When some parents think of Waldorf education, they think of mysterious educational guidelines that are nearly impossible to follow to the letter. No T.V.? Ever? But the principles of Waldorf education are not applicable only to an educational elite: they can be easily adapted to any home, with the incorporation of a few simple, holistic practices.
In Waldorf kindergartens, children are encouraged to play creatively with wooden toys and natural materials, and to sing, cook and finger-knit without the pressures of learning to read and write. In the elementary grades, academics come at each student’s pace, along with illustration, song, crafts, and storytelling. Testing, letter grades, and computers are absent from the classroom: for many Waldorf students, their first encounter with standardized testing will be with the SAT used for college admissions.
But, while such a school may strike parents as too soft and sheltered for today’s modern world, Waldorf students often outperform their counterparts in creative thinking, artistic ability, reading proficiency, and community involvement, not to mention SAT scores. In other words, Waldorf must be doing something right.
Whether you want to sign your child up or not, there are things you can do at home to foster Waldorf ideals in a complicated world. Rahima Baldwin Dancy, Waldorf parenting expert and author of You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, suggests these tips for introducing the Waldorf principles of rhythm, creativity, and joy in learning to your home life:
Let reading come naturally
Learning to read isn’t a race, and you don’t get an advantage by starting early. “You don't have to start at age three in order for it to 'work',” says Dancy. In fact, according to Waldorf philosophy, you’ll be doing your child a disservice. “It deprives them of that magical world of early childhood” says Dancy. “Children are not little adults.”
Turn off the squawk box
According to Waldorf philosophy, exposing your child to television at an early age is just about the worst thing parents can do. “Television is an assault on children's senses,” says Dancy. “T.V. gives fixed images, whereas when a child hears a story or acts one out, they're strengthening their imagination.”
Establish a rhythm to home life
Rhythm, whether it’s the natural rhythm of the seasons, or the daily rhythm of school and home life, is central to the Waldorf philosophy. “Having a regular dinner time and bedtime, and having a ritual associated with that (lighting a candle, reading a story, blowing the candle out) nourishes the child, and gives a sense of security,” says Dancy.
Waldorf philosophy says that making children conscious of the natural world fosters scientific skills like observation. It also teaches about the plants, animals, and elements that support our daily lives. Waldorf families are encouraged to take time out of their hectic day to appreciate the natural world with their children: go on a nature walk, make a “nature table” at home with seasonal items, like fall leaves and pumpkins, or just pause to observe a growing plant.
Let the imagination loose
Dancy encourages parents to take advantage of opportunities to engage your child’s imagination. Play dress-up, tell stories, build imaginary worlds, and draw and paint – outside the lines, of course.
Even if the rigors of a Waldorf education aren't right for your family, one of these fundamental principals may give your child a new perspective on learning.