Take home lessons from a Waldorf preschool

The following is a guest post written by Kara Anderson of Quill and Camera.

For three years I had been wondering about joining a particular local weekly homeschool co-op.

And, then, last winter, I got my sign — they were offering a Waldorf preschool class, taught by a trained Waldorf teacher.

We try to be Waldorfy, I thought, as I recalled all the failed circle times and the fact that despite following the “rules” my son started reading at 3.

As we entered that beautiful classroom on the first day, I was so excited. Finally, I will get to see all this Waldorfness in action and transfer it to our life.

While it is true that I learned a lot (I was invited to observe and at times pitch in a bit) the lessons were unexpected. But bringing what I learned home has helped us find a balance that truly works.

Lesson 1: Not everything has to be totally Waldorf every second.

I had been interested in Waldorf education from the time my son was born. I filled my head with book passages, and we filled our home with wooden toys, block crayons, and baskets of pinecones.

So I was surprised when I learned where the teacher got some of her supplies like tiny glass mugs (a restaurant supply store); aprons from Goodwill and cardboard looms from a discount art warehouse.

The goal is to find materials that are useful, real, and beautiful, and that appeal to children. Such items can certainly be found through many wonderful Waldorf sites and catalogs, but with a careful and discerning eye, some great items can be found in other places as well.

Lesson 2: Just because it is Waldorf, doesn’t mean it is right for your family. (At least not right now)

A few years ago, my wonderful Waldorf-loving friend Rebecca taught a felting class. I loved every minute of it, bought far too much roving, and spent a lot of time making tiny creatures for two impressed kiddos.
So imagine my surprise when I asked the teacher when felting is taught in Waldorf schools.

“Not for a long time,” she said kindly, glancing at my newly 4-year-old little girl.

“Oh, no!” I said. “I was thinking of my son, who is older. He always wants to try when he sees me felting, but the needles make me nervous.”

Again, with kindness, she explained that many Waldorf teachers believe it is important for a child not to even see needle felting until they are older because they can misunderstand the motion used (a needle being repeatedly poked into the felt).

Whoops.

Rebecca came to my aid later and said she was sure I hadn’t scarred my children, and reminded me that wet felting can be a wonderful (and safe!) sensory experience for little ones.

Lesson 3: Waldorf teachers are not perfect people. (And you don’t have to be either)

They seem like it, don‘t they? But they are just normal people, deep down, which I learned the first day when a little girl entered the beautiful classroom and began turning over every basket in sight.

“We have a dumper,” the teacher said to me with a grin that said she would rather be screaming into a pillow.

Still, she took a deep breath and the next time the little girl dumped a basket, she handled it, calmly, gracefully … respectfully. They cleaned it up together as she explained that we want to keep the classroom neat and lovely.

What I saw was that she was not perfect — she had been momentarily irritated. But she still handled things like the adult. She set an example, and won a little girl’s trust and respect.

Lesson 4: The teacher keeps it together.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough the POWER OF THE APRON.

When the teacher tied her apron, she was in business-mode. Granted, the business was watercolor painting and fingerplays, but her whole demeanor became professional and IN CHARGE.

This is not to say that she stopped being loving. If anything, she became more so. She was focused, and her focus was 150 percent on the children in her care. This showed me the power that comes from mindfulness, and that you can bring that power to anything from playing with blocks on the floor to scrubbing a table.

This also meant that her attitude (positive, upbeat and on the task at hand) dictated how each day went.
It was remarkable how she led that classroom in a way that looked like she wasn’t even trying. It is something to aspire to — that’s for sure.

Lesson 5: Some aspects of Waldorf are easier in a group (So again, be kind to yourself)

Waldorf education was originally intended to be taught in a group setting. It wasn’t meant to be one mom, alone with 2 or 3 kids, trying to get siblings who 5 minutes ago were arguing over the last muffin to hold hands and sing like they are in a meadow of flowers.

So I have come to think that it is okay to use the ideas that work for you. Sure, there are some things that kind of make Waldorf Waldorf. But just because one or two “pieces” of Waldorf education do not work in your home, does not mean you have to give it up completely.

If Waldorf, or any educational philosophy, speaks to you, then use what works — and cut yourself a little slack. Do things well and with intention, but don’t get wrapped up in perfection.

Because the most important lesson I was reminded of in that classroom is that it all starts with caring deeply for the children you teach.

And that one, I’ve definitely got covered.

