Waldorf In The Home With The Three- And Four- Year Old

Well, this is the controversial post of the day, mainly because I disagree with some of the typical Waldorf School Kindy activities for home for these ages.  🙂  I wrote about the one-and two-year old here:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/06/waldorf-in-the-home-with-the-one-and-two-year-old/    and today we are going to move on to the three-and four-year old.

If you need a refresher as to where the three-year-old is developmentally, please see here:https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/19/peaceful-life-with-a-three-year-old/  and here:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/18/three-year-old-behavior-challenges/.   For the four-year-old .please see here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/12/08/discipline-for-the-four-year-old/

I am going to depart from so many of the hallowed and sacred texts of Waldorf, and tell you that Waldorf “homeschooling” (I really dislike that term!  How about just living?) for a three-and four-year-old looks a bit different at home than in the classroom.  This is especially true for those three and four-year olds who are the OLDEST in their families.

I think this much is true in both the  environments of Waldorf at Home and Waldorf at school though: the work of the three- and four-year-old is play. Play, fantasy and being outside.  These are the true things one needs to be working with on a child of this age. Mothers often write me and feel they should be worried about handwork projects, wet on wet painting and other things.  I say worry about the quality of your child’s play ( if you feel like worrying!), and think of ways to stimulate that if you feel the need to be “doing something” outside of the rhythms and things we talked about for the one and two year old.

For the one and two year old here are the things I mentioned as being important, with some added notes to build on for the three-and four- year old.

Bodily care, toileting or diaper changes, is HUGE. I cannot stress this enough.  Times for bodily care should involve love, their involvement, singing and joy.  This is still big for a three and four year old.  Your four year old is not at school and being expected to wipe themselves independently after a bowel movement, this is home, and these bodily care situations still deserve time, attention and dignity.

Meal times.  Again, unhurried, unrushed, singing, having your child help with preparation and clean-up.  Use your meal time now to start working in things to develop their movement – kneading bread, using a rolling pin, sweeping the kitchen floor, scrubbing a countertop, etc.

Nap times/Rest Times.  Sing lullabies, have a blanket that is special for sleeping, have a routine involving physical touch of gentle massage or foot rub.

It can be very hard with a three or four year old who has stopped napping, but shooting for some time that is quiet is a great goal.  They may not be able to do it on their own (although some will happily play with a play scenario you have set up), but that may be a time to read a story, a time to tell a story, a time to sing soft songs whilst massaging their hands or feet, and just dim the lights and be together and rock in the rocking chair for a bit.  You may also catch some down time for yourself at this time or during outside time if your child gets engaged.

Bath times.  Singing, finger plays and toe plays, gentle rub downs with the towel (those textures again)

Outside time.  This is the time to think of some creative things for outside.

Being outside is of extreme importance and to provide opportunities for physical movement outside. No going outside to just sit there!  If your child is a reluctant woodsperson, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Make a “carpet” by laying down sticks in squares and then filling in the squares with things the child can find.
  • Find the natural objects to make plates, forks, spoons, for a fairy feast
  • Make pinecone people by getting a pinecone and decorating with leaves, small twigs by pushing the objects into the pinecone.
  • Show your child how to rub their chins with flowers and see if they like butter, how to make flower chains, how to take the caps off acorns, how to grate dry leaves into dust and powder, how to roll a snowball and look for tracks of fairies and giants in the snow.
  • Get them things to lug, tug, push, pull, dig.
  • Play in the sand and in the mud, make mud pies, hunt for worms and bugs.
  • For other suggestions, please see these  posts:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/25/nature-day-number-8-of-20-days-toward-being-a-more-mindful-mother/  and this one:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/24/connecting-your-children-to-nature/

Participation in household life.  Your very gesture is so important, it should not be you rushing around trying to get the whole house clean in one day.  It is taking each article of laundry and smoothing it out, folding it tenderly, putting it in the pile to be put away with love for your family. What is important is not only that the child sees the work being done, but imitates that gesture of love and care.  That extends into caring for plants and animals, this is the very first “environmental education” that a child gets with you, right at home.

To this we add the thought that physical work is very important, not only outside, but inside as well.  Can your wee one help you wash lettuce?  Peel carrots?  Peel an apple? Grind wheat? Knead bread?  These experiences are the first form of handwork for the young child.

Music – as mentioned many times, music and rhymes and verses should take precedence at this point over any written word.

Inner Work/Personal Parenting Development:  The most spiritually mature people should be the ones coming into contact with the youngest children.  This is a very important time for your own work and  development.  If you are anxious, practice being calm.  If you are impatient, practice being patient.  If you talk in a stream of conscious way, practice being silent.  This is a time to develop your spiritual and religious beliefs.  It is a time to become more aware of the things unseen.

And to this list we now add a few things:

1.  We work on building up the first four of the twelve senses:

The Sense of Touch: Holding, cuddling, taking baths together, swimming, piggy back rides, games that involve holding hands and singing, wrestling and roughhousing, tickling games if your child likes that, rolling around on the floor together,  being outside in nature, natural materials to touch and play with and wear

The Sense of Life:  RHYTHM, humor and joy!

The Sense of Movement:  crawling, any sustained movement over time such as learning to ride a bike or swim,

The Sense of Balance: RHYTHM again, swinging, rolling,

2.  PLAY.  This is the time to encourage play.  A reader brought up in another post’s comments that her three year old liked to play “fireman” and she wondered how much detail to go into about why fireman wear what they wear, etc.  I would say it is our job to “unstick” our children’s play if they are stuck.  So, in this example, if all this little boy could do is sit on the sofa and make the noise of a siren, I would set up something where “Fireman Bob” now got a call to go and rescue a cat up in a tree (a stuffed cat on a bookshelf) and now we must check the kitty and oh, the kitty is fine, but whoa, now the firetruck needs gas and let’s check that tire out and then you slowly back out of the play until your child is playing by himself or herself for a few minutes.

It is our job to help advance their play through setting up play scenarios and helping the child become “unstuck.”  You can see the back posts on fostering creative play and the progression of play by age and suggested toys.

3. Preparation for Festivals. This is a great time to help children participate by DOING, not explaining in words.  There are lots of posts on this blog about individual festivals.  Our next one is Candlemas, there is one you can start with!

4.  Art – okay, here is where I differ a bit.

  • Painting –  I still think three and four is young for wet on wet watercolor painting.  Wet on wet watercolor painting should, to me at least, have a very quiet, contemplative and meditative quality.  It can be done, but I think it is more successful when there are older children about to help carry this meditative mood of experiencing with color.  I know many will disagree, but thought I would throw it out there.  I know it is not especially “Waldorf school style”, but I am all for fingerpainting at these ages.  So politically incorrect, I know.:)
  • Coloring with crayons – I know many three and four year olds who would just make a scribble and run off.  Again, I think three and four year olds are still really interested in developing gross motor skills and I know every child is different and some will love this, but many do not, especially without that group to carry it.
  • Carding wool – can be a hit as it is repetitive sensory movement.  You can buy fleece to wash and dry and card it with little dog brushes.  This is great.
  • Sanding wood might be good as well.  Any thoughts?
  • Modeling – I like the idea of modeling with sand, salt dough, snow, kneading bread.  I think beeswax modeling is for older children myself.  Again, this differs from Waldorf school.
  • Sewing – I know Marsha Johnson talks about having the three year old who can sew little felt shapes or whathave you for festivals, but I also know handwork teachers who would disagree with having a three or four year old hand sewing. I think this one is up to you!
  • Finger knitting – again, I think better for the five and six year old.
  • Other Arts and Crafts – some can be successful, especially in preparation for a festival, but I think for the  most part recommendations in books such as “Earthways” the age range is always put lower than what I would put it.  Why be in such a rush to do all this?

5.  Storytelling and Puppetry – If you have not had a time where you light a candle and tell a story, now is the time to begin.  Pick a story, memorize it, and tell it at least three days a week for two weeks to a month.  Simple nature tales, stories you make up, repetitive fairy tales such as The Mitten, The  Gingerbread Man, stories from Suzanne Down’s books, can all be used.   I especially like the stories with music in them if you can read music and sing.

Circle Time is the heart of the Waldorf Kindergarten, but can be a complete flop at home.  I love the book “Movement Journeys and Circle Adventures” (use  the search engine box to find the review), but at home it can really flop.  Still, I think it is worth a try if you can convince your four-year-old to “teach” your younger child, LOL.  Still stick to the verses and songs you have in daily life, and add seasonal fingerplays and seasonal songs.

Other questions parents have?  What to do about the four year old who is writing?  Wanting to write their name or copy words is still different than formal academics, so just being very ho-hum and not worrying about it is the way to go.  Colors are on the nature table and you can point out an orange pumpkin that is round and  not feel bad your child is “being exposed.”  Again, a bit different than formal academics.  Many of the verses and rhymes for childhood have numbers in them, or letters, and that is okay. Again, different than formal academics.

Social experiences outside the home can still be limited.  I wrote about social experiences with the four-year-old here:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/09/more-about-social-experiences-for-the-four-year-old/

and took some grief about this post, but I still feel about things the same way as when I wrote it.   You can agree or disagree, and take what resonates with you.

I am sure I am forgetting things about these ages and Waldorf in the Home, but hopefully it is a good start for you as you think about these ages.  Again, take what resonates with you.

Many blessings and peace,


38 thoughts on “Waldorf In The Home With The Three- And Four- Year Old

  1. Thanks, thanks, thanks Carrie!
    The last few post have been so inspirational.
    I especially needed to read that I do not need to be uncomfortable with my children’s emotions of unhappiness or anger, so I will do some inner work on that subject.

    I was so glad to read about “The Sense of Touch: Holding, cuddling, taking baths together, swimming, piggy back rides, games that involve holding hands and singing ….” My little boy loves to be touched, cuddled etc almost as if he can’t get enough. It is reassuring to know he is just a small child and doesn’t need to a ‘big boy’ yet.

  2. I have a 3 year old AND a 4 year old and totally love this post! I am doing Waldorf teacher training and LifeWays training and want to do Waldorf homeschooling.

    I also love your grain of the day post.

    This is my new favorite blog. 🙂

  3. Loved the post – full of so many good reminders from what I read in Donna’s Kindergarten guide. I’m wondering about the crayons/coloring part, though. It was mentioned to us that our then 4yo (now just a month shy of 5) should be able to draw stick figures. He doesn’t and when asked on rare occassions says he “can’t”. He’s still pretty content just to scribble or on a few occassions draw circles or straight lines. So what about the whole stick figure thing?

    • Yup, those boys are the ones I am talking about – the ones who scribble and run, and I think in the home environment without a big group sitting down to draw i t can be harder….If you sit down a draw, would he be interested in imitating? Donna does have a drawing with your 4-11 year old; there is a review of it on this blog…:)
      Many blessings

  4. It’s so interesting, Carrie, that you talk about large motor skills being so important, even up to age four. I see so many ‘Waldorf’-style toys for developing small motor skills for two-year-olds that I thought it was important to focus on that, too. My two year old is drawn towards work that requires concentrated effort with small-ish objects, and I actually bought him a couple of those Waldorf skill toys. I stopped presenting them to him, though, because although he was drawn to them, he expressed no joy or liveliness while playing with them. It was almost disturbing seeing a two year old with sharp, stone eyes, albeit hard at work. I see him flourish with joy and creativity when he’s running around the house, getting in to this and that, exploring and creating all sorts of mischief. I am learning, though it is difficult, to just let go…as I see by watching him that he has what he needs inside of him, that given the chance to express and explore that, he’ll grow and develop into the full little person that he is. It’s a bit frightening to have that much trust.

    • I think large motor skills are very important and underrated in the school setting many times…guess this is my pediatric physical therapist background poking through, LOL…..
      Carrie 🙂

  5. I like these ideas…..
    Does anyone have a suggestion for a nice finger-paint that is non-toxic? I’m sure my two year old will be be taste-testing it!

  6. Pingback: Questions From The Trenches: Your Parenting and Homeschooling Questions Answered « The Parenting Passageway

  7. Carrie – Hmm…sort of. When he is sitting down to draw with crayons it’s usually a family affair (less likely to end up with crayon marks on the wall that way) because I always figured it was more fun. He can actually spend quite a bit of time scribbling – big bold streaks of color layered one on top of the other. Regardless of what I might be drawing he’ll stick with the scribbling. I’ve been content to just let things be (although Donna’s book is on my wish list already), but the fact that it’s all he seems interested in nags me a bit in the back of my mind. Always wondered if this was typical for his age…

  8. Another extremely helpful post. Thank you so much for all the time, energy and thought you devote to your blog. It really has enriched my parenting and our family life.

  9. Pingback: Unschooling and Waldorf : The Student-Teacher Relationship Birth- Age 7 « The Parenting Passageway

  10. Pingback: Waldorf In The Home With The Five-Year-Old « The Parenting Passageway

  11. I have a question about mealtimes. My son, who just turned 4, has been picky all his life, but has progressively, since age 3, whittled down to eating nothing but pb&j. He used to try things, & liked several items he won’t eat anymore. (No signs of allergies.) Meal times aren’t fun. We don’t mind him eating pb&j, but we ask that he taste 1 bite of what we’re eating. It’s mostly kid-friendly stuff, too. But, he won’t taste. I want mealtimes to be more peaceful. I want him to experience all the yummy things out there. What are your suggestions?

