Waldorf Education: Behind the Silk Curtains

Written by contributor Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys

When one discovers Waldorf education, there can be a wide variety of first impressions. My own introduction was hearing that “the arts are incorporated into every subject.” That resonated with me, and I was eager to learn more.

Others may be introduced to a Waldorf craft activity, learn about Waldorf dolls, or attend a seasonal festival. These are all important elements of Waldorf education, but there is so much more to it beyond the art on the walls, silk curtains, or beeswax crayons.

What stands behind Waldorf education is a worldview called anthroposophy (an-thro-POS-o-fee) developed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and founder of the first Waldorf School during the early 20th century.

Anthroposophy means “knowledge of the human being.” Central to Waldorf education is Steiner’s view of child development and recognition of the human being as an individual consisting of body, soul and spirit.

Waldorf schools aim to teach not only the intellect, but rather to educate the whole child: “head, heart and hands.”

When I decided to become a Waldorf teacher, I requested information on teacher training. Among the material I was sent were two brochures: one on the Foundation Year in Anthroposophy, the other on Teacher Training.

I put the first brochure aside, thinking, “I’m not interested in that philosophy,” (whose name I couldn’t even pronounce). “I want to work with children!”

At the time, I didn’t understand that the foundation year was not only a pre-requisite to teacher training but also essential to it. This amuses me now since over the course of my journey, I have learned how inseparable Waldorf education and anthroposophy are.

My experience in foundation studies was a turning point in my life. Through study and artistic activities, my eyes opened to a new, enlivened view of the world and an appreciation of the life purpose and potential of every human being.

Steiner stressed that self-development and the inner work of a teacher are essential to Waldorf education. Anthroposophy is not a religion (there are Waldorf teachers of all faiths), but rather a path of spiritual development.

Now after all my years of teacher training, studying Rudolf Steiner, and teaching in a Waldorf school, I can tell you that there are so many deep layers to Waldorf education that cannot be grasped in a nutshell. Or in a year, or a decade, or even a lifetime!

What does this mean to a homeschooling parent?

Should you give up the notion of Waldorf homeschooling because you lack teacher training and can’t pronounce anthroposphy?

Absolutely not!

Photo by Bella Luna Toys

Even though elements such as handwork and seasonal festivals may be the outer manifestations of the Waldorf tradition, they are activities that children will benefit from and that families can enjoy together.

I encourage you to incorporate any elements of Waldorf education that have meaning for you. If something doesn’t make sense or resonate, don’t offer it simply because you’ve heard that it’s “Waldorf.”

Must one enroll in teacher training and spend years studying Steiner before attempting to educate one’s own children?

Emphatically, no!

The most essential rule of Waldorf education is also the simplest to grasp: Teach with love and joy. No one loves your child more than you. Who could do a better job at that? It’s also important to bring joy to our days with children, so that means taking time for self-care and renewal.

How do I choose Waldorf homeschool curricula?

In this electronic age, there has been an explosion of information available to Waldorf homeschoolers through websites, blogs, and discussion groups, not to mention the vast number of books and articles that have been published during the past decade.

There are many quality books, guides and websites created by teachers that demonstrate a deep understanding of Waldorf education and knowledge of child development. There are also materials that have been created by others with varying levels of knowledge and limited experience. Some are true to the ideals; others may be more eclectic or mainstream with a “Waldorf flavor.”

How can one determine which resources are true to the heart of Waldorf education?

In education there is no one-size-fits-all, so it’s fortunate that there are so many choices. At the same time making a selection can be confusing. There are books, guides, e-books, and whole curriculum packages.

For those interested in Waldorf homeschooling, I recommend asking the following questions when deciding what to use:

  • Who is the author?
  • Does the author have a degree in education?
  • What is his or her background in Waldorf education?
  • Has the author completed Waldorf teacher training?
  • Does the author have classroom teaching experience? How many years?
  • Does the author have homeschooling experience? If not, does he or she understand what it’s like to juggle daily household activities with teaching one’s children?
  • How familiar is the author with the work of Rudolf Steiner? Does he or she have a living relationship with anthroposophy and work out of its insights?
  • How long has the curriculum provider been in operation?
  • If it is a curriculum package, what kinds of support are available beyond the printed resources?

These questions should help you choose quality materials that will give your child a true and meaningful experience of Waldorf education, and bring light and joy to your own journey!

Are you familiar with Waldorf education? What are the elements that resonate with you?

About Sarah

Sarah is an author, mama to two teenage boys, and Waldorf early childhood educator. She is also the owner of Bella Luna Toys, an online shop offering wooden and natural toys inspired by Waldorf education. She writes about childhood, play, parenting and Waldorf education on her blog, Moon Child.

Comments

  1. I am interested in the differences between Montessori and Waldorf education. Both educational philosophies appeal to me, but I’m having difficulty seeing the differences. A topic for a future post, perhaps? Thanks!

