Autumn issue of The Awareness now available!

Check out the latest issue of The AWS Awareness! Featuring:

• Poetry by Waldorf alumn Daniel Blokh
• Articles about Media-Free Living and Developmental Learning
• Photos of class festivals, field trips, handwork projects, and more
• Holiday Faire information!

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Click here to download the newsletter.

Click here to browse past issues of the Awareness on our website.

Living Media Free

Positive Ways to Reduce Your Child’s Screen Time (without losing your mind)

Happy to be outdoors It’s been raining outside all day, and now your 3-year-old is running around the house, chasing the cat, yelling at the top of her lungs, while your 15-month-old is in tears and inconsolable unless you’re holding him, and you have company coming for dinner in an hour, and the bathroom looks like a herd of angry monkeys was let loose in it. The TV beckons to you like a bright ray of hope — how bad would it be to let the kids watch a video for just a little while?

We’ve all read the latest research, the hundreds of articles and dire warnings about how screen-time will ruin your kid’s brain. Here at Alabama Waldorf School, we strongly encourage no media at all for kids 9 and younger. For older kids, less than an hour on the weekends during the school year. So what to do? If you’re new to Waldorf or if you have young children, you may be feeling overwhelmed, or thinking: easier said than done.

Take heart! It is easier to accomplish than it may seem — especially if you start while they’re young.

The earth beneath our feet1. Start small, and don’t guilt-trip yourself. Like any other healthy lifestyle, it’s more about choosing to do what’s good for your child, rather than falling into the guilt/shame cycle. Focus on taking small, positive steps. If your family is used to watching TV or playing video games every day, try cutting back by one hour, every day. Then, after a week or two, cut back by another hour. If you gradually cut back, you will be doing better and feeling more healthy no matter what. When you have a bad day and turn on the TV out of sheer desperation, give yourself grace. Let the kids watch TV for a little while! But instead of totally giving up, set a time limit. Make a cup of tea, take time to gather yourself, take a deep breath, and then turn off the TV.

2. Remember that media can actually be counter-productive as a means of child care. Using TV or the iPad as a babysitter is a no-win situation, for child or parents. Media stimulates a child’s brain but does not stimulate her senses. So after watching TV for a while, she will actually be more hyperactive and craving any kind of physical sensory stimulation — and if she is very young, she won’t be able to manage these cravings. She will be more likely to misbehave, seek out trouble, destroy things, throw a tantrum, and feel cranky and irritable. So recognize that your hours of “peace” come at a cost.

Reading3. Turning off the tube does not mean that you have to play with your child. Take a cue from Waldorf teachers — you won’t see them sitting on the floor playing Legos with their students! Children learn by imitation. If you are engaging them in play every minute of the day, you’re not only wearing yourself out, you are also teaching them to expect that sort of interaction. Instead, do your own work, such as housework, alongside your child while he is playing. If he is bored, don’t let it distress you. Instead, act like that’s natural and good (and soon he will come to realize that it’s not a bad thing, either). Feel free to give him suggestions, but let him engage himself in play. My favorite practical tip: if you find your child playing quietly by himself, never, ever interrupt him. As the mother of a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old, I can tell you that this will pay off for years down the road. My boys can now happily occupy themselves for hours. They are also capable of sitting quietly in waiting rooms or lines for long periods of time — without devices — without falling apart.

If you have very young children, or if your family is used to a steady media diet, you can’t expect that to happen for a while. But you can start building your child’s tolerance for self-directed play, 5 minutes at a time.

Has your child ever surprised you by spending hours playing quietly alone? What was he or she doing? What are some of your child’s favorite self-directed activities?

Rope swing4. Cultivate daily and weekly rhythm. Kids often act out or misbehave if they don’t know what to expect. I’ve noticed that my son will most often complain “I’m bored, Mom!” when our schedule has been disrupted. A basic rhythm for each day will help him know what to expect, and also helps him better occupy himself during free play (if he knows at a certain time he will have to stop and do lunch, or stop and do chores, or a family activity). This rhythm does not have to be a strict schedule, but more of an ebb and flow of activity. One aspect of daily rhythm that has worked best for our family is to take a daily rest time after lunch, or after school. During this time, my kids know that they will be playing quietly, alone. Over the years, this has given them better resilience to handle playing quietly by themselves when unexpected circumstances arise (delays at the doctor’s office, stuck in traffic).

