Understanding the basics of Waldorf education

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Written by Donna Ashton of The Waldorf Connection

Waldorf is a living, breathing form of education that Rudolph Steiner, its founder, wanted to provide as an antidote to modern times.

Waldorf honors the whole child – body, mind and spirit – through music, arts, handwork, sculpture, stories and movement. It educates the child’s mind, nourishes their soul and meets their spirit at developmentally appropriate stages.

Through these arts, a child first experiences information physically and soulfully. The morning lesson incorporates many different subjects all based around the same theme. Children learn their letters through movement, first by walking the shape of the letter before writing or painting the letter strokes.

The letter is then reinforced through rhymes with actions, stories, and music. By first doing, children come to a concrete, tangible understanding of a concept before they are expected to apply it intellectually.

It isn’t that your child copies only your outer movements, but that they also experience your inner attitude of devotion, care, focus, sense of purpose, and creative spirit.

Make everything into a picture

There is great power in using imagery with your child. It enables the child to see or imagine concretely the topic at hand. For every concept taught let there be imagery.

For example, when teaching the letter “T” you might have your child draw it in the shape of a tree in their lesson book. When teaching multiplication, you can tell a story about a gnome who is saving apples for winter. Each of his storage sheds holds four apples, so our gnome will need four storage sheds for his 16 apples.

Rudolf Steiner suggests that we use images to grow on. It’s important that the imagery we’re teaching inspires the imagination and sparks the joy and adventure in learning. Static imagery produces static thinking.

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Photo by Renaud Photo

Relate everything to practical life

In Waldorf education learning is applied to “real” life. Each day unfolds in a predictable, rhythmic manner.

In the pre-school/kindergarten years, the child is learning primarily through imitation. Most of the child’s day consists of meaningful work and activities with a purpose such as cooking, baking, gardening, doing laundry, cleaning and taking care of art supplies and the homeschool learning area.

Learning through stories

Storytelling seems to be a lost art, but you’ll soon recognize the life it brings back into teaching and your relationship with your child.

The opportunity to look into your child’s eyes and gauge their feelings and reactions by watching as your story unfolds is amazing! It brings an essential part of you into the mix, which is the key to Waldorf- inspired homeschooling.

Waldorf ’s lack of pre-made textbooks doesn’t mean your child will not get a full rich dose of literature. Children create Main Lesson Books to document their progress through drawing, painting, writing and form drawing.

Natural toys and materials

Waldorf encourages natural materials and beautiful surroundings. Wooden toys, silks, pinecones, acorns and other items from nature are preferred for a child to get the feel of real materials.

Art and school supplies are also high quality to give the best and truest experience. While these may cost more up front, the quality and value of these items is well worth it. We still have crayons from when my girls were four! The materials last and the wooden toys can be fixed instead of discarded. And they feel and look amazing.

It may seem daunting to acquire everything you need, but start small and work items in as you go. Make a wish list for birthdays or holidays.

Waiting for academics

Steiner felt that academics should not be taught until the change of teeth. A child is born with a set of teeth, but now that he is making something of his own (permanent teeth), he becomes a more grownup human being. He’s on the path.

There are many physical factors that indicate a child might be ready for academics. Examples include:

  • A child who has been living for seven spring seasons.
  • Successfully hopping on one foot.
  • Reaching a hand over the head and touching the opposite ear (indicating longer limbs).

These indicators all point to physical readiness. The child has had a chance to master these movements, these physical things, before starting work on the head.

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Photo by Scott Leslie

Handwork

Waldorf education encourages children to develop in a well-balanced way. Handwork develops pathways in the brain, strengthening the understanding of math and expanding complex patterns and thoughts.

Handwork also develops a child’s sense of color, form, visual tracking, and numeracy.

Knitting, crocheting, sewing, felting, cross-stitch, woodworking, and wet felting are taught as specific subjects. Each craft honors the fact that our hands are learning tools that have refined capabilities.

Handwork uses both sides of the brain. Tracking skills, for example, are greatly enhanced by handwork. Visual tracking is instrumental in developing reading skills.

As your child creates their handwork they are also developing self-reliance, creative self-expression, and a sense of caring, as many handwork projects become gifts for family members and friends.

Looking to learn more about Waldorf?

Waldorf homeschooling was the homeschooling “method” I chose when my girls were four. But what it ended up being was a lifestyle of educating through body, mind and spirit.

I am not the same person I was before stumbling upon Waldorf.  The rich experience of music, the arts and nature has provided a foundation for my girls that they will take with them forever.

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If you are just getting started with Waldorf or if you’re feeling overwhelmed while trying to implement it, I know how you feel.

This is the 6th year I’ve hosted an annual online Waldorf Homeschool Expo. It’s completely FREE, and it starts tomorrow!

I’d love to have you register if you’re interested in learning more about Waldorf. Find more details and sign up here.

Have you incorporated any Waldorf principles into your homeschool?

About Donna Ashton

Donna Ashton is the founder and CEO of The Waldorf Connection, an online resource that provides workshops, courses, and training for homeschooling families all over the world.

Her book The Waldorf Homeschool Handbook is a one-of-a-kind resource for those getting started homeschooling.

Comments

  1. Kristin says:

    I would love to see some of the criticisms of Waldorf education addressed here. I realize that this is not a Christian blog, but I understand that many of those that head it up are. And the things I’ve read about Waldorf education philosophy disturbs me. The lack of rushing young children to learn before they are ready and the focus on the arts are great, but quotes I’ve seen about the founder’s beliefs concern me deeply. I’ve wanted to post something every time there has been a post about Waldorf education, but have hesitated as I know how wrongly things can come across via the internet. Hopefully, this just conveys the strong concern I have without being rude!

    • Hi Kristin. I appreciate your comment and might be able to speak to your concern a bit. I think the beauty of homeschooling is that rarely does a family embrace an entire method/philosophy and all that it embodies. Instead we pick and choose what appeals to us and works for our family. I loved learning about Waldorf as a young mom, and was drawn to many of its principles, which we naturally incorporated into our homeschool/family life.

      We left out the spiritual side of it that didn’t mesh with our Christian faith without any problem or issue. Just like I might edit a read-aloud that includes something I thought inappropriate for my kids, I constantly edit the philosophies we choose to fit our uniqueness as well. Hope that helps a bit!

  2. Waldorf education sounds great, in theory. But I have four kids under age 8, with a fifth due in November. And the idea of doing arts and crafts every day for school makes me exhausted by proxy.
    Kessie’s latest post: Volcano-brain and strawberry cake

    • I completely get what you’re saying, Kessie! I think sometimes we put certain expectations on ourselves that we have to make a method or theory look a certain way in our homes, when really we can just take a concept that appeals to us and translate it to work for our unique families and personalities.

      As a non-arts and crafts person myself, I took this Waldorf idea and made sure that we had nice art supplies for the KIDS (not me) when they wanted to use them. I also found that while I don’t enjoy painting or drawing much myself, I do like making things that the family can use (like baking, candlemaking, etc.) and so I’ve put my emphasis there. There’s no pressure, just take what works and discard the rest!

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