Unschooling and Waldorf : The Student-Teacher Relationship Birth- Age 7

So, we started to explore Unschooling and Waldorf in this previous post ( https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/17/unschooling-and-waldorf/ ), when this really astute question came up in the comment box.

Writes in a wonderful mother

“The only question that remains for me is about the teacher/learner relationship. What if the child is not interested in learning what you present him with, even if it is age-appropriate for him? What if the child doesn’t want to sit and do what you invite him to do? As my girls are getting bigger, I can see that they do not always want to do what I suggest we do, and I want to honor that. It doesn’t feel right to coerce them into doing what I think is good for them. Don’t get me wrong, I will not let them have chocolate for breakfast and go to bed at 10 pm, I am talking reasonable things like drawing all day instead of going outside (even if I know it’s good for them to go outside, it feels wrong to get into a fight, a tantrum and tears to get them out the door). I guess, what I am saying is that I am a bit confused in that area. I do not want to be the dictator of my children’s life, I want them to learn to listen to what they feel inside…..”


I would like to address this in two parts: one geared toward children under 7, and one part more pertaining to the grades.

Part One:  The Student-Teacher Relationship for Children Under Age 7

You know, from everything I have read, Steiner was a warm man, a man who observed children with love, a man with a good sense of humor.  I think he would understand that first and foremost homeschooling is about the joy of being with family.

If your children are completely upset about something in your rhythm, I think there are at least two ways to approach it:  #1 – approach it as the fact that the rhythm is for you to follow and they can follow or not and weave in and out in play but you can mix that with this idea:  #2 – perhaps the rhythm needs to be changed to better meet your children.

A rhythm should change seasonally, right?  One of the original examples given above was small children not wanting to go outside….Well, this is a really cold month in many places. Perhaps you change your rhythm to accomplish your goals (connection with nature, getting energy out) in a different way.  So, you make treats for the feathered friends and small creatures outside, and you set up indoor forts and bear caves and tunnels for the children to crawl through to find the hibernating bears and they get the energy out inside.  Goals still accomplished, different methods. 

You are homeschooling, you can be flexible, and the more years you do this, you will plan ahead of time because you remember the last time – last January was this way, so this year I am going to plan some ice-skating, but also a lot of baking and crafting and storytelling for us to do.  We will play games and sit by the fire, and love  each other.

See, no coercion at all!  But whilst we are on that word, I want you all to meditate on that.  If you feel in heart that you will “present” something and it might “fail”, I think that is something to be explored.  Children can sense when we don’t feel confident and certain.  Feel clear with yourself before you even start.  What are your goals for your children this year in homeschooling?  What do they need to work on?  To me, there are goals, even at the Waldorf Kindergarten level.  If you know your goals, you can change the method of delivery and still meet your goal in helping your child.  🙂

My other point with the under-7’s is that they are working out of imitation, so don’t necessarily give them the opportunity to debate about what they will or won’t do in words……  The kiss of death is to say, “Now it’s time for our puppet show” and everyone groans and says, “Not now!  We are making ice porridge in our kitchen for the snow bears to eat!”  No, just gather up your puppets, set up your stage and start singing the opening song and start.  They will come.

But do learn to read you children as well, if they are playing beautifully and building gorgeous sibling bonds, why interrupt that?  Sibling love is an important component of homeschooling to foster…The puppet show can happen in an hour.  This is a line we always tread in homeschooling – the play, the family love versus the fact that sometimes things do have to happen, that is part of developing the will of the child and our own will, our own self-discipline. 

The other part is, don’t present to the under-7 child.  Present around them instead.  For example, sit down and start finger-knitting and when they gather around and ask if they can, you have the choice to pull out the story and teach them, yes.  But you also have the choice to say to the four-year-old, “This is Mommy’s task right now, but I bet when you are bigger I can teach you how to do this” and sing a song.  Build up some anticipation for the beautiful things they are going to learn, it becomes then a privilege to try rather than something to resist.

Steiner felt what small children needed in the Kindergarten age was love,  warmth, worthy adult activity to be imitated, play, protection for childhood, gratitude and reverence, joy, humor and happiness, and adults who are developing their own inner intuition, so…….K.I.S. (Keep It Simple). 

