While we don’t specifically use Waldorf methods in our home (simply because I’ve never studied about it myself), I think that there are a lot of similarities in our philosophy of how we would like our children to learn and play, especially as home educators. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the Waldorf method from guest poster Cara!
Waldorf is a method of education founded by Rudolf Steiner in the late 1800s that focuses on a natural approach to child development. While we don’t use everything from the philosophy (it goes into some religion stuff that we don’t agree with), we do really like the approach to early childhood education. Steiner advocates allowing children to develop in a natural environment with a focus on the natural rhythms of home life. In this philosophy of childrearing, children live their lives with purpose, imagination, and love.
I learned about this method of education when the daycare that I worked at four mornings a week as a teen underwent transformation from a regular daycare into a Waldorf preschool. I was amazed to watch some of the daycare children turn from hyperactive, easily distracted, and easily bored to calm happy kids with an excellent attention span. The play they engaged in was now Real Play, play with more meaning that mimics what we do in every day life.
The following are some things that we do to facilitate Real Play in our home. It seems almost too simple, but it is quite enriching
Starting with my little babies, I help them to be a part of every day life by playing near me on the floor, and when they want to be held they ride on my hip in a sling, or on my back in a mei tai or Ergo. I chatter about what I’m preparing for supper, sing little nursery rhymes, and give lots of smiles while allowing them to see what goes on in every day life. Letting them see you always being engaged in something, rather than just passively being entertained (on the computer or TV) helps prevent boredom through example. When I am sitting and listening to the radio or just having a conversation with my hubby, if I’m not nursing a baby, I try to have some handwork to do, like knitting or hand sewing.
We don’t allow screen time of any kind for children. No videos, no cartoons, no computer games. I’m not a purist, my daughter has seen me on the computer and she has seen cartoons at other people’s house. But as a general rule, we stay away from that, so that she doesn’t get conditioned to where she needs something to watch to be entertained. You will find that once your child develops a long attention span, they are happy to play alongside you while you work and you will not depend on the TV to keep them entertained while you accomplish your chores.
I make a point to slow down what I’m doing and do things with purpose so my little ones can see and imitate me, since that’s what they do naturally. I don’t rushidly fold the laundry. I carefully smooth out each shirt, fold it, and place it in the stack. I take care to place my dirty dishes in the sink, then gently wash them. I avoid looking as if I’m a chicken with my head cut off as I rush around to catch up on housework. I smile as I work. Really, it doesn’t take much more time at all, and it gives the children something to imitate. This work is your quality time with the children, young children especially enjoy an activity like making bread with mom just as much (or in our case more!) than a trip to the fair or amusement park. It shows them by example how to care for belongings, to find contentment in what must be done, and it gives them peace of mind to know that Mommy isn’t frazzled.
When possible, I involve my children in my work. It takes a little longer, but my toddler receives much more joy in completely emptying the dryer into the laundry basket for me than she would with a dozen ‘Good Job!’ stickers. I also pay attention to what will trigger a meltdown and avoid it. For instance, my little girl isn’t happy just putting the two cups of flour in my cookie batter; she wants to scoop the entire flour canister into the mixing bowl. So, knowing this, scooping the flour is something that just Mommy does for now, and she has a bin full of rice and scoops where she can scoop to her heart’s content. When helping isn’t possible because of safety (like with sewing) or the tendency to trigger a meltdown, I do try to provide some similar alternative for her, again, encouraging her desire to imitate me.
We sing little songs throughout the day. Children love repetition and silly rhyming songs. A verse of “This is the way we wash our hands” before lunch or after playing outside makes hand washing into a pleasurable experience rather than a chore. A little song can convince a reluctant toddler to do what needs to be done as well, “This is the way we buckle our carseat, buckle our carseat, buckle our carseat…”
Waldorf puts emphasis on outside time as well. And to allow children’s imagination to flow, unstructured open nature areas are encouraged over playgrounds with play structures. On play structures, children are confined to what is there. In a natural park setting, children have more of an opportunity to notice small things. They watch the ants trailing out of the ant hill. They collect pine cones. They make mud pies and daydream.
Natural toys are preferred, but if those are not available due to money constraints, open-ended toys are the best. The more specific a toy is, the faster a child will get bored with it. Open ended toys are toys that can perform a variety of purposes. A basket can be a bathtub one day, an oven for baking bread the next, and also turned upside down, covered with a playsilk, and used as a stage for a play the next day. By contrast, a flashing box with buttons that talks and tells the child what to do is limited to its one specific roll, and quickly becomes boring. Having few toys is preferred to having many. With many toys out, the child is overwhelmed and stops playing with them in search of more order and simplicity.
My first summer job as a daycare assistant greatly influenced how I parent my children and live my life. I learned to slow down and appreciate the little things with children. I learned that faster isn’t always better. I learned that children don’t need to be constantly busy to be happy. And I learned that children weren’t nuisances to be ‘kept busy’ until they could be taught later on, but they were to be joyously included in every day life right along side an adult. I wanted to share since I feel that what I’ve learned has enriched our family life, and I hope it can enrich yours as well.