    • Beth,
      Probably the first thing I would rule out is allergies, as you mentioned, and reflux, and then sensory issues with the textures of the food. Have you spoken with your health care provider? I think that would be the first place to start as your health care provider knows your son’s medical history and knows you all in person. For general information, you may want to check out the things regarding picky eating on Dr. Sears’ website: http://www.askdrsears.com/html/3/t030800.asp (17 tips for pleasing the picky eater).
      I am sorry I don’t have more to offer but I feel this can be a difficult thing to tease out over the Internet without ever physically meeting your little guy. 🙂
      I do hope you find some answers and he starts eating better…

  12. carrie –
    i just did my very first “story time” (complete with seed babies and mother nature figure 🙂 ) for my four year old and almost two year old, followed by a few simple fingerplays and i feel so accomplished! it takes very little to feel that way these days LOL. they even begged to tell it a second and third time! thanks for this and other encouraging posts for setting up rhythm and introducing some of these waldorf/homeschool ideas into our daily life.

  13. What should a mom do about the constant requests of a four year old to “watch this”, “now watch this”, “are you watching me, Mommy”, “did you see that?”…whenever you ARE watching, but it’s not enough? Assuming it’s a four year old who IS receiving 1-1 time and attention throughout the day, so isn’t lacking in that area, but is also not being over-indulged, how should mom respond, when her eyes need now to be on the dishes, laundry, or kid #2?

    • Beth – WORK. Keep those hands busy so play time can be a welcome break from working alongside of you. And a nice calm nod to answer those questions because you are watching..I think sometimes children do go through phases where they are like bottomless pits in terms of wanting input, praise or what else. Maybe go back to the old posts on this blog on love language, perhaps this child’s tank needs to be filled in a different way. Maybe they need words of affirmation or touch or something different.
      Just a few thoughts, take what resonates with you..

  14. Hi Carrie, I love this post, reading it for the first time for my four year old. I am very curious about the last link in your article, Social Experiences for the Four Year Old, but the link is broken. Can you help me get that post to read? Thank you for a *beautiful* offering.

  15. The link is broken for your post about 4 year olds and socializing. I’m sure i would agree with your views 🙂 i was eager to have some moral support!

  16. Pingback: “I Have a Four Year Old and A 20 Month Old and I Just Found Waldorf….Now What Do I Do?” | The Parenting Passageway

  17. I’m just loving all of these posts! As a mom who recently discovered Waldorf, but grew up on a complete opposite end of the spectrum and doesn’t have a whole lot of time for reading with children 13 months apart! These posts are so helpful! I am so eager to learn more and more. I have so many questions. I wish there were more classes offered on Waldorf style of parenting!

  18. Pingback: How to raise a creative child, Waldorf in the home – One Preschool Blog

  19. Pingback: How To Homeschool Preschool 3 Wonderful Ways - This Whole Home

  20. I found your information very helpful. I took my four year old for a pretest to enter pre-k in the fall. I was informed that he did well on the knowledge part of the test. I was very surprised when they informed me he would not be accepted because he didn’t sit still and he answered the questions out of turn. I felt that was a little unfair when children enter school aren’t they taught how to sit and raise their hands and learn the classroom rules.

    • You are not the first parent that has contacted me about their four year old who is smart not being accepted to pre-k due to not being able to sit still, etc. I am confused in that one would think pre-k would be for learning these types of skills! What are your plans now?

  21. dear Carrie,

    thanks for sharing your thoughts
    you are an inspiration and for a clueless frustrated mom like me you have brought light to my darkest days
    i now feel i have some direction and dont feel lost with raising my girls.
    wish i had known this way back
    i have a 16 yr old, 5 yr old and 11 month old

    • Hi Michelle! I am so glad you are here reading. I have a 16 year old as well! 🙂
      Blessings, and thank you for being here – Carrie

  22. This is really interesting. In my school, kids don’t do wet on wet painting ’til they’re seven years old. All the 3-6 year olds do is play, go on nature walks, eat, sleep, and sing. They “make” things, but mostly fairy toys. No painting yet.

  23. Pingback: Daftar Pustaka

Leave a Reply to Sarah Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.