Book Review: Solving the Riddle of the Child: the Art of the Child Study by Christof Wiechert January 25 2016

Solving the Riddle of the Child: the Art of the Child Study by Christof Wiechert

A book review by The Library Lady

The very essence of Waldorf education lives in the Child Study. Observing the children is primary task of every Waldorf teacher. The entire curriculum should be formed out of this child observation practice and new organs of perception are developed from this practice. This is why Rudolf Steiner was so insistent about administration being done by those who are with the children every day, not by others who have nothing directly to do with teaching the children. The real revolution lives in this open secret of Waldorf education: that the observation of children is the heart of the curriculum…Not the subjects listed nor the dictates of those outside a particular group of children about what “every child should know.”

Christof Wiechert’s book, Solving the Riddle of the Child: the Art of the Child Study addresses this truth, this open secret with elegance and comprehensive clarity. Every Waldorf school faculty should take the book up as a study at some point along their development together!

A child study is a technique unique to Waldorf schools that has the child become the focus of observation on the part of the whole faculty. A faculty meeting then devotes itself to lining up observations about the child’s physical organization and appearance, the child’s behavior in class, and with other children, and as a learner, and also how the child is in his or her own world – likes and dislikes, social ease, imaginative abilities, willingness to learn and to work. Then the faculty lives with the questions that the child prompts out of these observations. If it is possible, some ideas of what can be done to help and harmonize the child’s experience in school and in the world come forward as a plan on the child’s behalf.

Rather than giving a formula for approaching a study of a child, Wiechert describes three different phases of the study. He cautions against jumping to conclusions too quickly, applying what we know about another child to this new child, and avoiding the puzzle that every child presents. He instructs that the discomfort that we feel with the mystery of each child is the very portal through which we must walk as teachers to find the essence of each child and to cultivate our own capacities of perception.

All the grace of Christof Wiechert’s many years of experience shine through the pages of this book. He provides us with a challenge and a procedure to use to meet that challenge. The challenge is in itself the very same as that of Waldorf education. The call of Rudolf Steiner to formulate a new approach to education lives in this work of child study. That the child instructs and that teachers follow with ideas that are informed by life experience is the lodestar of all that is new, all that constitutes a genuine revolution, in Waldorf education.

Wiechert’s masterful style of explaining his ideas and observation make this an invaluable tool for any teacher, any faculty, any parent. In our times when children are giving consistent signals that something is terribly wrong about our way of reaching them – the mainstream barrage of information, technology, stimuli, speed, etc. – the answers that live in the care given to a child in a well-done collaboratively approached child study holds solutions that defy the modern world. Wiechert defines through the procedures he explains the very core of the slogan “Receive the Child in Reverence.” What could be more reverent than to allow child to be displaying symptoms of his or her discomfort, instead being annoying and “resisting” learning the way we say it ought to be done?

The artistically organized book starts with the history of Steiner’s work in the Waldorf school, developing the curriculum he was asked to develop by the enlightened industrialist, Emil Molt. Molt understood after WWI that something new needed to be done to make a future that supported human beings instead of destroying them. Steiner was enthusiastic about the call.

Wiechert then describes the basis on which the child study is set and then describes how it can be done, in three phases. He explains the points of discomfort that inevitably come in a teacher’s even asking for help through child study, “Because sending the child out of class is not a permanent solution…” or “ because the teacher feels that she is not addressing the child’s true problem…” or “the teacher is asking for help in addressing the child’s headstrong will.” The very humility required as a teacher to state help is needed and to ask colleagues for support for a child, addresses the nature of collegial work as a new idea in Waldorf education. To admit to feeling stuck with the riddle of one child or another is to create new opportunities for the whole teaching faculty to learn. Identifying the points of discomfort as necessary in the process liberates us all from the usual social norms of “saving face” through admitting what we do not know. Of course, every child remains a riddle to all who care for the child. How to “read” the child’s symptoms with love and attentive interest is the task!

At the end of the book the author gives a small but comprehensive bouquet of examples of actual child studies and those that had instant results and those that continue to shroud the child’s symptoms in mystery. These examples are very helpful and clear.

Every teacher should read Christof Wiechert’s book: class teachers, specialty teachers, therapeutic support teachers, tutors, coaches, and parents too! It is refreshing to be reminded of the true nature of the child, of education, of our teaching. Christof Wiechert’s book does all these things expertly and with compassion. His artistic skill as cultivator of a full concept, as a story teller, as a teacher, make this a remarkably accessible and helpful training tool for any teacher to better understand the task of child observation and child study. The seminal nature of the child and the study of the child are perfectly underscored in this masterful work.