What children need for healthy development

November 2013

Peter Lang has been director of the Waldorf Kindergarten Seminar in Stuttgart for over 20 years and for a long time was a board member of the International Association of Waldorf Kindergartens. He works as a lecturer and tutor at various kindergarten seminars in Germany and abroad. He is currently a board member of the “Vereinigung der Waldorf-Kindertageseinrichtungen Baden-Württemberg e.V.” and edits the series Recht auf Kindheit – ein Menschenrecht (Right to childhood – a human right).

Interview with Peter Lang

Gabriele Jehn | Mr Lang, what are the elementary basic needs of children?

Peter Lang | On the one hand there is the need for closeness, safety and security. The other thing is the need to experience new things and pursue tasks by which they can grow. That is why all children are so open, explore so happily and are keen to be creative.

GJ | And what is the most important prerequisite for healthy development?

PL | Love. The Swiss educator Heinrich Pestalozzi answered the question as to what education is as follows: “Education is setting an example and love – that’s all!” Parents and educators who accept their children without reservation, just as they are, who do not want to “turn” their children “into something”, who give their children a feeling of profound closeness, who encourage them to develop their own abilities and strengths, who provide guidance: all of these things represent love which can be perceived and experienced.

GJ | Many parents think children should be encourage to learn as early as kindergarten but you say childhood is playtime. Why is play so important for children?

PL | When children play, it is a largely free activity which develops out of the child and in which imagination, the joy of movement, the pleasure in pure activity and a high degree of self-determination come to expression. In doing those things, the child undergoes an intensive learning process but this is quite a different form of learning from school, for example, or from adult learning.

In play, children create a relationship with the world through their actions, feeling and thinking. This irrepressible urge to be active comes to expression already in very small children as soon as they lift their head, push themselves up on their arms, manage to sit up and keep practicing until they can stand and take their first steps.

Between the age of three and five, such a pure urge to be active is supplemented by imaginative play. This recreates the world, as it were. Here the soil is prepared in which the active creativity of the later adult can grow.

Then, between the age of five and seven, having ideas and reason increasingly penetrate children’s play, their powers of memory increase, they mature into social beings. Now the children organise their play together, work out rules and plans and make agreements. This third quality of children’s play prepares the subsequent ability for the clear conceptual penetration of the way the world works.

GJ | Virtual worlds keep spreading around us. Why is it important for children to have direct experiences?

PL | Children require an alert awareness of what is happening around and within them. That develops above all with the confidence in their own perceptual ability. That is why children need reliable, genuine sense impressions in the years before school (and also subsequently). Their later media competence also requires a corresponding educational basis: in order to really be able to understand the world, children should enter into a direct reciprocal relationship with it. That is how they acquire their sensory and perceptual competence.

GJ | How do children learn values?

PL | Children, like adults, need soul and spiritual orientation, values and tasks through which they can grow and with which they can inwardly connect in order to structure their lives. Children need freedom and rules, rituals, clarity, authenticity. That does not mean preaching morality at them. Anyone who preaches morality at children might teach them to preach, but not morality. It is therefore important that children experience adults who are “genuine”, who themselves are always endeavouring to achieve clarity and authenticity, who deal with other people and nature in a caring and responsible way. They want to experience gratitude – for example in a grace at table, they want to see parents and educators who are concerned for the elderly, for ill people or people in need, who involve themselves in associations or are politically committed, and who try to make social life more caring and less filled with hate, greed, jealousy and resentment.

GJ | Increasing numbers of children are being branded as “hyperactive”. How can we motivate children and how do they learn to concentrate?

PL | Kindergarten work in general cannot be about medically treating children who are ill but it is absolutely about preventive work, particularly as many of these childhood disorders are the result of “modern” lifestyles in which a lack of time, hectic activity, stress, performance pressure, noise and media consumption hinder the children in their healthy development.

Small children are curious and can easily be distracted; that is a part of their nature. But it is equally important that general hectic activity, superficiality or boredom do not spread in kindergarten. Regular repetition and a rhythmical structure in the course of the day, up to and including experiencing the course of the year with its many peaks and festivals, help to strengthen the concentration of children. Here we should observe that it is not a huge range of things to do which supports the motivation to become active. On the contrary: “less is more”.

Link: www.spielundzukunft.de


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