Congratulations to Third Grade Teacher Jessica Crawford, whose work is currently featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Being Human, the quarterly print publication of the Anthroposophical Society in America. She writes about the “Nine Year Change,” a powerful awakening that many children experience around their ninth year. Below is her article, as well as her poem, To Be Nine or The Forest and I.
In Waldorf education we speak of three major phases of human development, and of the teacher’s work with children at each of these stages to support their physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. The initial stage of development stretches from birth to age 7, and is marked by the child’s deep connection to the world and by his learning through imitation. The middle phase of development from ages 7 to 14 spans the primary school years when the child’s innate desire to understand the world blooms, and the seeds of independent thought are sown by the teacher. Learning in this stage of development occurs through experiences and imaginative pictures that speak to the child’s inner life. In the lower grades, the children hear and work with stories such as fairy and folk tales, animal fables, tales of heroes and sages, and mythology. In the middle grades they learn from and write about biographies, world mythology, literature, history, and geography—relayed orally by the teacher in an engaging, lively way. In the third phase of development from ages 14 to 21, the young person’s independent thinking continues to develop toward the capacity for moral judgment and freedom of thought and action. Here, the teacher offers rich material about how the world works, and offers opportunities for the student to discover how he or she can be part of the world in a creative and meaningful way.
In each stage there is a particularly significant and sometimes difficult mini-phase at around the second year mark (at ages 2, 9, and 16). In the middle stage at age 9, there is a powerful awakening—even though the movement away from being one with the universe has slowly been loosening all along. This “Nine Year Change” brings for many children a painful new awareness of being alone in the world, isolated from even those closest to them (their parents). Suddenly, the wind has shifted and the child must stand separately as an unique individuality. In the third grade when this change occurs, Waldorf education provides a beautiful antidote in the stories from the Hebrew bible. Through these stories the children can ponder the experiences of the first human beings as they were cast out of Paradise and began to make their way on Earth. The third grader also spends the year learning about the practical arts of building shelters, making clothing, and growing and preserving food. By learning to care for the earth and to live in harmony with its gifts, the child learns to care for herself and to develop a sense of morality.
At the beginning of third grade last fall I wrote and recited a poem, To Be Nine or The Forest and I, for the parents in my class. My hope was that this picture in words might help them understand what their child might experience over the coming year. I also encouraged them to look beyond their child’s outward and sometimes challenging behavior during this difficult time, and to continue to offer lots of affection (even when it seems unwanted) and the healthy rhythm of a simple home life.
The Forest and I
by Jessica CrawfordOnce upon a time…
I heard the wind in the trees
as harmony to my heart’s melody.
I breathed in sweet pine sap
as my life blood.
I watched a leaf flutter
as my arms stretched into wings and I flew.
I was at one with the rain and the sun.
I was me.
I was you.
I was the Forest.
Now…I stand straight and tall,
alone amongst the trees.
The pines sway in the wind.
The air smells fresh and ripe.
Twigs break under my feet.
The Forest is the Forest.
I am I.
Now…I long to learn how to live on the Earth.
Now…I plant a seed in the soil,
and watch it unfold in the warm sunshine,
as I unfold within my soul.