Rudolf Steiner and the Developmental Phases of Childhood: Early Childhood – 30 November 2016

The following article is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

A little more on real-life observation and perception

Rudolf Steiner said: “Because of their very nature, science and logical thinking can never decide what is possible or impossible. Their only function is to explain what has been ascertained by experience and observation.” The biggest tragedy of our time is that human beings’ spiritual and a big part of their emotional bodies are completely abandoned in scientific research. It is absent in most of our educational institutions and their curricula. It is as if humans and the natural world are suppose to function in this sterile, intellectual environment devoid of feeling, intuition and spiritual experience. Humans have to conform their lives according to lifeless statistical data and formulas derived from sterile, controlled environments. No wonder we all feel there is something profoundly missing in our everyday lives. Could it be our human heart and spirit we are looking for? Steiner said it is only when you are completely in the moment, connecting with all there is – intuitively – from your deepest human core that you will be able to perceive the truth and know instinctively what the correct response for any situation will be. The mystery of the human being can only be fully comprehended on an intuitive and spiritual plane in the very moment. This doesn’t mean that outer knowledge should be abandoned. Far from it. Steiner had the highest regard for the scientific accomplishments of our times. Outer knowledge serves an important function in that it confirms and validate our inner experience. Honing one’s observation skills and intuitive perception is a journey with many pitfalls and to develop a keen sense of accurate perception can take many years or even a lifetime. Care needs to be taken to ensure that one’s conclusions are as close to the truth as possible. The emphasis however, remains on real life observation as the most accurate way to gain knowledge in order to truly understand what is happening at any given moment and how to respond appropriately. One should never forget that science and logical thinking can only comment on what is already there.

How does this apply to the teacher?

A teacher should not apply their theoretical knowledge of education and the human being blindly on children. By doing this they will not only distance themselves from the children but also create a dissonant environment in which learning and teaching will be hampered. Knowledge of the human being should be transformed into a kind of a higher perception and understanding of the child in order to receive whatever the child brings and to respond with the appropriate response. To quote Steiner: “…one’s knowledge of human nature must be capable of becoming pedagogical instinct the moment one has to deal with a child, so that in response to all that comes from the child one knows instantly and exactly what must be done in every single case.” He compares it to eating and how there are all sorts of theories on healthy eating, different diets etc. However, one eats when one is hungry and drink when one is thirsty. The teacher needs to develop a relationship with the child where the child when ‘hungry for something’ will receive whatever it needs from the teacher. In order for the teacher to respond accurately and instinctively, feeding the child moment to moment what the child needs in the process of learning, knowledge of the human being needed to have permeated the teacher’s whole being. It is only in this kind of situation that proper teaching and learning can take place. It won’t happen if theories derived from psychological experiments on memory, intelligence etc. are blindly applied. “The first thing to be aimed for is a living comprehension of the child in all of its pulsating life.” – Rudolf Steiner.

Stages of Child Development: Early Childhood

What makes Anthroposophy so unique is that it studies the growing human being as a complete entity – body, soul and spirit. Rudolf Steiner had extraordinary perception and observation skills. He observed the human being in its totality as a being with a body, soul and spirit and perceived that the growing human being go through different transformations or metamorphoses at different stages of a lifetime.  These metamorphoses are so complete that you can even say that the growing human being is a completely different creature in each different stage that he/she encounter. The first stage is the period from birth to the first change of teeth. The second period is from the first dentition to puberty and the third phase is the period after puberty. These transformations are so subtle, so hidden that it escapes normal outer observation. It is not possible for the everyday observer to see how spirit permeates the body  and soul in different ways during these different stages. It is here where we start relying on Steiner’s exceptional observational skills and his advanced perceptions to help us understand the workings of the human being in its totality during the different stages in life.

Walking, speaking and thinking.

In the first three years of a human’s life the foundation is primarily being laid for a person’s inner life and configuration. At this stage young children are engaged in learning the following activities: walking, speaking and thinking. The way they engage and learn these activities will influence them for the rest of their life. Each of these activities comprises much more than the actual action. Lets first look at the activity of learning how to walk.

Learning how to walk

It is all about our point of view. Do one see the bigger picture or not? Do one look deeper than just the apparent visual stimuli of the outer world? Do we place our daily actions in and responses to the outer world in the context of mighty physical forces governing the evolution of the cosmos. Or do we rather blindly respond according to our inner programming and emotional and primal bodily impulses. It is here where Anthroposophy steps in and provides us with a model to answer these questions. Rudolf Steiner in his lectures, links the development of the human being to the physical forces present in the evolving universe and places it in a much larger framework in order for us to understand the bigger picture. He relates the bodily development of movement to the forces present in the soul and the spirit and from there links it to the cosmic evolution of the universe confirming that we as humans contain the whole of the universe in our bodies and that we are intimately connected on every level with all that is.

