Friday, April 18, 2014

What is Waldorf Education?

Oh dear, this question of Waldorf education, these many questions of Waldorf education and homeschooling... "What is Waldorf education?" "What is Waldorf education for homeschoolers?" "Is there a dividing line between what is and what is not Waldorf homeschooling?" "Who defines Waldorf education for homeschoolers?" These questions keep coming up, again and again, in the online communities of homeschoolers. 

For transparency, I was a Philosophy/Women's Studies major in college and love to contemplate the paradigms out of which we live and work as well as look to the roots to find a deeper understanding of the whys and wherefores.

If we dig in a bit, we have a glimpse of how Waldorf is taught artistically in the pillars of Waldorf education here and the importance of rhythm here

Yet beyond these basics, so many questions arise when it comes to plunging in to a deeper, perhaps many deeper understandings of Waldorf education at home … 

Some years back at an East Coast WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood of North America) conference with the theme "There are No Difficult Children," the keynote speaker Gerald Karnow closed the conference by saying that the Waldorf classroom may not be for every child. He went on to add that Waldorf education can take place in a barn, in caring for the elderly and in a kitchen. These words have stayed with me, close to my heart as we explore what are the possibilities for Waldorf education out of the classroom.

For those new to Waldorf education… how does a homeschooling parent learn about Waldorf education? What does it look like? How do we teach in the Waldorf way? How do we find information? Who are our teachers? Our mentors? Are we mentoring each other? Where are our colleagues? Do we need to read Rudolf Steiner? Are we part of a social movement? Do we need each other?

What is at the heart of the Waldorf curriculum? Does the writer of curriculum materials that are for sale need to be a trained Waldorf teacher in order to have the mastery to write curriculum materials? Is there something in the process of teacher training, an initiation of sorts, something that occurs that gives a person a new relationship to the curriculum? Does it make a difference? Is it something that happens in being part of a social group that sets trained teachers apart? How about the other folk who are immersed in the social culture of a Waldorf school? Have a relationship to anthroposophy? Who is qualified to make decent curriculum material? Who decides?

Could Waldorf homeschooling exist without Waldorf schools? Could it have started without schools and teachers as models? Has it strayed from the school model with the pedagogy among homeschoolers?  Do we as Waldorf homeschoolers need what Rudolf Steiner referred to as the heart of the Waldorf school, that is faculty meetings. How do we create faculty meetings when we homeschool?

Is there such a thing as Waldorf lite? Waldorf inspired? Waldorf centered? Waldorf rooted? Waldorf leaning? 

What about the homeschoolers whose only experience of Waldorf education is through the internet, via a screen online? Is it possible to have an experience of Waldorf education  as it unfolds in its interwoven layers? How is the experience of learning about Waldorf education online different from actually visiting a place,  going to a school and having a hands on, physical experience of Waldorf education?

Some of the questions I find myself asking, in reflecting over the years I have spent as a Waldorf homeschooler… Has something changed with Waldorf homeschooling? Is Waldorf homeschooling a movement? Is Waldorf Homeschooling part of the larger Waldorf movement? Has something new emerged with the online proliferation of Waldorf education at home? How does this compare with the Waldorf  homescholing of ten or twenty years ago? Is the path similar? Has it changed? Has it become a commodity?

So many questions.

I don't have the answers. I am sharing these questions for all of us who are interested in Waldorf homeschooling.

When I first came to Waldorf homeschooling nearly two decades ago, I was told by some in the Waldorf school community that Waldorf homeschooling does not exist and cannot be, because the parent is incapable of being the "authority" figure that the child needs in the grade school years.

Well, that didn't hold water with me.

In those early days of Waldorf education online, we had one chat group, with many voices, and boy, (girl) we were so happy to find each other. 

In the very beginning, there was a discussion group made up of parents, teachers, grandparents, administrators, translators, authors, anthroposophists and curious bystanders who discussed everything from evil, to pants on the kindergarten teachers, to the role of anthroposphy in the schools, run by Bob and Nancy, who had the first Waldorf website, called Bob and Nancy's services here and translated Rudolf Steiner's pedagogical works into american english. Nowadays Nancy Parsons and Bob Lathe are still supporting Waldorf education and homeschoolers with Waldorf Books, found here as a great place for homeschoolers to find curriculum materials and support. Don't be afraid to ask them questions about books and materials for they are very knowledgable and helpful. 

Conversations were often lively and opinions and perspectives were diverse. There were  sometimes strong words along with respect for differences in opinion.

