Waldorf Education is based on Rudolf Steiner’s view of the importance of the human spirit. It focuses on an education experience that unleashes the spirit of the human being to learn about the world around us. It focuses on character education as much as the scientific education.
Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
In early education, Waldorf Education emphasizes the imagination, sense of truth and feelings of responsibility. The preschooler learns about the world through the child’s senses, fingers and body movement. The preschooler then learns the truths about objects, environments and people through activities that interact with the child’s senses. The preschooler uses the imagination to explore and internalize the learned truths.
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In our Montessori Homeschool Preschool, I’ve managed to incorporate the below 10 elements of Waldorf Education into our curriculum. These elements have added a sense of “wonder” into our curriculum. They also reaffirmed some of the character education elements that I try to instill into our home life. At the same time, they integrate my parenting goals into our homeschool curriculum.
10 Elements of Waldorf Education that We Incorporate into Our Homeschool Preschool
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1) Freedom of Space
With an emphasis on growing our child’s mind in early childhood, giving a child the freedom of space and time is often overlooked. In a Montessori household, it’s easy to overload a child with activity trays after activity trays in an effort to keep the child busy while broadening the child’s skills.
Waldorf Education philosophy can help to ensure that the Montessori household does not overwhelm the child. It stresses freedom of space and time. Space and time provide the child with freedom of expression and freedom of creativity. Have you ever seen a preschooler play with a simple card board box? That child can probably play with it for a long time. This is because the card box is a simple toy that left the child mental space to imagine.
Space and time also provides the child with the emotional freedom to be the child’s intrinsic self. With no demands of activity, the child can feel “free” in the child’s own spirit. This essentially tells the child: “You are free to do and to be.”
Realizing the importance of “space and time”, our homeschool limits the amount of Montessori preschool work we do on the tray. This is to provide maximum free play time to play with all different types of objects in the child’s own way.
2) Consistent Rhythms
In early motherhood, I naturally built a rhythm in my household. Even when my son was briefly in daycare, I structured our time together to be free of distractions and full of fun.
When I became a stay at home mom, I observed how our daily rhythm alleviated my son’s overactivity symptoms that was present when he was in daycare.
My son learned to count on the consistent rhythms of our day : morning yoga, breakfast after green juice, morning social hour at playroom or playground, morning snack, free play, lunch, nap etc..
The consistency made him feel safe even when he was going through the terrible twos. There were many times, a dedicated activity (snack time, free play time) that was coming up saved him from having a huge tantrum.
The consistency also allowed me to slow myself down to my son’s time. Patiently waiting for my son to finish something was not the exception but the norm now.
In fact, detaching myself to see the whole picture of our day in this rhythmic way allowed me to be more patient in the moment.
3) Natural Materials from Household and Nature
In Waldorf Education, the use of natural materials from the household and from nature are emphasized. This is similar to the use of Montessori Practical Life objects.
From early on, my son’s play room was stocked with a lot of open ended toys. I slowly added on Montessori work trays. For a while, a huge part of our day was spent outside in nature, my son gathered a lot of items for his nature box.
We use that nature box often now in Montessori activities as well as in free play.
Incorporating nature materials such as sticks, rocks, leaves, mud, sand and wood reminds my son of the simple beauty of those items. They also breath fresh air into our home on days that we need to stay indoors.
4) Working Together
In Waldorf Education, the Waldorf teacher and the student’s relationship is entirely based on respect and trust. Working together in practical life activities such as cooking, cleaning and tending to animals, fosters this type of relationship.
Before I even read about educational philosophies, having a “cooperative living” household was what I envisioned my home life to be. In fact, from the first year, my son loved to play with practical life objects and imitate me. For instance, he loved to: brush my hair, sweep the floor, wipe his toys, wipe the window and pretend to vacuum. While I performed those chores, he watched me intently and wanted to be involved so I naturally obliged.
At close to 3 years old, we established our chore rhythm where he knows just what to do when I performed certain chores:
- When I vacuumed, he played with his toy vacuum imitating me.
- When I wiped his toys, he wiped his toys with me.
- When the laundry came out of the dryer, he got to find matching socks.
- When I cooked, he helped to wash the vegetables and fruits. In return, he got samples.
Performing these chores together definitely brought us closer together. It also instilled a sense of belonging and a sense of responsibility in my son.
5) Imaginative Play
In Waldorf Education, the use of “gnomes” or dolls and the use of “playhouse” for expanding imaginative play is emphasized. Imaginative play is thought to develop the child’s social skills and the child’s character.
Before finding Waldorf Education, for a while, I was a happy and content Montessori mother who took pride in the “work” my son was doing on the tray.
Then, my son had other ideas about the objects on the tray. He would put various objects from various trays together in a little box and play with them all together. Eventually, I started giving him large quantities of time to play in various play houses, play sets with dolls and figurines. This was supplemented with reading fairy tales and talking about the characters in the fairy tales. Soon, my son’s imaginative play exploded.
As my son’s imagination took off, my son’s tantrums lessened steadily. I’m not sure if one thing have to do with the other. But, from my observations, when he played imaginatively with his dolls, I often saw him acting out real life scenarios. For instance, “Oh no, the girl fell? Oh no, she is hurt!”, “Let’s make her better.” etc..
Seeing the benefits of imaginative play, I incorporated it into our Montessori work by establishing themes and setting imaginative play as an extension of a Montessori activity.
