We often say this out of convention, right? Well-meaning people ask, “Oh, is your four-year-old going to preschool? Where do they go to school?” and we answer something to the effect of, “Well, we are homeschooling.”
However, I think we need to be very careful and clear within ourselves as to what we mean when we say this if we are Waldorf home educators. Waldorf Early Years is about bringing warmth to our child, love to our child, rhythm to our child with a strong cornerstone of rest and sleep, helping to foster imaginative play, working together on practical things that create an ensouled home, singing together, and fostering a love of nature and reverence and respect. It is not at all about direct academics at this point because children under the age of 7 are living in their bodies, in their motion, in the movement of the moment. They are not living in their heads.
This is, of course, difficult to explain to well-meaning strangers. However, when one joins other Waldorf homeschoolers and talks about “schooling” their four and five year olds, I think we all need to get clear. The Early Years is not about academic preschool skills the way conventional schooling is.
However, it is also not about doing NOTHING, which is what many parents conversely seem to think. There should be a strong rhythm to your day, there should be times of out-breath and exploration in nature, times of fostering quieter reverence for a special told story. Waldorf Kindergartens in Waldorf schools often make the day look seamless – outside play or walk, practical work for the day, preparing for snack, having snack and clean-up from snack, special songs and a story, rest time, more play in nature; and all the while the adults are engaged in strong practical work with their hands - but the reality is that is takes quite a bit of planning to make this come off as easily as it looks!
Many mothers of Kindergarten-aged (and remember while Waldorf schools plan for children ages 3 to 6 in Kindergarten your child will most likely be five and six before having great attention for festival preparations, bread baking and etc without a peer group to carry them along) ask about planning. Less is more for the Kindergarten-aged child. Seasonal stories and verses can be simple and revisited year after year. Craft ideas can also be re-done year after year. There is comfort to the child in knowing that there is dragon bread on Michaelmas, lanterns are made around the time of Martinmas.
Many mothers collect songs and verses and stories by season on their computer in files and then take the time to organize it by day over the summer either by writing it down by hand in a spiral notebook or in a computer file that is printed out. It takes time to collect verses, songs, stories, ideas for festival preparations and gardening. This is the time for you to really sharpen your own skills – learn to play that blowing instrument, learn to garden and identify some plants, learn to knit. Check out all the Waldorf Kindergarten posts on this blog, they will hopefully help guide you as to what you should be doing and what a typical Waldorf homeschooling Kindergarten day might look like.
The day should be short in terms of attention for practical work and the circle/story. Steiner said if we got just 15 minutes of work done that the child could observe that that was wonderful. He didn’t say hours of work, and in a Waldorf Kindergarten school setting there are multiple teachers and assistants and older children to help carry the group along.
Mothers say, “Well, my child doesn’t want to do beeswax crayoning, they just do a scribble and run off.” The point is that YOU do the activity and model it for them. Children are notorious for not liking their mothers to sing or do whatever, and then lo behold, there the child is singing the song you were singing this morning! The one they hated and ran away from.
You can work in a two-pronged manner: stories and songs and activities that are interesting to the child within the realm of practical work for the day, and also by NOT forcing the child. The child is free to weave in and out and just watch what you are doing.
Your child IS learning academic skills, believe it or not. Many nursery rhymes and songs have letters and numbers in them, many things about science can be learned by fostering a connection with nature, many fine motor skills needed for handwriting and other things can be learned through arts and crafts and festival preparations. You may find your child easily meets the PreK and Kindergarten requirements for your state with no direct academic work at all!
Get clear with yourself; there is a reason for the first seven years to be one of movement and will and not regurgitation of dry facts. In fact, children who are treated to just dry facts by the age of 7,8, and 9 often seem to rebel against this and need more imaginative stories, more sensory and active movement. Perhaps this is because this stage was missed earlier, and perhaps because even a 7, 8 and 9 year old needs to learn in this manner.
Four is a great age for sitting on laps, four is a great age for loving each other. Do not underestimate the most important goal for homeschooling: spending warm, loving time together and fostering close bonds between siblings. This is the real and true goal of homeschooling.
So, if someone asks you if you are homeschooling your four-year-old, just know and be clear within yourself that you are giving them the foundation that will make academics even better later on, that you are giving them the foundational skills for relationships they will need later on. Be clear that you are giving them the best education possible by the things we do every day as Waldorf home educators.