The Kingdom of Childhood
15 August 1924, Torquay
I have shown you how between the change of teeth and the ninth or tenth year you should teach with descriptive, imaginative pictures, for what the children then receive from you will live on in their minds and souls as a natural development, right through their whole lives.
This is of course only possible if the feelings and ideas one awakens are not dead but living. To do this you must first of all yourselves acquire a feeling for the inward life of the soul. A teacher or educator must be patient with his own self-education, with the awakening of something in the soul which may indeed sprout and grow. You may then be able to make the most wonderful discoveries, but if this is to be so you must not lose courage in your first endeavours.
For you see, whenever a man undertakes an activity of a spiritual nature, he must always be able to bear being clumsy and awkward. A man who cannot endure being clumsy and doing things stupidly and imperfectly at first, will never really be able to do them perfectly in the end out of his own inner self. And especially in education we must first of all kindle in our own souls what we then have to work out for ourselves; but first it must be enkindled in the soul. If once or twice we have succeeded in thinking out a pictorial presentation of a lesson which we see impresses the children, then we shall make a remarkable discovery about ourselves. We shall see that it becomes more and more easy for us to invent such pictures, that by degrees we become inventive people in a way we had never dreamt of. But for this you must have the courage to be very far from perfect to begin with.
Perhaps you will say you ought never to be a teacher if you have to appear before the children in this awkward manner. But here indeed the Anthroposophical outlook must help you along. You must say to yourself: Something is leading me karmically to the children so that I can be with them as a teacher though I am still awkward and clumsy. And those before whom it behoves me not to appear clumsy and awkward — these children I shall only meet in later years, again through the workings of Karma. 1Dr. Steiner retained the ancient oriental word “Karma” in speaking of the working of human destiny in repeated lives on earth. See Rudolf Steiner:Theosophy,chap. II. The teacher or educator must thus take up his life courageously, for in fact the whole question of education is not a question of the teachers at all but of the children.
Let me therefore give you an example of something which can sink into the child's soul so that it grows with his growth, something which one can come back to in later years and make use of to arouse certain feelings within him. Nothing is more useful and fruitful in teaching than to give the children something in picture form between the seventh and eighth years, and later, perhaps in the fourteenth and fifteenth years, to come back to it again in some way or other. Just for this reason we try to let the children in the Waldorf School remain as long as possible with one teacher. When they come to school at seven years of age the children are given over to a teacher who then takes his class up the school as far as he can, for it is good that things which at one time were given to the child in germ can again and again furnish the content of the methods employed in his education.
Now suppose for instance that we tell an imaginative story to a child of seven or eight. He does not need to understand all at once the pictures which the story contains; why that is I will describe later. All that matters is that the child takes delight in the story because it is presented with a certain grace and charm. Suppose I were to tell the following story: Once upon a time in a wood where the sun peeped through the branches there lived a violet, a very modest violet under a tree with big leaves. And the violet was able to look through an opening at the top of the tree. As she looked through this broad opening in the tree top the violet saw the blue sky. The little violet saw the blue sky for the first time on this morning, because she had only just blossomed. Now the violet was frightened when she saw the blue sky — indeed she was overcome with fear, but she did not yet know why she felt such great fear. Then a dog ran by, not a good dog, a rather bad snappy dog. And the violet said to the dog: “Tell me, what is that up there, that is blue like me?” For the sky also was blue just as the violet was. And the dog in his wickedness said: “Oh, that is a great giant violet like you and this great violet has grown so big that it can crush you.” Then the violet was more frightened than ever, because she believed that the violet up in the sky had got so big so that it could crush her. And the violet folded her little petals together and did not want to look up to the great big violet any more, but hid herself under a big leaf which a puff of wind had just blown down from the tree. There she stayed all day long, hiding in her fear from the great big sky-violet.
When morning came the violet had not slept all night, for she had spent the night wondering what to think of the great blue sky-violet who was said to be coming to crush her. And every moment she was expecting the first blow to come. But it did not come. In the morning the little violet crept out, as she was not in the least tired, for all night long she had only been thinking, and she was fresh and not tired (violets are tired when they sleep, they are not tired when they don't sleep!) and the first thing that the little violet saw was the rising sun and the rosy dawn. And when the violet saw the rosy dawn she had no fear. It made her glad at heart and happy to see the dawn. As the dawn faded the pale blue sky gradually appeared again and became bluer and bluer all the time, and the little violet thought again of what the dog had said, that that was a great big violet which would come and crush her.
