Waldorf Education: A Developmental Journey that Embraces the Stages of Childhood, including the 9-year change

Wrapped in Love & Warmth During the 9-Year Change: the story of one family’s embracing of this pivotal time in childhood.

Waldorf Education is based in the developmental stages of childhood, with attention to pivotal times like the 9-year change. The curriculum is dictated by how children develop emotionally, physically, and spiritually at every stage of childhood, and we honor and recognize pivotal times.

What unfolds in the classroom should reflect and speak to where the children are in their development. It’s a complex pedagogy and one that is guided by deep research into child development. Even parents often don’t realize how the changes their children experience affect their well-being, their learning, and their sense of connection to others.

Susan Brown, a former educational support staff member at London Waldorf School and Nana to the children of Waldorf Academy’s Admissions Director, Jennifer Deathe, created a family tradition to honour what is known in Waldorf circles as “the 9-year change.

The age of 9 is a pivotal time in child development, experienced in the Waldorf classroom as a highly focused journey through grade 3 to honour this awakening that children undergo at that age. Here is Susan’s story and some reflections on how to honour the 9-year change.

Awakening to the World

Susan encourages people to “think about the 9-year change as a kind of awakening to the outside world, where the child looks outside of his or her own security of self and leaves the innocence of early childhood, leaving the garden, the garden of Eden metaphor for innocence.”

“Everything that is safe and secure is being altered,” Susan says. “Children are even questioning the infallibility of parents. It seems to me that one would get a lot of security out of seeing your past 9 years represented in some ways in a quilt.”

When her grandchildren approached the age of 9, Susan started a family tradition of creating a quilt to mark where they had been leading up to this pivotal age. It was a loving way to document who they were in early childhood, and give a comforting gift to literally wrap themselves in as they proceeded into the uncharted territory of older childhood.

“I was just getting involved in quilting at the time, and it seemed like a good medium for that,” Susan recalls. She asked her children for clothes, receiving blankets, and other items that were symbolic for the child turning 9.

“I tried to make a design for a memory quilt and make it a security piece,” she says. “The child would be wrapped up in the love that got them to 9 years.”

Wrapped in the Warmth of Childhood

The first quilt was a complete set of 9 lifesaver circles, including pieces of a chenille bedspread from a cottage the first grandchild would remember. “When she got it and was touching and naming the different items of who she was at the time, she said, ‘It’s me! It’s me!’ It struck a really good note.”

For other grandchildren, Susan photocopied items that she didn’t want to cut up, to include special memories and items in their quilts. “It felt like a way to support them in that part of their development,” she says. “I had 6 children turning to 9 in a 3-year period, and I made 6 quilts. They all were waiting for theirs.”

“It’s a way of seeing who you are as a child, how you got to the next stage of development. It was a rite of passage that became a tradition in our family.”

Susan does not remember where she first got the idea for the quilts, but recalls that she heard about cultures “telling protection stories where the gesture of wrapping and layering in the narrative evokes a sense of safety.  I think of hugs giving one the love and security that is ideally experienced in the ‘garden’ of childhood. The world is big and unsettled right now, and the idea of creating a simple blanket for a child to cuddle in seems especially appealing.”

“In my experience, all children appreciate quilts made especially for them,” Susan continues. “It seems more meaningful when the fabric you are making it from reminds them of times, places, and stories of their childhood.”

Creating Traditions

In a blog written by Jennifer Deathe about this cherished family tradition, she says, “Any teacher will tell you that grade 3 and 4 are difficult years. There are many reasons this may be the case but if you were studying Waldorf pedagogy you read that this is the 9-year change.”

“The 9 year change is almost like a midlife crisis. The child is moving from looking within to out, and suddenly they do feel alone in a very big world. The time of fairytales are over. She no longer sees herself as the princess but yet has no idea of her new identity. This is a good time to read biographies, and this is the time of the creation story.”

In Waldorf philosophy, this age is when “they must take responsibility for what is right and what is wrong. The Waldorf grade 3 curriculum meets this new development in the child by taking their will and putting it into action so they know they can survive- they can build a shelter and they can grow food.”

Waldorf pedagogy suggests “to parents to offer empathy as they ride this wave and support them by making them something,” she notes. Hence, the quilt. Read Jen’s blog here.

A Soul Crisis

In Waldorf philosophy, the ages from 8-10 are often described as a “soul crisis.” Children separate from early childhood and start to see themselves in a larger world, which can be scary and overwhelming.

Wondering if your child is experiencing the 9-year change? Look for these common signs:

  1. Fear of Death, nightmares or fear of darkness (first thoughts of mortality)
  2. Asking for stories of themselves as a baby (seeking reassurance that they are, indeed, your child and connected to a lineage; adopted children may ask questions about being “given up”)
  3. Fluctuations between baby-ish behaviour and mature behaviour
  4. Alienation (feelings that no one likes them, they have no friends, feeling alone)
  5. Demanding time alone (to think, ponder)
  6. May purposefully lie to parents (to prove awareness that the child is no longer an extension of mom or dad; they want to see that you know they are lying!)
  7. Crying for no apparent reason (“I don’t know what’s wrong!”)
  8. Adults become real people, with faults (which is upsetting – children may pull back from or be critical of parents)

For tips on how to support your child during the 9-year change, click here.

Remember: The 9-year change is a good thing. Children are entering a more complex space of consciousness. At this stage, children often want to know how things work, show independence, and become more communicative as their thoughts and ideas deepen in complexity.

They become discerning individuals, developing who they are and who they want to be.

Grounded in child development, Waldorf curriculum supports the 9-year change and creates a foundation for children to flourish!

If you want to know more about our educational programs contact us

Waldorf Academy

250 Madison Ave,
Toronto, ON, M4V 2W6