When we first had our kids, we knew we had to toss our TV. It’s pretty common knowledge that television and videos aren’t exactly positive influences on early child development. We have all heard the rhetoric about television overloading young children’s brains with too many flashing scenes, and stimuli, not to mention bad language and violence. However, until only recently have we been able to make a direct correlation with our 5 year old watching videos, and then having night terrors. The only case we will allow child appropriate vides generally is when she is sick, and unable or willing to do anything else (after exhausting games, crafts, book reading etc). We also carefully prescreen and watch videos with them where possible, only allowing very benign age appropriate content such as Cailliou, and try to avoid the Disney Studios etc.
The Waldorf school system also warns strongly against overstimulation of our children, especially from mainstream media. Here is a passage from an experienced Waldorf teacher;
“The etheric body is the life wisdom which builds in the body. Up until the change of teeth, the child’s forces are forming their organs. If we wake up the child’s thinking prematurely then these forces move into the nervous system before the organs are properly formed. “
Basically, the jist of this I think is that we need to protect our children from over-stimulation at all costs. It hurts not only their imagination but also impacts their delicate nervous systems. Children lack the filters that adults have for sense impressions that flood into our bodies. Children are imitators, and will echo bad language, violence and actions that they see in videos, or elsewhere for that matter.
The best way to stimulate the imagination and mind with young children, according to Waldorf and other education experts, is through spoken stories. In fact, since the beginning of time, spoken word storytelling was the only way to carry our culture forward through the generations. Books are still of course great for visual cues, especially at a younger age when they don’t have language skills yet, but books can actually give too much visual information and can actually hamper child creativity. It’s often a good idea not to just read a book, but also pause at the pictures, and engage children with questions about them. Ask them to explain what they think is happening in the story just from the pictures first, before you read it to them. Better yet, tell them true stories about your day or stories of when you were young. I know my daughter loves when I tell her about my adventures after I come back from backcountry skiing, complete with “snow ghosts” and “tree bombs”. As long as it’s age-appropriate and told in kid language, then she laps it up.
So, does this imply don’t read your children books? No, of course not, but it does raise an interesting concept about letting our children’s mind do the work rather than us. Waldorf dolls, for example, have blank faces and basic body forms… vs Disney characters that show all details on the face, with ornate dresses, make-up etc.. Waldorf toys are typically basic wood objects, such as blocks or a simple stage or shelter where kids can then embelish and decorate with their own imaginations. What is important I believe is in planting seeds of ideas and stories in our children’s minds, and then let their creativity and imagination grow them organically.