How Do We Raise Healthy, Creative and Resilient Children? By Sharifa Oppenheimer
As our world is rapidly changing and becoming ever more complex, how do we prepare our children for a future we cannot imagine?
Although our world is changing dramatically, the fundamental needs of children, and the developmental stages they experience, are not. In 1925, the Gesell Institute of Child Development designed nineteen tasks to ascertain a child’s developmental stage. When these tasks were given to young children over a two year period, developmental patterns emerged that correlated to the child’s age. The most recent study, conducted from 2008 to 2010 and including 1,300 children, found the identical results which were produced in 1925.
As we consider our children’s health, creativity and resiliency, it is important that we step back from the frenzy of 21st century life, and explore what this research has to teach us. The human being operates on the same principle of growth as every natural system on earth: serial functional progression, also called scaffolding. This means that every further step in development is dependent upon the stability and full-functionality of the prior developmental stage. Parents and teachers can take this wisdom and make it into a daily motto:
One Step at a Time, With Plenty of Time.
Our children’s health depends first and foremost on our loving relationship with them. Human beings are designed for deep connections, with parents, family and community, and our health depends upon this sense of belonging. New research shows that we also have a fundamental need for a living connection to nature. These felt-experiences lay a foundation for a further necessary relationship: an experience of a loving guiding higher power. Love is central for all human well-being.
Children are born as wide-open sense-beings. Their health depends upon our offering them sense experiences that grow out of the natural world: wooden, wool, silk and cotton toys, natural fiber clothing, whole foods as local and organic as possible. Their health depends upon freely chosen self-initiated movement activities. This includes the baby who learns all on her own to roll over, push up and crawl, to the pre-school and kindergarten child who freely chooses creative play both indoor and out. A well-integrated sensory motor-rich environment lays a strong foundation upon which the child can explore the world.
Building upon this foundation, a child’s creativity can begin to blossom and flourish. The child’s imagination is free to explore and create both in the realm of the arts as well as the arena of stories and language arts. We can give them open artistic materials, as well as more structured, instructional crafts. We can choose stories to offer them a wide palette of images, characters, story-lines, geographies, not to mention language experiences they would not encounter otherwise.
A fundamental way our children develop resiliency is through many years of creative play. In these years of interaction, they learn who they are, how they choose to relate in various situations, they learn the results of positive as well as negative play-responses. They learn from experience. When this play is well-supervised and when we are available to help untangle social knots, when we help them think through the interaction and imagine a good response… this is how resiliency is built!
The best way we can prepare our children for a quickly-changing world is to be aware of their fundamental needs, which have not changed over the centuries. To slowly, with intention, compassion and consistency respond to these needs. To allow them to grow one step at a time, with plenty of time!
Sharifa Oppenheimer is the author of the best-selling book Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, and an experienced Waldorf teacher and mentor. www.ourheavenonearth.net
Sharifa Oppenheimer will be the keynote speaker at the Gateways Conference 2016 at Toronto Waldorf School, 9100 Bathurst St., Thornhill, ON. There will be workshops and talks for parents, caregivers and educators for children under 9. Topics include: Raising Healthy, Creative and Resilient Children (Fri., April 15, 7 to 9 Sat., April 16, 9 to 2:30) and Resiliency and the Importance of Play (Sun., April 17, 8:30 to 5). Visit the event page for more info or to register.