Donna Stusser Early Childhood Waldorf Teacher Shares "Babies Need Hats"
An Early Childhood colleague had an interesting idea years ago to sit in a railway station in Europe where there is a high concentration of Waldorf schools to see if she could identify the Waldorf families and children. What would she be looking for? Rosy cheeks, laughter, compliance with parents? You can be assured one of the identifiable traits would be a hat on the heads of any child under seven. Hats, hats, and more hats!
There would be warm woolen hats in winter and fall and wide brimmed sunhats for spring and summer. On a baby there would be a certain kind of hat called the pilot cap but for sure there would be very few bare headed infants.* Families entering into a Waldorf community are asked when they enroll their young children to dress their children in layers of natural fiber fabrics, as this is best for the skin and health in general.
Children play outside all across the globe in Waldorf playgrounds and nearby parks no matter the weather as outdoor play and movement is intricately woven into the rhythm of the day. I like to consider myself a sensitive observer of infants and toddlers. They are like magnets to my two children and I when we are out in public. My children just have to look at me in a way that says “ Mom, a baby! Are you going to say something?”
What we do notice all too often is babies’ bare heads as well as their beautiful faces and bright eyes. As a concerned educator I feel their cold and hope this message goes a long way to motivate you in my cause. Babies grow from the head down. They are born with such big heads full of cosmic wisdom. Just look into a baby’s eyes and you receive a dose of heaven. Is this not so? It most often brings us to a quiet state of reverence and awe to just meet the eyes of a newborn floating so perfectly in the middle of their beautiful round head.
These heads are full of the life forces they need to grow their physical body. This growing and shaping is primarily fashioned in the first seven years of life before the emergence of the adult teeth. This is their chance to hold onto these forces and allow them to wield their way into the body, the organs, and the nerve sense system and beyond. We lose more heat from our heads then from our entire bodies.
They keep the growth forces in the body rather than escaping from the head. In this way the child reserves vital energy needed to grow rather than using it to stay warm. I have heard it recommended covering babies heads for the first two years of life with a pilot cap. These caps resemble an Amelia Earhart cap designed to protect the ears and the neck. They have strings attached to the sides for a secure tie under the chin. This keeps them protected from not only temperature but also sound and noise. The fontanel of the baby is open for the first few months. One can see the opening pulsing in the first few months. This tender portal is to be protected.
Many parents report that the toddler or child of three plus doesn’t like hats and children simply will not keep them on and the parents give up. When you start with the infant and tie the strings in a double knot they simply get used to the warm cozy protected feeling of the pilot cap. This is not to say they will not protest but who’s in charge anyway? Compliance needs to be taught. I understand they still are able to take them off but perhaps less than if it had no strings. When I look at a baby clad with a cap it evokes feelings of comfort in me. Protection, warmth, coziness. Like the days of old.
And let me say a thing or two about fashion. These caps are basic, an everyday part of dressing like socks or underwear. There is nothing fancy about them so the attention is not drawn to the baby with the beautifully handmade knitted cap with the cherry on the top. Sorry knitters! I do love handmade caps but they are not practical for babies. They slip off and cover their eyes and become a toy to remove and toss. I repeat this recommendation of keeping the cap on for two years knowing it will be hard for the hat to stay on in those last six months with all that gorgeous hair revealing the sweetest toddler on earth. This will depend on the amount of hair, the temperature and your child’s constitution.
The longer the better and if not indoors then outdoors for sure. It can add to the child’s sense of security when this hat is always there as a reliable adult is present in the early years. Or perhaps it helps the child whose parent cannot be there and chooses another reliable adult to care for the child. Keeping track of the child’s cap shows them you care.
When speaking of how to dress a baby my pediatrician recommended putting one more layer on the baby then I put on myself. We so often see the opposite. Bundled parents and thinly clad babies and toddlers. The beauty of the permanently placed pilot cap for the baby whether sleeping or indoor or out is the consistency it will provide for the little one who may be vulnerable to sudden changes in temperature when a door opens, a wind stirs, a siren suddenly goes off, etc.
The cap provides a small amount of space between the skin and the fabric for the warmth from the body to circulate increasing the infant’s state of comfort.
So let your relatives make jokes. Are we ever going to see his hair? Or does he have any hair? And rest assure there will be many years ahead where your child will either remember his own hat because he has grown accustomed to the warmth or he will be fine without one now and again because his strongly fashioned physical body has a solid foundation.
In conclusion when clothing your baby it is best to think not simply of the day or the amount of time they will spend outdoors (“I will not be gone long”) but the habit body they are growing for the future and the long term health of your child into a strong adult with good powers of judgment and a warm interest in others. So please put a hat on the baby and while you are at it put one on yourself so you too can stay warm and be a good example to imitate. Free pilot caps available by responding to this email.
Do you have a hat story to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donna Stusser has worked with infants and young children since high school.
Before her Waldorf Training she assisted families after childbirth. She operated her own preschool in Sebastopol and began The Roots and Shoots Parent-Child Program at Summerfield Waldorf School in 1997. While home with her two infant daughters she learned about the Infant work of Dr Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber and continues to enjoy sharing this with others.
* Magda Gerber, the infant specialist from Santa Monica who founded the fantastic work of the R.I.E organization considers the child an infant until two years of age.
Purchase your child’s hat today with local mother, hat maker, and Waldorf Early Education class member Elvira di Doni of Marali Creations: