(Carrie here: I am so grateful to Stephanie for sharing her experiences and journey here. I think those of you who have children with differing abilities and who are wondering what to do with Waldorf Education at home will be very inspired! Stephanie writes:)
Carrie invited me to share some of the interesting ideas we’ve learned so far on our special needs path with our micropreemie daughter, who is now eight years old. When our daughter was born on the borderline of viability, we knew that learning and developmental problems were likely to arise. When we met in the office of a preemie researcher at Harvard, Heidi Als, we asked what we could do to support our daughter’s healthy development. One of Dr. Als’ first suggestions to us was to use Waldorf Education. At the time, I had no idea what that was.
In retrospect, I consider our time before finding out about Waldorf Education to be our Dark Ages! I say this because our daughter is a child for whom living a Waldorf lifestyle and using the Waldorf School curriculum makes all the difference in her emotional stability and her ability to function in life. As a parent, it has been one of the hardest things to know that children like her need Waldorf Education the most and yet there are so few Waldorf resources available to families like ours. We took up the challenge in our family and started with making the changes suggested in the book “Simplicity Parenting,” by Kim John Payne.
In looking for further ideas and resources, we found the Otto Specht School (named after Rudolf Steiner’s first student), where our daughter started First Grade. These are some of the elements that the teachers have shared with us:
1. The teachers do not try to cover the entire curriculum each year, but they try to get to the essence of the curriculum for each year. I think this point sounds deceptively simple on the surface – until you actually try to pin down the essence for the child with whom you are working!
2. The teachers are not harried or rushed, ever, as far as I have seen. My daughter’s teacher is found of saying “we have time.” The teacher still holds the schedule but it is planned so that they are not rushed. In my observation, this seems to be one of the main ways that the teachers’ maintain their own stamina.
3. The school approach follows Rudolf Steiner’s indication for his method with Otto Specht, his first student, which is to move the limbs. (Carrie here: Remember from my developmental rants that the heart of intellectual, social, and emotional development is movement and “limb intelligence”. This is at the heart of all Waldorf Education). At the school, they spend time each morning moving, usually outside, tidying their classroom outdoor space, jumping rope or caring for school animals. They then go through the Main Lesson more slowly, with more repetition and with more movement during the lesson. The Main Lesson is a little shorter than a typical Waldorf school Main Lesson.
4. The teachers use what they call “common sense.” In our daughter’s case, observing her tells us that being in a large class of 30 people is so difficult for her that she can’t participate in the activity. Knitting two perfectly matching socks may never happen and that is also okay. In regards to handwriting, our daughter’s school allows computer use earlier than a typical Waldorf school, if handwriting is really slow and frustrating to the child. They do still practice handwriting and Form Drawing but use common sense when working through a Main Lesson. I have also heard teachers suggest writing on the computer when a child has a story that they really need to write down if handwriting is going to frustrate them in writing it down.
5. One of the highlights of my daughter’s school week is an assembly where time is spent singing seasonal songs and hymns. Often one or more songs are sung in a round. Older students may get a turn to perform their instruments and sometimes an adult in the community will bring in an unfamiliar instrument to tell the children about it and demonstrate how to play it.
~ A Meditation ~
I have found a great deal of support for our path in reading a German author, Henning Köhler, who has written a wonderful book about working with children. In cases where families are struggling, he wrote that he has tried advising parents on what to do but that they weren’t often able to put that into practice, so he now offers a meditation for parents:
Daily, before sleeping, immerse yourself briefly in picturing your child as a small bird fluttering in panic in its cage. That is the inner aspect of its raging and rebelling. Then wait to see what instruction the imaging offers you.
The meditation is from his book “Working with Anxious, Nervous and Depressed Children: A spiritual perspective to guide parents.” I can attest that the title may be off-putting but the content is wonderful and applies to every child.
~ School Programs ~
I also enjoy learning about new ideas for approaches in Waldorf special needs. Here are some ideas from the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in Upstate New York and their EARTH curriculum:
“…Each day, starting at 7:25 a.m., the students will complete their farm chores and then proceed to their “main lesson,” 8:15 to 10:45 a.m. This is when each student will receive the bulk of their academic instruction for the day.
From there, the EARTH program begins at 10:45 a.m. with a hands-on project. Summer said their first project will be building a yurt. Then, different blocks of instruction will occur throughout the year and centered around the seasons…”
~ Specialized school programs in the United States ~
Northern California http://www.mulberryfarm.org/
New York state http://www.threefold.org/education/otto_specht_school/index.aspx
New Orleans http://www.raphaelacademy.org/
Pennsylvania, under development, http://www.parzivalacademy.org
~ Therapeutic Sources ~
Micropreemies often have weak trunk strength, which can have far reaching effects on stamina, attention, handwriting and other academic work. These sources talk about things to help develop these areas:
- Association for a Healing Education: http://www.healingeducation.org/
- Dr. Köhler’s clinic in Germany: http://www.janusz-korczak-institut.de
Thank you so much, Stephanie for being here and sharing the journey of you and your family with my readers.
Many blessings and peace,