Follow-Up – Early Years Rant

Well, well, well – I have been bowled over by the responses to the Early Years Rant I wrote last month. It seems I have hit a chord. I am honored to be able to hold a safe space for those of you who have made the often painful and almost always lonely decision to stay at home with their young children. Paul and I are looking at setting up a place on our website where we can offer resources and sharing for Stay at Home Moms , whether they intend to homeschool or not. I will let you know what we come up with when we do!
For now, I’d like to respond to some of the issues that were raised.
One of the things that is flung at SAHMs is that they are doing their child a disservice, are not providing that child with enough opportunities, are not meeting their needs. Kyrie, who responded to my Early Years Rant, mentioned that the teacher who ran the all day four days a week Waldorf pre kindergarten program near her (my emphasis) implied (or perhaps said) that Kyrie was doing her child a disservice not to enroll her/him in the programmed. This just blows me away – it really does. People come to Waldorf education because they seek an alternative to the information-driven accelerated pace of conventional education, hoping for a place of refuge for the tender years – especially those few precious early years – of their children’s lives. They find Waldorf and, looking a bit deeper, they see how it has a very profound and comprehensive view of child development which, in a nutshell, seeks to protect and nurture especially those early years. And then within that supposed same method of education, Waldorf is increasingly bringing younger and younger children into the school setting! What a betrayal! What a heartbreaking betrayal. I don’t know if that’s how you all feel – but I certainly do.
When I started teaching, I had already worked for a number of years with children in non Waldorf settings – mainly with impoverished youth and children in play projects in London. I already knew how damaging it was – by meeting the children themselves – for little ones to be shuttled out of the home and into various kinds of daycare situations. I also knew how special Waldorf kindergartens were, having been to one myself (and then getting to study them when I was a senior in my Waldorf high school). At the very small Waldorf school where I taught we had a strict rule – no kindergarten children to be admitted under 4 1/2. Period. This was because we really wanted 5 year old’s, but knew we had to be a little flexible. There was strong feeling amongst the teachers that tiny children should be at home.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t always shared by the parents interested in the school….. When I started up a Mom and Toddler’s group when my own sons arrived, it was full and very lively. But then there was this gap – my group only went to 2 1/2 and there were 3 long years before kindergarten. So parents who were interested in Waldorf started to look down the road at the Montessori school, which took children from 6 months (six months!!) of age.
This was dilemma! We were “losing” families. So I began a preschool – the Merlin Nursery  I started a program for children from 3 to 4 1/2 (and yes – I wound up with a few 2 year olds!). We were only three mornings a week, for three hours at a time. Within a year I closed the preschool (it later merged with the kindergarten so there was no longer a pre school – the name, however, remained). I could not bear the hypocrisy of the work. Sure, most of the children were ok – but there was one little girl who clung to me the whole time, sobbing. Even for those few brief hours, even only three days a week, this was just too much for her. She desperately needed to be with her mommy. I felt that by ensuring we – the school – did not lose families, that we potentially damaged children and families. We were not supporting the needs of the children – we were supporting the needs of the school (in a limited non creative way).
Another story….. a couple of years later I started to do parent education work in support of a different Waldorf school  and ran groups where we all brought our babies and toddlers and I gave talks on breastfeeding, co-sleeping, child development and so on. The women who attended were mainly career women – and they “needed” to get back to work in a few months. So we started having more conversations about “good child care.” Seeing which way the wind was blowing, I mainly recommended in-home child care – with the grave caveat that frequent change of nanny or au pair could be devastating to a young child. Then several of the women, who were breastfeeding their babies and co-sleeping with them announced that they were not going to go back to work…. at least “not yet.” By attending my group, they had learned ways of bonding with their little ones that helped them see that they did have a choice and that they could indeed stay at home with their tiny children, that being with one’s child was as fulfilling as other work they had done – and perhaps a sight more important. Yippee – I was jubilant each time this happened.
But there were a few who remained – and so I decided to get a short term part time job at one of the “best” child care providers in Cambridge, where we were at the time, to have direct experience of what it was I was talking about from a differnt point of view. (For those of you wondering about my own children: they were between a year and 4 years during this time. They came with me to the parent education classes and my husband worked part time – he was a homeopath then – so he was with them when I was out).
I was hired.
Well, I lasted all of 2 weeks. I couldn’t bear it any longer! What hit me most was one little boy, a little fellow of about two. I watched him day in and day out literally attach himself to one worker until she went off shift, then have this time of complete meltdown before he again, literally, attached himself to the next. This happened each day. I asked the other workers if he was new – no, he had been there for about 6 months. The clincher then came when one day I hovered when his mother came to collect him. The director of the center was there and I listened as the mother asked her how her son had been that day. “Fine,” she said. “No problem at all.” I felt as if someone had turned the world upside down. I felt like the little boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes – I could see how distressed this child was but no one else could. For that was what really got me – the director of the daycare center was not lying. She honestly thought that this child was fine – that this was normal behavior and that there was no problem. I should add that when I spoke to the other women who worked at the center about their plans for their own children (they awere all young and childless) that every single one of them said they would never send their children to day care and would stay at home with them!
OK – so I am making this WAY longer than I meant to – and have not gotten to a lot of points I wanted to touch on. So I shall close with one last thought – hopefully some of you will post responses and then I will be back with more. I especially want to get back to this phenomena of  pre k Waldorf education outside of the home.
My closing thought is this: it is time for more of us to be like that child in the story – to speak out and tell the truth of our experiences and observations. We need to speak out about what is normal and what isn’t. Too many so-called experts in this country reach their level of expertise without having any contact whatsoever with normal children in normal home situations. It is becoming a part of the deception pu
shed on parents – and often with the best will in the world – as to what is normal and what children need.  Studying children in clinical situations is nothing like being with children in the slow pace of the home setting. To those of you who know what it is like to watch a 3 year old, happy and content, quietly burbling on the kitchen floor, perfectly happy with just a wooden spoon and a pot, following you around the house and being a delight to be with (most of the time!!) – we need to share what we know. New parents are terrified of being alone with their children – and the present culture of what is supposedly best for children only heightens this. We can reaffirm the need – the absolute need – that all children have to be with their mothers (or another adult who loves them and is comitted to being with them throughout their childhoods) especially during those crucial early years when a new humanbeing need his mother to learn what it means to be a human being. We can reach out with compassion to those women who cannot stay at home and do what we can to help mothers who must work outside the home to find the best solutions they can – but we will not take the position that any “good” childcare is the same as care from a mother. Most of all, we will be relentless in speaking out in Waldorf communities, reminding them of Waldorf”s mission to foster health in children, and of caring first and foremost for the needs of young children, which necessarily means a life mainly in the home.

