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Early Childhood Development and the Media

Friday, March 7, 2014

Waldorf education likens the developing human being to the three-fold image of a flower: root (birth to seven-focus is willing), stem (seven to fourteen-focus is feeling), and blossom (fourteen to twenty-one-focus is thinking). The healthy development of the "roots" is a predictor of strong emotional and cognitive capacities in later life. The roots represent the critical window of time in which the child learns through the will-that is, by "doing" and through movement, the limbs, play, and imitation. Everything we do in the kindergarten is premised upon this insight.

All too often today, children are not allowed the freedom of movement necessary for healthy sensory integration. Science strongly supports the idea that movement is crucial to healthy development, yet this is not reflected in mainstream early childhood education and practice. Some examples are infants immobilized in car seats, which also serve as carriers, allowing for little "floor time"; children who have little to no outdoor play; and exposure to media, which today has so many aspects, including computers, cell phones, and portable devices, in addition to TV and movies.

Four foundation senses come into play in early childhood: proprioceptive (which gives the child a sense of body geography and a sense of orientation in space), tactile, vestibular (or balance), and the life sense. In the Waldorf kindergarten, we strive to provide the child with as broad and rich a palate of sensory opportunities as possible. This is facilitated by the use of natural play materials and by domestic activities such as sweeping, chopping vegetables, and kneading dough-activities that naturally train and harmonize the developing senses and that are no longer a regular part of many children's daily lives. Additionally, there are many opportunities for healthy fine and gross motor movement during circle time and outdoor play.

One of the signatures of the Waldorf kindergarten is work with the life sense. This is the sense that gives information about inner, organic well-being or lack of it. The sense of life is particularly nurtured through warmth-both physical and soul warmth-and by predictable, strong rhythms.

The media, or screen time, is a major culprit in hindering full and healthy motor-sensory development. Some points to note are:

  • While watching TV, brain activity is less than that of a person who is in a state of deep sleep.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time for children younger than two and limited screen time for all children.

An excellent resource for parents regarding media use is Consuming Kids, a hard-hitting documentary on the science involved in creating consumer habits starting with the very youngest children. You can view this film online for free.

More Resources:

  • Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (commercialfreechildhood.org)
  • Alliance for Childhood (allianceforchildhood.org)
  • The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World, Susan Linn
  • Taking Back Childhood: Helping Your Kids Thrive in a Fast-Paced, Media-Saturated, Violence-Filled World, Nancy Carlsson-Paige



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