Unschooling and Waldorf

We have had a really interesting discussion over at Melisa Nielsen’s Yahoo Group regarding Waldorf homeschooling with larger (ie, 3 to 5 children or more) families and also Waldorf homeschooling when your children are far apart in  age.

At any rate, this wonderful mother posted a link to her adventures in Unschooling with Waldorf with a larger family here:  http://www.ahomeschoolstory.com/2008/10/unschooling-meets-waldorf.html  and I really thought it was worth sharing with all of you. (If you would like to join Melisa Nielsen’s Yahoo Group, please see this link:  homeschoolingwaldorf@yahoogroups.com).

I have read the work of John Holt and even spent some time on a radical Unschooling  Yahoo!Group to see what it was all about when my oldest was younger, so I do have some ideas about Unschooling but admittedly no real world practice per se, so please take that under consideration in this post.  (I also started out with the notion I was going to homeschool using some sort of Classical Curriculum, so you can see how far I have come and also how scattered I was in some ways because I was looking at EVERYTHING and wanted to take all the things from every curriculum and bring it in for my child.  Then I discovered  Waldorf and there you go!  No turning back, and very, very happy!  But I digress!)

To many people, Unschooling means just the ability to follow your child’s interests.  I think it is possible to do this within the Waldorf curriculum.  I wrote about that in integrating Waldorf with other methods here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/09/can-waldorf-work-with-other-homeschooling-methods/  

I think there are a points where Waldorf and Unschooling agree :  both have great respect for the “unfolding” of the child and meeting the child where they are.  Both have no lost sleep over a child starting academics at a more appropriate time (ie, most likely not in the Early Years).  Both have a great love for learning through life – through play, through being outside, through practical activities around the home.  

I think the major difference between Unschooling and Waldorf is  the role of the parent.  And yes, I do have Unschooling friends who “strew” things around their house for their children to find and ignite passion and learning, but I think fundamentally the role of the parent in Unschooling is typically more as a facilitator for what a child expresses interest in.  In Waldorf homeschooling, the parent introduces the subject material through art and movement at a time that we feel coincides with the development of the aspects of the human being.  So, in Third Grade we have Old Testament Stories as a history of the Jewish people and how those people handled authority because we feel the nine-year-old is grappling with these issues in development.  In Sixth Grade, we have the Roman and geology because we feel the 12-year-old is grappling with being solidly set on the Earth and interested and ready for the facts of history. 

I think there is also a major difference in the Early Years as we look toward a rhythm in order to develop, protect and nurture the 12 senses in the Under-7 child. We assume the child will need help with balance, with rhythm, will need some help in incarnating into the body.  Unschooling has no basis for this, because Waldorf’s philosophical basis is the development of the  three-fold and four-fold human being during these seven year cycles.

Boundaries in parenting could be another major issue and difference between Unschooling and Waldorf.  In Waldorf Education, we assume that an under –7 child is neither good nor bad but learning.  Learning implies they are not quite ready to be the one to set the tone of the home, and it would not really be fair to ask them to participate in a democratic way of setting what they are learning or playing with yet.  They may, in fact, be attracted to things that are detrimental to their health or well-being  and the parents needs to be the one to step and help set boundaries.  Again, not all parents who Unschool don’t set boundaries,  many certainly do!,  but I know on the radical Unschooling list I was on, letting the child experiment with going to bed late, eating what they wanted for breakfast (even if  it was candy or such) was part of this notion that  the family was “Unschooling Life.”   Again,  the child may be attracted to things that are not healthy, they may be lacking a rhythm and a balance in these Early Years,  and it is our ability to set boundaries that is important for the health and development of the child. 

People comment that they feel Unschooling is a better fit for the child because it is more respectful of the child.  I have responded to this before in this rant here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/22/waldorf-and-attachment-parenting-the-mini-rant/  

Essentially, I think there are ways Unschooling and Waldorf can work together, but I do believe Waldorf has such a strong philosophical basis that it  is just a  different perspective.  It is not about searching for the”best” reading program or the “best” math program because the whole curriculum is laid out in such a way that every single thing not only builds on each other, that head, hearts and hands are integrated, that  the threefold and fourfold human being is developed, and that in every subject (even grammar, etc) a relation to the spiritual realm, the relationship of man to the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms are there.  Essentially, the curriculum to me sometimes is just that reinforcement of the way a human has the potential to be Noble, to be Pure, To Make the Right Choices.  This is something that really cannot compare to “just” a curriculum in reading, or even  a “not” curriculum. 

