Steiner-Waldorf Education aims to inspire lifelong learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capabilities regardless of cultural or religious background.
With more than a thousand Waldorf schools across the globe, there are 17 Waldorf schools established across South Africa focused on the individual potential of development as the grounding of a society in which the ideals of freedom, equality and mutual respect thrive.
It was my absolute pleasure to recently present at the Waldorf National Teachers Conference in Cape Town, South Africa in March 2019.
South Africa is seeing rapidly evolving social changes and Waldorf school education not only sees a great deal of autonomy in determining curriculum content, teaching methodology and governance; they also encompass well integrated parent programmes which align with the Voice of the Child Association early childhood education programs which focus on experiential and age-appropriate whole-child social and developmental learning.
Tools to Prevent Sexual Harassment in Children
My sociology research into sexual harassment among children identifies that children’s games on the playground can quickly escalate from innocent games into sexually harassing behaviours when children start to test their boundaries in social power exchanges. We begin to see this occurring on the playground from age 5 years and up as children become more aware and autonomous of their bodies.
All to often, when presenting my workshops at schools and educational seminars across the globe, I come into contact with educators who are either unaware of the dynamics taking place at this level; either due to their own socialisation of gender harassment or because this type of play often takes place during playtime, in the bathrooms or out of school hours.
Most educators are at a loss on how to cope with and prevent childhood sexual harassment when it does occur during games on the playground.
My workshop presenting to Waldorf educators from a variety of Steiner schools saw a warm and engaged audience of educators, all leaders in their own right who strive for the pinnacle of education and social development excellence within their areas of expertise.
Here are just some of the comments, feedback and answers I have since received following the workshop which share some of the underlying principles of my work but presented in the words of the educators themselves.
What do you believe is the role of Educators in preventing and responding to child sexual harassment in the playground?
“Having good adult role models to oversee the children’s play and intervene appropriately if necessary. At your workshop I realized I had been a victim of sexual harassment when I was in kindergarten and how pivotal it can be in a person’s social development. We need to be alert for it even as this early age.
“Ensuring there are enough play areas and activities to keep the children busy
“Initiating programs with teachers-students so that when incidences of sexual harassment arise there is already an established avenue for them to feel safe to speak out.
Do you have guiding principles regarding sexual harassment to work and teach by?
“We work with social workers and the parents about personal body boundaries. We help the children to understand that privates are privates but also who it is safe to be naked with, such as mom and dad.
“We ask parents to watch for media, as children love to imitate what they see.
Have you identified sexualized behavior in children before?
“We have had children wanting to play ‘the naked game’ and show each other their sexual organs. It is always a bit difficult in handling this at school as one doesn’t know the social background of every child or the extent of education and bodily language offered to the child by their parents and homecare facilitators.
What are general indicators of abuse in children?
“I am not entirely sure. Probably tension, mistrust, looking like they are hiding something, tummy aches, tired, or trying sexualized behaviours on others?
Do you think children today express more sexual behaviors than they did a generation ago?
“It’s hard to say. A generation ago there was less digital entertainment and so children made up their own type of games and were perhaps more likely to experiment. Although, today they are more exposed to media and sexualized activities. I think porn is a problem for teens left to their own devices and without a focused value language established within the home at an early age.
How do you report such instances to the school?
“I have no experience in this at all…”
How can the community get involved?
“We must make safe spaces for children to do their homework, so they do not to have to be in the home with an adult who is unemployed, such as a boyfriend or older siblings’ friends.
“We need to share our knowledge with the parents, especially of the warning signs and the ways to protect their children.
“We can call on allocated adults with understanding in this to watch children when they are outside at play.
What was your opinion on the workshop you attended by Dr Ayelet Giladi?
“It was so well presented, researched and she really understands her audience. She has developed a way to work with young children, and to empower teachers to create a space within the classroom for a feeling of safety for the children themselves.
“Dr Giladi’s program which aims at preventing sexual harassment and abuse in children is practical, grounded and child friendly. It builds the ground in children for respect, dignity and equality as a measure by which to gauge how they are being treated or how they are treating others.
What did you learn of particular significance?
Respect, dignity, equality. Making space for children to talk, about their daily experiences, games in the playground etc. in order to open up to the deeper feeling and experiences which may be taking place internally.
“Through song, story, animal symbols and games, Ayelet has devised a program which addresses an area which is often regarded as taboo and offers the tools to build healthy boundaries, respectful relationships, and skillful social interaction.
How did the workshop relate to your daily responsibilities?
“I train teachers who need to learn these specific skills.
Do you believe intervention is effective?
“I think it’s very needed in society right now, and recent events in the news have really highlighted this.
Should you be interested in having me present at your school, college or educational training facility, please drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org