Exploring How Children Learn in the Lower Grades
Else Göttgens is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. She has an infectious sense of humor and a wisdom that runs deep and clear. The few times I was in her presence she said things about children and teaching and human beings in general that I have never forgotten and continue to use as foundations for my own life dozens of years later. As one could expect from such a person,Waldorf Education in Practice is inspiring at its core, practical at every turn, and really good reading, too.
Else covers just about every aspect of teaching grade school children, and always from her experience and always with excellent, do-able suggestions. I’m going to share with you one short section, which I believe captures the flavor of this book anyone who teaches will want to keep near their bedsides for nightly refreshment.
Getting the Children to Laugh
I once knew a teacher who did not make it. He struggled withhis teaching, but on top of that, he threw occasional tempers. He was “not rehired”. And yet, for quite a long time after he had left the school, the children still talked about him — warmly! When asked about this, they answered: “We liked him, he made us laugh!”
Life is rea, life is earnest — for us, adults. Not yet for children! Nothing makes them “light up” like sharing the funny side of life with them.
And there is another aspect to this: a hygienic one.
Rudolf Steiner speaks about it, how in sadness or seriousness the soul withdraws more deeply into the body. When we laugh, the opposite takes place: We go to the periphery of our body. And this “balancing act” is needed for good health.
So, we should take for our motto:
“Every lesson where the children never laughed is a lost lesson.”
Especially at first, we might have to consciously include this in our preparation: bringing out the funny side of some of our “learning material”. If you cannot do this yet, find some joke and bring that in the appropriate part of the lesson. Steiner’s advice!
And what did I find: evoking laughter profited me as much as it did the children!
To close this chapter: a summary and some advice:
The seven points in this chapter have been found helpful by a number of people, in the preparation of their lessons.
Many people spend most of their time on what to teach. However, particularly in the lower classes, that is not the main issue.
It is the how that matters by far the most. It is the “how” that entices the children to “work willingly and learn greedily“. Being allowed to let contents mature during sleep, being fed with images, finding something new to be interested in every day, experiencing your learning matter through your own body, being met in your own temperament, to be given tasks that ask for an effort, but are within your range of power, and very specially: having all this lightened up by humor: very few children can resist this invitation to work.
And this is just a taste of the good things you will find in Else’s beautiful Waldorf Education in Practice. This is the most life-filled book on the subject I’ve ever read and I know that life will stream into the world and inspire much teaching and learning joy.