Why Waldorf? Revisited


This summer, like every summer, I'll be revisiting some things about our homeschool. It's a good time to think once again about the why, the how, and the what. Why are we doing school this way? How are we going to continue doing it in the future? What is working and what isn't? In that spirit, I revisited one of my most popular blog posts written way back in 2016 on another platform. I've retooled it to reflect our current way of doing things and I hope it is helpful to you, whether you are new to homeschooling or, like me, have been doing it for awhile. New thoughts are in brackets/italics and in a separate section at the end.

 

I haven’t always homeschooled using the Waldorf method. In fact, I haven’t always homeschooled. I was educated in private and public schools and I am a certified teacher with experience teaching in public schools. In fact, I believe public schools are a vital part of our world. We always planned to send our kids to traditional schools and did just that when Scooter was old enough for kindergarten.

But we soon realized that public school just wasn’t working for our family for a variety of reasons and in February of Scooter’s kindergarten year, we brought him home and began our homeschooling journey. [I am now allergic to the word "journey." It is overused and I need to say that out loud. Ha!]


I did all of the things I knew to do from my work in the classroom. Though it is often said that former classroom teachers are the worst homeschoolers, I disagree. Whereas many folks degrade the training and experience we have as things necessary only for managing the masses, my knowledge and skills have been nothing but a blessing. Of course parents can homeschool effectively without that training – but I am very thankful for mine! [This has honestly been more true the farther along we have gotten. I absolutely believe parents without teacher training can be excellent homeschoolers, but for me, that teacher training has come in handy particularly as we deal with learning differences and some unique needs.] I know that Scooter learns best with hands-on and active learning opportunities, that he is most enthusiastic about inquiry-based learning and I jumped right in finding and creating that kind of experience for him. I planned engaging lessons and used all of my wicked mad ninja teacher skills to get him on track and excited about learning.

But it wasn’t working. Yes, he was reading and computing and writing at or above grade-level. But he wasn’t happy. And neither was mama. School time was a chore, a drudge, something we both hated and anticipated with dread. There were many tantrums, tears and vows to, “Never do this again!” – and not just from Scooter. I do know that life isn’t all fun and games, but it was completely unacceptable to me that my child wasn’t engaging with his learning and enjoying what we were working on. This wasn’t what I wanted for him or for our family. [A very important update at the end! Please read it!]


So just one year after we started homeschooling full-time, I called a halt to everything for some serious reassessment. I was determined to find a method that would meet his needs academically and emotionally – as well as challenge him academically.


I am fortunate to know many Charlotte Mason home educators – home educators whose children are mostly older than mine and who seem to be happy, well-adjusted, articulate and creative kids. So I started there and found a wonderful method – a wonderful method that wasn’t quite the right fit for us. Honestly, it was just so much reading. So many subjects. So many really old books. Charlotte Mason is wonderful, but it just wasn’t my kind of wonderful. I wanted the Charlotte Mason without so much Charlotte Mason.


So I googled, “Charlotte Mason alternatives” and stumbled on Waldorf education. I immediately loved what I saw – the gentle introduction to academics, the holistic approach, the emphasis on nature and art, the gnomes and handmade toys of natural materials – and immediately jumped in and ordered a very expensive package curriculum.* I knew we were on the right track and I was so excited.


While I waited for the very expensive package curriculum to arrive, Scooter and Cheech spent a lot of time outside, we eliminated their television and tablet time, and we did no school work of any kind. As for me, I learned even more about the Waldorf method – devouring books, blogs, podcasts, Facebook groups. I think I slept about five-six hours per night during this time. I inhaled everything I could find, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the very expensive package curriculum. I was itching to implement block learning, experiment with form drawing, begin our wet on wet watercolor painting lessons, slow down the pace of our learning and tell all of the Grimm’s fairy tales. I made gnomes, table puppets, and tree blocks and altered our home environment in preparation.