Have you learned how to embrace certain aspects of a philosophy while being able to discard other aspects that don’t work?

This post originally published on March 30, 2012.

About Kara Anderson

Kara is a freelance writer and homeschooling mom, driven by an unknown force to write everything down. She takes too many pictures, and never leaves home without a notebook. Read about her adventures with her two amazing kiddos at Quill and Camera.

Comments

  1. I so needed to read this! ….”It wasn’t meant to be one mom, alone with 2 or 3 kids, trying to get siblings who 5 minutes ago were arguing over the last muffin to hold hands and sing like they are in a meadow of flowers.”

    Often I have compared myself to my daughter’s teachers at her Waldorf School and felt like I was falling short. This put the humor back into parenting. Thanks. :)
    Julia Janzen’s latest post: Betsy

    • Thanks for commenting Julia! A little humor is a homeschooling requirement, I think. At least in my house!

  2. Oh the meadow of flowers! Love that! My kids are still pretty young (almost 4 and 19 months). I am trying to just go with the flow. I want them to love to learn, and I know that they already do. Sometimes I will get frustrated if they don’t want to do a certain activity, but then I realize when they find something they are interested in, they go all in. I am trying to learn to step back a bit, and let them explore on their own without me always trying to facilitate something specific.
    Heather’s latest post: kids lunches

    • Hi Heather,

      In the past year, I have really learned that sometimes, the best thing you can do is just let go (at least a little!) You are so wise to know that your children love learning already. I have come to think that sometimes my job is to plan, and sometimes it is to support them in their own interests, and sometimes, it is to get out of the way! :)

  3. I’ve heard of the Waldorf method but have never seen it in action. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into it. How does it compare to the Montessori method? It looks similar to me.
    Heidi’s latest post: Online College Courses for High School

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post. Last year I quit homeschooling because I felt I wasn’t “Waldorf’ enough with failed circle time, etc. and enrolled my son in our local Waldorf School. Now I’m realizing it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. So, in this next year we will go back to homeschooling in mainly a Waldorf fashion, but with the inclusion of some of my son’s loves like Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters. Thanks for helping others who also have this quandary.

    • Thanks Ann.

      I worried for so long that I was failing, because some aspects of Waldorf just weren’t working for my family. But finding this balance has brought peace and togetherness that just wasn’t there when I was “pushing” things.

      I think your son will love you including topics that are of interest to him!

      Best of luck with your return to homeschooling!

  5. Waldorf education is very interesting, I know that this will help our children to developed their selves and become more productive ahead…
    Lacey12′s latest post: Get Money that you need Now with Fast Cash Loans

  6. Thank yo for this! I find myself being way to serious sometimes! I love this part: “… the power that comes from mindfulness, and that you can bring that power to anything from playing with blocks on the floor to scrubbing a table.”
    Thank you! :)
    Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site’s latest post: How To Handle Your Toddler’s Teeth Grinding and Clenching During Sleep

  7. “trying to get siblings who 5 minutes ago were arguing over the last muffin to hold hands and sing like they are in a meadow of flowers.” best line ever!
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: Reality

  8. Interesting piece, Kara. My daughter was in a Waldorf-inspired preschool. I loved the nurturing atmosphere, the use of natural materials, the connection with the outdoors, the mixed-age, group activities, etc., but she often seemed bored and had trouble connecting with the other children. She is a bit academic, is learning to read at age 4, and loves books above all toys. So with mixed emotions, I put her in a different preschool.
    Still, I miss a lot of elements of Waldorf, and I think it would be a natural fit for my son, who is very active. I’m researching homeschooling now, and would love to incorporate some of the Waldorfy sense of rhythm, circle time, connection with the outdoors, etc., but without feeling bound to do it all, especially if it isn’t a natural fit.

  9. This is lovely Kara! Waldorf education is such a beautiful thing to bring to our children, I think it’s easy to get caught up in trying to do it perfectly. And really, the truth is that Waldorf early education is modeled on a healthy home life, not the other way around!!! So when families are giving their children a magical childhood, focused on family, play, home, and rhythm, they are doing it EXACTLY right. And this will look different for every family.