I choose Waldorf because I felt it was actually the only way to educate a human being holistically. I chose it because I believe in the development of the human being so my children grow up to be adults who can think, problem-solve, who are balanced and able to cope with technology, with stress, and with life.  I chose Waldorf because I want my children to learn through art and movement and to have high academic ideals at the right time in the curriculum, and to have a sense of stewardship for the Earth and her resources.    I chose Waldorf because I wanted to introduce academics at the right time, the time when it would make the most sense and to start slowly and build up as the neural pathways for learning were laid down.   For me. whose background was in childhood development, it seemed the only curriculum that seemed to recognize different subjects made sense to come in at different times and that subjects shouldn’t be “dumbed down” to meet children in the Early Grades, but instead brought in at a later time. 

The idea of  salient teaching, of teaching  the right subject, at the right time, really set my heart on fire. 

Does it yours?

Many blessings,


11 thoughts on “Unschooling and Waldorf

  1. Thank you so much Carrie for this post. I totally agree with you. 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 (of course, I am talking 6/7 yo and older here). This is the only area where I find Waldorf education a bit controlling and I fear it can be detrimental to the child or the relationship with the parent. I would love to hear your thoughts about that…

  2. I started this conversation..didn’t I?

    We started with unschooling. Along, the way we realized we needed something more. We tried some different avenues. It’s going fine, but I was rereading some old thoughts and realized how drawn to Waldorf I have been in the past. How I naturally do a lot of the things Waldorf education calls for.

    The Birth of our fourth child, a daughter after having all boys, has made a profound change in our home. It’s Good. It’s caused us all to reflect on our choices and needs. How do we balance this bigger family? And, why is mom suddenly drawn to a feminine side of life?

    Anyway, I’m really appreciating the journey we have been on in our homeschooling. I enjoy all the stops we have made a long the way. I’m glad I’m not so stringent that we can’t vear of course. I’m even happier that open to change as it comes.

    I think there is one thing I need to work on, though. Feeling guilty that I didn’t start my journey with all this knowledge. Feeling guilty that my children couldn’t have started homeschooling with Waldorf or Classical or Charlotte Mason or….

    This is a great journey. The mistakes, the growth…it’s all good. So, does that make me an unschooler. I don’t know. I wish I could ask John Holt. Do I really care?

    (I don’t)

    • Heatherlee – Lots of interest from you and others too….I think your journey has been beautiful, and you are right where you need to be. The universe has a way of working like that…..We all always feel guilty about what we haven’t done when we were doing not only the best we could at the time, but also what fit in with where we were at the time….No worries, no guilt. You are a good mother, and yes, being open to change, that flexibility is so important…
      Lots of love,

  3. Carrie – what an interesting post. I had recently been thinking about the differences & similarities of Unschooling & Waldorf and you did a marvelous job comparing the two! I, like you, started out intending to do neo-classical education and ran the gammut with Montessori, a bit of Charlotte Mason, ecclectic, thoughts of unschooling and then we fell into Waldorf and it has just stuck. It feels so right and I can see the girls thriving. I get so excited to see other blog posts about how the lessons are presented and it warms my heart to see so much effort and so much talent from all these fantastic Mommas who are giving their all to their most treasured babes.

    Your blog is marvelous. Thank you for putting so much thought into your enlightening posts!


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

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

  6. Thanks for posting this, Carrie! I wanted to share another post along this topic from some one who did both with all 3 of her kids, who are now grown. I had the opportunity to know her briefly via our local waldorf book group before she moved, and one of her adult daughters came too, and I was inspired by her approach to combining the two methods. She wrote about it on her blog — //www.cyndiekimball.com/2007/12/waldorf-unschooling-oxymoron-or-fusible.html Thanks again!

  7. Pingback: Waldorf and Unschooling? — Mama Seasons

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