And finally, the long-awaited, much-anticipated very expensive package curriculum arrived. It was so very lovely. But…it wasn’t my kind of lovely. It was not structured in blocks, there was no real instruction in form drawing or painting and what was there wasn’t integrated into the lessons. Academically, it was right on par with traditional schools and there were very few Grimm’s fairy tales. This was a very expensive package curriculum that wasn’t going to work for us at all. [Cue sad violins.]


However, it was still a good thing because I was able to eliminate one of the most popular Waldorf-inspired curriculums from my short-list and to clarify what I was really looking for.


I really wanted that gentle academic introduction. As a mom and as an educator, I think the current academic standards in public schools are RIDICULOUS. Look at your state’s standards for first graders and tell me you disagree. Here in the Lone Star State, first graders are expected to know nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. I ask you – when did you learn that? I learned it in about sixth grade. And as I assured another homeschooling mama who was very certain learning these parts of speech are essential to a first grader, children learn to speak and write with good grammar because they hear it. Waldorf education doesn’t delve into those terms until middle elementary and I am fine with that. Even with my “sub-standard” education that delayed my knowledge of those terms I managed to put myself through two degrees on academic scholarships. Imagine! And that is just one of many examples I could provide!


I wanted a year organized in blocks. I know from my work for my Gifted & Talented certificate that children often really thrive when they are allowed to go more deeply into a single subject at a time. I know as a musician that my own performance is enhanced by practicing something intensely and then leaving it alone for a few days or even a week or two before coming back to it. I know as a successful student that my retention improved by literally studying at night, sleeping on it, then studying it again. In Waldorf education, we do not do every subject every day or even every week, allowing learning to “sleep” for a time. I really wanted to see how Scooter would respond and grow if he was allowed to dig into one subject at a time for 2-6 weeks with “sleep” in between.


I wanted to work with form drawing and wet on wet watercolor painting intensively. Form drawing is something that helps students prepare for handwriting and geometry – and also helps them balance temperament, develop their will and can be very soothing and meditative. Wet on wet watercolor painting is also a great will-builder and for my child with strong choleric tendencies of rigidity and stubbornness, I wanted him to experience the joy (and struggle!) of working with a medium that takes flexibility and flow. Arts are a daily part of Waldorf education because they touch the child’s emotional aspect – something that was sorely missing in our former approach and in many of the homeschooling approaches that are popular.


I wanted the stories. The stories for each grade contain archetypal images of human development that meet that child’s development. And I wanted these stories in their original forms, not sanitized, watered-down, newly-written stories that he would not encounter in day-to-day life. I want Grimm’s and Saints and Hebrew Bible stories – not because of my love for gnomes and fairies or because I am particularly religious but because those stories are an integral part of daily life in our society. So many colloquialisms, our political arena, the world of business are infused with references to these stories and I want my children to know them. (This was the aspect about Charlotte Mason that I loved the most.)


I wanted Waldorf – not just Waldorf-inspired. A Waldorf-inspired curriculum may be just the thing your family wants, but it wasn’t for us. I’m not knocking it or saying it is inadequate – I’m just saying what we wanted for our family.


So I returned the lovely very expensive package curriculum and found a Waldorf-true option that worked very well for us [and several others along the way including complete curriculum and individual blocks from a variety of providers. I also have done a great deal of creating my own curriculum, the purest form of Waldorf education.] All Waldorf-true curriculums will follow basically the same Scope and Sequence: first graders will do fairy tales, second graders will do fables and Saints, third graders will do Hebrew Bible and so on. All Waldorf-true curricula are organized in blocks, includes form drawings and suggestions for painting (as well as many other activities) and most include at least some of the original Grimm’s stories.


What do you want? Do you want an education your children not only comprehend mentally but take into their hearts and spirits – lessons that will touch not just their heads, but their hearts as well? Does a day filled with stories, art and connection with your kids sound appealing? Maybe what you want is Waldorf.


 

So how are things the same nearly six years later? What is different?


I have two kids in the grades now and I rely a great deal more on other creators for basic blocks. I still add my own elements and it is getting more difficult to find complete, stand-alone blocks the older my kids get, but I just cannot do it all. I do not create my own math curriculum at all (maybe I'll write about that later) and I've used many non-Waldorf resources to teach reading (maybe more on that later as well). I follow Steiner's plan for the what and when, but I let others help me with the how.





