From Rudolf Steiner :
Generally speaking, education has followed in the footsteps of our modern civilization, which has gradually become more and more materialistic. A symptom of this is the frequent use of mechanical methods in preference to organic methods, and this just during the early years of childhood up to the change of teeth, which is the most impressionable and important time of life. We must not lose sight of the fact that, up to the second dentition, the child lives by imitation. The serious side of life, with all of its demands in our daily work, is reenacted in deep earnestness by the child in its play. . .The difference between a child’s play and an adult’s work is that an adult’s contribution to society is governed by a sense of purpose and has to fit into outer demands, whereas the child wants to be active simply out of an inborn and natural impulse. Play activity streams outward from within. Adult work takes the opposite direction, namely inwards from the periphery. . .
. . .In their play, children mirror what happens around them; they want to imitate. But because the key to childhood has been lost through inadequate knowledge of the human being, adults have intellectually contrived all kinds of artificial play activities for children of kindergarten age. Since children want to imitate the work of the adults, special games have been invented for their benefit, such as “Pick-up Sticks,” or whatever else these things are called. These artificial activities actually deflect the child’s inner forces from flowing out of the organism as a living stream that finds a natural outlet in the child’s desire to imitate those who are older. Through all kinds of mechanical manipulations, children are encouraged to do things not at all suitable to their age. Particularly during the nineteenth century, there were programs for preschool education that involved activities a child should not really do; for the entire life of a preschool class revolves around the children adapting to the few people in charge, who should behave naturally so that the children feel stimulated to imitate whatever their teachers do.
It is unnecessary for preschool staff to go from one child to another and show each one what to do. Children do not yet want to follow given instructions. All they want is to copy what the adult does, so the task of a kindergarten teacher is to adjust the work taken from daily life so that it becomes suitable for the children’s play activities. There is no need to devise occupations like those adults meet in life, except under special circumstances such as work that requires specialized skills. For example, children of preschool age are told to make parallel cuts in strips of paper and then to push multi-colored paper strips through the slits so that a woven colored pattern finally emerges. This kind of mechanical process in a kindergarten actually prevents children from engaging in normal or congenial activities. It would be better to give them some very simple sewing or embroidery to do. Whatever a young child is told to do should not be artificially contrived by adults who are comfortable in our intellectual culture, but should arise from the tasks of ordinary life. The whole point of a preschool is to give young children the opportunity to imitate life in a simple and wholesome way.
This task of adjusting life as one carries it out in the presence of the child in a meaningful, purposeful way, according to the needs of the child, is in accordance with the child’s natural and inborn need for activity and is an enormously significant educational task. To contrive little stick games or design paper weaving cards is simple. But it is a tremendously important and necessary task to adapt and transform our complicated ways of life, such as a child does when, for example, a little boy plays with a spade or some other tool, or when a girl plays with a doll; in this way children transform adult occupations into child’s play, including the more complicated activities of the adult world. This is a challenging task for which hardly any previous “spade-work” has thus far been done. One needs to recognize that in children’s imitation, in all their sense-directed activities, moral and spiritual forces are working, artistic impulses that allow the child to respond in an entirely individual way.
Give a child a handkerchief or a piece of cloth, knot it so that a head appears above and two legs below, and you have made a doll or a kind of clown. With a few ink spots you can give it eyes, nose, and mouth, or even better, allow the child to do it, and with such a doll, you will see a healthy child have great joy. Now the child can add many other features belonging to a doll, through imagination and imitation within the soul. It is far better if you make a doll out of a linen rag than if you give the child one of those perfect dolls, possibly with highly colored cheeks and smartly dressed, a doll that even closes its eyes when put down horizontally, and so on. What are you doing if you give the child such a doll? You are preventing the unfolding of the child’s own soul activity. Every time a completely finished object catches its eye, the child has to suppress an innate desire for soul activity, the unfolding of a wonderfully delicate, awakening fantasy. You thus separate children from life, because you hold them back from their own inner activity.
Rudolf Steiner : 04/18/1924; in The Child’s Changing Consciousness , pp. 70-73