Diving Into Waldorf

When I created The Braided Root, I began posting things that made me feel fulfilled in my life.  I love to share with others anything that brings joy to my life, whether it’s a simple recipe, an herbal tincture, or a trinket that just makes me happy.  Over the past several months, I’m repeatedly asked the same thing; “What Homeschool Curriculum do you use?”.  This is almost immediately followed by “What is Waldorf?”. There are times that I try my best to explain, but the truth is it is VERY difficult to convey to others in a supermarket setting all of the brilliant anthroposophical methods that Rudolph Steiner created years ago and why we follow them to the best of our ability in our home today.  So let’s dive in and learn who Rudolph Steiner was, what Waldorf education is, and what some of the things are that we find to be essentials in a Waldorf inspired home. 

Who was Rudolph Steiner?

What a loaded question.  While I could write for days about who Steiner was, what I think of him, and what some others think of him, I’ll try my best to stick to the basic information.  Rudolph Steiner an Austrian philosopher, author, and artist who lived between 1861 and 1965.  He was the founder of Anthroposophy or “Spiritual Science”.  I’ll give you a moment to sound it out.  It doesn’t necessarily roll off the tongue easily.  I will cover Anthroposophy a bit later in “What is Waldorf Curriculum?”. In 1891, Steiner received his Ph.D. from Rockstock and made his way to Germany after being offered the position of editing the natural scientific works of Goethe, which he completed in 1987 when he moved to Berlin.  Fast forward a bit to 1918 when a revolution began to take hold not only in Russia, but also in Germany, and threatened to destroy their social structure.  Steiner had what he thought was a solution in a threefold movement.  It focused on cultural freedom,  political and legislative equality, and solidarity of economic life.  Soon after, Steiner was invited to provide a series of lectures to the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory which led to the very first free Waldorf school opening within the factory and providing education to the children of factory employees.  Fast forward again to today where Waldorf schools have grown to around 150 in North America and over 1,000 globally.  For those of my readers that live nearby, we have a wonderful Waldorf school in nearby Nashville.  Rudolph Steiner definitely made his mark, to say the least, and his pedagogy is still very much alive in the homeschooling community.

What is Waldorf Education?

Rudolph Steiner based Waldorf education and it’s principal philosophies on the belief that nurturing the WHOLE child, heart, mind, and soul, would result in “individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives”.  Pretty profound words by Steiner if you ask me.  Ultimately as parents, we want our children to be comfortable in their own skin.  For me personally, I want my roots to grow up with confidence and with a soul that isn’t fragmented.  Someone that, in the future, can confidently contribute amazing attributes freely and with independent thought.  What I found to be beneficial for us as a family is that the curriculum is very broad and is a balance of academics, art, and practical life skills.  I freely use arts and activities as the driving force behind the academic aspects of what I teach, and by doing so, it creates a love of learning.  In a nutshell, it has taken away what was a serious disdain for education and replaced it with a much more enjoyable experience for us. No pressure to perform, no huge stacks of prefabricated worksheets to complete each night, and the ability to communicate needs to one another so that we can better be of service to each other.   One of the aspects of Waldorf that differs from traditional education is that Academics are de-emphasized during early years.  Kindergarten is KINDERGARTEN.  Or at least more like what Kindergarten was years ago.  Even as the child enters first grade, there is minimal emphasis placed on academics proper and more on the cultivation of “pre-academic skills”.  What is often considered extracurricular activities at mainstream schools such as art, music, and gardening, are the foundation of early education with Waldorf.  I began homeschooling Charlie in 1st grade after he failed to “measure up” in public school.   For the first two years, I used only artistic mediums to introduce subjects to him.  Generally speaking, I think that children respond better to this approach than with lecturing and monotonous worksheets.  There are no textbooks.  You read correctly.  From grade 1-5, we have a main lesson book that we fill throughout the year with lessons we cover.  Essentially, Charlie makes his own textbook filled with experiences and things he has learned throughout the year.  Early education with Waldorf in non-competitive, meaning that grades are not given at the elementary level.  How do I know he did well?  Because I’m his teacher and it’s my job to make sure that he succeeds both emotionally and educationally and it’s not something that is rated on a scale of A-F.  The last thing I want to cover is the use of electronic media.  There isn’t any.  ARE YOU KIDDING?  How will our children survive without that tablet or tv?  I won’t say that our television never comes on, or that Charlie isn’t ever on a computer, but in a Waldorf centered home, it is discouraged.  We do have a TV, and we do have Netflix, but regular cable isn’t a thing in our home because when we did have it, the result wasn’t favorable.  Charlie loves TV.  He would sit in front of it entirely too much and his mind would literally be on cruise control. When it was turned off, he became so overcome with an abundance of energy that he hadn’t been using while watching TV, that he was very easily irritated, which in turn made me irritated.  Not a pleasant environment for anyone.  When the children entertain themselves with a more natural focus, their imagination runs wild and they are left feeling satisfied.  Proper reading lessons begin in grade 4.  Until then, we focus on imagery found in folk and fairy tales.  As I said earlier, we are in the process of the cultivating the love of learning and this includes reading.  Most children in a Waldorf setting begin reading on their own before grade 4, but it’s an organic process and one that is enjoyable for them.  Charlie is in grade 3 now and is reading well above his “level”, and while we aren’t set to begin reading as a subject until next year, he does it on his own for pleasure.

