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.
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.
Photo by Scott Leslie
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.
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.
Have you incorporated any Waldorf principles into your homeschool?
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