:: How can we best welcome our children into the world of today, with all its dangers and possibilities?
:: How can we best prepare our children for a future we can not even imagine?
In the exploration of these questions a third arises implicitly:
:: How do the attitudes we hold and the actions we take as parents and teachers shape not only our children, but also shape this future we prepare them for?
It is obvious how deeply we impact our children. Perhaps it is less obvious how deeply our beliefs and actions impact the future our children will inherit. Let’s explore ways to insure our children are ready for an unknown future, and also ways to insure that the future remains Good, Beautiful and True for our children.
Perhaps each of us is wondering “ How does the world look, today, to our children?” The short answer is this: The way the world looks to them depends entirely upon the way it looks to us. Here is a quote from Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest ( a must-read book for anyone committed to optimism. )
And I would say it is happening right here as we contemplate, and in fact “reconstitute” parenting, at this time of global transformation. Let’s begin by looking at our own “yes” for the world, because it is from our own positive nature that our child’s “yes” for Life emerges.
The world always has and always will exist in the vectors of time and space, or if you will, the time/space continuum. We live in a society that proposes to transcend these fundamental building blocks. We are offered the possibility of “virtual realities,” we talk in real time to people all over the world, we can even see them 5,000 miles away, as we talk through our computers. We can conduct business in China this afternoon and eat fresh fish from Chile this evening, accompanied by wine from Italy.
But none of this changes the fact that our very humanity was developed in the arms of the natural world, deeply embedded in time and space. How do we say “yes” to the world? There are three ancient systems whereby our children and ourselves are nurtured, grounded and made whole. We say “Yes” by honoring our ancient past, which lives in every cell of our bodies, and is hard-wired into our brains, by making enough time and space for these three essentials for ourselves and our children:
:: Participation in the world of the senses: Brain studies show when we think with our senses engaged, our physiology comes into a state of “coherence.” We all have experienced this state of coherence: when our bodies, hearts, souls and minds are focused on a single experience, perhaps playing a piece of music or listening to a poem recited by our child. Sensory information is not only food for our continually developing brain, the world of the senses is nourishment for our soul. The sight of a tree dancing in the wind, the scent of morning dew, the sound of a song bird or a symphony, the touch of a beloved friend’s hand….each of these, and our thousand other connections with the sense world everyday, nourish us, heal and inspire us. They make us human.
:: With enough time and space, our “yes” arises out of the grace, the well-being, the balance and wholeness of our bodies as they move rhythmically through the world. The whole-being engagement of nerves, muscle, tissue, brain, emotion, hormones, blood, bone…all of this is brought into harmony through rhythm. In the Kindergarten we call this the magic of rhythmic movement, the wonder of gesture, and we use it as our prime teaching tool. Harmonious movement is the unifier of the brain; it creates the wiring system of the neural network, and makes communications flow smoothly.
:: And we say “yes” through making the time and the space available for loving human relationships. There is a mountain of current research that affirms the necessity of love: for our health, our emotional balance, our creativity, and yes, even our humanity. Without love, babies die; without love we become depressed, suicidal or violent. How much time, you ask? Do we need quantity or do we need quality? The answer is “Yes!” We need time for the festive moments, the celebrations. And we also need “down time” to go about the simple dailiness of life, with those we love. It is in the down-times, that there is often the openness for questions, dreams and difficulties to be discussed.
Making time and space for these elemental aspects, the senses, harmonious movement and loving connections, is the bedrock we stand upon as adults, and also the way we help our children “live into” the world of today.
Do you see how these primal, fundamental ways of being human are endangered by our highly technological society, by the break-neck pace at which we live, by the screens that imprison us and our children, holding us in thrall? Sensory deprived, movement-deprived, love-deprived we sit empty before our screens.
And yet this is the world we must engage with! How, in the face of all of this, do we continue day by day to say “Yes?”
Our positive nature arises not only from these ancient sources of well-being: the senses, movement and loving human connections. It arises from another timeless and spaceless dimension within ourselves: we carry the mystery of the Spirit, or in Carl Jung’s terminology, The Self, as well. It is what I would call our consciousness. The gifts of consciousness are many: self-reflection, conscious interdependence, empathy, generosity, altruism. Can you imagine what the future could be, if a critical mass of humanity took up the work of “consciousness-making?” Paul Hawken, and other visionaries for the future, tell us we are doing just that, right now. We are part of the fabric of this world. How we perceive the world and how we interact with it has more impact than we can imagine: our thought and actions shape the future.
Those of us who are committed to the future ask ourselves a critically important question: “What is the best thing I can do, for the children?” But I would propose that we consider another equally critical question: “Who is the best person I can be, for the children?” How can I become my very best self? Who we are is the subtext our children read while we live each day with them, as we go about our “doing.”
It is our consciousness, knowing who we are, that shapes our children, as well as the future. Raising and educating our children to know themselves prepares them best for whatever the future may hold. For it is in knowing ourselves, that we hold the compass which guides our actions. When we know who we are, we will know what to do.
Sharifa Oppenheimer is the author of the best-selling book Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children. She also worked collaboratively to create What is a Waldorf Kindergarten?, in which she introduces each subject and author.
She was the founding teacher of the Charlottesville Waldorf School in Virginia, where she taught kindergarten for twenty-one years and served as day care director of the early-childhood program. She has helped develop new teachers through teacher-training programs at Sunbridge College in New York, and at Rudolf Steiner College near Sacramento as a master teacher offering practicum and internship opportunities. Recently she initiated a home-based kindergarten program, The Rose Garden. Sharifa also travels offering lectures and workshops to school and parent groups, encouraging each one to discover their own healthy, heartfelt Family Culture. Sharifa is the mother of three grown sons, who were educated in the Waldorf tradition. She lives in an enchanted forest in Virginia. Visit her at Our Heaven on Earth.