Mothering and teaching diverse children has been exhilarating and humbling.
Out in the world and on the playground, I have observed that while most parents have a growing tolerance, or a fully-established love of diverse people, in terms of skin color, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, few have the same awareness and inclusive instincts for developmental differences, including neurodiversity.
I often reflect on Jonathan Mooney’s question, “How did I know I was bad the first day of kindergarten?” Spoiler alert: Jonathan, at age four or five, knew he was bad because he could not sit still. I ask whoever is reading this to stop and set a timer for a full minute. Relax and really imagine loving that growing child and the feelings around the milestone of the first day of kindergarten. Imagine actually being that child and getting the feedback that your teacher, and eventually most or all of your classmates, does not like you. Maybe you were that child and are that child’s mother.
Endless labels (e.g. oppositional, hyperactive, ADHD, etc.) follow children with neurodiversity throughout the course of their development. Social exclusion and gossip is commonplace, and this feedback profoundly affects the individual and the entire family system.
How can the stigma and discrimination of children, whether conscious or unconscious, cease? Should be families be forced to invite the whole class to the birthday? (Some schools do this.)
One best practices model is changing general expectations of children within the classroom. Such practices benefit all children.
A recent trend involves teachers normalizing a child’s need for autonomy of movement. I have observed a highly effective classroom wherein students do not raise their hands to get out of their seats. They may sharpen a pencil or walk around the room for no apparent reason. Remarkably, in short order, students regulate themselves when there is this kind of respect and freedom to learn on the learner’s terms. The environment is not out of control.
Can this happen in a Waldorf classroom? Waldorf education includes a reliable rhythm, yet certainly there are movable classrooms within the Waldorf pedagogy. In fact, Waldorf teachers aim to truly see and work with the children in front of them. It makes sense that Waldorf teachers in particular would infuse principles into a lesson which meet the needs of the neurodiverse child, which to an extent is all children.
At Playgroup Los Angeles classes, children are not forced and cajoled to be different than they are capable of being. We acknowledge and honor the unique way children regulate themselves–it is truly remarkable. Some children are very responsive and engaged with certain parts of the playgroup, like immersive play. At times, those same children may not be ready to sit for group singing. The Playgroup Los Angeles concept allows (while not encouraging) movement out of the circle if need be.
Playgroup lesson plans are rich and layered to address an array of diverse developmental needs and learning styles. Classes like Forest Playgroup are designed to provide novel and complementary learning experiences for all children and grown-ups (we have to love the class too!), including those with unique abilities.