A Kinder, Gentler Magazine for Kids

A new publication for 7- to 12-year-olds, based on anthroposophic principles, is intended to be 'a refuge for the imagination in a loud and boisterous world,' says its editor, Rinat Primo.

The selection of children's magazines recently increased thanks to the recent arrival of Adam Tza'ir (Young Person), intended for elementary-school children aged 7 to 12. The magazine will come out three times a year and is remarkable, among other things, because of its low-key design.

The cover of the fall issue, whose theme is knights, is a drawing in shades of brownish red against a white background, which appears to have been taken from a children's book (the magazine's illustrator and graphic designer is Michal Dagan). The drawing at first glance seems abstract, but upon closer inspection the image of a knight on a horse emerges. The greenish edges of his cape and of the cloak on the horse save the figure from being completely swallowed up in the illustration.

Rinat Primo - Moti Milrod
Editor Rinat Primo. Moti Milrod

Compared to the covers of various other children's magazines, which are colorful and often feature photos of celebrities or some dominant image that jumps out at you, and in contrast with the colorful and appealing covers of children's books - this subtle one, with a hand-drawn and not computer-designed image, is an interesting declaration of intent if not of defiance.

A glance at the magazine, which is edited by the children's book author Rinat Primo ("Zaharurim," or "Splendors," etc.) reveals both obvious and hidden treasures that indicate a desire to aim for higher sights. In this respect, it is a natural rival for Einayim, which also focuses on the same age group. Firstly, it does not have a single advertisement. Secondly, the pages filled with Hebrew text (including vowels) are superimposed over drawings and usually (except for the main feature) are done in colored pencils, much like the cover image.

The debut edition features a number of engaging legends about knights, an article about fencing, which actually features female fencers - thus bringing the feminist "cause" into the medieval world of knights, which ostensibly is of more interest to boys - and other sections with items by interesting writers. For example, there's one with a story and a recipe by the "queen" of fairy stories, Eshkar Erblich Brifman, plus a clever riddle by Asher Kravitz, author of the book, "Hakelev Hayehudi" ("The Jewish Dog").

Eliya Alon, grandson of Azaria Alon (a researcher of the natural and cultural history of the Land of Israel and founder of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel ), is the homeroom teacher of Primo's daughter; here, he writes about hikes and outings.

According to Primo, the magazine is meant to be a kind of "refuge for the imagination in a loud and boisterous world." Based on a preliminary review only, it seems to work. One 10-year-old boy, who is addicted to computer games of the most mindless sort, was riveted.

"We didn't want a magazine about the world of television marketing," explains Primo. "And on the other hand, our goal was not to appeal too much to the intellect. We call it an experiential magazine."

As for the decision to create a magazine with no advertisements, Primo adds that it has no marketing content either. For her, "this is the biggest problem with children's magazines and television programming. Marketing content by definition dominates the other content, and the problem is that a child cannot make the distinction between them."

Primo: "We sat in the editorial offices and considered the issue of advertisements, because it's so ugly to us and inappropriate for children, but on the other hand, it's impossible to get by without it. We couldn't find a loophole. It was not an easy decision, because it means that the magazine will be supported exclusively by its subscribers."

For now, Adam Tza'ir's editorial team consists of just three members: Primo, the designer, Dagan, and the publisher, Noam Sharon, who also wrote the article about fencing. Sharon is also the publisher of Adam Olam, the magazine of the anthroposophic community; the advent of this new publication venture of his raises the question of whether it is aimed at that community's next, younger generation.

According to Primo, the magazine is created in the spirit of Waldorf principles - i.e., it is influenced by the educational philosophy of anthroposophy and is nurtured by it, but it does not refer to it explicitly or relate to the local community's affairs. As a matter of course, it will be accessible to students in local anthroposophy schools, she says, but the target audience is mainstream: all Israeli children.

'An ongoing process'

Primo was the obvious choice to edit the magazine. Apart from her work as a writer of children's literature, who also writes about such books, she also shapes her own life today around the principles of anthroposophy.

"It didn't happen all at once, overnight," she says, "it's an ongoing process." At first, she was like many parents - hesitant about placing their beloved child in what she sees as the state's heavy-handed education system. "I was just looking for a pleasant and suitable kindergarten for my daughter, Asia."

After an exhausting search, Primo went to the anthroposophic kindergarten in Ramat Gan, her hometown, and says she knew "this was the place" based on the quiet and pleasant manner in which it was run. That was 10 years ago. In the meantime, the Sommer Anthroposophic School sprang up next door, and Primo's eight-year-old twin sons, Itamar and Yoav, are enrolled there. This year the school opened its first ninth-grade class.