  2. Great post! :D
    I am curious and haven’t had a chance to ask anyone yet. But I am very interested in Waldorf Homeschooling. My question is for my state (Ohio) The law seems to require that you make a pretty good list of the materials (books and such) you will be using to teach your child from for the year. I feel like things I think are good learning materials the public school system may not agree with (or learning activities that do not even include books). Not to mention can I really plan a whole year in advanced?

    I really want to homeschool my child in a Waldorf way but I am so scared of the above mentioned being a problem. We moved from a small town to a big city a few years ago and I am not comfortable him being in any of these schools around here. And even where I came from, I just don’t agree with public schooling at all these days for so many reasons.

    Any suggestions or links etc. you think might be helpful in being able to do Waldorf Schooling when the law seems to demand a list of materials you are using?

    Thanks so much in advance!

  3. I’m so thankful for you sharing here, Sarah. It’s incredible to me that one year ago I had barely heard of Waldorf, and now it seems it has influenced our home in many ways.

    What a wonderful aspect of the blogosphere–always introducing me to more incredible philosophies and ideas!
    Jamie~Simple Homeschool’s latest post: Waldorf Education- Behind the Silk Curtains

  4. So, how do you pronounce Anthroposophy? :)
    I have also found myself at first resisting the Foundations type material and only wanting to read stuff on childhood and education. But it is a rabbit hole, I’m finding, and now I’m going deeper and deeper. I love how you distill it to teach with love and joy. Which naturally extends to mother with love and joy. And live with love and joy. See, a rabbit hole!
    Kyce’s latest post: Around the House- I See

  5. Wonderful article, Sarah!
    Blessings,
    Carrie
    Carrie’s latest post: Strong-Willed At Three and Four Years of Age

  6. I am about a month away from finishing my Foundation Year. What a wonderful journey I am on! Having taught in a traditional public school prior to my current position at a public waldorf charter, I cannot help but feel so blessed every day I go to “work”. The fact that the parent body supports the teachers in receiving this foundation speaks volumes of how they value their child’s education and wish for their child’s teacher to feel supported and inspired. I am so glad this option is available to me as a parent, so my daughter can receive this rich, meaningful education.
    mamaTAVE’s latest post: Wool Eggs Hatched!

  7. I hope you don’t mind if I add a note of dissent in this discussion about homeschooling and Waldorf education. I have 2 children who were enrolled in Waldorf school from playgroup through the grades until I took them out for homeschooling. Initially, our Waldorf experience was lovely and I was very much an advocate of what I thought to be a gentle and supportive way to educate children. There were things that came up that made me question Steiner and his philosophy but nothing really more glaring than the “no black crayons in early childhood” and no plastic toys or media. As the years passed and my children were into the grades, things began to change and I began to wonder more and more about Steiner and his Anthroposophy and how that was affecting my children’s education. After many years around many different Waldorf teachers, I know now that Anthroposophy is the underlying principle of Steiner’s teaching. And yes, I know that there are Waldorf teachers of many shapes and sizes and religions but the ones that stick around are the ones who have embraced Anthroposophy as their spiritual path. I don’t even really mind that. But what I do mind is that prospective parents are told differently. They are told that Anthroposophy doesn’t play an important role in their child’s education and that is just not true.

    I have been confused for a long time about homeschooling and Waldorf because most of the Waldorf teachers I have come in contact with do not believe that a parent is capable of educating their own children. I do have a copy or two of “You are Your Child’s First Teacher” and while that was very influential in my choice of Waldorf Education in the first place, I may have been my child’s First Teacher, but their Waldorf Teachers were pretty adamant that they were better suited than I to complete the task.

    As a matter of fact, when I told my son’s teacher than we were taking him out of Waldorf school she turned to me and said, “You know he won’t get a full Waldorf education even if you invest in a Waldorf curriculum to use at home?” Then, because I wasn’t getting her full drift she added, “You know, if he doesn’t complete his full 8 grades in a Waldorf school his “Christ” won’t fully incarnate.”

    No underlying religious undertones to that.

    Anyway, just a word to the wise and a warning that Waldorf education isn’t all fuzzy and warm wool and natural fiber education.

    A former Waldorf parent,

    Susan P.
    Sue Pea’s latest post: photo of the day wolf talk

    • Hi Sue,

      When I began homeschooling with Waldorf, I heard similar comments.

      After the Harmony Rainbow of Waldorf schools comes the shadow.

      Unfortunately individuals sometimes hold rigidly to ideas rather than explore the underpinnings and relevance to the current situation. The good news is that are many who do support Waldorf education at home and will discuss the whys and unveil the shibbolths around Waldorf education on discussion groups and in trainings that embrace homeschoolers and dialogue.

      Marsha Johnson of Shining Star:

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorfhomeeducators/

      Eugene Schwartz:

      http://millennialchild.com/

      Warmly,
      Lisa

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