When does your family watch TV? Play video games? At what time of day are you most likely to turn to media out of sheer desperation? The answers to these questions can help you figure out alternative solutions.

Climbing5. Be OK with some level of mess and chaos. Free play means lots of messes. Getting messy is good for kids. It gives them tactile, sensory input that engages all of their senses, and actually helps to develop their sense of self-control. Establishing a rhythm will help with this — if you and your child know that everything must be cleaned up before bedtime, then the ensuing chaos of painting, playing in the mud, or turning the living room into a giant blanket fort is a little more bearable for you in the meantime. Also, depending on your child’s personality, she may love to make messes, or she may prefer the orderly process of cleaning up messes (I have one of each type), and so establishing a time for both activities will serve both children well.

IDEAS FOR ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITIES

For a PDF list of suggested activities that will light up your child’s senses and provide long hours of free play, click here.

ANOTHER PARENT’S PERSPECTIVE

From another Waldorf mom, Kristin Trowbridge, about balancing media use during football season:

Our Saturdays are filled with soccer, hikes, gardening in the backyard, playing with the kids, etc., and by evening, we are just too tired to stay up for the late games. We’ve realized that for the same price we pay for cable, we could take that money and afford a babysitter and a date at a sports bar, where we could gorge ourselves on wings and beer and have a blast rather than watching snippets of games as we pass through the living room. So, that said, we just decided last night to cancel cable again and apply this game plan instead. Plus, on days at home with the kids, I’m having fun turning on the radio and listening to the games the old-fashioned way where they are played out verbally, enjoying the nostalgia of childhood when I listened to the familiar voice of Eli Gold on air give me the play-by-play on Alabama games as I simultaneously spent time playing, cooking or eating with my family rather than staring at a screen the whole time.

Read older blog entries on screen time here and here.

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How AWS Teaches Reading

Learning to read in an organic way cultivates avid readers for life.

mattieHere in the South, where Waldorf schools are less common, when I tell a new friend that my children are enrolled at Alabama Waldorf School, I often receive comments like, “Oh, isn’t that the school where they discourage reading before 3rd grade?” or, “That’s such a sweet school — but we want something more academically rigorous and challenging for our child.”
Needless to say, Waldorf’s reputation can be slightly misleading, especially in terms of academics. It’s a completely different process of education, which may throw off the type of person who gets all excited about grade reports, test scores and hours of tedious homework.
But a different process of education does not at all mean less rigorous. Waldorf education is cyclical, long-range, organic and holistic. It actually challenges and engages kids in ways that a conventional system cannot. In fact, it helps students to better comprehend and retain academic material — and to enjoy learning for the rest of their lives.

In a Waldorf school, the process of learning to read begins in the preschool, with the oral tradition of storytelling, and repetition of stories and poems. Teachers lead the children in a circle with whole-body movements to mimic the action of the stories, in a social setting. This engages both auditory and visual learners. By the time a child graduates kindergarten and moves into 1st grade, she has digested these words with her whole being (socially, intellectually and physically), and has memorized thousands of lines of verse. My sons, for example, at the ages of 5 and 9, can recite hundreds of stories, songs and poems. This stage is like tilling and preparing the soil, and planting seeds in a garden.

natalie rosalyn readingThen, the sprouts begin to push up through the soil. As students move through the lower grades, they learn the forms and shapes and sounds of letters together as a class — first on the chalkboard, and then copied into their own main lesson books. Children learn to write letters before they learn to read words, often moving their arms in the gesture of the letters and drawing beautiful pictures using the letter as a symbol within the drawing (“M” used as the peaks of a mountain, for example). Fairy tales, fables, myths and other stories are recited or read aloud in the classroom every day, repeating and continuing the oral immersion of literary concepts begun in preschool. At the same time, foreign languages are also introduced, immersion-style, through oral and visual exercises.

