Childhood development grew out of observation, which
is the root of all philosophy and science. The first complete philosophical
treatment of childhood development came from the observations of Rudolf
Steiner in Austria, at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries. Steiner’s
work has been eclipsed by Freud’s simultaneous early psychoanalytical work.
Around 1952, a Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, began a ‘scientific’ observation
of his own children’s development and thus began the documentation of human
By the 1970s it was clear to metaphysicians that developmental psychology confirmed Steiner’s earlier observations. But childhood development soon grew out of the hands of psychologists and fell into the lap of neurological researchers. The resulting body of information has to be interpreted. There are several schools - some with vested interests - making public their theories based on a body of research, which seems to expand geometrically year by year.
The reason these essays are called "The Magical Child Papers" is I have followed the theories and observations of Joseph Chilton Pearce, who published two titles using that moniker: The Magical Child, and The Magical Child Matures. I read these books when my first child was born, and since then have added my own observations and experience to what I have learned.
Gaps are inevitable between theory and reality, the abstract and the concrete, or the ideal and the practice. At times, such gaps are manufactured.
In the 1950s a medical theory forced obstetricians to treat pregnant mothers as sick patients and to see giving birth as a surgical operation. As a result, mothers were considered to be recuperating after birth. Doctors separated the newborn from their mothers, returning them every three or four hours for a few minutes of feeding. Even that meager contact came under attack with the forced introduction of baby formula, an artificial, but commercial substitute for breast milk. In order to sell the formula, industry propaganda called breastfeeding ‘dangerous’ and unhygienic. When physicians accepted the privately commissioned research reports and jumped on the bandwagon to repress breastfeeding, the baby-boomer generation was their guinea pigs. Fortunately, it was the maturing baby boomers who reacted against this formula-industry idiocy and eventually demanded the reintroduction of mother-child bonding and breastfeeding.
In the process of interfering with nature, millions of newborn babies were deprived of that initial bonding with their mothers and missed their sensory awakening. Those who missed the second chance around their ninth month, entered their toddler years with a gap in their development. The safety, comfort and security a young child identifies with its mother or primary caregiver were missing. Millions of children may have entered their age of exploration without a safe place from which they could explore.
The Age of Exploration, or the Toddler Years begin with object constancy. Parents will recall that a five- or six-month-old baby may play with a rattle or a toy, but when the parent takes it away, the baby will remain quite content. Somewhere between its seventh month and first year, one day the same child will not only follow the disappearing toy with its eyes, but it will follow with its entire body. The child suddenly wants to know where the object went and will begin looking for it. This action of following things is called object constancy. The key word is the urge to know.
From one day to the next, the child’s brain functions switch to a biological urge to explore and to overcome physical obstacles. This toddler stage lasts approximately three years. The same principles are at play as before: the child goes from the known to the unknown, and then back to the known. From the safety and security of its mother, the child will begin to explore the floor, the chair, the table or the sofa. Eventually it will want to explore the entire living space.
Role modelling does not seem to affect the child’s
urge for exploration. Even if the parents are couch potatoes, the children
will tend to explore. If the parents are aware of this biological urge,
or are warned about it or learn it from a public nurse or some parenting
course, they can prepare for it.
Childproofing is a pro-active way of helping toddlers explore their physical world. It does not mean clearing everything out of a room and plopping the child on the empty floor with a teddy bear. Childproofing means parents remove dangerous or breakable objects from the child’s reach.
When my first son was 18 months old we moved into a big Victorian house and immediately put child-safety locks on all the cupboard doors in the kitchen, except for one. That one cupboard ‘belonged’ to the child. The cupboard had pots and pans and a few heavy ‘unbreakable’ pyrex dishes with which he was welcome to play.
Toddlers do not play well with each other. Usually it is the parents who seek company, not the children. And, because parents need to spend more time with toddlers than they do with any other age group, certain problems occur regularly all parents must know about.
First, there is the concept of time. Adult time is based on the clock on the wall, on appointments made and kept, as well as on cultural expectations such as dinner on the table by 5 p.m. (or 6:30, or whatever the custom). Then there is the child’s time, which, at the toddler stage, is frantic exploration followed by periods of quiet reflection. It is a cycle.
Quiet reflection practiced by toddlers? Well, yes! Parents often find their toddlers sitting staring into space - literally spaced out! These young children are able to learn so much through their physical interaction with their environment, their brain shuts their bodies down while it processes the information. As babies, children would fall asleep every few hours. But the urge to explore is so exciting and comes with such a drive, the child must be both physically and mentally exhausted before it will go for a nap.
This cycle of frantic exploration, reflection, more exploration and reflection, and eventually exhaustion and nap is the child’s time frame. Parents who are unaware of child time being different from adult time will rudely interrupt their children in the middle of their exploration, or reverie and take them away, saying to themselves, ‘the child had a half hour of free time, now it’s time to go.’ The problem is that the child doesn’t know what ‘free time’ is, his biological cycle does not recognize 30 minute periods, and if its explorations are interrupted day in and day out, it will not finish its natural development in the allotted three years.
In the next section I shall go more deeply into what
the toddler gets out of exploration, and what the downside is of not being
able to explore, such as being imprisoned in a play-pen or watching television.