Memory and judgement in children between the ages of 7 and 14.

A quote that has given me much to ponder. Something I already instinctively know and act out, but it helps to be so clear and conscious of it:

“It is necessary for human beings to remember not only what they already understand, but to come to understand what they already know—that is, what they have acquired by memory in the way the child acquires language. This truth has a wide application. First there must be an assimilation of historical events through the memory, then the apprehension of them in intellectual concepts; first the faithful commitment to memory of geographical facts and then an intellectual understanding of the connections between them. In a certain sense, understanding things through concepts should proceed from the stored-up treasures of the memory. The more children know in memory before they begin to understand through intellectual concepts the better.

There is no need to emphasize the fact that these things apply only to the period of childhood we are concerned with here [roughly ages 7 − 14], and not later. If at some later age in life one has occasion to take up a subject for any reason, then of course the opposite may easily be the correct and most useful way of learning it, though even here much will depend on the mentality of the person. During the time of life we are now concerned with, however, we must not dry up a child’s mind and spirit by filling it with intellectual conceptions.” Education of the Child, Steiner.

The idea he is pointing at is that we must present things to children in such a way that it speaks to their feeling and is thus committed lovingly to memory; that we teach in ‘parables’.

“…the materialistic way of thought will never produce a truly practical art of education. As practical as it appears to itself, materialistic thinking is impractical when what is needed is to enter into life in a living way. ” ibid.

Children are most engaged in a topic when brought to them in this ‘living’ way – through stories, through ‘parable’, full with feeling and conviction from the teacher. When the teacher has within themselves the joy of what they teach, then it should naturally follow that they teach it in a living way. However, I often feel somehow stifled in this; not just from the constraints of expectations of accountability (which is in itself necessary), but also because of a lack of the development of the faculties to teach in such a way consistently. It requires a depth of integrity I am still learning.

“Much can be done with the simplest resources, if only the teacher has the proper artistic feeling, joy, and happiness in living, a love of all existence, a power and energy for work—these are among the lifelong results of the proper cultivation of a feeling for beauty and art. The relationship of person to person—how noble, how beautiful it becomes under this influence! Again, the moral sense is also being formed in children during these years through the pictures of life placed before them, through the authorities whom they look up to—this moral sense becomes assured if children, from their own sense of beauty, feel that the good is beautiful, and also that the bad is ugly.” ibid.

To add to the idea of moral judgement in childhood:

“The less direct the influence is on the development of judgment in earlier years, and the more a good indirect influence is exercised through the development of the other faculties of soul, the better it is for all of later life.” ibid.

The idea here is that though as a critical faculty is only just awakening in these years and that to push it in any direction is similar to helping the caterpillar out of its cocoon – where the result is that it is unable to develop correctly. The pictures and ‘parables’ as spoken of above give the child exactly what it needs at this time(“…even as the eyes and ears develop free from outer influence within the organism of the mother.”ibid.) – so that, beyond puberty, this influence will allow them to develop independent judgement and abstract thought in a healthy manner.

“… children should receive people’s opinions with the feeling power of the soul. Without jumping to a conclusion or taking sides with this or that person, they should be able to listen to all, saying to themselves: “So and so said this, and another said that.” The cultivation of such a mind in a boy or girl certainly demands the exercise of great tact from teachers and educators…” ibid.

I find that many children believe themselves to posses a judgement about one of life’s bigger questions – for example, the existence of God/s. In truth this conviction almost always comes from what their parents spoke to them about and is not theirs at all. For them to have decided on such a topic so young may interfere not only with their own questioning in later years, but also has the possibility of having a negative effect on their ability to feel empathy for others who believe otherwise. If it is in some way possible for a teacher to tactfully move that child’s ‘judgement’ towards a more observational view of differences, then the child has created the room within themselves to appreciate other perspectives. And if this were to be done in a pictorial and artistic way, the child would take into their feeling a deeper appreciation of what it means for people to believe one thing or another without the unnecessary abstract intellectualism, which belongs to their future capacity for healthy and measured critical thinking.

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2 Responses to Memory and judgement in children between the ages of 7 and 14.

  1. John Taylor says:

    A simple point, which needs to be brought regularly to the consciousness of the teacher.
    Thanks, Gosia.

  2. Gosia Winter says:

    Just to add:
    “It is also particularly bad if children prematurely determine their religion and draw conclusions about the world.” ibid.

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