Written by Kara S. Anderson.
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).
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.