I have done a great deal of adapting. Steiner said we have to teach the kids before us - not the kids in our head, the kids in our dreams, the kids we might wish we had or think we should have. The kids we have. I don't have kids who love gnomes past the age of 7. I don't have kids who want to knit cuddly animals or little hats. I don't have kids who want to press flowers or write poems about fairies. Lots of people in WaldorfLand seem to have these kids - but not me. So, I am the one who plays with gnomes, knits the cuddly animals and hats, presses flowers. (And I realized I don't even like to write poems about fairies!) Instead, handwork is whatever creative endeavors they are interested in. Can they knit/crochet/sew? Yes. But beyond the basics, I just didn't fight them. And as we tackle different topics and skills, I don't always do it in the WaldorfLand way. We buy a lot of science and model kits to build and experiment with. We've used actual readers to practice our phonics skills instead of writing our own readers or using the ones marketed to Waldorf families. And I don't even feel badly about it. I'm teaching the kids before me, affirming their individuality, encouraging their interests and efforts, and fostering a more creative (and peaceful!) home.


I understand and accept temperament a great deal more now (or I am trying to)! Much of the early difficulty we had with homeschooling wasn't just what or how we were doing it. Waldorf was not a magic cure-all. That child has strong choleric tendencies and there is nothing I can do to change that. Shape it? Maybe. Help him learn to temper it and use it properly? I hope so. Set some boundaries and hold the line when necessary? Absolutely. But he is not the kid who is ever going to start the homeschooling day with enthusiasm. He is not ever going to accept the plan I have created without question or bargaining. He's just not. And I am absolutely a melancholic and when he is angry, tests limits, criticizes my lessons, and accuses me of being mean or unreasonable, I have to work very hard not to let it crush my spirit, cause me to question our choices, or wonder if I have ruined his life. (Catastrophizing is one of the special skills we melancholics have. Blessed.) And yes - choleric and melancholic are like oil and flame. Knowing all of this doesn't change anything really, but it can give me some peace in our day-to-day interactions. How can I really be sure? Because my other kid is phlegmatic - and we have an entirely different set of challenges. (Ha!)


We have relaxed our screen-time rules. We do watch television and movies. My kids do play video games. We do have tablets. But we have strict rules about their use and my kids still get plenty of time outdoors, reading paper books, making things, etc.


I am more comfortable going it alone. The original post had a good deal of information about what I was doing to build a Waldorf community. I was an affiliate for a time with a curriculum provider, I held lots of interest meetings, mentored families new to Waldorf, taught classes, founded a co-op and so much more. And parts of it were great! I know having a supportive community could make a huge, positive difference in our experience. It's hard to make counter-cultural choices alone. But I have now (mostly) accepted that we are never going to have a big group to do festivals with or craft days and certainly not a big co-op! Not having that has little to do with Waldorf and more to do with who we are and where we live. I'm just not willing to give up some of our guiding principles. Groups that don't welcome people of all faiths or no faiths, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with fewer economic resources, or who frown on social justice efforts for BIPOC just aren't groups I want to join - and those are typically the groups available to us in the area where we live, either explicitly or implicitly. It's tough, but that is our reality.


So this summer, as I think through our why, our how, and our what, I'll still be working in a Waldorf framework. I've chosen my basic curriculum from other creators, but I'll definitely be adapting for my kids' needs and interests. I'm going to reread my temperament resources as well as some new ones, and I'll keep writing here. Maybe you, too, are going it mostly alone? Maybe something I write will help you. I hope so!


Next week, I'll be sharing a review of one of my favorite books, A Gift of Wonder, by Kim Allsup. It's a beautiful memoir of her years as a Waldorf teacher and such an enjoyable and insightful read.


*The very expensive package curriculum was Oak Meadow. It is a beautiful curriculum, but unless you get very old versions, it is no longer a Waldorf-true curriculum and they will tell you so on their site! Many people use it and love it, but it wasn't for us.

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