“Fences and Walls, and Great Big Falls!”- Contemplations on creating healthy boundaries for children.
By Amber Greene. www.mamamoontime.com
Have you ever watched as your children spend a lifetime (or maybe half an hour?) building up the most incredible of structures only to knock it down with gusto within minutes? Working in my kindergarten, this kind of play seemed to occur almost daily. As a theme, this building up and knocking down has intrigued, challenged and pickled me but it has also been the catalyst to encourage me to strive for some kind of understanding about why this occurs.
The theme repeats itself week after week, and year after year. Whilst the content of the play differs, (it seems to matter little whether they build a castle, a farmyard, a fort, or a forest) the children often surround the structure with a kind of ‘boundary line’ of solid blocks, timber fences or cloth hedgerows. Yet, without fail, once the building is ready for inhabitation, (or perhaps if the tenants are fortunate, sometime after) the demolishers are called in for a big bulldoze.What is this outplay of assembling, shaping and modeling and the subsequent quash, destruction and breakdown of a seemingly perfect form?
I contemplate this construction and demolition as two poles of the same force, and see it as their striving to be in control of what is in their world. It is also an outward expression of what naturally lies within- the processes of cell division, and synapse formation and on the other hand, the activity of neural pruning where the young brain actively sheds what is not in regular use to make room for something new. A young child has no means of conveying this duality of their inner life- both physical and spiritual, these two extremes of creation and destruction- except through play.
In life too, a healthy child learns to build their own set of walls and fences. The walls of their house keep them safe. They are a solid structure, bricks and mortar, formed in the child by the parents work of providing a consistent rhythm, a balanced home life, regular bedtimes, consistent rules and expectations, healthy food, love and care and appropriate touch such as warm cuddles with mum or dad. The child observes the parents in action- how they speak to one another and to those outside the family home, what they share and with whom, the kinds of touch that is proper and just, and social cues and etiquette. By sheer nurture, the child builds their ‘home’, brick by brick. Outside the building, the child builds fences. Fences sit along the boundary line of the child’s ego, their ‘property’. By nature, fences are much more delicate and tenuous than the mighty structure at the center of the landholding. They must be, for this space around the homestead is the equivalent of the learning classroom. This is where we have a go, and make mistakes, and try again. This is the place to allow newly minted friends, where we may experience a betrayal or misguided intentions. We form opinions, and judgements and assumptions and put them to the test. We listen to others and gauge whether or not to accept their mantra, in full or only pieces, as our own. This yard is our practice ground, a space to taste the world before we invite the world in. And only when we are satisfied of the good and true nature of a treasured thing, do we invite it into our humble abode.Unfortunately, children without stable family foundations often fail to build their ‘home’ of substance and may have cracked walls or rotting floorboards. Their boundary lines may be termite-infested or barely standing at all, and their inner safety and outer security may be compromised. These children may be in dire need of a supervisory adult or mentor to help them rebuild.
So, we might see the forming up and knocking down of toys in play as a kind of self-help therapy for the child in learning about their own boundaries. The building up of the home and boundary lines, and the knocking down of the fortress and moats, might be seen as symbolic of their need to let go or give up what is no longer needed or working for them, and to make space for something new. Throughout life, it is important to conserve or renovate our ‘house’ and ‘land’, with regular maintenance, paint jobs, replacement of palings and copper wire, updating of fittings and fixtures, and a grease-up of the hinges on the gate. This is where we recommit ourselves to our stories or release the beliefs and practices that no longer gel or speak truthfully to us as we are in this present moment. This is true of boundaries, their fences and walls, too.
Yearly, we as parents have to consciously shift the parameters that enclose them until they reach adulthood and take hold of their own front gate and door keys. We shift their bedtimes back 30 minutes and expect greater self-determination in finishing their tasks and offering assistance in and outside the home, we encourage them to taste a broader range of food, rewards and consequences morph and adapt to suit their ever-changing ‘currency’, we allow friends over for a sleep-over, or encourage and support their afterschool activities, we demand their help around the home and set further chores, we trade or gift pocket money and teach responsible spending and saving, we trust them to complete their homework on time even when the temptation of television beckons, we allow them to play outside for a little longer or visit the shopping mall without adult supervision. In essence, we help to nudge and shift the perimeter of their land holdings.
Hopefully, if we do our job well, they’ll no longer need their childhood concrete materials such as blocks, and farm fences to do the job much beyond kindergarten. In a healthy child, this building up and breaking down activity transforms into (mostly) an inner process. Art and color and music and friendships and physical activity and meaningful work take the place of ‘play’. We might occasionally see an outward expression of the destructive force in the form of an occasional tantrum, meltdown or argument but if we understand the forces, we can see this as an outward expression of their inner need (as we all have) to be in charge of their life when no other form of expression has allowed them to feel heard.
For now, I encourage as much free-play time as possible. I fill corners of the lounge with “mutually-satisfying” toys, (ones they like to play with such as rainbow blocks, jenga-style pieces, handmade animals and a mini home-corner, whilst for me, the choice is all about making sure I can live with it in full view!).
Happy presentation is all about not having too much (less really is more!), orderly baskets, and clever placement around the room. The clear space in the center of the room, designated by a rug, just calls for their creative expression and play they do. You can see our example of a shared lounge/toy room space by visiting the Moondew link on my blog. Perhaps you too, might be inspired to create spaces for more opportunities for play, all the more for the building up and breaking down fun that is early childhood!
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Please, Dear Readers, visit Amber’s fabulous blog, Mama Moontime. It is a beautiful place that Amber has created and is one of my favorite haunts.
Here are the other inspiring posts in the Discovering Waldorf series.
And, just before you pop off, I want to let you know about a not-to-be-missed lecture from our very own international expert, Dr Reggie Melrose… Kids Who Love To Learn. It is to be held this coming Saturday, June 4th at 9.30am at Maple Village Waldorf School in Long Beach, CA… if you are anywhere need the area, it’ll be a fascinating and very informative talk.
You might remember Reggie’s Discovering Waldorf Post… Waldorf From A Neuroscientific Perspective.
For more information on Reggie’s lecture, visit the Maple Village Schools blog.
Blessings and magic to you!