The wisdom of bringing the right game to children of any age can help create the conditions for valuable learning experiences. For the nine-year-old, leaving the dreamy world of early childhood is an awakening process and part of a complete transformation of their young selves that is sometimes called the nine-year change or nine-year transition. This time of childhood can be puzzling to parents, as they may ask, “What happened to my darling child?” Waldorf educator Rahima Baldwin Dancy shares some insights into this puzzling time in her article, Parenting the Nine Year Old, from her Waldorf In The Home blog.
Lazy Lout was discovered while searching out and studying games as a new teacher at the San Francisco Waldorf School way back in the early 1990s. Unable to find any written curriculum guides, one day a kind colleague slipped me a thin sheaf of hand-written and much-photocopied circle games and tag games that gave me a very helpful start to my new work in the movement class. A few days later an old, dog-eared book appeared in my mailbox in the faculty room, Games Gymnastics Sport in Child Development by Rudolf Kischnick. Eureka! A “Waldorf” book about movement with games, translated into English!
It was no easy guide, I discovered as I studied and struggled to understand the picture of the growing child Kischnick presented. I began to try out some of the games in my classes, with poor results. I understood that, for the nine-year old, connecting their inner experience of themselves with meeting the outer world through movement games can help her feel secure when she may be feeling separate, apart. Maybe something was lost in translation, or my novice teaching style was weak, but these games didn’t seem to hit the right mark with my contemporary urban children. [I have an opinion on why this is so.]
Finally, I struck gold. In a discussion of the 9 year-old child. Kischnick tells us,
“The theme of becoming awake and independent resounds in [these games]. The one who sleeps his time away or wakes up too early has to suffer harm or mockery.
“After the nine-year-old child has managed to ‘grasp” his own soul-being, he begins to try out his own forces in the year that follows. He now experiences a confrontation with the forces which draw him down. These want to expand themselves within his soul and bind it more strongly to the physical than the individuality wants it to be.
“If one is able to place these powers before the child in such a way that he recognizes them and wants to overcome them, much will be achieved. Again and again one finds that very specific images may occupy the child’s mind very strongly at this age. It is always the same figure which stands before the child’s soul, no matter whether his name is … Lazy Lout, Bridge Man or whatever. The child basically wants to put this image outside of himself, and observe and recognize it in order to be able to [work] with it.
“But he is not yet able to overcome it. It is much more important that he comes to terms with it and this may be done thoroughly in the game….” 1
Kischnick proceeds with setting the stage for Lazy Lout, and I tried it with only a glimmer of hope, but right away the students were engaged, listening carefully to my every word as the game was staged with a little story prompted by Kischnick but in my own words and descriptive narration. The game was a big hit! There was a clear beginning, middle and end to each round, creating a progressive rhythm of quiet listening followed by a fine tag game that all the children could follow and feel free in. Quickly, Lazy Lout became a beloved game of middle childhood at SFWS, and the students asked to play Lazy Lout again and again, even as the years went by and they “outgrew” it.
Small groups love it, large groups too. Indoors, it’s just fine and outdoors, it works like a charm. Just what is it about this game that makes it so successful? Let’s play it, in our mind’s eye. Here, in my own words, mostly, is my version of the game as it’s evolved for my students over the past 20+ years.
Once upon a time there was a village of the most industrious people. The children of the village woke up each morning before the roosters began to crow, and they not only made their beds but they made breakfast for their parents too. They cleaned the kitchen, swept the floor, and washed the windows before the first rays of the sun peeked over the hill. They fed the pigs, milked the cows, and fetched the fresh eggs, and then, washed and dressed, they went to school.
Of course, they walked to school, on a long path that went right by the cave of the Lazy Lout. Now, the Lazy Lout did NOT rise each morning before the rooster’s crow. In fact, “he slept God’s day away.” He NEVER made his bed, or washed his sheets. He never took a bath or brushed his teeth. He never took out the garbage or washed the floors. He was filthy dirty and he smelled sour.
When the children passed his cave, he was still fast asleep in bed. The industrious children who had been awake before the dawn could not help themselves. As they passed the opening of his cave, they began to tease him by calling out, “Lazy lout! Lazy lout! You lazy lout!”
At first the Lazy Lout slept on and on, but after awhile he woke up, jumped to his feet, and began to chase the children to try to catch them. Woe be it, to any of the children if they should be touched, because if they do, they must become part of Lazy Lout himself.
Action of the game.
Two children are invited to be the Lazy Lout. They choose a space to be the cave, and lie down with their eyes closed as though asleep. The children of the village chant and call towards the door of the cave, as close as they dare. Finally, the Lazy Lout, still holding hands, jumps up and begins to chase the children, tagging as he/they can.
No fewer than two, but as many as want to can be a Lazy Lout, working together in 2s and 3s to tag the others, until there is only one child left untagged, who is called out to be “The Most Industrious Child of the Village!” at the game’s end. He or she is invited to be the new Lazy Lout (with another child) and the story and game repeats.
Over the years, I’ve found two other excellent games from Kischnick with the sleeping/waking theme that stand out for nine-year olds: The Ghost Train, and SleepyHead. Kischnick has written other excellent books in English that I highly recommend to all teachers and parents of children, especially:
Child’s Play: Games for Life for Children and Teenagers by Wil Van Haren, Rudolf S. Kischnick, 1996.
Please give Lazy Lout a try with your children or class of 8 – 10 year olds, and leave a comment to let us know how it goes for you, and for the children, too.
1 p. 115, Kischnick, R. Games Gymnastics Sport in Child Development. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979. Out of print