A few weeks ago I gave a talk to parents in our community about early years parenting. Most of the parents attending had their children part time at one of the local Waldorf-inspired in-home nursery or day-care providers here. The question came up about how is it that a two year old might go to nursery perfectly happily but then when he turns three, he balks.
In my experience, this is a fairly common phenomena. And I would say it has to do with the fact that a 2 year old is so closely attached to his mother, is so unaware in many ways (though he might not seem that way to the parents!) that in his dream world, going from one warm and loving place to another is no big deal. He is still attached etherically to his mother by the "Madonna's Cloak" and is still within her aura, even when she is not present. He can also easily adapt to the warmth and love of the care giver. And many 2 years olds often seem oblivious to the other children in the group.
Not so the 3 year olds. At 3 there is a big change. The child's sense of "I" is starting to stir and she is just that much more aware of her surroundings - and the nursery, as warm and caring as it might be, is not home, is not Mama. This is not a major problem for all children - but since my point of view is that little children in principle are better off at home than in nursery, no matter how lovely and Waldorf, a parent might want to stop and think what is going on here at this point of the child's development.
It seems obvious to me that at this delicate awakening time, at this first blossoming of a sense of selfhood, that one would want a child to be in the home, in the bosom of the family, with those who have chosen to bring him into the world and who are his primary and most important role models, guides, teachers and - his parents. The child creates his sense of who he is in relation to his parents. They are his templates and his models and launching pad for who he will eventually create himself to be.
Now this can be guilt-inducing stuff, I know. There are certainly times when we all need and want a break from our children - and there is a lot for them to learn from other people. And it could well be that a morning or two at a peaceful Waldorf at-home nursery is a wonderful experience for that child - and a very needed break for the parent. But.... I have seen so many little children suffer terribly from separation grief at age 3 especially that I just can't see any good reason from the child's point of view for this to happen.
From the adult's point of view - sure. Work, needing a break etc etc. But... too often an adult's needs do not mesh with a child's. If we lived in a different kind of society where granma or auntie could look after the little ones from time to time - when it was a one-on -one thing from a constantly present adult - not a group thing from a stranger who must be gotten used to - then that would be another thing entirely. Yes - as the feminists say, woman have always worked. No argument there. But they have not always used childcare from strangers or, far worse, from institutions which have an ever-changing stream of workers. Women used relatives and neighbors - people the children knew from birth.
So from the child's point of view, I see no reason on earth for nursery. All this nonsense about early socialization is just hokum as far as my experience tells me. A play date once or twice a week is great - but preferably with mixed age children as tinies playing together can bring other problems (see other entries on this blog about that). Other than that - the best early years life for tiny ones is - and I am more and more convinced of this all the time - a slow paced, well ordered, rhythmical and peaceful life almost exclusively at home and in nature. , Unhurried, unstressful, unpressured.