Young children today are usually quite aware that a baby is growing "inside mommy's tummy," and they will sometimes give kisses to the baby or tell you something about him or her during the months of pregnancy. But how did the baby get there, and what will help prepare them for the birth?
Regardless of the question, young children are not asking about the mechanics or even the physical realities--which is why they are usually satisfied with an answer that emphasizes the spiritual realities. If you are telling them the truth, it doesn't have to be the whole truth and can be augmented as they grow and become "more earthly." The very young child has just come from the spiritual world and still has one foot there, which is why talking about a little angel or Star Child coming to earth to be their brother or sister makes sense to them--they were recently in that state themselves and are still strongly in touch with their own spiritual reality.
So--if this applies to your family situation--you might say something like, "When you were a Star Child up in heaven, you saw how much your daddy and I loved each other and how much we would love you, too, and you decided to come down and be part of our family. And our new baby saw this, too, and also wanted to have you as big brother (or sister)." Some children's books that reinforce this understanding include Little Angel's Journey by Dzvinka Hayda (available on Amazon). This book retells the Waldorf birthday story of the child coming to birth over the rainbow bridge. Birthday by Heather Jarman tells the story of young children, on their birthday, waiting to travel with Father Time from heaven down to earth (from Steiner Books). And, if you don't know On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman, it's a real delight (from Amazon).
Here are some other suggestions: "The baby is growing, getting bigger and bigger, and when the leaves are turning colors this fall, it will be time for her to come out and join our family." "Mommy has a special place between her legs that opens up for the baby to come out and closes back up again. When the baby and mommy will be working together so he or she can come out, it's called 'labor,' which means 'hard work.' So mommy might be making noises then, like moving a piano. That's how hard she'll be working" (then you could make grunting noises together).
Having been a midwife for many years, I've seen many children participate in birth to varying degrees, from going over to grandmas, to wanting to be present every moment, to just missing the birth by a few minutes. It's important that the parents decide to what extent they want their young child or children to participate and, if so, that they have someone who can take his or her cues from the child, leaving both parents free to focus on this unique labor and birth. My own thoughts at this point are that birth is really intense and, just as a couple wouldn't have intercourse in front of their child due to the intimate and intense nature of the energy, I would think twice before having a young child present for the actual birth. Having said that, however, I would add that I have never seen a child upset by birth--they tend to be self regulating if someone is sensitive to their needs. However, young children don't need to be present for the actual "coming out" to take in the message that birth is a normal part of life and is happening with everyone's love and blessing. Coming in shortly after the birth (or even in the morning), can be plenty soon enough to meet the new baby and participate in the loving atmosphere.
In thinking about having children at birth, the first consideration is that the mother feel comfortable and able to concentrate on the work at hand without having to divide her attention or be afraid of ignoring or frightening a young child. If she feels she can do this with children in the house, then the second most important thing is that there is someone to be with the other child or children who is there only for them and who is willing to miss the actual birth, because young children often arrange to be away at the park or asleep at night when the baby actually comes out.
When I took the Waldorf teacher training, the teachers (mostly from the UK, Germany and Austria), talked about the story/image of babies being brought by the stork and how this was an image of the spiritual, not the physical reality--nobody was trying to say it was "literal," the more so because children in earlier times were probably even more familiar with birth and farm life. Neither was it a "cute story" or a con for the children; rather, it was a "true image" in describing the spirit of the child coming to earth, accompanied by a white bird like the dove representing the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
The spiritual realities about birth, combined with a few simple sentences about how the baby comes out are almost always enough for the young child. As the child matures, more information obviously needs to be given. Human Fertility, a guide for teachers (and parents) by Waldorf teacher Linda Knodle contains lesson plans to use in grades 4-7. Her sequel, Lessons for Middle School Issues, is for use with children in grades 8 and 9. She has also written a Rites of Passage Workbook, and all are available from her website, www.lindaknodle.com. We offer a CD or MP3 of Linda's talk "Navigating the Terrain of Sexuality."
Another internationally known writer and teacher, DeAnna L'am, is also a Waldorf parent and has written Becoming Peers for mothers and other women who care about girls' coming of age. A lot of DeAnna's work with women involves helping them release their own confusion and pain around menstruation and fertility so they can be clear guides for girls' becoming women--so it's never too early to start. We off her book and a CD/MP3 of hers, "Mentoring Youth into Adulthood"; or see her website at www.deannalam.com.
One remaining question is how and when to teach young children about boundaries and body integrity--please note that I use those words instead of "sex education" and "stranger danger"--since most cases of sexual abuse or even abduction involve people well known to the child. Unfortunately, I haven't found any resources developed from a Waldorf understanding, and much of what is available is far too hysterical, burdening the child with unrealistic expectations. One of the guidelines I do like is from Blue Sky Bridge in Colorado, "Some Simple Tips to Help Keep Your Children Safe from Sexual Abuse." Their sensible suggestions include listening to your child and maintaining a "secrets-free" home; and teaching your children that each person is in charge of their own body and no one is allowed to touch their body or make them touch another person's body. Read the complete list here.