I read a poem called There Was a Child Went Forth by Walt Whitman (1819–1892). The first part really made me think. Here it is...
"There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years"
Everything a child sees, hears, touches and smells has a really big impact on them. Everything.
Children are so sensitive to everything and everything they are exposed to, they internalise and eventually become.
Waldorf Steiner kindergartens know this and provide an environment that gently nourishes and nurtures the child on every level. In Steiner's day there was not kindergartens as children would be at home with mother. Those days were very different to the present day. There is so much stimulation in the average environment these days it must be a real challenge for young children. As adults we are so used to our environment that most of us don't even consider how it might affect a young child. For example, most people have the news on at some point, either in their car on the radio or their home on television. For a young child that needs to know the world is a good place, the shock of hearing the average news programme must be hard for them. Children cannot process or frame the information heard on the news in the same way as adults and it's an overload.
Another example is the materials a child comes into contact with during his day. Many child these days play with plastic toys, sit on a plastic high chair, eat from a plastic spoon and use a plastic cup before being strapped into a plastic chair in the car. A child's toothbrush is usually plastic, their clothes are often made from synthetic materials, if cloth nappies are not used then they have plastic nappies wrapped around their lower bodies, their homes are full of items made from man made materials and if the child is anything like mine they will want to wear little plastic wellies every day of the year! That is a lot of unnatural material for a child to be exposed to. Young children (well, all of us actually, but especially young children) need natural materials on their body and in the homes and environment to nourish their senses so that they can grow healthy, strong bodies. Plastic has its uses, of course it does, however I think we overuse it for convenience and cost and there is always a price to pay when we do this. The healthy development of our children is too high a price.
Other areas worth considering include the food a child eats, is it wholesome and nourishing or more convenient and fast? Do the children have a strong rhythm to their days, weeks and months? Is there a religious/spiritual life within the home? Is there reverence for nature, beauty and truth, humanity? Are the children surrounded by adults who are grounded, positive, aware and express an affinity with the divine/source (whatever you call it in your home)? All these things contribute to the quality of the environment young children grow up in and are formed by.
I invite you to consider the environment you provide for your young children and do your best to make it as natural and nourishing as possible. I have been working on this for around 6 years now and I have found my home feels so much better as a result. Not only are my children flourishing but I am too. Funnily enough, people who come into our home notice my efforts. I laughed when a rough and ready builder stood in the middle of the front room having a thorough look around and said 'I like what's going on in here ... it's all natural, a bit different, feels proper good in here'.
Here is the complete poem by Walt Whitman in case you would like to read it.
There was a child went forth every day, And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became, And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years. The early lilacs became part of this child, And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird, And the Third-month lambs and the sow's pink-faint litter, and the mare's foal and the cow's calf, And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-side, And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and the beautiful curious liquid, And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part of him. The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him, Winter-grain sprouts and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent roots of the garden, And the apple-trees cover'd with blossoms and the fruit afterward, and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road, And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the tavern whence he had lately risen, And the schoolmistress that pass'd on her way to the school, And the friendly boys that pass'd, and the quarrelsome boys, And the tidy and fresh-cheek'd girls, and the barefoot negro boy and girl, And all the changes of city and country wherever he went. His own parents, he that had father'd him and she that had conceiv'd him in her womb and birth'd him, They gave this child more of themselves than that, They gave him afterward every day, they became part of him. The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table, The mother with mild words, clean her cap and gown, a wholesome odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by, The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger'd, unjust, The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure, The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture, the yearning and swelling heart, Affection that will not be gainsay'd, the sense of what is real, the thought if after all it should prove unreal, The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time, the curious whether and how, Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks? Men and women crowding fast in the streets, if they are not flashes and specks what are they? The streets themselves and the facades of houses, and goods in the windows, Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank'd wharves, the huge crossing at the ferries, The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset, the river between, Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of white or brown two miles off, The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide, the little boat slack-tow'd astern, The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping, The strata of color'd clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in, The horizon's edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud, These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.