Around the age of 3rd or 4th grade, children make a developmental leap. This change is social, emotional, intellectual and physical, and is reflected in a student’s grasp of written material. (Now the leaves begin to burst out all over the little tree.) He begins to better understand the abstract connection between written letters and what those symbols mean. The practice of spelling and vocabulary begins in earnest, based on the solid literary foundation he’s already received. Reading, writing and vocabulary is continued through the upper grades, and broadened to include writing reports and giving presentations in other subjects such as history, science and foreign languages.
martha

Whatever the learning style or temperament, this method of education empowers kids. It places no pressure on the individual student to perform or excel before she is perfectly ready to do so, giving her an incredible sense of confidence. In this non-competitive classroom environment, children learn to read at different ages, but they do so in a social way, together as a class, with no demands for arbitrary results placed on them. This method cultivates a much less stressful learning environment, and makes reading fun and fulfilling. Students grow to see reading for what it truly is — a fascinating way to engage with the world around them, rather than a dreaded task. By the time students complete the full cycle of Waldorf education, they tend to be the most well-read, literate, and self-confident among their peers.

For more information on Waldorf curriculum, click here.

For another viewpoint from a parent on how Waldorf teaches reading, click here.

See a previous AWS blog post on reading here.

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5 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed This Year

Advice from AWS Teachers on how to make the best of this school year

happy kids1. Focus on your child’s social and emotional progress, as well as his or her academic work. As your child progresses through the school year, she will be developing socially, physically and emotionally as well as academically. Keep in mind that growth in each area may happen at different rates for each child. Ask questions such as, “Who did you play with today?” “What stories did you hear?” “What did you make today?” “Did you talk about anything interesting today?” “What was your favorite part of the day?” “What was your least favorite?”

2. Put boundaries in place for screen time.
Video games, movies and television programs interfere with the work of a child’s imagination and his ability to engage in self-directed play. Media overstimulates the brain but under-stimulates the senses. For a young child, engaging with the sights, smells, sounds and feel of his natural surroundings is an important part of the learning experience. Because children learn by imitation, media can hinder that process even long after they have finished watching the show or playing the game (they will tend to “play out” what they have seen, instead of creating from their own imaginations). We strongly recommend no screen time at all for children ages 9 and under. For older children, screen time should be limited to weekends only, and less than one hour per day. This will not only empower children in their learning, but also boost their self-confidence and personal responsibility.

nutritious lunch

3. Pack healthy lunches and snacks.
Offering your child a balanced diet of nutritious and wholesome food will help her focus in the classroom and give her energy for the day. Pack lunch boxes full of proteins and nutrient-rich foods, such as hummus, trail mix and granola; fresh fruits and vegetables, such as berries, figs, carrots, cherry tomatoes, avocados and snap peas; dried fruits like raisins and apricots; and whole grains. Kids love popcorn and whole-grain chips and salsa. One of my kids’ favorite snacks is almond butter with apple slices and sharp cheddar cheese. (At AWS we also ask that lunch boxes and thermoses be media-free — no TV or movie characters, please — and no peanut butter allowed on campus!)

playground4. Keep after-school activities to a minimum.

8th grade teacher, Ms. Lucas advises: Support your middle schooler in learning time management by not over-scheduling them. One activity outside of school is enough. An after-school schedule could look something like this: Snack, then downtime such as swimming, hiking, biking, reading; art projects like drawing or painting; listening to music or visiting with a friend. For teens, there should be a regular hour per day set aside for homework. They should know that nothing else will happen during this time. Next, dinner, then free time, then bed. Don’t let your teens stay up too late. If they have their devices with them in bed, they will stay up later. Suggestion: have them turn in devices to you before bedtime.

5. Create daily rituals, especially for dinner and bedtime.
6th & 7th grade teacher, Ms. Bradley, suggests hanging a schedule of daily rhythm in your family’s shared space. This schedule can be as simple or complex as you like, and can be a place to help remind your child to take his or her violin to school or good shoes for movement days. In our home, for example, we simply have MORNING and BEDTIME, with 3 steps under each one. Dinner can be a time around which to center your family life and connect with your child. Then, the end of the day should be a quiet time of winding down and preparing to rest, to be rejuvenated for the next day.

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Personalities in the Classroom, Part IV: Teaching the Pooh Bears

Personalities in the Classroom: 
Teaching the Eeyores, Tiggers,
Rabbits, and Poohs

This is one of four posts in our “Teaching the Temperaments” series — all are article re-prints from 2011 issues of Alabama Waldorf School’s newsletter, the AWS Awareness. The Awareness is issued 6 times a year. To be added to our mailing list, email marketing@alabamawaldorf.org.

