Blog: The Light of Aurora
Resilience and Waldorf Education00:00 AM - April 13, 2021
A couple of decades ago, I asked my nursery class parents what they wished more than anything that their children should take with them as capacities from our school. Happiness! The ability to make a good living! A life free of pain! Actually, after looking at some of these answers from different perspectives, we discovered they didn’t seem to hold water. No one will always be happy; millionaires can be mean and miserable; escaping from anything painful pretty much excludes the majority of learning experiences. What the parents came to as their deepest wish across the board was indeed resilience: the capacity to confront challenges and crisis, and come out on the other side as a stronger, wiser, and more compassionate person, knowing themselves better now than before the challenge.
In our current situation, few remain untouched in some way by stresses of the pandemic, by social unrest and upheavals, by huge uncertainties affecting all levels of our lives. The need for resilience is more important than ever. On a physical level, we need to cultivate a robust immune system. Emotionally and socially, we are called upon to navigate isolation or tight living situations, separation from loved ones, discerning truth from deception. Spiritually we are parched to understand and find meaning in the challenges we encounter.
More than a set curriculum, Waldorf education has a basic blueprint that acts as the foundation for all that the teachers bring to the children. This blueprint is the children themselves, the fact that they are human and continually changing and developing. In each stage of development, there are essential experiences that will foster and build the capacity of resilience in later life.
In his recent book Educating for Balance and Resilience, AWS teacher emeritus Jeff Tunkey writes:
There is growing recognition in wide educational circles that helping children to build the skills they need to thrive in adult life, including communication, persistence in the face of challenge, adaptability, teamwork, good manners, self-control, responsibility, and punctuality, is as important as delivering content linked to achievements on benchmark tests. Healthy classroom environments and schools forge these lifetime habits of resilience - “grit” - by consistently working to foster caring relationships, maintain high expectations for all students, and provide meaningful opportunities for students to participate and contribute.”(1)
Birth to 3 years - As a sensory “sponge,” the infant is dependent on the warmth, touch, loving care, and nourishment from the people and environment around it. The bond developed with the parent or primary caregiver is a fundamental basis for its healthy development. The towering accomplishments of standing upright, walking, speaking, and subsequent basic thinking all belong in these critical years.
A child at this age needs:
- -Healthy nutrition and environment
- Genuine sensory diet (real as opposed to virtual experiences)
- Close human relationships
- Physical and emotional warmth
- Regular, predictable daily routine with plenty of sleep
- Beautiful language and singing
3-6 years - This time is when many children enter preschool and then kindergarten. The Waldorf Early Childhood classes offer a steady rhythm, warm environment, and meaningful activities to nurture the child further. These activities, which also holistically integrate the foundation of literacy and numeracy, help focus the child’s energies on building a robust bodily constitution.
Along with the list from above
A child at this age needs:
- Creative play and movement
- Problem solving through play
- Meaningful tasks
- Being out in nature
The constitutional health, in which the immune system plays a central role, is deeply influenced during these years. In later life, when faced with challenges, one can be supported by the “blanket of vitality” woven at this time.
6-14 years - The healthy groundwork described above is complete when the child’s adult teeth start arriving. Now the student has “life forces” available to pursue academics. However, in the Waldorf School, this is not done without the enrichment of the arts, music, and movement. These strengthen the soul and emotional life as well as the ability to engage actively with purpose. An appreciation for beauty and grace, cultivation of social skills, and joyful discovery are paramount. Along with the lists above,
A child at this age needs:
- Creative artistic expression
- Guidance from a loving authority
- A surplus of positive experiences
- A sense of personal agency and initiative
- More nurturing stories, from earliest legends and mythologies to exploration of historical and current biographies To the “blanket of vitality,” we can now add the many colors of rich childhood experiences and adventures. This is an essential source of strength to draw from in times of crisis. Memories of this time act as a wellspring of comfort and inspiration. The development of trust in one’s own creativity and the ability to adapt to new situations rest mainly on how one experiences this life period.
14-21 years - Here, the young person is confronted with physical maturation’s surgings along with an awakening to the mountain tops and deep valleys of emotion. Clarity of thought arises through the storms, and a sense of self begins to search for its purpose, as the needle of a compass seeks true north. Waldorf Schools offer youth the opportunity to stretch themselves, explore their strengths and areas of challenge. Academic learning is balanced with practical and artistic activity to allow them to bring ideals into action. The principle of self-actualization joins those of social responsibility and environmental stewardship. Volunteer community service activities are an integral part of this experience. Along with much from the lists above,
- -Ideal role models: Who is my hero?
- -A sense of deeper purpose
Now we can see a strong thread maturing in this fabric of resilience: moral fiber! On one side, the ability to self-reflect and exercise self-restraint shapes the young person’s character. On the other, the capacity to stand in someone else’s shoes and see an issue from many varying perspectives. In stressful situations, “Know Thyself” can open the door to inner calm and the courage to act. And finally, one of the essential ingredients that can transform the greatest of burdens into the lightness of a feather is a good sense of humor!
Alongside the “grit,” the ability to play, to not take oneself too seriously, is also a fruit of Waldorf Education, to support true resilience in life!
Maria Ebersole, AWS Eurythmy Teacher and Therapeutic Eurythmist finished the Waldorf Teacher Training in 1985 in Germany, graduated from the Eurythmy Academy in the Hague, Netherlands in 1990, and completed the Therapeutic Eurythmy Training in 2007 in Copake, NY. She has been at the Aurora Waldorf School since 2003, has a private practice and resides with her husband in East Aurora. They have two adult children who both graduated from AWS.
- Tunkey, Jeff: “Educating for Balance and Resilience, Developmental Movement, Drawing, and Painting in Waldorf Education,” Bell Pond Books, 2020.
- Fostering Resilience Webinar through PAAM, the Physicians Association for Anthroposophic Medicine, with Alice Stamm and Toya Stoddard. See anthroposophicmedicine.org