There are so many Facebook groups right now for Minimalist Homeschooling, and minimalist living in general. Living in a tiny home or having minimal material possessions in my mind is separate from running an actual minimal homeschool. And, in the case of Waldorf homeschooling, which involves art supplies, musical instruments, and juggling main lessons plus other lessons, how can we even do minimalism in Waldorf homeschooling? Is it even possible?
I think it is possible, because in my mind Rudolf Steiner was talking about minimalism with the founding of the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany in September 1919. He talked about matching the curriculum to soul development, child development and he talked about teaching in a pattern of teaching the same subject daily for a block of time. He called this the soul economy of teaching. He talked about teaching the child not only out of this archtypal child development and human journey, but in looking at the child in front of us and teaching from what we are as human beings.
It sounds simple when one lays it out like that, yet so complicated in practice with multiple children of multiple ages, block lessons plans but also math practice, music practice, games and circle games, practical arts, and more (let alone the high school age!) To me, the Internet is the worst for this! Let’s show how every single thing is so incredibly beautiful and not messy at all and then in real life when it is messy and not as gorgeous, you have one depressed and overwhelmed mother!
But, I think we can simplify all these moving parts and pieces that often overwhelm us in Waldorf homeschooling. I divide this in my mind into three sections: Inner Work, Rhythm; Resources; Inner Work.
Read or listen to what Steiner actually said in his educational lectures. It may help you decide what is really important and what Steiner really talked about. We love the traditions of the Waldorf Schools, and they give us great clues to build upon, but homeschooling is not and cannot be running a Waldorf School. We are ONE person, often with multiple children and multiple responsibilities.
Make peace with the fact that you are being called to homeschool, for whatever reason. Some come to Waldorf homeschooling from a place where they can’t afford a Waldorf School, so come to it looking for a holistic way of homeschooling. If you are homeschooling, then you must do the inner work to embrace the positives of homeschooling instead of seeing homeschooling as a negative.
More important than the education you are providing is to remember your family culture and where you live is providing an education in and of itself in this time and place. Work on that piece as the foundation. If you are grumpy and overwhelmed, then that is overshadowing whatever kind of educational experience you are trying to bring. And I say that lovingly, as I have been there over the course of my 11 years of homeschooling. Use what is around you, that is free, to create your own environment. I tailor our homeschool deeply to our place living in the Deep South of the United States, and as an Episcopalian family.
Boundaries in the Big Picture. You need them in homeschooling and in life. What is it about Waldorf that works, how can you keep things developmentally appropriate within the big picture (0-7 pictorial speech, movement; 7-14 feeling life; 14-21 thinking life).
Take care of yourself. I know it seems as if there is no time for you on top of everything else, but there must be. You are still a developing human being yourself with needs for nourishment and care. To deny that is the ultimate killer of homeschooling simplicity. Steiner talked explicitly about dietary indications to help children learn, which we now take for granted. Your time is not wasted preparing healthy food and working in your home.
Putting spiritual work is minimalist at heart, because it constitutes the largest part of your teaching. Find your spiritual path and way and exercise that like a muscle each and every day before school and at the end of the day.
Planning for a shorter school year (32-34 weeks) can be helpful.
Planning a four day a week rhythm. If a child is 7th grade and up, I feel they can work on something independently on the fifth day if you choose that as a family. Some may have children that can work independently earlier than 7th grade and really do a great job without you standing over them or having to re-do everything, but I find getting through the twelve year change is often helpful.
Keeping a weekly rhythm that is similar through all the early years and grades with everyone involved in practical work. I don’t really consider it chores at all, but an important part of homeschooling is learning how to nourish ourselves and the other people in our family. We try to model that and live it!
Keeping school each day to a reasonable amount of time.
Connecting to nature – this is especially important not just for younger children, but those past the twelve-year change.
Combine grades as much as possible if you have children in the same seven year cycle. If you know what capacities you are trying to elicit, and you know what speaks to that age (broadly, not as narrow as in a Waldorf School where things are divided by age into separate grades), then you can combine.
For most homeschooling families, there are not separate lessons for everything. Most of us are wiped out after teaching even 2-3 Main Lessons and cannot do all the specialty lessons a Waldorf School would do. That is homeschooling, and it is okay. We are not a Waldorf School. Gardening, music, cooking, etc may be incorporated as much as possible into the main lesson period. Or the main lesson periods may be separated out for children of the same seven year cycle, and then the practical arts are done together in a separate period.
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Most of the resources on the market are not geared toward combining lessons for all children of the same seven year cycle. Some of the resources on the market, to me, do not do a great job leading one toward the particulars of academic progression with very specific indications. So I guess what I am saying is that Waldorf Education is an art; resources help but ultimately it is the inspiration of what the teachers comes up with in looking at the child in front of him or her. If you are minimalist, you will find a way to combine using the resources that are available and not go overboard in investing in a number of things you won’t use.
Your best resources are FREE – no clutter! Library books and Rudolf Steiner Archives, plus the free Waldorf Library On-Line.
So, to me, a more useful approach than curriculum might be: What is going on developmentally with my child right now and going into this school year? What is going on temperament wise? What is going on with the family? How are we all feeling energetically and how much do I have to give this year?
Then, when looking at specific blocks, ask the questions that will make it minimal and focused – what is the point of this block? Why is it here? Does it speak to me? How can I bring it alive and what artistic and academic things do I hope to accomplish with this? How will this bring us closer together?
If you use your time to work on both the artistic end of the curriculum, it is part of the inner work for you, and part of the curriculum. That is immensely minimalist!
In the end, Waldorf homeschooling is about educating human beings to know themselves in order to live in freedom, where freedom means helping humanity in love. If we keep pointing back to that, we have entered a minimalist way of teaching and being.