The teacher knelt before the boy to explain how to cross the street carefully and to check to see if he felt uneasy about crossing without a teacher holding his hand. The boy’s mother was taking a job in the area and she wanted her children in a Waldorf school. The boy had come to visit the second grade that day. He had, up till then, been home schooled, and there was a question about whether or not the boy belonged in second grade or third grade because of his age—older than the youngest in the third grade and younger than the oldest in the second grade.
After the teacher had completed explaining carefully how to cross the street without a teacher helping him, the teacher asked, “Can you do that? Are you afraid? Shall I go with you?” The boy rolled his eyes and said, sarcastically, “Yes!”
The teacher smiled inwardly. She knew he was too old for the second grade. He had already crossed “The Rubicon” as Steiner named it, of age nine.
You may have your own memories of this important nine-year-old change of consciousness. You might have learned, seemingly all of a sudden, that there is no Santa Claus, no tooth fairy—that it has been your parents all along.
The feelings of betrayal, disappointment, cynicism, come rushing in and it is, well, embarrassing. You might have just argued ferociously with a classmate who had already crossed over this river of awareness ahead of you and who was trying to tell you that there was no Santa Claus. You, still on the other side of the river believing in magic, may have argued hot and furiously for the undeniable existence of Santa Claus. Now this feels embarrassing as you realize how silly you were to believe for so long.
In the Waldorf curriculum, for grade three when a whole class is turning nine, the literature is the Old Testament in the Bible. This is not a religious decision but a story decision, with the Bible as one rich source of helpful stories. The account of Adam and Eve reflects in a glorious and perfect way the feelings of a nine-year-old. They want to try forbidden things and then are shocked at the consequences. They are ashamed and they experience an overwhelming sense of loss. So it is with nine year olds.
The stories in the Bible after this movement of “getting caught” unfold then to a new life on Earth. Adam and Eve learn how to grow their own food, cook, build shelters and make their own clothing. This just about sums up the third grade curriculum in a Waldorf school: farming, building, sewing, knitting, measurement—including cooking and cursive writing.
Loneliness is a new feeling that comes at this age. Many children at this crucial nine-year time worry that they are really adopted or that their crib was switched in the hospital and they may have ended up with the wrong parents. Children tell each other stories of the hair a father has in his nose, or the moles on her mother’s face. These are physical characteristics that went unnoticed before the child turned nine. Once the child crosses the river of consciousness into the land of nine-year-oldness, there is no turning back. The magic of early childhood is forever gone and magic becomes something belonging to the marvels of nature, not any longer elves, or leprechauns or flying reindeer.
The child can suddenly feel very alone. Adults are less reliable than they used to be. They break promises, forget important things, scold sometimes, and make mistakes. The child can now tell when he or she is being treated like a “baby.” This can prompt trouble with sleeping, of fear of the dark. Infantile habits long broken—thumb sucking, or bed wetting, having nightmares—all can re-emerge.
Teachers and parents can make the mistake of assuming that the child is attaining early puberty. This error is a costly one. When adults treat children like teenagers, they steal away the height of childhood’s golden years and push the child ahead past the last two or three years of play and freedom from the burden of adolescent consciousness. The theft of childlike joy is a terrible thing.
The best part of childhood at age nine is the birth of newfound confidence, and competence. A healthy child at age nine can do many things very well. They become wonderful company in a brand new way and can fill hours on a long car ride with interesting chatter about almost anything. The skills cultivated in the Waldorf curriculum make a child feel less lonely and more independent. “I can do it,” is the feeling a teacher looks for in the nine year old. The insecurities that arise are dissolved in work, a strong practice of will, the sense of belonging through participation, the experience of competence and fulfilling tasks.
The position of the stars at birth, some say, holds the destiny of the human being. It takes eighteen years, seven months and nine days for the stars to circle back into that exact position. This moment of re-positioning is called a Lunar Node. Often at these moments, every eighteen years and seven months, people tend to change their lives. It is as if the stars in their original position call to the human being and remind them of their true destiny, their true course in life. We re-adjust. The Institute of Noetic Sciences in a 25 year research project on transformative experiences noticed in the research that moments of transformation—Epiphanies—tend to cluster around the ages of eighteen/nineteen; 36 to 38; 55 to 58. Nine-years-old is halfway round the celestial path and it is as if, the stars call the child to grow, to comprehend, and to remember the importance of his or her tasks on Earth.
So when the boy rolled his eyes at the silliness of needing an adult to help him to cross a small street, the teacher knew that he would no longer “fit” as a second grader. His consciousness had leapt forward already into the ability to see and to be independent, capable. It would have been a disservice to keep him in the land of legends and fables when, as in the Bible stories, there’s work to be done!