Part Four: The Phlegmatic

Recognizing the four temperaments is easier to do when you use the archetypal characters in “Winnie the Pooh” as models.

Pooh is phlegmatic with his calm demeanor and overall preoccupation with eating, comfort, and rest.

Eeyore and Piglet represent the melancholic temperament with their “Everything is going wrong… again,” and “The sky is falling!” attitudes.

Tigger is of the sanguine temperament — optimistic, fun, happy-go-lucky, and chatty!

Rabbit is the choleric with his passionate leadership qualities, his fiery personality, and his proclivity toward anger.

The Phlegmatic Child

The phlegmatic child is not easily bothered. He is, like Winnie the Pooh, kind and easygoing. Because he likes to dream, he sometimes seems unintelligent, but this is not generally the case — he just needs time to work things through. Picture the cow in its field, chewing its cud over and over. This is the phlegmatic: deliberate, thoughtful, and sensible. Even his walk is unhurried and easy. His movements can look clumsy due to his round, solid build and his innate tendency toward a lack of vitality.

The phlegmatic is so set on avoiding exertion that he is suspicious of those around him who flit around like busy bees. Physical satisfaction is achieved by enjoying life in an easygoing (even sluggish!) fashion. This sluggishness, though, has a momentum of its own because, while it is difficult to get the phlegmatic going, once he does, it’s difficult to get him to stop! Getting in his way will only reveal his stubbornness and defiance.

Phlegmatics value order; however, this can express itself in different ways. Sometimes they are organized and tidy. Other times they live in what appears to be total disorder. As long as their personal needs of living according to routine and habit are met, they are fine. It is common for all children to balk at change, but the phlegmatic considers it an insult. He likes for everything to be predictable. This is not because he is overly anxious (as it can be with the melancholic child). He simply considers change a waste of energy, and he will use his considerable will power to resist it.

Teaching the Phlegmatic

A smart teacher will realize this child’s need for advance notice of any schedule changes or departures from routine. The teacher must not expect fast answers, but must honor the phlegmatic’s need to digest what is being asked (remember the cow chewing his cud!), to turn it over and look at it from all possible angles, and then to give an answer (which may happen a day later!). Patience and creativity are required by all adults who deal with this temperament.

Parenting the Phlegmatic Child

davy mills ECU eyesParents of phlegmatics who meet his basic needs for life will think this child an easy one to raise. As long as his comfort is attended to, all is well.

The inertia of the phlegmatic child can, however, be a source of frustration to parents and family members, and seldom will he expend the energy of initiative. His unwillingness to express an opinion or take a risk can also be maddening over time.

Parents who recognize the phlegmatic tendency to take things literally will be able to adjust their instructions accordingly. Telling a phlegmatic child to “do the dishes,” will probably not result in ALL of the dishes being washed AND dried, and the silverware and plastic containers (technically not dishes, of course) may be left out of the process altogether. Phlegmatics may need more careful supervision than others because of this!

Remembering that he is difficult to stop once he gets going, a wise parent will help the phlegmatic cultivate a special interest. If he is strong, he might enjoy wrestling. If he is good with his hands, he might enjoy fixing furniture or building toys.

It is best for parents not to dote too much on the phlegmatic child, because the phlegmatic will take refuge there and can wallow in it — this doesn’t help the young phlegmatic come into his own personality.

The Grown-up Phlegmatic

The phlegmatic child often grows into a melancholic adult; all the heaviness of the personality becomes inner-directed, and her earlier concern with comfort can translate to a preoccupation with illness or disability. Sometimes all that she has earlier ignored catches up with her and she dwells on irritations and takes them too seriously. She wants to be recognized and appreciated but finds ways to hurt those who nag her to be more this or more that.

Like Winnie the Pooh, though, the phlegmatic is a wonderful friend, and spending time with her close friends ranks high on her list of relaxing things to do. She is extremely loyal to her friends and sticks with them through thick and thin.


Information on the temperaments can be found in Betty Staley’s Between Form and Freedom, a valuable resource that addresses middle childhood and the teenage years.