At that moment a lamb came by and the little violet again felt she must ask what that thing above her could be. “What is that up there?” asked the violet, and the lamb said, “That is a great big violet, blue like yourself.” Then the violet began to be afraid again and thought she would only hear from the lamb what the wicked dog had told her. But the lamb was good and gentle, and because he had such good gentle eyes, the violet asked again: “Dear lamb, do tell me, will the great big violet up there come and crush me?” “Oh no,” answered the lamb, “it will not crush you, that is a great big violet, and his love is much greater than your own love, even as he is much more blue than you are in your little blue form.” And the violet understood at once that there was a great big violet who would not crush her, but who was so blue in order that he might have more love, and that the big violet would protect the little violet from everything in the world which might hurt her. Then the little violet felt so happy, because what she saw as blue in the great sky-violet appeared to her as Divine Love, which was streaming towards her from all sides. And the little violet looked up all the time as if she wished to pray to the God of the violets.
Now if you tell the children a story of this kind they will most certainly listen, for they always listen to such things; but you must tell it in the right mood, so that when the children have heard the story they somehow feel the need to live with it and turn it over inwardly in their souls. This is very important, and it all depends on whether the teacher is able to keep discipline in the class through his own feeling.
That is why when we speak of such things as I have just mentioned, we must also consider this question of keeping discipline. We once had a teacher in the Waldorf School, for instance, who could tell the most wonderful stories, but he did not make such an impression upon the children that they looked up to him with unquestioned love. What was the result? When the first thrilling story had been told the children immediately wanted a second. The teacher yielded to this wish and prepared a second. Then they immediately wanted a third, and the teacher gave in again and prepared a third story for them. And at last it came about that after a time this teacher simply could not prepare enough stories. But we must not be continually pumping into the children like a steam pump; there must be a variation, as we shall hear in a moment, for now we must go further and let the children ask questions; we should be able to see from the face and gestures of a child that he wants to ask a question. We let him ask it, and then talk it over with him in connection with the story that has just been related.
Thus a little child will probably ask: “But why did the dog give such a horrid answer?” and then in a simple childlike way you will be able to show him that a dog is a creature whose task is to watch, who has to bring fear to people, who is accustomed to make people afraid of him, and you will be able to explain why the dog gave that answer.
You can also explain to the children why the lamb gave the answer that he did. After telling the above story you can go on talking to the children like this for some time. Then you will find that one question leads to another and eventually the children will bring up every imaginable kind of question. Your task in all this is really to bring into the class the unquestioned authority about which we have still much to say. Otherwise it will happen that whilst you are speaking to one child the others begin to play pranks and to be up to all sorts of mischief. And if you are then forced to turn round and give a reprimand, you are lost! Especially with the little children one must have the gift of letting a great many things pass unnoticed.
Once for example I greatly admired the way one of our teachers handled a situation. A few years ago he had in his class a regular rascal (who has now improved very much). And lo and behold, while the teacher was doing something with one of the children in the front row, the boy leapt out of his seat and gave him a punch from behind. Now if the teacher had made a great fuss the boy would have gone on being naughty, but he simply took no notice at all. On certain occasions it is best to take no notice, but to go on working with the child in a positive way. As a general rule it is very bad indeed to take notice of something that is negative.
If you cannot keep order in your class, if you have not this unquestioned authority (how this is to be acquired I shall speak of later), then the result will be just as it was in the other case, when the teacher in question would tell one story after another and the children were always in a state of tension. But the trouble was that it was a state of tension which could not be relaxed, for whenever the teacher wanted to pass on to something else and to relax the tension (which must be done if the children are not eventually to become bundles of nerves), then one child left his seat and began to play, the next also got up and began to sing, a third did some Eurythmy, a fourth hit his neighbour and another rushed out of the room, and so there was such confusion that it was impossible to bring them together again to hear the next thrilling story.
