It is easy to get caught up in the external trappings of Waldorf kindergarten – the pretty silks, the wooden toys, and even things like the color of the day or the grain of the day or gnomes. Not that we don’t love those things, but I think if that is where we stop, we are truly missing the heart of the Waldorf kindergarten. So, here are my top ten tips regarding Waldorf kindergarten for the three to six year old at home:
1. Be prepared to hold a daily and weekly rhythm, and firm and loving boundaries consistently. This can be very difficult for parents as many parents have no rhythm to their days or are constantly on the go and too busy. A healthy home life involves slowing down, being present, holding boundaries with love. And doing it day after day. This is our sacred work in parenting.
2. Work provides the basis for healthy play; be prepared to stick to the rhythm of work even if your child does not participate. Older kindergarteners will participate; younger children may imitate in play; but either way the work is done because it is IMPORTANT work for the nourishment of the home. My only caveat is that in the home environment we also should have the time, space and freedom for snuggles, for love, for being able to just be with our children. It should all have a balance to it, an inbreath and outbreath. Conversely, if your whole day is following your child around and nothing is being led by you, then that is an area to look at and bring in the important work of the home.
3. Create space and time for play; have warm natural objects for play. It doesn’t have to be expensive wooden toys! It can be boxes with stacks of seashells, stones and pinecones! But the space and time for a child to learn how to play by themselves, from their own initiative, is important. You can be a “character” in the play, but keep your hands busy. This is your child’s work.
The other piece of this is the cues that we can take from our friends involved in farm and forest-based education. Being in nature is the true place for beautiful play and the development of the senses and gross motor movement and core strength we are looking for in the kindergarten years. This is the true preparation for the academic work that will take place in the grades.
4. Your child needs more silence, more time to themselves, and less of your hovering and words and direction. It doesn’t mean that your children don’t need you, but that it is part of the health of the individual child to have time and space to self-initiate, to learn in their own world of play as they imitate your work and your inner attitudes.
5. Speak in verses and songs; provide pictures with images as you speak with clear speech. Silence provides time and space for your child to initiate his or her own words. Stories and songs are the food of the Waldorf Kindergarten. The stories you make up about the little things around your home and neighborhood are the best stories.
6. Protection is the key to the Waldorf Kindergarten – questions and answers and explanations for the child, more questions for the child, so many choices, the use of so many gadgets and screens to entertain children all takes away a child’s self-initiative, their own ability to modulate and self-regulate their own emotions, the unfolding of their own development, and their ability to imagine and problem-solve. Protection is an important neuro-stimulator.
7. Boundaries relax children. They may kick and scream against it, you may have to gently hold them while they scream and kick, but they will relax into it eventually. Waldorf teachers vary on the use of the phrase “You may” do something versus “You will” do something, but no matter how you say it, a boundary still needs to happen. A strong rhythm is the best boundary holder of all.
8. Help children learn how they can love and support each other. We often don’t have this in the home if it is just a young child and us, without mixed age ranges. I don’t know as a three or four year old needs much in the way of “socialization” outside the family unit, but I think by five and six most children would like to have a friend or two and I think this is important for social development. Building up community is important for the homeschooling adult and the children. This may be done by you starting a homeschool group, a playgroup, or just an outside day at a park with friends.
9. And after saying all of this, I am going to sound paradoxical when I tell you that who we are is more important than what we do. Are we truly loving and kind or do we bad mouth people behind their backs? Do we approach our tasks lovingly and with joy or are we bitter and full of resentment? How are we working to develop the inner qualities we want our children to emulate? This involves taking up spiritual initiative within our own lives in whatever capacity that means to us. Rudolf Steiner laid out a path with his ideas, I use a path of Christianity through my religious denomination, and different people have different ways, but the point is that you work on cultivating the spirituality that is within in you that connects you to other people and to the world and causes you to see how things are interrelated.
10. Remember that the ultimate goal of Waldorf Education is that the human beings once again learn how to live with each other, that we can connect with the “other”, that we see how things are interrelated, that we can serve humanity with love. It helps to begin with the end in mind.
I have very specific back posts about Waldorf in the Home for the one and two year old, the three and four year old, the five and six year old, along with posts on puppetry, festivals, stories, movement and gross motor development, the development of the hand, modeling and wet on wet painting. You do not need a fancy curriculum. Save your money for art supplies, and child-sized tools for work in nourishing the home or a membership to your state parks.