Reverence

“Reverence for children and childhood requires you to stand back, look at the world and remember what the children just know instinctively – that there is magic and wonder, and that life is beautiful.”

– Erin Riley
Grade One Class Teacher

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From Erin’s article in  The Lunchbag News:

As a teacher educated for the purposes of the public board, I sought out Waldorf education on my own accord.  Although I did not know what I was looking for outside of the mainstream model, I knew that I was in fact looking for “something”.  It was not until I first read a Rudolf Steiner quote, and then delved in deeper, that I found what I felt had been missing from both my training, and my experiences in the public board.  Rudolf Steiner said, “Receive the children in reverence; educate them in love; let them go forth in freedom.”  The entire quote spoke personally with all I had been holding onto as my “ideals” (and what many had told me were just “dreams” in this profession), but the first suggestion, to “receive the children in reverence”, grabbed me by the reins.

I suppose that question, of how exactly to “receive the children in reverence”, sat with me during most of my practical planning for Grade One.  I knew that I admired the newer relationship children have with their earthly bodies; I knew that I respected the care I must help take to maintain an environment that nourishes beauty and takes heed to the sensitivity of the children’s senses; and I knew that I was going to try very hard to speak gently to the children in an effort to create a calm mood.  Regardless of all of these things I was consciously trying to do, I still wondered whether I was revering enough.  After all, children are opening themselves up to life; they are almost independently building their bodies, brains, personality, and emotions.  I knew that I felt protective of children, but I never felt that they were my property; I never felt that they were dolls to dress, and play with, and show off.  I knew that these children were not helpless, but instead, resilient and strong.

And then, just as the dawn of winter was upon us, I had an epiphany.  To have reverence, in my opinion, one must feel humility.  Every day I wondered whether I was a worthy teacher for these children.  I wondered whether I was doing the “right” things, or enough of the “right” things in all that I taught them.  I think that a teacher truly has reverence for the children she teaches if she never says to herself, “Self, I am the best teacher, and I have done everything right and perfectly! I am the most wonderful adult model to which all children can look up!”  I think that if you see childhood with true reverence, then you are constantly surprised that you have been granted this delicate job.

Almost every day, at approximately 9:55 A.M., you could walk past the Grade One classroom at the London Waldorf School, peek inside, and see eleven pairs of closed eyes, closed fists, and wrinkled foreheads.  The last practice during our yoga time is a ritual of sending out peace.  The children imagine someone or a group of people who they feel might need us to send them our concentrated peace on the wind.  Usually the first suggestion is to a class member who might be absent or sick; the second is usually to the pregnant mothers; the third is usually to “people in war or with no food”; and then occasionally a child will come up with something so profound I barely know how to react; something that reminds me of how little I think I know about what children are capable of thinking, seeing, or feeling.  One morning in the recent past, one of the children suggested that we send peace to those who “don’t get to laugh as much as us”; shortly after that morning, another child felt that we must try to send peace to “people who cannot hear because they cannot hear peace but maybe they could feel it”.  There are many other examples, and my response is always the same – sheer reverence for the mind, and the sensitivity to life, of a child.  I do not think their thoughts are “cute” (although they are all very cute); I do not think that they are naïve or clueless (quite the contrary, actually); I do not feel that I have to explain the world to them because they are incapable of seeing it (in fact, the children often see that which should be seen more than some of the adults I know).  Reverence for children and for childhood doesn’t require you to “pinch cheeks” or “awww” the cuteness of young life; reverence for children and childhood requires you to stand back, look at the world, and remember what the children just know instinctively – that there is magic and wonder, and that life is beautiful.

-Erin Riley
Grade One Class Teacher

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