FondsGoetheanum: Childhood

If Children’s Well-being lies close to your Heart

Children do not have an easy life in our world. Nor do their parents and educators. How should children grow and develop? What keeps them healthy? What makes them sick? How do they become strong and well-prepared for life? Using many examples and ideas, this edition of Goetheanum Fund provides updates on research into children from a holistic perspective – for example, creating an atmosphere of security or play.
We are deeply affected by our childhood. It is through our childhood experiences that we shape our own futures and that of our planet. Your donation will support the continuation of this valuable research work.

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Allow us our childhood

In my daily educational work with children, I am always amazed at the strength with which they imitate everything that is happening around them. It's extraordinary! Where does this ability come from that a child never needs to acquire, but is simply there from the outset, from the first breath of life on earth?

At seven months, my granddaughter started to make signs with her hands when someone approached or walked past her – all with a happy smile on her face.

Children reflect what they see

A girl who had just had a little brother, took a doll to play group and held it as if to breastfeed. Another child took a rectangular piece of wood, placed it against his ear and ‘called’ his mother with the same gesture that I had seen his father use with his mobile phone moments before. You also probably know the situation where a child who has seen a fire truck passing by with its two-tone siren, replays the scene for days, complete with sound effects and dramatic atmosphere! What is this imitative force with which children literally slip into the people, things, gestures and thoughts in their environment?
With immense curiosity and a desire to know, children observe everything they see, everything they encounter, and then transpose it immediately into their games or by mimicking movements. But children also read our thoughts. They can formulate an idea that has only just entered our heads, leaving us speechless!
Such observations concerning children's faculty of imitation led me to the following question: Does this intense connection with everything around them come from the prenatal period, before the laws of space and time determine their earthly life? Is it possible that if human beings know no spatial limitation, they can slip unhindered with their soul and spirit into everything they experience? Is it this ability that manifests after birth as the faculty of imitation?

"Why I feel what you feel"

Current research links this question to highly interesting hypotheses. In his book ‘Why I feel what you feel’, the physician and neurobiologist, Joachim Bauer, speaks about intuitive communication and the mystery of the mirror neurons. He writes: "The faculties of imitation found in infants from the first days of their life are not limited to reflecting facial expressions. We can see, a little later on, their first attempts to imitate the words they hear by uttering their own sounds.” Grounded on the mirror neurons, infants "are able to enter into emotional contact with those around them, exchanging signals and developing a very first sense of mutual understanding."
Mirror neurons are regarded as the seat of human empathy and intuition. They are special nerve cells, a resonance system in the brain that allows us to know the feelings and moods of others. What is absolutely unique is that they immediately send signals immediately when someone acts. Nerve cells react exactly as if it were the same person performing the action. This, then, is how the faculty of empathy is born, the ability to feel the joys but also the sufferings of others.
Nearly a hundred years ago, the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, already drew attention to the great responsibility this gives to parents and educators: we continually represent models that children imitate. But are we aware of this in the accelerated pace of our everyday world?


Overburdened children

Doing too many things and too-rapid progress prohibit children from any possibility of imitation. Two examples. In the car, impressions that pass by at full speed cannot be properly integrated. It is no wonder that after a while children cry or become aggressive. In supermarkets, one can encounter annoyed parents who fill their shopping cart at a run, dragging their, often howling, children along. In such situations, children are not able to be active out of themselves and so imitate what they see their parents doing.
Little children not only unconditionally unite themselves with our outer activities, but also with our thoughts and our feelings, with everything we are and do. It is only when education begins that this imitative force decreases.
We help young children by providing them with daily activities that they can pursue, so that in the larger sense they can become imitators, and thus learn and grow.

Bettina Mehrtens. Coordinator of Elementary Education.

Peter Selg, Das Kind als Sinnesorgan. Ita Wegmans Institutes of Verlag, 2015. ("The child, an organ of perception.") Joachim Bauer: Warum ich fühle, was Du Fühlst. Hoffman und Campe, 2005. (“Why I feel what you feel.” Guy Trédaniel editions, 2012).