Your ability to deal with all that happens in the classroom, the good as well as the bad, will depend on your own mood of soul. You can experience the strangest things in this connection, and it is mainly a question of whether the teacher has sufficient confidence in himself or not.
The teacher must come into his class in a mood of mind and soul that can really find its way into the children's hearts. This can only be attained by knowing your children. You will find that you can acquire the capacity to do this in a comparatively short time, even if you have fifty or more children in the class; you can get to know them all and come to have a picture of them in your mind. You will know the temperament of each one, his special gifts, his outward appearance and so on.
In our teachers' meetings, which are the heart of the whole school life, the single individualities of the children are carefully discussed, and what the teachers themselves learn from their meetings, week by week, is derived first and foremost from this consideration of the children's individualities. This is the way in which the teachers may perfect themselves. The child presents a whole series of riddles, and out of the solving of these riddles there will grow the feelings which one must carry with one into the class. That is how it comes about that when, as is sometimes the case, a teacher is not himself inwardly permeated by what lives in the children, then they immediately get up to mischief and begin to fight when the lesson has hardly begun. (I know things are better here but I am talking of conditions in Central Europe.) This can easily happen, but it is then impossible to go on with a teacher like this and you have to get another in his place. With the new teacher the whole class is a model of perfection from the first day!
These things may easily come within your experience; it simply depends on whether the teacher's character is such that he is minded to let the whole group of his children with all their peculiarities pass before him in meditation every morning. You will say that this would take a whole hour; this is not so, for if it were to take an hour one could not do it, but if it takes ten minutes or a quarter of an hour it can be done. But the teacher must gradually develop an inward perception of the child's mind and soul, for it is this which will enable him to see at once what is going on in the class.
To get the right atmosphere for this pictorial story-telling you must above all have a good understanding of the temperaments of the children. This is why the treatment of children according to temperament has such an important place in teaching. And you will find that the best way is to begin by seating the children of the same temperament together. In the first place the teacher has a more comprehensive view if he knows that over there he has the cholerics, there the melancholics, and here the sanguines. This will give him a point of vantage from which he may get to know the whole class.
The very fact that you do this, that you study the child and seat him according to his temperament, means that you have done something to yourself that will help you to keep the necessary unquestioned authority in the class. These things usually come from sources one least expects. Every teacher and educator must work upon himself inwardly.
If you put the phlegmatics together they will mutually correct each other, for they will be so bored by one another that they will develop a certain antipathy to their own phlegma, and it will get better and better all the time. The cholerics hit and smack each other and finally they get tired of the blows they get from the other cholerics; and so the children of each temperament rub each other's corners off extraordinarily well when they sit together. But the teacher himself when he speaks to the children, for instance when he is talking over with them the story which has just been given, must develop within himself as a matter of course the instinctive gift of treating the child according to his temperament. Let us say that I have a phlegmatic child; if I wish to talk over with such a child a story like the one I have told, I must treat him with an even greater phlegma than he has himself. With a sanguine child who is always flitting from one impression to another and cannot hold on to any of them, I must try to pass from one impression to the next even more quickly than the child himself does.
With a choleric child you must try to teach him things in a quick emphatic way so that you yourself become choleric, and you will see how in face of the teacher's choler his own choleric propensities become repugnant to him. Like must be treated with like, so long as you do not make yourself ridiculous. Thus you will gradually be able to create an atmosphere in which a story like this is not merely related but can be spoken about afterwards.
But you must speak about it before you let the children retell the story. The very worst method is to tell a story and then to say: “Now Edith Miller, you come out and retell it.” There is no sense in this; it only has meaning if you talk about it first for a time, either cleverly or foolishly; (you need not always be clever in your classes; you can sometimes be quite foolish, and at first you will mostly be foolish). In this way the child makes the thing his own, and then if you like you can get him to tell the story again, but this is of less importance for it is not indeed so essential that the child should hold such a story in his memory; in fact, for the age of which I am speaking, namely between the change of teeth and the ninth or tenth year, this hardly comes in question at all. Let the child by all means remember what he can, but what he has forgotten is of no consequence. The training of memory can be accomplished in subjects other than story-telling, as I shall have to show.
