If I had to perform two gestures that signified Waldorf parenting and Waldorf education, it would be the gesture of embracing and protecting the child but also one of uplifting the child.
To me, there are two things that a child needs. One thing is unconditional love and warmth and delight in who they are. This actually can be a very easy thing to say, an easy thing to give lip service to and a much harder thing to face and confront in practice! For example, many times if a child is very much like us in temperament, we see the worst of ourselves in that child and we so don’t want the child to grow up and be like us! We try so hard to mold them into something else, anything else, but not our worst traits! Don’t be like us! Or, conversely, sometimes we have children that are so different in temperament than us that we just are not sure how to handle it or where to go with that. If only they could be a little more quiet, a little less active or only if they would move around more and enjoy being outside more!
How much better if we could forgive ourselves for our perceived inadequacies; how much better if we could show our children how to live with the fact that humans are not perfect; how much better for the child to feel loved and delighted in because they are just the unique them and they are here, in a sense, to teach US!
And so here comes the second thing that children need: if these children are indeed on a journey to a particular end as set forth by God or by destiny or whatever you believe, and if we are all here to help each other within this family and teach each other, what a child may need from us is guidance. They may need our help as they adjust to this foreign life on earth, into these growing bodies, into social and cultural customs so they can function in our world and our society.
And sometimes this involves uplifting our child to the next level even if they are not completely happy about it. That is the hard and fine line of parenting – respecting that the child is here for us to learn from, but also recognizing that we are here to help them, to help them move to the next level when they are ready (or at least to show them gently that the next level exists!) and how to be respectful in doing that.
Part of Waldorf parenting is respect for the idea that a three-year-old is different than a seven-year-old who is different than a ten-year-old. That is something that really has helped me along my journey, where so many parenting books seem to think all ages can be dealt with in the same way.
Contrary to popular opinion and Stupid Waldorf Myth, in Waldorf parenting and education, the protective bubble of Kindergarten does not last forever. The approach to Science through the stories of the natural world in the Early Grades does not last forever. The world does eventually open up to reading newspapers, seeing television programs, being spoken to directly as opposed to modeling and showing the child something to imitate. All of these things eventually happen!
But, the point is, that there is a time and a place in parenting and in education for what happens when. There is nothing within the Waldorf curriculum that is willy-nilly, all of it builds upon each thing taught within each year. The math of the math of the Second Grade builds upon the math of the First Grade; there is not the hodge-podge of things one finds in most curriculums these days.
I think the difference in Waldorf is that it is not ‘program-based” with a promise of The Latest and Greatest Educational Advancement that wear off over time to be replaced by some other Latest and Greatest Educational Advancement. It is an educational approach and philosophy rooted firmly in childhood development, holistic education and what will help that child attain optimal health and development not only now but as a future adult.
I find Waldorf parenting to be much the same way. The things we do for our small children – helping accustom them to rhythm, protecting the senses, understanding where they are in their bodies – lays the foundation for the years of ages 7-14 and 14-21.
Embracing and uplifting; the foundation of good parenting and good education.