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 weekWaldorf 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 pushed 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.