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Personalities in the Classroom, Part III: Teaching the Rabbits

Personalities in the Classroom: 
Teaching the Eeyores, Tiggers,
Rabbits, and Poohs

This is one of four posts in our “Teaching the Temperaments” series — all are article re-prints from 2011 issues of Alabama Waldorf School’s newsletter, the AWS Awareness. The Awareness is issued 6 times a year. To be added to our mailing list, email marketing@alabamawaldorf.org.

Part Three: The Choleric

Recognizing the four temperaments is easier to do when you use the archetypal characters in “Winnie the Pooh” as models.

Pooh is phlegmatic with his calm demeanor and overall preoccupation with eating, comfort, and rest.

Eeyore and Piglet represent the melancholic temperament with their “Everything is going wrong… again,” and “The sky is falling!” attitudes.

Tigger is of the sanguine temperament — optimistic, fun, happy-go-lucky, and chatty!

Rabbit is the choleric with his passionate leadership qualities, his fiery personality, and his proclivity toward anger.

The Choleric Child

The choleric child is rooted to the ground — but not for very long! Her restless energy makes it difficult to sit for long periods. She stomps her steps and stands ready for action. She is assertive, confident, and purposeful. Strong-voiced, she easily commands a room. She has a strong sense of well-being and health, not showing weakness and appearing tough and invulnerable. She feels mastery over people and situations. A natural leader, she is competitive and truly believes her way is the best way. She likes to be “doing” and is often impatient with those who want to talk when there is work to be done.

Cholerics with sanguine tendencies like to finish one thing in order to move to the next. The goal is to get the job done and not get too bogged down in the details. They have the confidence to make anything work. Sometimes that means going back and fixing the mistakes made from quick decisions early in the project.

The cholerics with a melancholic tendency like to focus on the details. Everything is done perfectly. They do things the right way, and everyone else does things imperfectly. They check up on other people’s work, convinced they will find low quality and are content to re-do and reorganize.

The Choleric at School

4th gr play2In school the choleric gets things done. He organizes projects and does the work — all he wants in return is recognition from the teacher that he is indispensable! If he can’t find a way to get attention in a positive way, he may resort to negativity, organizing groups toward mischief. He bullies and destroys the mood of the class if he doesn’t get what he wants. However, he is also the one who holds a class play together, learning his lines and everyone else’s and becoming self-appointed director. A wise teacher is one who knows how to harness this energy.

The choleric child can challenge what people say and feels he has something to say about everything. He finds it difficult to accept blame and cannot bear to be criticized. If later he sees he was wrong, he will try to repair the situation. The choleric makes a lot of plans and is a good organizer but generally can’t live in the details. He starts things and then lets others to the work, moving into positions of authority easily. He often attracts other children who follow his strong leadership and bask in his confidence.

Parenting the Choleric Child

Parents will find that cholerics often say either yes to everything — which leads to overextending themselves and burning out — or they say no to everything because they do not like surprise. It is impossible to stop a choleric child from accepting too many responsibilities, but a wise parent or teacher will help them set priorities. Because the choleric truly believes she is the only one who can do things, she is not content to let just anyone help. She must be reassured that the job can be done well by someone else, even if you have to promise her that the new person will check in from time to time. This way, she still retains the power without experiencing exhaustion.

The choleric who automatically responds “no” just needs time to integrate what is being asked of her. Once she can envision what is being asked and her task in the project and come up with her own ideas, she becomes more willing to say yes. If she still says no, give her time to change her mind — and the space to do it privately. Saving face is important to the choleric!

Cholerics are famous for their tempers. A tip I learned in teacher training is never to meet fire with fire. Picture the choleric child as a burning flame. If it gets out of control, the answer is never to add more fire. A wise adult allows time to pass and then calmly points out to the choleric, step by step, the circumstances that allowed the flame to rage. When the choleric can see her own behavior, she is able to accept the realization that she was wrong. This is painful for her, but in her heart, the choleric always wants to do the right thing.

The Choleric Teenager

A choleric teen wants to feel needed. He wants to be helpful because it is his goal to use his will to serve others. If he isn’t given opportunity to do that, his tremendous energy can become self-serving. Cholerics often develop more of a sanguine nature as they move through adolescence. Emotions cause them to pull every which way and they are unable to maintain control over things. Their friends develop stronger personalities and can now stand up to them. The choleric can experience some of the hurt he caused others at this time and can, with any luck, learn to be more sensitive to the feelings of others.