But now let us consider the following question: Why did I choose a story with this particular content? It was because the thought-pictures which are given in this story can grow with the child. You have all kinds of things in the story which you can come back to later. The violet is afraid because she sees the great big violet above her in the sky. You need not yet explain this to the little child, but later when you are dealing with more complicated teaching matter, and the question of fear comes up, you can recall this story. Things small and great are contained in this story, for indeed things small and great are repeatedly coming up again and again in life and working upon each other. Later on then you can come back to this. The chief feature of the early part of the story is the snappish advice given by the dog, and later on the kind loving words of advice uttered by the lamb. And when the child has come to treasure these things in his heart and has grown older, how easily then you can lead on from the story you told him before to thoughts about good and evil, and about such contrasting feelings which are rooted in the human soul. And even with a much older pupil you can go back to this simple child's story; you can make it clear to him that we are often afraid of things simply because we misunderstand them and because they have been presented to us wrongly. This cleavage in the feeling life, which may be spoken of later in connection with this or that lesson, can be demonstrated in the most wonderful way if you come back to this story in the later school years.
In the Religion lessons too, which will only come later on, how well this story can be used to show how the child develops religious feelings through what is great, for the great is the protector of the small, and one must develop true religious feeling by finding in oneself those elements of greatness which have a protective impulse. The little violet is a little blue being. The sky is a great blue being, and therefore the sky is the great blue God of the violet.
This can be made use of at various different stages in the Religion lessons. What a beautiful analogy one can draw later on by showing how the human heart itself is of God. One can then say to the child: “Look, this great sky-violet, the god of the violets, is all blue and stretches out in all directions. Now think of a little bit cut out of it — that is the little violet. So God is as great as the world-ocean. Your soul is a drop in this ocean of God. But as the water of the sea, when it forms a drop, is the same water as the great sea, so your soul is the same as the great God is, only it is one little drop of it.”
If you find the right pictures you can work with the child in this way all through his early years, for you can come back to these pictures again when the child is more mature. But the teacher himself must find pleasure in this picture-making. And you will see that when, by your own powers of invention, you have worked out a dozen of these stories, then you simply cannot escape them; they come rushing in upon you wherever you may be. For the human soul is like an inexhaustible spring that can pour out its treasures unceasingly as soon as the first impulse has been called forth. But people are so indolent that they will not make the initial effort to bring forth what is there in their souls.
We will now consider another branch of this pictorial method of education. What we must bear in mind is that with the very little child the intellect, that in the adult has its own independent life, must not yet really be cultivated, but all thinking should be developed in a pictorial and imaginative way.
Now even with children of about eight years of age you can quite well do exercises of the following kind. It does not matter if they are clumsy at first. For instance you draw this figure for the child (see drawing a.) and you must try in all kinds of ways to get him to feel in himself that this is not complete, that something is lacking. How you do this will of course depend on the individuality of the child. You will for instance say to hi: “Look, this goes down to here (left half) but this only comes down to here (right half, incomplete). But this doesn't look nice, coming right down to here and the
other side only so far.” Thus you will gradually get the child to complete this figure; he will really get the feeling that the figure is not finished, and must be completed; he will finally add this line to the figure. I will draw it in red; the child could of course do it equally well in white, but I am simply indicating in another colour what has to be added. At first he will be extremely clumsy, but gradually through balancing out the forms he will develop in himself observation which is permeated with thought, and thinking which is permeated with imaginative observation. His thinking will all be imagery.
And when I have succeeded in getting a few children in the class to complete things in this simple way, I can then go further with them. I shall draw some such figure as the following (see drawing b. left), and after making the child feel that this complicated figure is unfinished I shall induce him to put in what will make it complete (right hand part of drawing). In this way I shall arouse in him a feeling for form which will help him to experience symmetry and harmony.
This can be continued still further. I can for instance awaken in the child a feeling for the inner laws governing this
figure (see drawing c.). He will see that in one place the lines come together, and in another they separate. This closing together and separating again is something that I can easily bring to a child's experience.
