discoveries. Coming to the end of a grade seven class we can say that this child has now become a citizen of the world.
The Story of Thorn Rose
Once there was a princess who, at her birth was given wonderful gifts by the twelve fairy godmothers who were invited to her birth party. Jealous at not being invited the thirteenth fairy cursed her with the wish that at the age of 14 she would prick her finger and die. The power of the twelth fairy was able to change the curse. She would prick her finger and fall asleep for a hundred years. All came to pass. As she fell asleep, so did the whole castle, king queen, servants, even the fire in the hearth. Princes tried to slash their way through the thorns that grew about the sleeping castle. To no avail. Until one day when a prince came the thorns turned to roses and he released her enchantment with a kiss.
This story is a picture of adolescence, which starts with another distinct marker in child development, the onset of puberty. It is significant that many children come into puberty much earlier. We live in societies today that rush children out of their childhood. We encourage early intellectualisation, early consumerism and early adult social behaviour. Much of the turbulence of adulthood today is because parents have not stayed long enough in a true childhood. We even have a term for this. We call it an adult child. So what we strive for in a Waldorf school is to allow a child to have a true childhood, to pass through these stages without rush. And we are hard-pressed in trying to achieve this.
In the golden years of childhood the true personality has not yet been formed. Each child is individual and expresses herself through a temperament. He may, like Sam the cabin boy in the previous story, be a playful sanguine child, or like the navigator, a more inward melancholic child, or the captain’s mate, a focussed sometimes wilful choleric child or the cook, a peace loving sometimes lazy phlegmatic child. But now at fourteen years, the personality comes to the