We can see from the questions of children that human cognition is actually a social process. Cognitive learning means experiencing ourselves as part of the whole world and what we learn as a result as being part of ourselves. “The whole world” – but that also always includes the person alongside us. Children take great pleasure in showing that person what they have discovered and seek to find verified in them what they have not yet quite understood – that is the reason for their questions and showing. Thus children demonstrate an inherent archetypal form of cognition, the cognitive community. We adults also know that a joy that is shared is a joy made double and a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.
In ancient Greece there was the Peripatetic school of philosophy, the school of Aristotle who established modern thinking. They discussed their findings as they walked together. They knew on the one hand that walking supports the thinking and they also knew that the thinking flows better and becomes more comprehensive in the interchange of conversation. That is precisely what the children feel when they ask questions. In showing and asking they want to have someone who walks alongside them and looks at the things which are important to them at that moment with just as much interest.
Thus the six-year-old says one day: “I have swallowed the sun and the moon. And someone is out there who holds the whole world between his teeth. And I also have that in me!” That is then an unspoken question to the person closest to him because he can only deal with this immense insight through inner affirmation, and this insight wants to be supported.
In this dramatic image the child experiences our apocalyptic time and its own inner participation. We can only do them justice if we do not just see the small child but a timeless individuality with its future challenges placed in this time and this future. We have a contemporary before us who demands our waking witness. Their question to us actually says: do you see what is happening now and how do you respond to it? That cannot be answered in words but the child experiences in its modern presentience that I comprehendingly awaken through their question, indeed am startled and examine myself. An understanding smile and a gentle, comradely touch unite us now in the present.
The perceptual (pictorial) cognition of the child needs support, needs witness and help at its birth. There is no need to practice so-called social skills with the child (or at all) if we ourselves are caring towards the child and bear witness to what they find, indeed create themselves. Because each cognitive development, be it ever so embryonic, is a unique and unrepeatable new creation, even if it appears to be repeated in the same or a similar way in each child.
How does that happen inwardly? Human beings are externally and spatially separated from one another. Inwardly, in their soul and spirit, they are linked like communicating vessels in physics. If the liquid rises or falls in one of them it does the same in all the other vessels. The liquid which unites human beings is of a spiritual kind. Since each child is by nature clairvoyant and presentient, they consciously or unconsciously perceives what their fellow human beings think, feel or intend. All of us had this ability as children. The wrong kind of upbringing, bad education and non-independent thinking have made us blind.
Midwives of cognition
When the showing or asking child feels affirmed by seriously attentive fellow human beings, and this happens truly, not through educational posturing, then the following happens in the child who is taken seriously in this way: just as the left hand goes with the right, the content with the vessel, red with green or blue with yellow, so an inward complementary experience develops in the soul of the child.
Just as we adults approach something that interests us and are not satisfied until we have understood it, leading to an inward moment of “Aha!” and a sigh of relief, so this happens here between the child and their fellow human being. When the adult with their more mature consciousness understands what the child cannot yet express in concepts but experiences in their feelings, then such understanding from the adult works in the child like the action of the midwife with regard to what is being born. The difference being that here in the child it is not a child that is born but a cognition, an experience. What is born comes from the child. The witnessing midwife is the adult who comprehensively fulfils and recognises that the showing and asking child needs help and assistance at their birth.
Just as the midwife does no more than lift the newborn unharmed out of the mother and wrap them “in dry swaddling clothes” – cutting the umbilical cord is also part of that – so it is the responsibility of the supportive fellow human being not to lift the newborn cognition of the child into the naked and cold light of abstract consideration and explanation but to leave the child its newborn with appreciative if humorous reverence.
A supportive and affirmative gesture of comfort and security, perhaps a hand on the shoulder or a touch of the hands, belongs to such midwifery in all situations.
About the author: Werner Kuhfuss is a kindergarten teacher at the “Bienenkorb” kindergarten in Elztal near Waldkirch and founded the Kallias School for movement together in play. Publications: Grundzüge eines kulturschaffenden Kindergartens (2004); Die Waldorfkindergartenpädagogik (2005) and Was ist die Wirklichkeit des kleinen Kindes? (2006)