The hierarchy of readiness for learning... what kind of help is needed?
In seating a student behind a desk at the beginning of first grade, we as teachers and parents are hoping or expecting that the child is ready, or soon will become ready, for classroom work. But realistically, every child will struggle with some aspect of this new environment: it might be a challenge to sit in balance on a chair, or to listen quietly, or to muster the fine motor skills for writing. It bears repeating: every child will meet some individual barriers during the move to the new civilization into which he or she has now been placed by parents and teachers. Therefore, the child at this age will be best served by a curriculum that breathes in and out, flows between difficult new tasks on the one hand, and familiar, relaxing and supportive activities on the other. With this flow, most children will be able to adjust to the new order of things, and progress.
However, some children will require additional individual support before our hopes for them can become possible. Very often, in one way or another, the child is the one who lets the adults know that more help is needed. (As teachers we have to battle to keep in mind that a “discipline problem“ might well be just such a signal.)
Whatever the signs that more help is needed, then our role as adults is to thoughtfully and carefully decide what kind of individual attention is needed. Both common sense and careful contemplation tell us that there is a hierarchy of needs and support within which we must work.
The realm of the physician
Is there a medical/physical problem or a constitutional imbalance? No amount of individual attention from a Teacher can fully help a child who has, for example, an undiagnosed vision or hearing problem, or an unknown food allergy that is driving her off the deep end. Problems of this nature are the domain of the Physician. Additionally, a child may have an excess of one temperament or another (i.e. the overly sanguine child who just cannot focus, or the highly phlegmatic child who can only write one page while the others are writing five, etc.). Teachers can work with this aspect to a degree, but a pronounced constitutional problem is also in the domain of the Physician, perhaps working in concert with a Therapeutic Eurythmist and/or a Homeopathist.
The realm of the soul
Is the problem in the realm of the Psyche? If there is a family crisis, or a struggle with parenting, or an educational psychological problem, certainly the Teacher can provide a calm and loving classroom; but needs in this area will also demand outside professional help, and possibly a specialized classroom.
The realm of early childhood development
Is the problem developmental? Many aspects of learning readiness—for instance spatial orientation, movement coordination, and the ability to change sight perception instantaneously between three-dimensional and two-dimensional space—are the results of the child's movement exploration in relation to his body and environment, during the first seven years. Without these faculties, no curriculum, even a Waldorf curriculum, fully works. A developmental assessment or a Sensory Integration assessment can identify such things as retention of early reflexes or ambidexterity, lack of good body image, hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity, lack of spatial orientation, inability to make mental pictures of sense impressions, and dyslexic symptoms. These needs can be addressed as a team effort by the child’s teachers plus individual attention for Extra Lesson or Occupational Therapy/Sensory Integration.
The realm of teaching and tutoring
Is there a need for extra skill-building and skill repetition? Needs in this realm can also be addressed as a team effort with additional individual attention in reading or math classes plus tutoring.
Models for observation and reflection
In considering the needs or challenges of a child, it is important to try to form the clearest idea of which hierarchy or hierarchies might need to be addressed. These are:
• Medical/constitutional – the realm of the physician, as well as the therapeutic eurythmist and/or homeopathist guided by the physician.
• Soul/psyche – the realm of the parent, priest or psychologist
• Developmental/pedagogical – the realm of the teacher
1. Allergies or chemical imbalance
3. Injuries or illness
4. Six constitutional types
5. Excess of temperament
1. Home life
3. IQ testing
4. Mainstream labels with deeper connections
5. Birth order
1. Movement stages
2. Twelve senses
3. Six constitutional types
4. Four temperaments
5. Stretching and lifting
6. Developmental keys: timing & rhythm; direction & goal; spatial orientation; sequencing; fine motor control & speech; laterality; midline barriers; imitation & anticipation; reflexes; radius & ulna; eye movement; etc.
7. Family background of learning difficulties
8. Learning style
9. Home background for vocabulary, numeracy, will forces, etc.
10. Breathing; laughter and tears
11. Learning disabilities