The interest in homeschooling was so strong within that group, that in the spring of 1999 a separate discussion group was born for Waldorf homeschoolers. 

We were so happy to find each other and share our endeavors as Waldorf homeschoolers. We shared resources and supported each other. Yes, we had some squabbling and over the years, especially when a member of the groups grew started to be very clear in her opinions, grew large, and then began to produce materials for sale, the tension increased and eventually, the person who was creating curriculum material would spring out, birth a new group and curriculum and leave the group. 

Yet the core remained. There was a place to go as a homeschooling mom and have a chat, free of worry of stepping on toes.

No longer. The group lasted for about ten years until the moderators were called away to focus on other aspects of life and a decision was made to end the group.

These days, we have so much material to chose from and not so many places for frank conversation.

Do you wrangle with these sorts of questions? How do we create a conversation that does not become polarized? How do we ask the big questions, what is Waldorf education? Is it Waldorf because I call it so or is there something essential that makes it so? How do we open ourselves towards seeing what is Waldorf from the six angles of the blind men who came upon the elephant?

You may know the story… it is shared in many traditions...

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.

"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg. "Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail. "Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant. "It is like a big hand fan" said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant. "It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant. "It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?" They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like." Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you all said." "Oh!" everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

PS.  I am doing a test run of an eCourse that I am developing for homeschoolers and homemakers who are interested in looking at Waldorf from different angles. We'll look at some of the core elements of Waldorf education and hear from guests who are working out of Waldorf education and share different angles for those of us trying to get a feel for what it is that makes Waldorf education distinctly Waldorf. If you are new to Waldorf education and would like to explore the basis of Waldorf ed, send me an e-mail at lisaboisvert (at) yahoo (dot) com


  1. You have made a big list of questions. Many of them I have wondered about. There is so much "stuff" surrounding Waldorf that for me I had to take away from the ideals what I believed to be key for my child and our family life. But it is important as home educators to stop comparing each other because everyone is going to do it a little different no matter what approach we choose. As adults we should honor all those who choose this home school adventure and be glad that we have the freedom to do so.
    Thanks for the post.

    1. Hi Maria, I agree wholeheartedly. Part of my whine is for a day when we did not have blogs and so much "stuff" coming at us. I am so grateful for the freedom we have, thank you for that important reminder. Not everyone has that these days. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Hi Lisa,
    Yes, the questions! These are the very same ones I/we grappled with throughout our homeschooling years. The questions are important; the answers are elusive. But I think it is in sitting with the questions, that we find our unique, individual paths on the journey of educating our own. And that was what this was all about for me/mine - finding what resonated with and for us all and for our three individually.
    Each path is unique as is each child/parent/family on the journey. And now that my oldest is teaching full time as the eurythmist at a Waldorf school, I intimately see how Waldorf schools must also grapple with these same questions for the school/the individual classes and teachers/the individual students.
    Keep an open mind - seek an ever newer and deeper understanding of how you answer the questions for you and yours - be creative and push the "shoulds" out of your mind - and above all laugh often (together with your child(ren) and at yourself)!
    We have been done with our official homeschooling years now for five years! Where did that time go!! But we still know how to dance well together - and we still continue to learn together even though Jenn and Josh are living in DC and John, Sarah and I are in Ann Arbor, MI. Looking back, our homeschooling years were some of the most challenging for me yet also some of the most joy-filled.
    So keep sitting with the questions but listen with your heart as well as your mind.
    All the best
    Cyndie Kimball, still being kept on my toes by my busy, delightful three!

    1. Oh Cyndie, it is so nice to "see" and hear from you after all these years. Wow, all grown up and stepping out into the world! Five years you have been done homeschooling, that makes me feel old as I remember you from the early homeschooling days in the yahoo group. Thanks for coming over, joining the conversation and sharing your wisdom. Warm wishes to you all in all your endeavors!

  3. These are amazing questions! Many I've wondered about myself as I'm just starting down a homeschooling path with my three babes. I feel pressured to get it right but I'm not Waldorf trained. I've only been exposed to Waldorf through our preschool & now I'm totally in love with this style of learning but i can't afford for my children to attend the school. So start my questions. If this type of discussion starts again please let me know! I get bogged down by blogs & lost on the internet time warp. Please keep me posted & thank you for the amazing insight!

  4. Great to know about Waldorf education. This is a great way to learn. Thank you for sharing your royal essay with us.


I love to hear from you, do say hello when you stop by and leave a link to what is happening with you.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...