Posted on October 24, 2008 in Children and Society, Family Life and Parenting, Kindergarten (and pre-K)

  • sajalu says:

    I’m halfway between weeping and cheering after I read this. One of your best yet, Donna. I, too, worked in early childhood preschool/daycare for years before I had children and came away with the firm resolve that my future children would never attend.
    My youngest, 4, is now attending a Waldorf parent/child program that is really only meant for 1-2 year olds. We registered with another friend, whose daughter is 3, and now because we are in it two other 3 year olds have registered as well. The teacher, who approved us registering our “older” children, has said in passing, “before long we’ll have a parent/child kindergarten.” I think there are lots of parents out there who would love the option of having something structured like a parent/child program that would be available to children past the age of 2.
    I believe that at this Waldorf school, even two year olds can attend a “kindergarten” class! I heard a mother comment something along the lines of how rough it is to be in the class, because there are always one or two who cry the whole time! What is this worth?

  • kimg says:

    It is a comfort in amidst the storm of pressure to send your tiny kiddies off into the world, to be reminded that I am not over protective, or severely stunting my child’s development, but giving them the best start possible. This is an especially helpful reminder on the days when I don’t really WANT to be at home all day! I look forward to seeing what kind of resources you can come up with to help to stay at home parent.
    Thank you for all that you do!

    • Melissa says:

      Kyrie, thanks for sharing. Even though it brings me to tears and makes me search my soul for another option, I loved hearing about your child’s ‘strike out days’ following the well-intended and ‘thought she loved it’ school program your daughter went to. In my family for the first time this year, my daughter has been staying home with me 2 days of the work week, another 2 with her Dad while I work, and one with her grandmother. From 4 months to 4 years, she has been with her grandmother 4 days a week. Those years were crazy now that we look back on them. We also have noticed a definite change in her now that she is home more with us, and only with grandma one day. For at least one day or more, she consistently exhibits those ‘strike-out’ behaviors after she has stayed out of the home. We had been thinking it was overstimulation (which is could still be partly) since there is access to TV, ipad, and constant adult attention and non-stop active play, although we have requested there not be. Your comment helped me feel that I am not losing it. Another element of our story is like yours, she is just not handling the one day out of the home well. Even though I now feel lost for what to do to help the situation, it gives me confidence that she is not entering public kindergarten next year and will be staying home. I now feel like I am preserving something special for her by being at home to finish out her early years….and hopefully beyond!

  • Kyrie says:

    Thanks, Donna, for letting me feel as though I really am doing the right thing! Betrayed is exactly what I felt. There was all this information available to us about how to create rhythm and peace in our homes…but then as we came to the end of the session, there was a definite favoring towards the mothers (and children) who had decided to go on to preschool (at barely three years of age!). I felt like all the handouts and songs and rhymes meant nothing at that point. Why tell us how to create a wonderful home life for our children when they never meant for our children to be at home??? I was heartbroken and nearly decided to give up Waldorf education for good.
    I used to feel that staying at home with my children was a gift- now I feel that it’s a choice, just like any other choice that I make for the health and well-being of my littles (although I still cherish it as a privilege). My children are a true delight to be with, but more importantly, I know that I am helping them develop in the best way I can.
    I, too, taught preschool before I became a mama. I found it exhausting and overwhelming to be a mother to so many little people who needed their own mothers. I remember crying at drop-off time to be standard!
    I wanted to mention, however, that enthusiasm does not imply readiness!!! When Maya and I were going to the parent-tot program, she was very, very excited to go, every time. Thrilled to be there and seemed to really love it in every way. But…it also meant that she would spend the entire weekend (it was held on Fridays) striking out, crying for no discernible reason, extra tired, exhibiting other nervous behaviors. Clearly she was not ready (her first group experience ever). She now often mentions school, plays that she is going to school, etc. Whenever we pass the Waldorf school, she says, “There’s my school!” I think she believes at some point she will be going back, and I’d say that she misses it, but I wonder how much of it is just playing out an experience that was too much for her to handle at the time.
    I also wanted to mention how difficult I think it is to stand up for what I believe in when it comes to others. It’s one thing to make the choice to stay home with small children for yourself, and quite another (sticky!) situation when you are…passing judgement on another mother. I have an old friend who tried to get pregnant for five years and was finally successful- but then went back to work full time six weeks after the baby was born, even though there was no financial need. I was stunned and dismayed and told her in a way that I perceived to be gentle, but I lost a friend over it anyway. How hard it is to stand up for children in a world that pushes them away!

  • Mary says:

    Excellent article. I am a single mom of a homeschooled 7 year old and a 2 and a half year old. I am lucky because when I work my mother watches my kids. I work part time and I think that the financial struggle is totally worth it. From my understanding, Steiner devised an educational plan for the industrialized new forming society where both parents had to work. It was designed to mimic what the child was learning in the ideal, that is the home, environment. The home was as central to the child’s education, as engaging the heart was central to his or her learning. When any philosophy or pedagogy becomes dogmatic it loses the freedom and the beauty with which it was designed.
    I find it amazing that anyone can profess loving Waldorf education, then want to drop off their young ones for any long length of time. Its like embracing beauty, then buying a man made rose, over a real one…or finding high quality books then leaving the kids to watch the latest DVD, because “there are no commercials”…its like letting the children on the computer because the neighbor’s kids are carrying cell phones…or teaching the kids to cook microwave dinners..its simply a COP OUT. We can be gentle with our friends, but a true friend holds similar beliefs and are supportive of our beliefs. Can one choose a comfortable standard of living knowing that their toddlers/childs heart is being crushed, that their spirit is being dismantled and highjacked by all the current forces which are at work? Its seems pretty simple for me. Protect your kids.

  • raquel says:

    I agree. there is a work on communication to be done, to safeguard the memory of what it is to be a normal childhood.
    when a mom gave me her kid to take care for six hours a day I told her at the end of the day how sad she has been with us, and i do not blame it into the adaptation process so much…so the mom decides to cut back on three hours, and by seeing us there is a bridge established, and perhaps next time she will decide to change her train of thought and to stay at home with her kid.
    if i do not take care of the kid in the first place there is no place for this communication, and the mom may find a suitable childcare situation.
    i think little things like these can help change things one kid, one mom, one family at a time. and it feels honest to me to work this way.

  • Susan says:

    Cheers to Donna, and all who speak out for those too young to voice their needs (although I would say littles do voice their needs, it is just that too many people don’t listen).
    I hold an image of a simple, peaceful, orderly homelife as we parent and homeschool our 7 year old. It is not easy to be a SAHM, going against society, family, experts. I have not found much support for a quiet life, even at homeschooling groups-so much frantic activity seems to be going on. At times I feel akin to the pioneers, as I am so out of step with the rest of the world. But I press on, knowing that for my daughter, this is the best choice.

  • Meredith Carrington says:

    THANK YOU!!! My husband and I have been in a terrible struggle for the past two weeks (me for the past 3+ months) over whether or not our 3 1/2 year old is ready to start school. We participated in a parent/child class at a local Waldorf school last year and while I loved it, she stood firmly at the door each time we went, not wanting to go in. I thought I was doing the right thing by pushing her to go in and engage with the other children but time and again she told me how much she didn’t like it. I thought she was just being difficult. So, we enrolled her in a 3 day Waldorf kindergarten that started 2 weeks ago. All summer she told me that she didn’t want to go to school. I thought maybe she’d change her mind and I thought (because EVERYONE told me so) it would be “good” for her – “she needs the separation. . . she NEEDS the socialization. . .etc.” Well after 2 weeks she still tells me that she doesn’t like school and doesn’t ever want to go back. I know that the teacher and the environment is the most like home that I could ever find but still she just wants to stay home. She IS NOT ready!!! And why should she be forced at 3 1/2 to leave home? I AM blessed to be a Stay-at-home mom and I don’t feel, like so many other moms I meet, like I can’t wait to get my kids out of the house so I can have some time to do what I want to do. My work is my kids right now and I LOVE it!!! Sorry, to rant myself but it has been a very stressful past two weeks and reading this post has solidified my decision to bring my daughter back home. Thank you!

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