As he wants to do more and more things, his earlier focus becomes diffuse and his energy becomes scattered. Adolescence can feel like a time of being misunderstood. Supported by sensitive friends who truly care about him and adults who inspire his strong ideals, the choleric adolescent can release himself from the burden of controlling everything and step more lightly into the world. He can become a devoted and loving adult with a great sense of humor that extends to the all-important ability of being able to laugh at himself.


Information on the temperaments can be found in Betty Staley’s Between Form and Freedom, a valuable resource that addresses middle childhood and the teenage years.


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Personalities in the Classroom, Part II: Teaching the Tiggers

Personalities in the Classroom: 
Teaching the Eeyores, Tiggers,
Rabbits, and Poohs

This is one of four posts in our “Teaching the Temperaments” series — all are article re-prints from 2011 issues of Alabama Waldorf School’s newsletter, the AWS Awareness. The Awareness is issued 6 times a year. To be added to our mailing list, email marketing@alabamawaldorf.org.

Part Two: The Sanguine

Recognizing the four temperaments is easier to do when you use the archetypal characters in “Winnie the Pooh” as models.

Pooh is phlegmatic with his calm demeanor and overall preoccupation with eating, comfort, and rest.

Eeyore and Piglet represent the melancholic temperament with their “Everything is going wrong… again,” and “The sky is falling!” attitudes.

Tigger is of the sanguine temperament — optimistic, fun, happy-go-lucky, and chatty!

Rabbit is the choleric with his passionate leadership qualities, his fiery personality, and his proclivity toward anger.

The Sanguine Child

“I try to do too many things, and then I don’t have time to finish anything! I like to get involved in everything; it makes life more interesting.”

The sanguine child bubbles and chatters and talks to anyone (sometimes even if no one’s around to hear her!). She is a quick thinker with the ability to cover an amazing amount of territory in a few short moments. It can be difficult to follow her train of thought because she is thinking so many things at once the inner connection isn’t obvious. She exaggerates freely and sociability is her great strength. She is so much fun to be with that life never gets boring. She is the first to make friends with the new kid on the block and, if injured, brushes it aside and quickly bounces back into the adventure of life.

Open to change, the sanguine child is hard to pin down. He tells each friend they are his favorite, and while he means every word, it can be quite confusing.

Parenting the Sanguine Child

Because his attention is so easily diverted, parents of the sanguine child benefit from creating an orderly, simple environment, free of chaos and clutter. This enables the child to relax and minimizes the nervous energy upon which he so easily thrives.

It is important to cultivate a single underlying interest amongst all the ones in which the sanguine child dabbles. When he does settle on something he wants to pursue further, support it so that his interest deepens. This is an example of working with the temperament instead of against it. Resist the temptation to push an interest upon her; if it doesn’t generate inner excitement, it will not last. This requires patience on the parent’s part!

The same goes with discipline. The sanguine accepts punishments and then moves on. If guilt is felt, it is fleeting. The parent can have a hard time believing s/he has an impact at all. It is helpful to remember that the sanguine’s most motivating force is love for the people around her. She will do things for a person rather than for joy in doing the deed well.

PGWD morris boys madi 2Often it works to give her tasks that only involve her for a short time. Taking the project away serves to increase the child’s desire to do it again. By doing lots of small projects, she begins to want to work longer on one thing, and this improves her attention span. Examples of such projects might include common household chores such as setting the table, taking out the trash, folding towels, and checking the mail. If the assignment can be rhythmic (occurring around the same time every day), all the better because the sanguine will begin to anticipate it naturally and this helps her to avoid distraction. Over time, the emphasis can be shifted to a focus on quality, instead of just doing the job to please someone.

The Sanguine Adolescent

A lighthearted approach where magic and fun are part of the equation works well with the sanguine, due to his natural embodiment of the innocence of childhood. As the sanguine moves into adolescence, he experiences a slowing of those life forces that have sustained his sanguinity. He finds it easier to concentrate and stick with tasks and activities. His cheerfulness remains, but it is infused with calmness instead of hyperactivity, and he begins to see the rewards of being more organized. From his mercurial childhood nature emerges a solid adult, full of cheer and capable of handling the myriad details of daily life with ease.


Information on the temperaments can be found in Betty Staley’s Between Form and Freedom, a valuable resource that addresses middle childhood and the teenage years.


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