The unique and principled educational method used in the kindergarten and school captivated Primo. "I feel as if the kindergarten teachers and the teachers are helping me to raise the children in the most correct way," she says, and adds, "parents need a lot of help raising children. These educators are people that I admire. They really see the kids. The way they talk about each one - they truly understand them."

Anthroposophy is a movement that was founded by the German philosopher and cultural critic Rudolf Steiner in the previous century. A so-called Waldorf education, as the anthroposophic educational method is known (the first school was established in the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory to serve employees' children, hence the name ), focuses on childhood and specifically the psychological development of the child.

"For me, the most important point is that our childhood, like our life as a whole, is built from stages," explains Primo. "Each stage has its own pace and what is appropriate for the individual child. Therefore, [Waldorf] educators try to 'nourish' the child with what is appropriate to him and his capabilities. If you understand it this way, things become simpler. For example, the matter of preparing a child for going to school. If you realize that there are things which are appropriate to age four - let's say, a game using the imagination - and there are things that seven year-olds can do, such as reading, because only at that stage is the ability to sit in one place and learn developed - then there is no need for preparation in advance. You simply do what is appropriate for that age."

There are nine official Waldorf schools in Israel and many others where the educational methods are inspired by the method, and where teachers try to create this sort of unique childhood paradise. They strongly urge the children, for example, to avoid watching television and playing computer games, and indeed to stay away from electronic toys in general; Barbie dolls or other mass-produced, commercialized products are off-limits. Youngsters learn to crochet and use soft-colored pencils and pastels.

Along with the amazement one feels in such a school at the sight of children playing "the way children used to," boys knitting, and the aesthetics of the usually all-wood furniture and light-colored curtains in the classrooms - there has been, however, growing criticism of Steiner's principles for educating children, which sometimes appear too rigid, and of the philosophy's general approach, which sometimes seems overly protective. One argument is that this type of education cuts off the children from the reality outside, where there is competition and many other problematic elements. Another argument is that because this type of education does not allow for competition, children who are natural achievers will not fit in, and may be subject to a certain amount of suppression.

In addition to being enthralled by the Waldorf method and principles, Primo says she does see their rigidity.

"They have a lot of crazy restrictions on television and computers," she agrees, "restrictions that I'm not willing to abide by. But I also limit such things at times. For example, in the mornings, there is no television at home, and the same applies until 6 P.M. for the twins. At older ages, the supervision becomes less strict naturally."

According to Primo, parents of kids at non-Waldorf schools "cannot impose the restrictions at home. When Asia was little, I felt intuitively that it's not good for her to sit passively and stare at the television. The anthroposophy just helped me to formulate what I felt and to stand up to the kids' attacks," she laughs.

"While the body is developing during childhood, it's also not good to sit like that. Playing on the computer is allowed, but not when friends come over. It's better to try and play alone in your free time, to do things. A child is by nature an active being. But of course, in my home, too, the children may say 'I'm bored' all day long," Primo adds.

As for the Waldorf method's possible suppression of some of the qualities valued in society, she explains that perhaps the very thought that a child has to be an achiever or to compete is too narrow to begin with - "in a bubble."

This year, in order to deepen her knowledge of the educational philosophy, Primo attended a seminar at the Sommer school, which trains teachers. Today, she stresses, she believes in the ideas and philosophy of anthroposophy. In a nutshell, one can describe the process she underwent, she says, "as an inner path. A path that I reached via a very gradual change that happened over time. It's not that one day I saw the light. I worked in advertising; I was the creative director in a terrific place. Today I'm developing at my own pace, without any background noise. With greater inner peace."

External and inner journey

All of this also applies to the thinking that guides Primo in editing the new magazine. She herself writes most of the texts, which speak directly to a child's imagination. The legends in the first edition are a reinterpretation of Thomas Malory's "The Knights of the Round Table." But as is the case with classic works, there is also a hidden, educational dimension here, which she addressed in her introduction.

"Knights are cool - there are swords, spears, duels and also elegant dresses, and a whole culture that developed around this," she notes. But there is also a journey involved here, an inner journey that parallels an external one. "For children this is presented in a tangible way [in stories], but when you think about it, everyone is on his own journey in search of his 'holy grail,' with battles against dragons and between the forces of good and evil inside him."

Therefore, naturally, she says, girls can also be knights, as "they also go on journeys."

On a similar level, embarking on both one's own journeys and those of the knights symbolizes the new year that lies ahead - the new journey the young magazine is now starting and all the hopes that entails.

Adam Tza'ir is also, for Primo, a family affair; her three children are involved in preparing the magazine. Her daughter Asia, "a bookworm," offered references from her own book collection. The children heard the stories before they were written, commented and were used to "test them out."

"On one of the trips we did this summer, we climbed a steep hill," says Primo, "and as soon as the whining started, I began telling the kids one of these legends. It worked."