Whew, almost every day people ask me where to start with Waldorf homeschooling with their young children under the age of 7. My recommendation is to take a deep breath, get yourself a cup of tea with honey and come and sit back down at this screen.
Okay, have that cup of tea? Are you ready?
Let’s start with a quote by Rudolf Steiner himself, to get us in the mood. This is from page103 of the lectures compiled into the book, “Soul Economy” : “Anyone in charge of young children – especially those who work in children’s homes- who is aware of the activity of destiny, must ask, Have I been specifically chosen for the important task of guiding and educating these children? And other questions follow: What must I do to eliminate as far as possible my personal self, so I can leave those in my care unburdened by my subjective nature? How do I act so I do not interfere with a child’s destiny? And, above all, How can I best educate a child toward human freedom?”
This quote gives one a clue as to the framework and tools Steiner sees as appropriate with young children. It is not that it is only destiny, but that as a caregiver or parent one must act in the right way with the right thoughts as we are the utmost model for our children to imitate. It is a great quote to ponder and meditate on what this means to you and your work with small children.
[This is from the comment section below, maybe it will help explain this quote a bit: Steiner's point was not just "hands off" for the early years; he had a strong notion that we are parents and teachers ARE the leaders within home and school. However, he also felt strongly that teachers and parents do the WRONG thing doing these early years by intellectualizing the child, by providing the child with toys that do not require imagination...I think the quote above was more the call to get out of our own way, to disregard what we think we know about childhood development from a traditional perspective and to look at the child from a spiritual perspective and what we can do in these early years to lay the best foundation for adulthood].
Here is my Top 10 List of the Essentials of Waldorf Kindergarten at home:
1. Understand what Waldorf kindergarten is – -> NO ACADEMICS. Yup, that is right, and there is a reason for this. If you are new to anthroposophic thought, a brief and probably unsatisfying summary would be to say that Steiner based Waldorf education upon his thoughts of the knowledge of the human being. The years from birth to seven are for forming the physical organism of the child, the memory is not seen as freed for academic work until the seventh year. The young child should be surrounded by joy and happiness, toys that encourage the imagination, but only the physical body is ready for influence by the outside world. Hence, no academics because the child is not yet ready.
2. So if there are NO ACADEMICS, what should I be doing? Preparing yourself in two areas is the first thing.
Inner work: Inner work is the hallmark of Waldorf education. How you do it is up to you. Many people use Steiner’s exercises. Other people use prayer, meditation, yoga, tai chi, walking meditation. Identify your strengths and your challenges for this homeschooling journey. Meditate on the quote from Steiner above and how to put that forth in your care of your small children.
Preparation of skills you will need to be able to show your child: oral storytelling, choosing fairy tales, knowing your local fauna and flora, singing, playing a blowing instrument (pennywhistle, pentatonic flute or recorder), washing and carding wool, spinning wool, dyeing wool and silks, toymaking, gardening, woodworking, knitting, other forms of handwork, drawing with block crayons, wet on wet watercolor painting, modeling, seasonal arts and crafts. Pick something and practice at night after your children go to bed.
3. The second thing to do is to prepare your ENVIRONMENT.
Screens: How much time are you spending in front of a screen? TV, computer, other? How much time is your child spending in front of a screen? Please see my blog post entitled, “Children and Media.”
Clutter: Is your house organized so you can find things? Do you have 10 of everything? Do you have too much furniture for your house?
Simplicity: What can you get rid of and be free of? What toys do your children actually play with and how many books and toys do you have out at one time?
4. The third thing to do is to start to establish a rhythm.
Awake times/naptimes/bedtimes: A wonderful place to start your rhythm is around awake times, naptimes and bedtimes. A wonderful cozy bedtime routine at an early hour sends your children off to peaceable sleep and starts your day off on the right foot the next day. Then start work on times of outbreath – outside time- and times of inbreath-storytelling, art. You can tell the same story for two weeks to a month! Repetition is the foundation of childhood!
Weekly: What practical work are you going to do when? Baking, laundry, housekeeping, gardening, handwork?
Yearly: What festivals will you celebrate and in what physical way will you show your small child? We do not explain the holidays, the festivals, only show these are the things we DO at this time.
5. Now that you have that in place, start reading about child development. Steiner said that this was essential, and the anthroposophic view of childhood development is much different than the traditional view of development. I highly recommend The Education of the Child, Soul Economy and The Study of Man.
6. Work on how you ARE with your children – are you a warm presence? can you just BE with your child? Are you completely running around after your child, is every day a frenzied day or are you setting the tone of your home by getting up at a consistent time with a plan and a rhythm for the day? Are you there for your child but letting your child see your work, your interests?
7. Protect your child’s 12 Senses. Steiner felt there were 12 senses instead of the traditional five senses we think about.
8. Work on getting your child into his or her body. This is the most important thing you can do for your young child under the age of 7 – games, circle time, free outside time, play and movement – are all critically important. Donna Simmons has some great suggestions in her book, “Joyful Movement.” Another book I really like from my pediatric physical therapist work is the book, “Activities Unlimited”, which was written by a group of Neurodevelopmentally- trained pediatric therapists. (This book is available through Amazon, and for more i nformation regarding Neurodevelopmental Treatment please see www.ndta.org). “Activities Unlimited” is not Waldorf by any means, but it would be fairly easy to put these activities into some sort of game or fantasy play.
Another great source of movement and getting children into their bodies is through all the circle time kind of games and fingerplays that go on in a Waldorf classroom. Please see the Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or Bob and Nancy’s bookshop for books that have pre-planned circle times, or get adventurous and make up your own!
9. Watch how you frame discipline – are you using imitation, movement and fantasy to re-direct your child? Are you a chatter box and explainer with your child? Please see my blog post entitled, “Take My Three Day Challenge”.
10. Okay, now is the time to start slowly bringing in the skills you are learning – start with storytelling and puppetry, bring in baking once a week, needle felt something for your nature table…Bringing it all in and to your child is the last step.
You have the years of birth through age 6 to work on this…it is a process, it is an evolution, it is a learning. It will not happen in one day. But begin with your end in mind and work toward it. Hope that this will provide you with some inspiration and encouragement.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.