Keep it simple.  The under-7 child should have a simple rhythm, and you don’t need a complicated craft that coordinates with your story with a complicated snack that coordinates with your story with all of these things with a complicated nature activity, etc.  That turns it all into more of a Unit Study than just seasonal activities and storytelling and singing.    Live, breathe, and focus not only on the goals and the things for the Waldorf Kindergarten experience at home (see back posts here   https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/13/waldorf-in-the-home-with-the-three-and-four-year-old/  and here  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/06/waldorf-in-the-home-with-the-one-and-two-year-old/ ), but on those intangibles that Steiner talked about – love, joy, warmth, humor.  Infuse your activities with these things, not with a drill sergeant of the rhythm keeper attitude.  The rhythm is your helper, not your enemy.  Make it work for you and your family.

Lots of love,


PS Part Two to follow

8 thoughts on “Unschooling and Waldorf : The Student-Teacher Relationship Birth- Age 7

  1. Carrie,

    Really appreciate your posts about unschooling and Waldorf (something I have done much writing (and thinking) of my own about). I agree with so much of what you have written.

    I especially agree with keeping it simple. In fact, keeping it simple until they are old enough to really carry the activity with minimal help has always been my philosophy (esp. on the playground!). I am also a big believer in expectation parenting. If you wake up with the expectation that your child will be happy and polite and interested and co-operating – they most likely will be all of those things. If you try to engage them with the attitude of “I doubt they are going to follow me here but I’ll ask anyways”, then likely they won’t give you the time of day.

    It is hard for us homeschoolers not to feel a bit of pressure (sometimes coming mostly from ourselves) in terms of what activities we are doing with our children. I think you are right about keeping the real goals in mind.

  2. Carrie, thank you so much for all the time and energy you put into your wonderful blog. It is such a precious resource for me and for so many other parents!

    The presenting around them is a great reminder for me right now. I am trying to present some tower knitting and finger knitting and they are just not interested… I’ll do my own thing as you suggest and not be so eager to see them be interested.

    Once again, Carrie, thank you! And I can’t wait to read part 2!

  3. Carrie,

    I can’t wait for part 2 as mine just turned 7.. Funny, I have been doing a bit of research on unschooling and even talked to a few moms in our holistic group on how they present info and how it all works. I see myself as following a curriculum (or a mix of 2 or 3) but also, I take cues from my girls..like this morning when I gave them the first “gift” of reading, the vowel A and told the story the Magic Spindle..I placed 2 drop spindles I have on the table as props…they ended up trying to spin using the wool roving! They want more of this, so we are incorporating it into our lesson this week! I like the spontaneity of that and the eagerness in which they will keep trying to push me to teach them!

  4. My girl is now 12 but I still get so much from your writing Carrie. I did try – when she was little – to present everything in a coordinated, earnest manner, and was sometimes a little disappointed when she didn’t want to conform to my notions of what the perfect day’s play was! I can see bits of myself and Abby in today’s post, and I can also see how, many years on, Steiner’s thoughts on education and play for children, still resonate so clearly. We had a marvellous day today – after taking advantage of the good weather, we took the dogs for a walk. Along the way Abby created different dog characters and stories (including our dogs) and by the time we were home, she was all fired up to write a dog newspaper and make accessories for herself (she had become Trixie Twinkletoes Trot-alot the Parisian Poodle) – we had a beautiful afternoon sewing and playing and laughing and rolling around the back garden. And it just happened, it didn’t have to be carefully prepared for. All those years of sewing and creating and imagining in front of Abby has really paid off and our lives are so much the richer for it. Thanks for the affirmation and the reminders!

  5. Thank you Carrie,
    This is exactly what I’m working on right now. Finding the flexibility in myself and in my thinking. I often get swallowed up by the rhythm, thinking we just did this now we have to balance it out with this. What we are left with is not balance at all.
    Living on the coast I try to use the ocean as my inspiration. The waves have their own rhythm, they roll in and roll out and it changes hour to hour and day to day. I can’t always see the pattern but I can always feel the rhythm and I know that I can’t fight it.
    But the rhythm of the home is so subtle that I easily lose touch with it. I know, inner work, inner work, inner work.

  6. Pingback: It’s That Time Of Year!! Questions About Waldorf Homeschooling! « The Parenting Passageway

Leave a 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 )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter 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.