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How to Bring the Waldorf Philosophy Into Your Home

Updated on January 24, 2017
Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy has been working in the field of education for many years specializing in both Waldorf and Montessori methodology.

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Waldorf education values the whole child, not only academic pursuits.
Waldorf education values the whole child, not only academic pursuits. | Source

The Waldorf philosophy of education, and in a broader sense, the ‘Waldorf way of life’, is one that creates not only a warm nurturing school environment but a way of life that extends into the home and family as well. This approach sees life and education as a journey that begins at birth and ends at death, rather than an educational approach that is compartmentalized for certain stages of life through a structured school setting.

Waldorf seeks to meet the student where he is, and in a greater sense, the person at his stage of life. While the approach begins in Waldorf classrooms around the world as a methodology, it is so enrapturing that parents adopt it and apply it to their home lifestyle.

Play is the highest form of research.

— Albert Einstein

Waldorf education focuses on developmental stages, beginning with young children. Waldorf educators place great importance on the idea that before the age of seven children should be engaged in free play as much as possible. It is through this play that a child learns about themselves and their place in the world. Play also nurtures creativity and allows for movement which holds many developmental advantages. The Waldorf philosophy departs from traditional education in that it seeks to educate not only the child’s mind but also their heart and body. The Waldorf method nurtures the natural development of the whole child and in doing so departs from most other methods of education.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.

— Carl Jung

However, many parents who discover Waldorf education and appreciate the philosophy, find the cost of tuition to be prohibitive. The Waldorf School or classroom doesn’t own the philosophy, they simply adhere to it. Parents can easily adopt many of the beneficial practices of Waldorf schools in their home for free.

Since discovering the benefits that Waldorf Education has to offer, I have attempted to share this knowledge with other parents. I have written extensively on the topic. One of the articles is entitled “Waldorf in the Home; 13 Ways to Give your Kids the Benefits of an Expensive Waldorf Education for Free.” This article has been so well received that I have decided to write this article as a kind of 'part two', in order to give parents yet more Waldorf guidelines and ‘food for thought.’

In the following you will find yet more ways to give your kids the benefits of a Waldorf education, for free or very inexpensively:

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1. Meal time manners

If you have spent any amount of time in a public school lunchroom recently, one of the first things that you will likely notice is the lack of table manners. Unlike public schools, table manners are modeled and taught by teachers at each and every meal and snack in a Waldorf classroom. Parents, you can easily model this too by reminding children how to sit with their feet on the floor and their napkins on their laps. Show them that their elbows should remain off the table and that they need to chew their food with their mouth closed. Table manners need to be practiced every day since these good habits may take a long time to acquire.

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Wholesome Food

2. Healthy food is served and encouraged in a Waldorf classroom, including organic items, when possible. Start your children at an early age by eating wholesome foods like homemade oatmeal, whole grain rice possibly seasoned with a little soy sauce, homemade soups and fruits and vegetables. Children develop a preference for the foods that they are regularly exposed to, so why not get your child accustomed to the best kind of fuel available for their active days and growing bodies? This is the Waldorf way.

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3. Dressing for the Weather

Waldorf educators place a big emphasis on keeping children properly dressed for the weather. This means being firm, even with a child that insists they don’t want their jacket zipped on a cold day or they refuse to wear a hat when the weather is freezing. Dressing properly for the weather also means having rain gear, including rain pants for each child to use on rainy days. All of the children at Waldorf schools are dressed appropriately for the weather; teachers don’t negotiate on this. Once dressed appropriately children can engage in the highly beneficial activity of outdoor play for nearly every day of the year.

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4. Keeping your Child Warm

Waldorf educators require that children dress appropriately for each season, to keep the body warm whether indoors or outdoors. This is because children's bodies are still developing the ability to regulate their temperature. Dress your child in layers and underwear and undergarments such as undershirts and long johns that will help their body to keep warm, depending on the season and climate. Babies under the age of one wear a hat as much as possible.

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5. Miraculous Wool

If you spend enough time in a Waldorf setting you are bound to hear the term “woolies.” This is a term used for woolen long johns and most Waldorf students wear them during the colder months. Wool is renowned as an ideal fiber because moisture can pass through it, yet the wool stays dry. The shape of the wool fiber retains the right amount of heat while allowing the skin to stay comfortably warm. During the cold winter months Waldorf student wear their woolies both day and night. Woolies are an economical purchase since they will get plenty of use. Although woolies are made of the softest type of wool some children might find that they prefer silk long johns, which is an excellent substitute. Silk is another excellent fiber for moisture wicking, air flow and heat retention.

