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Karen Brennan
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The three gifts—walking, speaking and thinking

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rudolf Steiner spoke of the gifts of humanity, those aspects of ourselves that make us different from other beings who share this earth with us.  These three gifts are walking, speaking and thinking.  Although every child develops these gifts at a different time, in general, uprightness and learning to walk is achieved in the first year of life, speaking in the second year and thinking in the third year.  I always found interesting this idea that thinking comes after speaking.  Of course, the development of these gifts is interwoven and they are, to some extent, interdependent.

Children are born with a lot of involuntary reflexes.  These reflexes serve the child until they can control their own body.  Children develop this control from the head down, first controlling the arms and head, then the hands.  Once a child is able to walk, they enter the world in a very different way.  They can use their hands in different ways and they meet the world differently as they go from prone or even sitting to upright; they are overcoming the force of gravity.  It takes a lot of work for a child to learn to stand and then walk, and it also depends on having people around them who are upright.

Almost all animals make sounds, and some have rudimentary language, or at least sounds that have certain meanings.  Language development begins with the first cry, and like walking, is learned, perhaps more obviously, through imitation.  Through listening and imitation, children learn their mother tongue, including the sounds, intonation, rhythm and grammar and syntax.  It is really amazing!  Scientific studies have now shown that children learn language only from human beings, not from media.  They need our loving presence, our speaking to them and singing to them, even if our stories and songs are less than perfect.

To foster language acquisition, we need to speak to our children, but this doesn’t mean we need to chatter mindlessly.  They need simple statements, rather than scientific explanations, and words that are imbued with warmth and love.  Steiner warns against the use of baby talk, saying it is really a caricature.  Rhythmical verses, nursery rhymes, and simple games are very nourishing for the young child.

When I was travelling in Europe a couple of summers ago, I became more aware of the musical quality of language, as I was surrounded by languages I didn’t speak (at least not very well).  Children understand the music and tone of language before they understand the actual words.  When we learn about storytelling for young children in Waldorf teacher training, we learn about the importance of creating inner pictures for ourselves, for the child lives in this world of pictures before they live in the world of human language.  This year, I would like to spend some time on storytelling with you.  I will share more with you about this next week, and will also share some thoughts on the beginning of thinking.