Wonderful Words From Marsha Johnson!

This post is NOT by me, but by Master Waldorf Teacher Marsha Johnson, who lives in the Portland area.  She wrote this wonderful post this morning, I so encourage you to read it carefully, consider it, weigh it in your heart.  Please do go and join her Yahoo!group waldorfhomeeducators.  This is an excellent post, just excellent.  Please read Marsha Johnson’s wise words and enjoy!

“One recurring thread that emerges again and again in the various home schooling groups is the embracing of Info-Mation as Edu-Cation. This is an approach that relies on the passing along of facts and figures to the children, rather like filling up a blank sheet of paper with a long list of data. This kind of education is one that many parents themselves were exposed to as children in lower schools and is yet embraced by many institutions of higher learning.
I have jokingly referred to it as Information Vomitus. Particularly in graduate school, one absorbs mounds of information and must regurgitate it accurately within a time period, and those who can do this are considered ‘smart’.
As a species, some of us just love this habit. We have game shows where we love to quiz people on obscure and odd facts and see who can answer the most questions correctly. There are board games that focus on this aimless ‘art’, like Trivial Pursuit. That name does make me laugh at least the use of the word trivial. Small and meaningless.

As parents, we tend to veer unconsciously towards teaching our children in the way we ‘were taught’. This tendency is really one of the most dangerous and damaging stage in the life of the homeschooling family.

Why do I say this? Because the children of today, the millennial children, the Shining Ones, are very different than the previous generation of children, those born from the 1950s to the 1990s, when the Information Age really began to dominate. The idea was strewn about that one could improve a child’s IQ with exposure to this Factoid Education and that children were really blank slates whose minds could be sharpened and very soon after this time period began we started seeing massive testing of children as large population groups and lo and behold, a lot of stereotyping also began to show up in the statistics. All sorts of rather wicked and demeaning conclusions have been drawn from this kind of erroneous practice.

When we begin to ‘school’ children, and some are so anxious they start right away as soon as Baby can focus her eyes, we reach back into our own educational experiences and most often pull forward this kind of teaching that involves a lot of child sitting-parent speaking.

With a sense of humor here, often the children quickly teach the parent that this kind of education isn’t going to persist for too long. As children are naturally good and sweet and want to make us big people happy, they often accommodate us with love and grace, and put up with quite a bit of this kind of dreary boring presentation.

But some don’t. They rise up and run about and wiggle away, dancing, singing, going outside, done-with-that!, let’s have snack happy attitude that is probably the most logically kind response possible.

The type of education that really fits the developmental stage of the child most closely, from my own point of view, is Waldorf education. Within the very ‘bones’ of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies we find the most wonderful comprehension of how children are, what children need, and why we must approach the education of the child with an imaginative, artistic technique. A warm and inclusive attitude. A whole-child, integrated program that moves smoothly from moment to moment to create a kind of living-dream, wherein the child floats, soars, rests, and grows.

And this is probably the very opposite of the Info-Mation protocol, which calls mostly on the forces of the nerve-sense pole, the head, the hearing and memory and goes down dry as a desert rock in late summer.

Will you provide an education that inspires your child and yourself? Can you take a subject and find the Alice-In-Wonderland Rabbit Hole that will allow you to enter in a playful and unexpected fashion? How much of the school time is spent sitting and listening, or writing or copying? How much is spent moving, doing, trying, inventing, creating, cooperating, considering, digesting?

I am struck again and again by how passionate and devoted parents can be to a style of learning that would, well, invoke passion and interest in someone 35 years old or older? (smiles here) But a six year old is in his first decade, not the fourth, and taking the dry factual program to this tender age should really be some kind of crime.

Destroying a child’s imagination and tramping through their fairy land of fantasy with the bulldozers of ‘real life’ is actually a crime against childhood. We are surrounded by immense pressure from commercial marketers, manufacturers, media moguls, and those who want to benefit from premature aging. It is unbelievable, a very sophisticated and invisible force to destroy childhood and create an endless period of ‘tween’ and ‘teen’. Did you know the average age of video game players is actually 29 years old? This means there many older and younger right around 30 years of age who devote most of their free time to staring at screens.

One of the easiest ways to judge how a lesson is being received is to keep a close eye on the recipient. Rather than lose your adult self into the lovely land of facts and transmitting these facts, say a few words and watch the child. Allow for pauses and wait a bit. Does the child keep her attention focused on you, do the cheeks pink up, do the eyes sparkle, doe he sit forwards towards you, hanging on your words? Or does she fidget, grow pale, look down or elsewhere, try to rise and leave? Observe the child closely during the day, during play, during rest, during active vigorous exercise. Learn the color patterns of the child’s skin, the facial and body gestures. Configure your lessons in such a way that the child’s response is one of delight, close attention, desire to participate, and shows a healthy age appropriate expression.

Young children naturally move and use their bodies to learn. Incorporate this into each lesson and every day in your home teaching. Sitting is only one of many types of positions that the young child assumes in the natural exploration of the physical world. Adults tend to sit for the vast majority of each day in both work and play. There is much to be gained from moving often and finding physical ways to enhance the learning experiences.