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6. Playing Outside Year Round

Waldorf educators believe that children should be playing outside as much as possible and this kind of play should take place throughout all seasons. Students have so much to gain from playing outdoors, besides the obvious benefits that come with being active and getting fresh air, students get to experience the seasons first hand. While being outdoors they will witness the rhythmic change of seasons and nuance of change within each season as well. When students are outdoors they become inquisitive and enthusiastic about the nature of insects, birds, flora and fauna. When the rain is falling students enjoy playing in puddles and likely learn about gravity through its effects on water. They learn about how different the environment appears and feels when rain is falling. Having your children play outside more often will allow your child to reap the benefits of a Waldorf education and it doesn’t have to cost you anything.

Note: On rainy days Waldorf students are required to have full body rain gear, which includes rain pants. And for those living in cold climates, proper winter gear which includes snow pants.

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7. Bringing Nature Indoors with ‘The Season Table’

Nature exploration doesn’t end when the Waldorf Student enters the classroom. Early childhood classrooms typically have a nature table or basket, usually near a door that leads outside. This table is used to collect items that the student finds while they are outdoors; it could be a leaf in the fall or a shell in the summer. Encouraging children to collect special keepsakes allows them to connect with nature in a personal way. It is easy to set up a basket in your home and encourage your child to fill it with special items that they collect on their outings and perhaps later discuss them.

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8. Modeling

Waldorf educators understand that their own behavior acts as a role model for their students so that if the teacher is calm and in control, her students can model this behavior as well. Teachers need to be very conscious and mindful; many teachers meditate each morning to be at their best. You can also work to be your ‘best self’ by being conscious of how much your behavior works as a model for your child and perhaps pursue ways of improving your own mindfulness.

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9. Delaying Academics

This is, by far, the most controversial aspect of the Waldorf Educational Philosophy. Reading and writing lessons are reserved until first or second grade or around the age of seven. It is believed ideal to wait until this developmental stage when children are ready to comprehend and process letters as symbols for sounds. The highly touted Swedish education system also follows this philosophy of delaying reading and writing. Test scores show that their students systematically beat out most other countries in academic achievement. You can follow this method by continuing to read high quality and classic literature to your child while delaying the formal teaching of pre-reading and writing skills.

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10. Literature, Rhyme and Verse

Although Waldorf students may wait longer than others to learn to read, they are being enriched through literature, rhyme and verse so that by the time they are ready to read, their exposure to language is vast and sophisticated. Also, because Waldorf students have little to no exposure to television and other media, their attention span is greater, they listen more intently and absorb what stories, rhymes and verse have to offer. You can instill in your child a love of language by exposing them to quality literature, rhyme and verse while avoiding the distraction that television and media can create.

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11. Delaying Music, Dance and Organized Sports

If we remember that play is one of the most fundamentally beneficial activities children can engage in, it would follow that structured, repetitious and limiting activities such as ballet and organized sports would impair a child’s development. Music lessons, dance lessons and organized sports are not advantageous to the young inquisitive exploratory mind and body because they are limiting. These endeavors require the kind of discipline more suited to an older child. It is better to wait until the child is in 3rd grade or approximately the age of 9 years old or older to pursue these types of interests. In the case of ballet, the real type of training doesn’t begin until this older age anyway.

The Waldorf Educational method offers parents a great deal of pragmatic ways to enrich not only the life of the child but the whole family as well. The Waldorf way offers the wholesomeness of an old fashioned childhood where kids played outside and enjoyed home cooked meals along with an academic understanding of developmental stages whereby the child receives an ideal environment in which to thrive and blossom. A Waldorf education allows a child to learn about themselves and the world around them in a safe nurturing environment with play as the foundation to building a lifetime of connection and fulfillment.

Waldorf educators offer many suggestions that parents can follow to bring out the best in their child, many of these are free and don’t require enrollment in a pricey Waldorf school. When a child is dressed for the weather and playing outside there are many inherent lessons that a child can gain and learn that simply can’t be taught inside a classroom no matter how great a teacher may be. Allow your child to play outside, dress them appropriately, feed them nourishing food while modeling composure and manners, all without spending exorbitant sums, can reap the profound benefits that a Waldorf Education provides.

© 2017 Tracy Lynn Conway

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