- After we worked on a counting activity of sticks, we pretended the sticks were people and played in the play house with those stick people.
- After we worked on a painting tray activity in the morning, we used the painting in the afternoon as a scenery in our imaginative play with our Lego people.
6) Handwork, Artwork and Scientific work
In both Montessori Education and Waldorf Education, for a child, the hand is deemed the central instrument for exploration.
We had a lot of success with “fine motor skill” development Montessori tray work when my son was one years old.
In order to incorporate Waldorf Education elements, we now experiment a lot more with materials with our hands. In the process, my son freely explores science, shapes, colors and materials with his hands.
- Paint work – I let my son paint in the bathtub using his fingers and his brush. I give him two colors to mix. I then fill in the bathtub with bubbles. He plays with the paint, experiments with the colors and sees the paint disappear in the bubbles. Sometimes, colored water balls are dropped into the bathtub so that he needs to find them. Then, small cups are provided with the faucet running so that he can do water transfer, or transfer the water balls freely. This entire line of activities allows for a ton of work with hands.
- Yarn work – I often give my son yarn or a string. My son would imagine the yarn is an octopus or a string is a gate. He would often go in search for a container. Then, he works the yarn with his hands to fold it into a desired shape. Then, he puts it into the container and carries it around.
- Play dough or Dough work – We often play with the dough: kneading, slicing, rolling and beating the dough. The different shapes that comes out of all that work delights my son. It’s gotten so elaborate that we are making outfits for dolls and furnitures for little animals.
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7) Limit Use of Electronics
In Waldorf Education, there’s usually no use of electronic devices. It is thought that the use of electronics crowds the mind. Freeing the mind is important to free up the senses for learning.
We definitely use electronics. However, we use it as another source to learn about the themes from homeschool. I use the following guidelines:
- Playing iPad educational game that is similar to working on a Montessori tray.
- Watching limited dance videos to learn about dance moves while I participate.
- Watching limited story videos to expand on the story books that we read in conjunction with imaginative play built around it.
- Watching educational nature videos that explains the animals or plants that we are learning about.
Overall, I don’t set a time limit on electronics currently. Instead, I let my son tell me when he’s had enough. Being an oversensitive child, he usually can’t take a lot of tv anyway. My son would run to the next room and take his bottle with him after a little while. Then, I would turn off the electronics, we would have free play time after that.
At some point, I will have to set a time limit for TV, but I hope that by then, my son will be able to leave activities at his will instead of obliging by a rule.
8) Teachers are Facilitators
In both Waldorf Education and Montessori Education, teachers are facilitators. Teachers facilitate the peaceful setting of the classroom, demonstrates activities and helps students to achieve their goals. However, teachers do not take over exploration or even initiate it.
All the learning comes when the child is self directed to learn about something of interest. This is a good way to develop a self-motivated child.
As a teacher to my child, I take good care to put together objects of interest, activities of interest and books of interest. Most of the time, it’s my child who tells me how he wants to play, what he wants to play with and whether or not he wants me to be involved.
In our homeschool preschool, this matter is complicated by the fact that I’m also the “older student” in the classroom that he can learn from.
So, I try to role play with my son during the day. I let him dictate when he wants me to act as his playmate in his free play sessions and when he just wants me to be his facilitator teacher/mom.
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9) Child Centric
In both Waldorf Education and Montessori Education, “following the child” model is central.
This is probably one point that I end up following most closely in my parenting goals. I try to rein in my “tiger mom” tendencies and always “follow my child”.
An example of this is “learning the alphabet”. When my son was 16 months old, he was really good with puzzles. I met a lot of moms who wanted me to teach my son the alphabet puzzle early. I put some letters in front of him and he seemed interested. But, it was never like the puzzle pieces which he was literally obsessed with.
So, I put it off, and put it off. Even now at close to 3 years old, I know he has the capacity to learn the alphabet, but I limit it to just some letter activities on the tray and a few letter games for fun until he shows more interest.
It will be great for my own “mommy” time if my son could read by himself early. But I know that “following the child” model works best here. If I push him, my son might reject it. It will be that much harder to introduce the activity later.
So, whenever my son seems more interested in letters, we will explore more of those activities. For now, I point out letters if he asks in books, on signs and on my shirt. That’s about it.
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References for this article:
The Philosophy of Freedom
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
Rudolf Steiner Wikipedia
The Absorbent Mind
Montessori From the Start
NAMC Teacher Training Blog
10) Discovering Basic Truths
Waldorf Education emphasizes learning about the basic truths in nature, science, people, cultures and other subjects. This is to instill a sense of connectedness in learning about the world. The ultimate goal is that children will think of themselves as a part of the larger world instead of just thinking of themselves as citizens of a specific country.
The acceptance and the openness that comes with learning about the basic truths can not be overstated.
In our home life, having a voice is encouraged. This means speaking the truths about needs and wants even if they are inconvenient. This also means, maximum flexibility is always there to alter the situation to make the situation more comfortable.
In our homeschool, the Montessori work trays contain work with simple truths. The rhythm of our home life and the way we cooperate with each other means that we are constantly discovering the basic truths about each other. When we go out into the world in the social setting, as a parent, I don’t sugar coat experiences. I let my son fail, fall and then scoop him up to comfort him. But, mostly, I empathize with him. Then, I teach him to comfort himself so that he can get up and do it again. Character education starts with telling the basic truths about situations. Seeing the truths even in hurtful situations will allow the child to learn to cope with those situations.
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