Child Development in the light of Anthroposophy

Receive the children in reverence, educate them in love, and send them forth in freedom.
— Rudolf Steiner

The Journey of Childhood

In the light of anthroposophy, child development can be viewed in a threefold way. Rudolf Steiner indicated 3 seven year cycles of growth and development that comprise the journey of childhood for every human being. Within each 7 year cycle (birth-7yrs, , 7-14yrs, 14-21yrs,) growth processes are connected to three distinct systems within the bodily vehicle: the nerve-sense system (head and nerve endings), the rhythmic system (torso and rhythmic organs) and the metabolic system (limbs and metabolizing organs), each pertaining to different aspects of the physical body, which also have reflections in both the child’s inner experiences and social interactions. While each system is unique, and one system is more dominant than the others during particular stages of growth, the systems also overlap and interact with complex and profound wisdom throughout child development. By recognizing the collective journey of childhood and understanding the developmental stages from infancy through to adulthood, we can gain insights into healthy growth and development that help us to perceive and meet the needs of our children.

Constitutional Tendencies

Understanding the threefold nature of the human being helps us understand children’s constitutional tendencies, which manifest as a bodily dominance either in the upper pole (the nerve-sense system or pole of consciousness) or in the lower pole (the metabolic-limb system or pole of life). These tendencies are expressed in different types of difficulties, preferences, and capacities in children, in areas such as motor skills, behavior, learning style, appetite, food and nutrition, sleep, warmth, movement, environment, social life, health and illness, and relationship to technology.

Recognizing and understanding a child’s constitutional tendencies is essential for supporting health and well-being through child development and provides insight into how we can best support them educationally, therapeutically and nutritionally.

The care and development of the senses in the first seven years

An introduction to the four foundational senses

Touch Sense

The experiences of touch we receive build an inner library that we use to understand boundaries. Through the experience of my boundary against another boundary I come back to myself and become aware of the other. Touch can both unite us and separate us from the world around us, it tells us where our body ends and the outside world begins. Through our sense of touch we have a first experience of separateness from the world which later (around age 2 or 3) leads us to be able to refer to ourselves as ‘I’.

supportive activities for the healthy development of the touch sense in Early Childhood:

The greater the variety of natural materials that we experience, the more opportunity we have of meeting many perspectives of life and our self. Create opportunities for experiencing light silks and heavy stones, rough barks and slippery shells, spikey ferns and spongy petals, soft pillows and hard benches. Touching a variety of natural fibres makes us feel something different with each experience and requires us to bring something of our self to meet it.

Through the sense of touch we experience the form and firmness of our physical body. In the sense of life we experience all our metabolic processes, all the forces which build and form our body. All of this is experienced as a kind of well-being so long as we are well
— Karl König - A Living Physiology

Life Sense

Through the sense of life, we perceive inwardly our vitality and life forces. For example it tells us when we need to go to the toilet, when something’s hot and when we need to drink. It also tells us about our health and wellbeing. Through our life sense we begin to experience polarities such as pleasure/pain, comfort/discomfort, wellness/illness. The sense of life develops gradually in early childhood and matures around the age of four years old.

Some supportive activities for the healthy development of the life sense in Early Childhood:

Weaving, knitting, bread baking, gardening and experiencing the changes and transitions in nature help establish a connection to the ebb and flow, death and life processes in nature and in our self. Rhythm in movement, song and routine help experience these changes in the day.

Movement Sense

The sense of movement allows us to perceive our own movement or stillness.

The sense of movement gives us an internal perception. It’s not only the movement we place forward in the world; it is also the movements that we hold back. It tells us what we are doing and what we are not doing.
The sense of movement develops gradually through childhood and comes to maturity at the age of 5

The sense for what we move in us, from our eyelid to the movement of our legs is an actual sense in itself- the sense of movement
— Rudolf Steiner

Some supportive activities for the healthy development of the movement sense in Early Childhood:

For children, it helps to have lots of gross motor activities that have a purpose and a rhythm including bread baking, gardening, climbing, walking, building and preparing for seasonal changes.
Folding cloths and sheets with another child encourages them to mirror a movement because they have to meet each other’s fingers to catch the corner of the cloth. They walk backwards to open the cloth out again and repeat the steps becoming closer each time while judging the distance.


Balance Sense

The sense of balance is the experience of being in harmony. The balance sense perceives our relation to the external spatial world. Based on our perception, we adjust our balance. When someone moves closer to us we inwardly and externally adjust ourselves to maintain a state of harmony. By experiencing equilibrium in our physical body, we have an inner experience in our feeling life. This helps the sense of balance to mature and grow a relationship to inner harmony in our whole being.

When we stumble and lose our balance a whole array of movement patterns is called forth in order to avoid falling or, if the fall cannot be avoided, to prevent being hurt. Like a chorus calling from the unknown, different movement-reactions rise out of the unconscious, helping to sustain the body in its upright position
— Karl König - A Living Physiology

Some supportive activities for the healthy development of the balance sense in Early Childhood:

Ensure that children have daily opportunities of losing uprightness and regaining it in activities such as using stilts and bicycles, crossing wobbly bridges and walking upon stump ends or rocks around a garden edge. Having non-uniform spacing between steps keeps us aware of where we have to place our feet.