Growing Up

A few weeks ago, I shared a session of a Waldorf Morning Garden with our 3 year old grand-daughter. With years of observing canine kids developing social skills, there were some real parallels watching this group of 2-3 year old toddlers as they experimented with peer-to-peer social interaction.

Waldorf Morning Garden has a particular philosophy for establishing social skills with toddlers.

“…. the teacher nurtures the children’s power of imagination particular to the age. She does so by telling carefully selected stories and by encouraging free play. This free or fantasy play, in which children act out scenarios of their own creation, helps them to experience many aspects of life more deeply. When toys are used, they are made of natural materials. Pine cones, wood, cotton, silk, shells, stones and other objects from nature that the children themselves have collected are used in play and to beautify the room.”

The gatherings encourage ‘free play’ where children interact with each other. I noted lots of staring at each other with small gestures offered cautiously. Gestures encouraging sharing of toys, interactive play as well as establishing possession of toys or space.

One little boy scurried under a small table covered with a scarf providing a secret hiding spot. A little girl stood nearby watching. He parted the scarf a trifle whereupon the little girl gave a delighted hop with wide eyes and a giggle. The scarf quickly closed and remained closed for awhile as she waited with great expectation. The scarf parted even more tentatively with the little boy sneaking a quick peak. Jubilation by the little girl! Thus started a game of sneaking peaks and giggles galore. Toddlers don’t tire of games easily so this continued for some time until the little girl garnered sufficient boldness to crawl under the table, too. Silence…..the little boy parted the scarf but, alas, no giggling little girl greeted him. They both looked out and were disappointed to find there was no one waiting to play peek-a-boo.

The little boy crawled out from under the table; the little girl parted the scarf and Game on! Giggling and (anticipated) amazement each time the scarf parted!

I am sure whole PhD’s could be written on what was happening during this interaction. Invitation for social interface, sharing of roles, empathy, adjusting behavior for the ‘greater good’ so the game could carry-on!

A little girl sits in a wooden boat-shaped rocker about 3’ wide by 4’ long. There are three slats for sitting inside. Another little girl holding a couple dolls climbs in on the opposite side. Slowly and subtly the little girl with the dolls moves into the middle seat as the original occupant looks over to her. No eye contact is made; no overt domination just an understated yet powerful establishment of ownership with this move. The little girl with the dolls shifts her legs over the middle seat closer to the other toddler. A few moments later, the original occupant departs the rocker to seek entertainment elsewhere. A display of nimble control especially for a youngster.

So – why in a supposedly dog-centric blog am I writing about grand-kids?

The parallels of development are striking. The last tale of establishing territory is often seen with dogs and pups. We call this, ‘power’ when we see this in dogs and puppies! The sheer strength of self-confidence empowers possession of space. Ironically, we like this with our dogs but tend to discourage such conduct in our human kids.

I’ve had pups that make a great drama possessing the water bowl while a self-possessed, confident pup strolls up and has a drink. No quarreling, no display and no question who has the inner core of steel! That early peer-to-peer interaction solidifies or modifies the genetic temperament of an individual. Humans and canines alike learn to communicate – what, when, how, and how much – to achieve one’s objective. (And there always is an objective – no matter which species!)

It’s getting clearer where I am going with this, I bet-


This is our Solo, the subject of the book, What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren

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