    Jamie, thanks for including articles on waldorf homeschooling at simple homeschool! :)

  10. Thank you for sharing that. I love many of the Waldorf ideas and am working on incorporating more. You are blessed that you have a school where you can go observe–what a treat! I think the main thing I need to do is slow down and pay attention, like you talked about, and that would work wonders. Love this and will check out the other Waldorf ideas.
    CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment’s latest post: Chapter Book: Winnie-the-Pooh & Boxcar Children

  11. What a lovely and reflective piece of writing. We are much too hard on ourselves at times. Glad you found the balance for your family.
    daisy’s latest post: Upcoming Garden Workshops

  12. So lovely! I like knowing it doesn’t have to be all or nothing all the time.
    Emily @ Random Recycling’s latest post: Project Simplify~ Home Office Organized (& Giveaway)

  13. Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing your own experience in Waldorf schooling. My children are not Pre-K age (8, 12 & 13), but we have “infused” many Waldorf methods into our at-home time during the last year, especially with my 8 year old daughter. I have been a strictly CM method mom in the past, not wanting to stray at all. I have gradually infused Waldorf-style and it has made our home school experience a more loving and natural environment. I believe even Charlotte Mason would approve. : ) If anything, it has been valuable just in teaching mommy to chill out! Again, thank you for sharing.

  14. This was a great article. I do believe that one of the biggest struggles for most moms is trying to be a school at home and that just isn’t possible. Part of the struggle comes from the lack of resources written by the homeschooler FOR the homeschooler. We encountered this when we started homeschooling years ago (our children are 11mo. to 15yrs. always Waldorf, always at home.) We started writing and consulting with homeschoolers for this very reason – moms need BTDT experience to go along with the Steiner knowledge. Moms need someone that has walked in their shoes and knows what it is like day in and day out. We don’t have the luxury of turning out the classroom light and going home at the end of the day, we are home. I started writing curriculum from this stand point. Most people don’t know that while Waldorf was created for the schools, Steiner was first a teacher in a home environment and many of his observations came from this time in his work. The work transcends the place that it is used. At home or at school it is incredibly healing for children. We started a homeschooler teacher training course last year to help families through the first year and get them feeling confident, I have been so amazed at the success we are seeing in families that were struggling just a few months ago. Light bulbs are going off and moms are relaxing – learning to hold the space – enjoying Waldorf like never before.

    Again, GREAT article! It is so good to see another family realizing that it isn’t just about fairies and gnomes :)

    Many Blessings!

  15. Thanks for sharing with us this interesting information/ knowledge about Waldorf , it’s a huge help for me to understand things matter…
    nicole’s latest post: http://muranoplace.com

  16. I do love to learn in every valuable ideas, Waldorf education is certainly the best…
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  17. Sandra92 says:

    I think, Waldorf education is the solution for providing the best way of education to our children….
    Sandra92′s latest post: Unlock iPhone 4

  18. It wasn’t an accident that I stumbled across this post! I learned and I laughed which is exactly what I needed today. Thank you.

  19. Great blog. I love how you talk about not worrying about being perfect. When I teach, I definitely worry too much. But, just doing your best and helping the children can be enough.

  20. Thank you for this post. The longer I homeschool, the easier I am able to allow all types of methods influence how I school my children. I can take the bits and pieces from several sources and get what my kids need. Thanks for this great perspective.
    Kelly’s latest post: Guest Post: Money Saving Mom

  21. I am in total envy of the teacher you mention. I wish I could be that well redirected when I am frustrated with the kids’ behaviors. Does anyone give workshops on that? Preferably at a spa? lol

  22. this was so excellent. I honestly have never known much about Waldorf, and I am homeschooling four boys. You have tweaked my interest now, and I want to learn more–especially for my two year old. Thanks for the awesome perspective!
    aloha

  23. Kara, thank you so much for sharing how your experience of Waldorf education in a play group changed the way you see Waldorf education. Before the internet, the only way to “see” Waldorf education was to experience it as you did, only. We homeschoolers did not have the internet to compare ourselves to others who were doing Waldorf at home and then when we did, it was not so visual for the first years and we were so happy to find each other. We had chat groups before the advent of blogs. We had very few books too. Now the internet brings us so many images and ideas of what Waldorf is, without the actual group experience and without being able to really take it in and digest it with head, heart and hands. In a way it feels like a mixed blessing, to have so much available online, yet without the processing of it, we can feel like we are coming up short and not being “WaIdorf enough” and without the actual experience with others, it is easy to idealize Waldorf and forget that teachers, schools and the pedagogy have warts and all, just like we do at home.
    I wrote a bit about circle and handwork in Waldorf education to help shed some light on these things here:
    http://www.celebratetherhythmoflife.com/2012/01/circle-time.html
    Lisa’s latest post: 27 :: April

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