The old saying `give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime’, is a perfect mantra for teaching the young human born in the early 2000s. Consider subject matter from the child’s point of view, figure out what you can do in your lessons that allow the child to use the three elements of self: head, heart, and hands. One of the greatest errors in current educational practice is the sole focus on the head learning, forcing young children to sit at tables for long days, wearying their spirits and graying their outlook. Early academic fatigue syndrome is rampant in our country and fortunately, almost 100 years ago, Rudolf Steiner illuminated a brilliant pathway of education that is more relevant today than ever before. Living artistic age-appropriate lessons, every day, naturally engaging and guaranteed to engender a life long love of learning.

Marsha Johnson, Spring 2009”

Thank you Marsha, for these words that I am holding in my heart,  thank you for being here and sharing with us,


Verses and Songs Throughout the Day

Many Waldorf mothers lament that while they know they should not use head-oriented commands with small children under the age of seven, they just are not sure how to get through the day without doing this.  One way to think about this is how you could use songs and verses throughout your day for transition points.  For example, instead of announcing all day long, “Now, little Jimmy, we are going to do XYZ”, you have a wonderful song or melody to do this that accompanies YOU starting to DO the physical activity.  (Having small children is not to be directed from the sofa!!)  Once you use the same song or verse for the same activity over and over, the child recognizes what goes with what melody. 

I kept track the other day, and here are some of the ones I use with my family that we enjoy, and maybe this will give you some ideas for your own family!  You will find the songs and verses that work for you!

For waking up in the morning, while I go around and open all the window shades:  The song “Good morning, good morning and how do you do?”  and also the song “Buenos Dias, Buenos Dias, como estas, como estas?”  (sung to the tune of “Where is Thumpkin?”)

For making beds:   The song “This is the way we make the beds, make the beds, make the beds, this is way we make the beds on a “XXXXXX” morning.”

For calling to breakfast and lunch – We sing the prayer “Thou Art Great and Thou Art Good”  from Shea Darien’s book Seven Times the Sun.

For washing dishes:  The song “This the way we wash the dishes, wash the dishes, wash the dishes” as above

For getting dressed:  The nursery rhyme Diddle Diddle Dumpling, My Son John

(I also make up songs sometimes for going potty, brushing teeth or brushing hair).

For being called to start homeschool:  I always call children with a made- up tune on the pennywhistle and then play whatever song is the song of the month.  For example, in November I played “The Pumpkin Pie” song and my kids learned it and sung it for everyone after Thanksgiving dinner while I played.  For this month we are learning the song from the play “The Snowmaiden” from “Little Plays for Puppets” book and also a song about dwarves.  After singing we have a candle-lighting verse and we also use the well-known  Waldorf verse that begins, “Good Morning Dear Earth, Good Morning Dear Sun.”

For quiet time:  We sing one of the quiet songs out of Shea Darien’s book Seven Times the Sun

For ending quiet time:  We use that wonderful folk song that begins, “Bluebird, bluebird (or whatever bird you want!)  fly through my window, bluebird, bluebird, fly through my window.”  It is on Pete Seeger’s CD of folk songs

Favorite verse for going outside:  The nursery rhyme that begins, “The grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men, he marched them up a hill and then he marched him down again.”

For practical work, I do have verses for wet on wet watercolor painting, baking, handwork, gardening and housekeeping that can be found in A Child’s Seasonal Treasury,

For dinner we rotate between these two prayers: 

Father, we thank thee for this food before us

Give us strength to do Thy Will

Guide and Protect Us in Your Heavenly Path

For Christ’s Sake, Amen.

or this one:

Bless this food to our use

And us to thy (continued) service

And make us ever mindful of thy blessings


For Bathtime- Rub a Dub Dub, Three Men in a Tub

For Bedtime- Prayers (we say four prayers at night)

First we say “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”

Then we say this one:

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,

Bless this bed that we lie on,

Two at our head, two at our feet,

Protect us (bless us) while we are fast asleep.

Then we say a quick prayer to the archangels of St. Raphael, St. Gabriel, St. Michael and St. Uriel, (and we list what we are thankful for from the day)

And then at last we say “Our Father Who Art in Heaven”.

This is just a small sampling, and you can come up with traditional verses, songs and prayers that speak to your own spiritual/religious life.   I also make up many songs on the spot and sing.  My oldest thinks my voice is beautiful, which I assure you it is not, but the point is you do not have to be a great singer to do this!!  It is great fun, the kids learn all of this by heart easily, and it is so much better than walking around like a play-by-play football announcer each day.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

One of the 12 Senses: Warmth

This is an excellent article regarding one of Steiner’s 12 senses that is important developmentally for young children: warmth.

Please check out this link to read a great article on Warmth, Strength and Freedom:  http://tidewaterschool.blogspot.com/2008/12/warmth-strength-and-freedom-by-m.html

Happy, happy reading!!

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.