13 Ways to Give your Kids the Benefits of an Expensive Waldorf Education for Free
During the time that my children attended a Waldorf School I was amazed at the positive influence it had on our family. Although they attend school during the day, they carry home with them a peaceful yet enthusiastic sense of the world and this is engaging and contagious. I feel that all families could benefit from this educational method, even without having a child attend a Waldorf School, so I have made a list of suggestions.
Before I get to the suggestions, I would first like to summarize what the Waldorf philosophy is about. The Waldorf method of education is based on a keen awareness of child and human development and seeks to educate the child as a whole person, not just their academic development. This theory considers every aspect of the child’s growth with emphasis on the heart, hands and mind. With respect to our goals for children, Waldorf Education founder Rudolph Steiner states:
Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings, who are able themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.
From an early age movement is highly regarded and is an integral part of as many activities as possible. During the first seven years of life children learn primarily through repetition and movement. Most of my suggestions involve incorporating movement into your child’s day. This is one of the main aspects of Waldorf which set it apart from most other methods of education. Waldorf parents are encouraged to follow up with the philosophy at home. Here are some easy ways that all parents can provide their child with this kind of experience in the home for free.
1. Allowing your young child as much free play as possible. Free play in the early years is encouraged with open-ended toys like silks, blocks and dolls. This kind of play is needed for the healthy creative and emotional growth of a child and is the best foundation for later intellectual development. (see more about free play and developing your child's imagination)
2. Outside play is a large part of the Waldorf school day. Children are encouraged to climb trees, run and dig in the most natural setting possible. It is through movement that a child connects with themselves and their environment.
3. Shut off the TV and minimize media as much as possible. It is believed that TV and media prevent proper development in part because the child is sitting still. Remember that children are naturally inclined to move and that if your child is sitting for extended periods your child is doing something that is unnatural. Television also disrupts development of a child's inner imagery by furnishing imagery from an outside source, replacing their own natural responses.
4. Eat meals by candlelight. When Waldorf children eat, they do it with reverence, and so can you. What better way to bond with your family than by sharing a meal lit by candlelight? In our home we sing a blessing before we begin the meal and during the meal we share acknowledgments with each other.
A Waldorf teacher talks about consistency and rhythm
5.Waldorf educators believe that children feel safest and flourish when they have a consistent environment. When a child knows what to expect this offers a sense of security and in this environment your child can focus on learning and developing. Early Childhood classrooms even serve specific meals on days of the week, for example, soup on Monday’s, rice on Tuesday’s; this also helps children learn the day of the week. In your home you can provide consistency by having bedtime routines, dinner together or perhaps something like waffles every Sunday. Kids look forward to these predictable activities.
6. Consistency and rhythm hold value in the day as well as into the evening. Getting a good night sleep is highly encouraged by Waldorf Educators. A good bedtime routine helps kids to get to bed on time and get the hours they need. If young children are not in bed by around 8pm they often start to get a second wind and end up staying up too late.
How Much Sleep do Kids Need?
Toddlers (1-3 years)
12 to 14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
11 to 13 hours
School age children (5-10 years)
10 to 11 hours
Teens (10-17 years)
8.5 to 9.25 hours
7. Celebration of holidays also offers consistency as well as a way to connect with heritage, tradition, culture, their community and to learn about the seasons. By celebrating the holidays of your heritage you are offering this enriching opportunity to your children. Children will naturally know about the holiday of Christmas even before they have learned that there are 12 months in a year. Commemorating holidays is an integral part of a Waldorf Education that you are probably doing already.
8. Fingerplays and nursery rhymes. These are highly valued by early childhood Waldorf teachers and you can sing these with your child, The Wheels on the Bus and The Eensy Weensy Spider are good examples. If you consider that language learning, rhythm and movement are so vital in this whole body learning philosophy, then you will see that these songs and rhymes meet a lot of the criteria for nurturing a child through heart, hand and mind. (see more about finger plays)
9. Have children work with their hands as much as possible. Waldorf students finger knit in kindergarten and knit with needles in first grade. Encouraging your child's involvement in crafts such as a loom or hobbies which utilize their hands is a way to keep up with their Waldorf counterparts.
10. Children learn a lot about self-sufficiency and their importance as a helpful and vital member of the family by doing chores. And it is another opportunity as well for them to use their hands and keep their bodies in movement by such activities as sweeping the floor or wiping a table. Getting kids to complete the chores can be a struggle but the payoff is well worth it. In the preschool classroom, Waldorf children take part in the chores such as window washing, sweeping and table wiping.
11. Painting with watercolors on large paper: Waldorf students begin painting using the ‘wet on wet’ method. This means that the paper has been wet with a sponge. When the child paints the color is fluid, thus allowing the child to “experience” the color and the movement. This kind of painting is very much about the experience of painting and not about the finished product. The large paper allows the child to make wider movements, which benefit the child’s physical and spacial development.
12. Reading classic literature like fairy tales and fables aloud. These stories encourage imagination, human understanding, morals, thought and connect on a deep level with the listener. It is also a great introduction to literature for children.
13. Invite children into the kitchen to cook with you. Waldorf children take part in making the daily snacks in the early childhood classrooms and kindergarten. Cooking with kids has a long list of learning benefits including measurement, community, science and self-sufficiency.
“I am struck by the fact that the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think that the same is true of human beings. We do not wish to see children precocious, making great strides in their early years like sprouts, producing a soft and perishable timber, but better if they expand slowly at first, as if contending with difficulties, and so are solidified and perfected. Such trees continue to expand with nearly equal rapidity to extreme old age."
- Henry David Thoreau
As a parent you might already be following some or many of these suggestions. Things like chores or playing outside seem like common sense, but with the TV on and video games to play it is often hard to remember what kids really need. It is empowering to remember that although educators can do a great job in educating your child, you are your child’s first and best teacher and you have the greatest impact of all.
I hope that this information has been useful to you and I encourage and welcome any comments. This list could be longer but I feel that it includes the essence of what the Waldorf philosophy can offer to the home life.
© 2011 Tracy Lynn Conway