Then I pass over to the next figure (see drawing d.). I make the curved lines straight, with angles, and the child then has to make the inner line correspond. It will be a difficult task with children of eight, but, especially at this age, it is a wonderful achievement if one can get them to do this with all sorts of figures, even if one has shown it to them beforehand. You should get the children to work out the inner lines for themselves; they must bear the same character as the ones in the previous figure but consist only of straight lines and angles.
This is the way to inculcate in the child a real feeling for form, harmony, symmetry, correspondence of lines and so on. And from this you can pass over to a conception of how an object is reflected; if this, let us say, is the surface of the water (see drawing e.), and here is some object, you must arouse in the child's mind a picture of how it will be in the reflection. In this manner you can lead the children to perceive other examples of harmony to be found in the world.
You can also help the child himself to become skilful and mobile in this pictorial imaginative thinking by saying to him: “Touch your right eye with your left hand! Touch your right eye with your right hand! Touch your left eye with your right hand! Touch your left shoulder with your right hand
from behind! Touch your right shoulder with your left hand! Touch your left ear with your right hand! Touch your left ear with your left hand! Touch the big toe of your right foot with your right hand!” and so on. You can thus make the child do all kinds of curious exercises, for example, “Describe a circle with your right hand round the left! Describe a circle with your left hand round the right! Describe two circles cutting each other with both hands! Describe two circles with one hand in one direction and with the other hand in the other direction. Do it faster and faster. Now move the middle finger of your right hand very quickly. Now the thumb, now the little finger.”
So the child can learn to do all kinds of exercises in a quick alert manner. What is the result? If he does these exercises when he is about eight years old, they will teach him how to think — to think for his whole life. Learning to think directly through the head is not the kind of thinking that will last him his life. He will become “thought-tired” later on. But if, on the other hand, he has to do actions with his own body which need great alertness in carrying out, and which need to be thought over first, then later on he will be wise and prudent in the affairs of his life, and there will be a noticeable connection between the wisdom of such a man in his thirty-fifth or thirty-sixth year and the exercises he did as a child of six or seven. Thus it is that the different epochs of life are connected with each other.
It is out of such a knowledge of man that one must try to work out what one has to bring into one's teaching.
Similarly one can achieve certain harmonies in colour. Suppose we do an exercise with the child by first of all painting something in red •;see drawing a.). Now we show him, by
arousing his feeling for it, that next to this red surface a green surface would be very harmonious. This of course must be carried out with paints, then it is easier to see. Now you can try to explain to the child that you are going to reverse the process. “I am going to put the green in here inside (see drawing b.); what will you put round it?” Then he will put red round it. By doing such things you will gradually lead to a feeling for the harmony of colours. The child comes to see that first I have a red surface here in the middle and green round it (see former drawing), but if the red becomes green, then the green must become red. It is of enormous importance just at this age, towards the eighth year, to let this correspondence of colour and form work upon the children.
Thus our lessons must all be given a certain inner form, and if such a method of teaching is to thrive, the one thing necessary is — to express it negatively — to dispense with the usual timetable. In the Waldorf School we have so-called “period teaching” and not a fixed timetable. We take one subject for from four to six weeks; the same subject is continued during that time. We do not have from 8–9 Arithmetic; 9–10 Reading, 10–11 Writing, but we take one subject which we pursue continuously in the Main Lesson morning by morning for four weeks, and when the children have gone sufficiently far with that subject we pass on to another. So that we never alternate by having Arithmetic from 8–9 and Reading 9–10, but we have Arithmetic alone for several weeks, then another subject similarly, according to what it may happen to be. There are, however, certain subjects which I shall deal with later that require a regular weekly timetable. But, as a rule, in the so-called “Main Lessons” we keep very strictly to the method of teaching in periods. During each period we take only one subject but these lessons can include other topics related to it.
We thereby save the children from what can work such harm in their soul life, namely that in one lesson they have to absorb what is then blotted out in the lesson immediately following. The only way to save them from this is to introduce period teaching.
Many will no doubt object that in this kind of teaching the children will forget what they have learnt. This only applies to certain special subjects, e.g. Arithmetic, and can be corrected by frequent little recapitulations. This question of forgetting is of very little account in most of the subjects, at any rate in comparison to the enormous gain to the child if the concentration on one subject for a certain period of time is adhered to.