Steiner says that learning to walk is about movement in the outer world. The inner movement of the child needs to calibrate itself with the outer movement of the world. It is about finding balance. The equilibrium within the  child needs to connect with the equilibrium of the world around it. The child needs to adjust its own sense of all possibility of movement to all possibility of movement in the outer world. At the same time there is a very important relationship between the arms, hands, legs and feet that needs to be developed. The arms and hands need to emancipate itself from the bottom limbs in order to set the stage for a uniquely human development. There is an important difference between the activities of the bottom limbs and the arms and hands. The legs carry the body and the feet and connect the body to the earth. The movement of the legs are rhythmical which relates to the rhythmical qualities of the universe while the movement of the arms contains more soul qualities. It is what the arms and hands do that provides the content of our lives and steers us in a certain direction while the legs and feet are more earthbound and link to the physical forces of the universe. When the little child starts to raise themselves it is actively seeking to find the balance between the bottom and upper limbs. The child is developing a relationship between the activity of the legs and feet versus the arms and hands and this will be an active quest of balance that will continue for a lifetime. This balance is reflected on a soul level where the earthly physical forces need to find the balance with the soul forces. In other words Steiner describes the process of learning to walk is to meet the forces of statics and dynamics in one’s own inner being on a physical and soul level and to relate it to the cosmos.

Learning to speak

Steiner says that the activity of the limbs – what the child do physically – will form the basis of what is being developed when the child learns to speak. Speech arises from the movement of the body. Through speaking the child starts forming a new relationship with the world around it. When the child learns to speak there is a process happening. The child is busy translating the meaning and content of words into sound. This process is interconnected with all the other processes in the body. Steiner links the movement of the legs with the formation of sentences and says that firm even steps will form the physical basis for a good sense of structure for both written and spoken sentences. Also the movement of the arms have an effect on the quality of sound the child makes.  Harmonious movement of the arms will result in a melodious sound. Sensitive fingertips point to the right sense of modulation in speech. Steiner recommends that if possible the learning of walking should precede the learning of talking and I quote: “Speech has to be developed on the basis of the right kind of walking and the free movement of arms. Otherwise children’s speech will not be anchored in their whole being.”

Steiner also teaches how deeply young children absorb sounds and how these sounds actually contributes to the shaping of the physical form of a child. If there are loud and ill-tempered shouting these sounds flow into the deepest being of the child. It enters the finest parts of their make up and influence their form profoundly. The same if the child is surrounded by gentle sounds. Later in life certain psychological problems can be related back to influences of aggressive sounds absorbed during early childhood.

Learning to think

Steiner says that thinking follows the development of walking and speaking and as time go by it will become more and more conscious. It needs to be developed last as thinking flows from speaking. In the beginning the child imitates the sounds around it. It intuitively learns to make sense of the sounds through the body and limbs. At first there are no thoughts associated with any of sounds – only feeling is linked to the sounds the child hears. Since the one activity flows from the other it is important for the child to first learn how to walk, then to speak and then to think. Thinking has the quality of reflecting what we see and experience around us. However, it does not carry any moral impulses. Moral impulses arise from the consciousness which arises from deep within the human soul before it enters the realm of thought. So the developing thinking of the child is focused to perceive outer nature and its processes. The first thoughts of a child are all about creating pictures of the outer world.


Steiner says that while the young child learns to walk it engages unconsciously with the forces of statics and dynamics and incorporate it in their body and being, naturally. Just think how hard it is for a older child to learn about static and dynamic forces and to apply it for example in the field of mechanics. This process of the young child integrating all these complex forces and the body, learning to walk, is an incredible physical feat. And the child does it all through imitation. Steiner mentions the case of a younger and an older sister who walked with the exact same limb although only the older sister were handicapped. The younger sister adopted the limb walk by sheer imitation.

Steiner says that the child up to the change of teeth is really one big sense organ and that is why it is so receptive to the environment and outside stimuli. The child reproduces its outside experience on the inside. So the child relates to everything that enters its being with an individual orientation of his/her inner experience. When the child sees a mother or a father moving her/his arm the child has an inner impulse to imitate the movement. This is how it learns and gradually the movements become more purposeful and similar to the adult’s movement in the child’s life. It is in this way that the child learns to walk. Who the child imitate depends on the closeness of the connection. Steiner also says one would assume that the reason for the imitation is deep love. However, after observing how adults love, he came to the conclusion that the motivation for imitation originates from an even higher place. The child is motivated by pious or religious devotion. If one observes closely one will notice that the child’s imitation behavior are motivated by the awakening of feelings that is only found in deep religious devotional activities and I quote:”The physical body of a newborn baby is totally permeated by an inner need for deeply religious devotion. What we call love in later life is just a weakened form of this pious and devotional reverence. It could be said that until the change of teeth the child is fundamentally an imitative being.”

This imitative quality that permeates the small child up to the change of teeth will have a profound influence on the methodology and pedagogy concerning how the child is educated, held and cared for in the years before formal schooling.



Steiner, R, 1996. The Child’s Changing Consciousness As the basis of pedagogical practice. 1st ed. New York, USA: Anthroposophic Press.





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