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The grit and determination shown by small children can be both shocking and inspiring in its strength! A child may use her strong will to tackle an obstacle or when asking for a particular favored object. Those are likely the types of behaviors that come to mind when imagining a strong will. There is, however, another side of will that while not externally directed, is just as important for children to develop.
Imagine, if you can, that the will came to life as a sprout. The shoot works its way up through the soil and grows and reaches toward the sun, fresh air and open space. This is important work and yet we all know that our seedling will topple over without a firm root structure. A child with an over-developed sense of the external type of will may also topple! They may develop a murky sense of their place in the world and try without avail to bend the universe, and those within it, to their will! Like the seedling needing roots to balance their growing stalk, the young child’s growing will needs to be tempered, balanced, and nuanced in its growth.
So now, let’s look at a child whose will has well-developed roots. This could look like a small child who is hungry and ready to start the meal. The child is asked to wait until all hands are washed and the blessing has been said. The teacher helps the child stretch his waiting capacities by offering a beautiful and engaging distraction: the candle is lit, and the blessing comes as a song! The hungry child now waits his turn while the teacher serves the meal. In the process of acceptance of a situation that the child would not have chosen for himself, he directs his will inwardly and toward self-discipline. The predictability of the daily rhythm means that the child knows what to expect and can accept the expectation that he wait.
Ruth Ker, founding teacher of Sunrise Waldorf School in British Columbia, put our job as caregivers eloquently when she spoke at this year’s WECAN conference: “We should be agents of futility and angels of comfort.” So much is to be gained by young children when we provide opportunities for them to practice delaying gratification, or just doing something that they do not want to do. Succeeding in getting what one wants, when one wants it takes strength of will. Not getting what one wants and learning how to accept, continue to be present and to be resilient takes a stronger will that is directed inwardly. It is harder to see, but like the roots of our seedling, creates a foundation from which healthy balanced growth can occur!
Lakeside students are afforded many opportunities for will development. Through self-directed play and by helping joyful adults with purposeful work, children direct their wills externally. By rising to their teachers’ loving expectations, children gain the scaffolding needed to turn discipline into self-discipline.
As we await the melting of the snow and the start of our Spring here in the North Country, I am drawn to the image of the seedling. I am reminded to not only nurture the growth of the children’s shoots, but also their roots!
Written by Emily Schmitt – Sprouts teacher & Mt. Tots facilitator
- Lakeside School: The Pedagogy of Sledding (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Letters from Lakeside (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Lakeside School: Words from an Intern (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Lakeside School: Fall Newsletter – Courage (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Lakeside Schol: Play as an Avenue of Learning in Kindergarten (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)