If you are coming in late to Waldorf homeschooling or feel overwhelmed and overrun by dogma, I have a solution for you! Please read the lectures given by Rudolf Steiner compiled in “The Renewal of Education.” This set of lectures, given to a group of Swiss public educators only eight months after the first Waldorf school formed, is so accessible. The foreword is written by a favorite Waldorf educator of mine, Eugene Schwartz, in which he compares and contrasts Waldorf Education to John Dewey and Maria Montessori’s work and sheds light on the hallmarks of Waldorf Education: the self –renewal and self-development of the teacher, the balance that feeling provides in education, and the approach of Waldorf education to the holistic child.
Waldorf education approaches the child from four different avenues. From the soul we think of the threefold human being who is a being of willing, feeling and thinking. From the level of the spirit we see these forces of willing, feeling and thinking come up in wakefulness, dreaming and deep sleep. On the level of the body and physiology, we have the limb-metabolic system (related to willing), the rhythmic-circulatory system (related to feeling) and the nerve-sense system (related to thinking). All of these areas unfold within seven year cycles where birth through seven is an age of willing (movement! work!), ages seven through fourteen are years of feeling (truly awakening a moral and religious sense), and truly independent thinking and reasoning comes in around age fourteen. In Waldorf Education, it is not never, but when. It is also a system of education that uses the will as a way to develop the intellect; in Waldorf Education the will is developed through the arts and through providing “broad and noble pictures, as it is possible to do in teaching history and religion, we will also have an effect upon the will.” (page 238). And finally, it is a system of education that is balancing and healing: “Education can only be properly practiced if it is understood as healing and when educators are aware that they are also healers.” (page 243).
Throughout these lectures, Steiner states again and again how important the ages of seven to fourteen truly are, this period where memory is so active, and how important it is to follow the individuality of the child and the importance of a loving authority in teaching a child of this age. Therefore, I feel these lectures would benefit anyone coming into Waldorf Education with students who are in the grades.
I think these lectures mention many of the important aspects of Waldorf Education in the grades, including the importance place of speech in the curriculum and why this is so, what Steiner felt should be done with children who were “one-sided” (ie, incredible at math but not at languages), how to teach zoology and botany and why, how important it is to support music and drawing in all subjects during the main lesson but especially during speech and mathematics, why one should do meditative preparation before class, what a child should gain from studying history and how all subjects should tie into something practical the child can use in his life – and how this is especially important starting around the age of twelve to show children the most important aspects of practical life.
He comments frequently about the topic of loving authority and respect. The often quoted paragraph: “If you follow what becomes of these children later in life, you will find that this feeling of respect has so transformed these individuals that, through their words or sometimes simply through the way they look at you, their presence is a deed of goodness. This is simply because when you have learned to respect (or, I could say, to pray) later in life you will have the power to bless. No one can bless later in life who has not learned to respect or pray during childhood.” comes from these lectures. (page 88).
Some of the things said in these lectures may be surprising to you. From page 162, Steiner talks about how if you disagree what he has named the different parts of his threefold human being, it is unimportant so long as one understands different aspects of the child come to the forefront at different times and there are different ways to educate at different times in the child’s life.
On page 178: “Teachers need to have a comprehensive interest in the development of humanity, and they need to have an interest in everything that occurs during the present time. The last thing a teacher should do is limit his or her interests.”
From page 103: “Our youngest children in the Waldorf School are actually only occupied with school subjects for two hours a day. A relatively large period of time is spent with the younger children in teaching foreign languages….The instruction in the afternoons consists almost only of music. We include in the normal school instruction what I have referred to as a drawing-basis for writing. ….Except for a few hours in which the pastors and spiritual leaders provide religious instruction and where we need to work according to their schedule, afternoons are used almost exclusively for physical exercises and singing and music.”
Isn’t that interesting? Or about this perspective:
“I certainly have nothing against the idea that we should not present children with anything from the outside but instead find everything in the child. But first we must learn to see the child. “
“People just want to remain passive; they just want to be people who watch…It is important that reasoning, which has become passive in our intellectual age, should now become active.” (page 71).
“…I have already indicated that I do not believe a renewal of education is necessary, since present educational principles contain many good things. I believe that primarily a refreshing of education is necessary…the human being must be educated in feelings, primarily in a moral and religious sense. Particularly in the development of ethical and moral attitudes and of a religious sense, we need to work with the entire human being.” (page 121-122) (and for those of you new to Waldorf Education, please realize at the Waldorf Schools then and I believe still in Germany today, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders came in and taught religious classes to children of that particular religion; Steiner’s philosophies were not and are not taught. Steiner is talking more of a general spirituality that sees the whole human being. He also says on page 197 that “It is quite different to teach anthroposophy as a world-view than it is to use what spiritual science can provide in order to make education more fruitful.” I think that quote is one many will find reassuring as they find their own path as related to Waldorf Education in general.)
And lastly, “You see, there are two things that are necessary in teaching. One is that we understand how to draw as much as possible out of the child, something we do at first through imagination. The other is that we work with the children in such a way that the child can like us.” (page 129).
Love your children, keep them close to you and guide them well,