Sunday, August 4, 2013

Waldorf Education :: Where to Begin?

Oh my, this little Get Organized :: Sketch it Out Planning Session of mine has brought all of us, in this fabulous, wise, warm, tender, mighty, courageous, vulnerable, funny, supportive and generous group of women into so many places with real life questions, really good questions we are penetrating, the sort of questions that so many parents wrestle with at one time or another...
  • how to find rhythm? 
  • what is Waldorf education? 
  • how to find time? 
  • what is important? 
  • what can I let go of? 
  • how to let go?
  • what is getting in my way? 
  • where is support? 
  • who is community? 
  • how do I connect with the world? 
  • how do I respond to my child? 
  • what is the purpose of education? 
  • of parenting? 
  • how do parenting and homeschooling go with Waldorf? 
  • is Waldorf right for me? 
  • what is Waldorf at home? 
  • how do I homeschool?
  • how do I teach my child?
Waldorf education has been rapidly expanding around the world since the very first school, inspired by Rudolf Steiner and Emil Molt, opened its doors nearly 100 years ago, in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. Waldorf schools are expanding to accommodate the requests of parents for programs for younger and younger children with nurseries, all day care of the child, parent child groups, even prenatal groups, as well as requests for older children with the opening of more high schools.

Waldorf education is taking new directions. Field, Farm and Forest programs are sprouting up all over the world. Semester expeditions provide a living education, going to the heart of Waldorf education, in bringing high school students opportunities to meet the world. Living Education series on farms are becoming more and more available to Waldorf homeschoolers. And it seems that more and more homeschoolers are turning to Waldorf education.

Some folks are attracted to the connection to nature. Some love the beauty and simplicity. Some love the simple toys of natural materials. Some are moved deeply upon entering a classroom. Others attend a festival, fair or puppet show at a Waldorf school and become smitten.

Yet what is it that is at the core of Waldorf education that makes Waldorf Waldorf and not a nature based program? What is the essence of Waldorf that makes it distinctly Waldorf and not other? This seems to me a living question today, especially among homeschoolers who want to know more.

Yet for anyone who has been involved with Waldorf education for any amount of time, we know that there is no easy answer or formula. There is no one size fits all curriculum. Yet there is something that is distinctly Waldorf. What does that essence look like in the home?

One of the questions I am asked most often is where to begin, how to understand Waldorf education?

Yet there is no simple and easy answer. Waldorf education is intertwined with the view of the child as a spiritual being as well as the view of all humans as spiritual beings with distinct phases of development. Yet the teacher looks to the child, through the lens of child development for understanding of the child's needs, not in following the child's whims and desires of the moment but in seeing the child from the position of authority: adult as artist, author and wise guide.  It is grounded in freedom and love. 

Just as no two artists will approach a creative project in the same way, no two teachers or parents will approach a child in the same way when working out of anthroposophy and Waldorf education. We do not apply equal portions of all the same life potions to every child, we look to the needs of the individual child and respond specifically to the child's need, always striving to provide what each child needs.

There is no one size fits all curriculum and no one size fits all behavior or way to be with a child or group of children, it is unique to the relationship. Just as seeking out curriculum support is unique to the relationship. A wise and seasoned classroom teacher may inspire me with his or her particular artistic flair. It need not be someone who homeschools to inspire the artistic. Fellow homeschoolers can help us with the nuts and bolts of organizing the day yet anyone can inspire us with the artistic elements.

Look to the artistic. When you are seeking help, look for the artistic flair of the curriculum writer or consultant. Do you see something unique to that person that inspires you? Trust that. For Waldorf is above all an artistic approach to development and education. Waldorf education is not just about providing certain stories each year. It is about our own work, our ability to take in the stories and really digest them first. Then we bring them out of our inner being, artistically, with our own flair, to the child it is about artistically inspiring an interest in the world that meets our child's developmental needs by doing the work ourselves first. This is where it gets rigorous.

Each of us comes on our own path and finds our own way that is unique to each of us. Waldorf education is very much a social one and one way to learn more is to connect with others. When we are in a group, magical things can come forth that do not emerge in our solitude. Reach out to others on this path. Gather together to knit, sew, preserve. Ask your Waldorf local school if it might be possible to participate in festival singing or festivities, plays, community chorus and the fifth grade Pentathalon as homeschoolers.

On the other hand is the path of inner development. Waldorf education is grounded in our own inner development. It is in pushing ourselves and developing our own artistic qualities that we inspire our children to do their best. When we go to the heart of discipline for our children, we find it within, within ourselves, within our hearts, it is our own self discipline that provides the path for providing the gentle and loving guidance our children need as they meet the world. 

Some paths to learning more:
:: For Inner Development, Lynn Jericho provides a year full of courses on inner development at her site Imagine Self with juicy, artistic, creative, inner exploration as well as one on one consultation. Work with Lynn is always freeing, inspiring and empowering.

:: For help with understanding the child and the curriculum out of anthroposophy, where they intersect, and how to work with the curriculum artistically to meet the needs of the child I love the Essential Waldorf Workshops provided by Eugene Schwartz with Raine Springer, Robert Trostli and Meg Chittenden.

:: For Parenting and Waldorf homeschooling support of all sorts, my friend Carrie over at The Parenting Passageway offers support and insight into the inner growth of the parent and development of the child with Waldorf homeschooling. This link is to a fine post on 5 things Carrie would like folks to know about Waldorf homeschooling.

:: For help with simplifying your life, consider Simplicity Parenting. This approach began as a book by Kim John Payne, and now can be experienced in groups and at talks. Simplicity Parenting helps families become aware of how our lives and homes may be over complicated and take stock of what is getting in the way of peaceful daily living and then make gradual, gentle and lasting changes to simplify life with children.

:: Don't forget my Program, going into its third year, Celebrate the Rhythm of Life in Caring for Children through the Year is grounded in the gentle art of mothering, we focus on our inner and outer experience of the seasons and the wonder of an ordinary day. Each month we take up a focus topic and make an in depth study at an element of early childhood with inner reflection and conversation in a warm and nourishing community. We also focus on tending the hearth and homeschooling from the deeply nourishing perspective of anthroposophy and Waldorf education.


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