When we hold a newborn baby in our arms, we are confronted by something that almost inevitably inspires wonder and awe, as well as unconditional love. How can this tiny being, so small physically, make such a powerful impression on us? Something touches us here that defies logic and brings incredible powers of transformation into our lives, as any new parent can attest.
Anthroposophy, the world view articulated by Rudolf Steiner, helps us begin to understand and work with these powers by defining aspects of the human being that go beyond the physical, sense-perceptible body that is our usual focus. There are other structuring principles at work, which we can also call “bodies.”
Just as the physical body has a birth, the other bodies also go through a birth process, each taking roughly seven years. The first seven years of childhood are particularly concerned with the gradual penetration of the physical body by the life body, which is still shaping and forming it into a vessel for the soul and spirit.
Within the physical body of the mother, the spirit of the child who is to be born unites with a new body, which develops with astonishing speed, complexity and wisdom. In the first three years after birth, this individuality takes hold of the body further, learning to stand upright and walk, to speak, to have the first beginnings of thinking, and finally to identify him- or herself as “I,” something no other creature on earth is able to do. These amazing achievements, though they cannot be “taught” in a conscious manner, take place only in relationship to other human beings. The life body is strongly at work, forming the body and its organs, which are still extremely malleable.
The awakening of the “I” brings about a crisis in the life of the child. Now he has the first inkling of himself as separate from the world, and furious tantrums and repeated cries of “No!” are often the result. How can he bring himself back into harmony with the environment? It is through play, through engaging with physical objects and imitating the activities and soul moods around him. The life body’s forces of growth and development are gradually changing into forces of imagination and thought. This process will bring about readiness for school learning later on, but in these years the creative powers should not yet be harnessed by the intellect.
By the age of five the life body has continued its work to make the child increasingly capable right into the fingertips, and work for those newly dexterous hands and limbs is often what is needed now. Helping with everyday tasks such as drying dishes, raking leaves, or baking gives children a sense of pride and accomplishment. Their imaginative play at this age has a less spontaneous quality and begins to be more planned. Around the age of six to seven another crisis takes place as the incredibly mobile, creative forces of the life body begin to recede. Defiant behavior and complaints of boredom signal the child’s discomfort as she loses the direct connection to these forces; however, we can support her through this transition with confidence that they will re-emerge in another way.
When the child’s second teeth begin to emerge, this signals that the body that was received from the mother has been completely transformed by the child’s own life body right down to the hardest substance, the tooth enamel. Part of the life body now becomes free for other tasks, particularly for memory and thinking. It is important not to begin academic learning before this point is reached; otherwise, the life body is put under a great deal of stress. To sensitively observe the children at this age, witnessing the “birth” of the life body, is a complex and fascinating task, and one in which parents and Waldorf educators can share.
Waldorf kindergartens and early childhood programs in North America: see if there is a program in your area.
Find a program >
Check out our online store for WECAN books and other resources.Go to store
Useful information for Waldorf teachers, parents, homeschoolers, and anyone interested in Waldorf education.Go to library
©2017 Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America. All rights reserved.