Waldorf Essentials In The Home

As I said before, we discourage the use of TV or media.  So you may be wondering, "What do you guys do?".  Well, this leads me to the most entertaining part of my favorite part of this post because I get to show you some lovely things and how they work to enhance your child's imagination and spark joy in their soul.  Steiner believed that playthings and school materials should be beautiful to behold.  The goal is to nurture children in a beautiful environment, and their playthings should be beautiful as well.  By surrounding a child with simplistic beauty, it instills within them a sense of aesthetic awareness. Toys that are made from natural materials, with rich, natural hues,  are inviting, and contribute to a child’s “sense of life”.  Textures are very important to the development of a child l, as well.  Take soft merino wool, for instance.  We have several toys as well as clothing items that are made from soft wool, and YES in the Summertime we still wear wool.  Think about it,  the temperature in your home is typically the same year round, so the idea that wool is for Winter is just a notion.  Later I will show you a Summer option for wool jammies. When my tiny root gets ready to rock at night, she immediately goes to those items to choose one to cuddle as well as a specific pair of wool crochet booties with sheepskin insoles. A child is much more likely to feel reverence for a beautiful handcrafted toy and care for it accordingly than he is for a plastic mass produced toy.  How many times have you purchased a matchbox car or a baby doll that within the week had either become lost or colored on?  A child knows when they are in the presence of beautiful materials, and treat those things accordingly.  We keep lovely open-ended toys that cause the imagination to run wild.  When I refer to a toy as being "open-ended", what I mean is that you can take that toy and with your imagination, it can be many many things.  Stay with me because I'm going to show you a few things that are played with daily at my house.  

Play Silks

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Most definitely at the top of our list would be Play Silks.  When you bring a silk into your home, you bring in hours and hours of play time.  Just yesterday, the middle root was pretending to be a superhero with his "cape" saving his sister from who knows what and five minutes later it was the landscape for playing barnyard with wooden peg dolls and Holztiger wooden animals.  The silks we use are from a company that hand dyes all of their silks and the outcome is something truly magical.  Kitchen Dyeworks artist Renee creates her silks from Habotai Chinese Silk, and then carefully dyes them using non-toxic dyes to create something unique each and every time.  I suggest even those of you who aren't Waldorf centered homes to try one, but good look getting it away from them when it's dinner time.

Woolies (warm bodies equal ready minds)

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As I said earlier, Wool Wool Wool.  It comes in many different forms, with some being very light and airy and others being the GO-TO for warm piggies.  I want to start with the first thing the roots put on in the morning.  Slippers!  If my littles have cold feet, there is nothing on the planet that can fully grab their attention.  It's important that your children feel comfortable from head to toe in order for them to fully engage you.  When I first began transforming our house into a Waldorf-centered home, I thought this concept was a bit of a stretch, but I will tell you what it did for me was paramount.  It taught me as a mother how to truly hone in on how connected and engaged my children were.  When I began to make even what seemed in the moment to be the most insignificant change, the results were bountiful.  I'm not saying that a pair of wool slippers will turn your little monster into an angel, but for us, warm piggies equal happy kiddos.  The slippers tiny root wears are my absolute favorite because they are from EcoSoles and are crocheted by hand from soft wool fibers, lined with the most amazing sheepskin fur, and the soles are non-slip cow-hide.  Lori Poppe was a genius because this means that while the little is running through the house (ALL THE TIME) she isn't slip sliding everywhere.  I would also like to add that she looks so damn cute in them that I just about can't get a grip.  My favorite go-to combo when bedtime is growing near are her EcoSoles and her Merino wool base layer from TK Clothing.  The base layer is thin and lightweight which makes it perfect for Summer and definitely warm enough for winter.  What I love about TK Clothing is that she sews each one herself and it's as if she knows all of the things that drive me mad with clothing.  I need to be able to purchase a size that will last a while so I want to be able to roll up sleeves and them actually stay.  I am also a seam weirdo.  I want to know that the seams aren't going to pull apart after the first wear.  I don't mind paying the price for quality items, but if I am doing so, I prefer the items to be up to the task of frequent wear, and EcoSoles and TK Clothing are certainly measuring up.

Building Blocks

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Building blocks, as well as sorting toys, are paramount in the developing mind of children.  It opens them up to endless creative possibilities, and in doing so it also allows them to develop their fine motor skills as they create.  As children get older, it organically introduces numbers and counting while they create.  I purchased a set of building blocks for Charlie when we first began to homeschool.  I was wandering through one of the many Waldorf Facebook groups I follow and stumbled upon Wiwiurka.  When I tell you that these blocks are amazing, it is an understatement.  They are made from Savage wood and painted so vibrantly with non-toxic watercolor and food coloring.  If you are a Waldorf family, chances are you already know Ana and Marek of Wiwiurka, but either way, I highly recommend them. 

Sorting Toys

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When it comes to sorting, I was looking for the same qualities that I found in the building blocks.  I knew that my children loved vibrant colors and I knew that it was important to me that they were painted with non-toxic colors so that if they made it into the mouth of the tiny root, I wouldn't have to worry about what it was she was absorbed into her body.  I found all of the things I was looking for at Mama May I.  If you need some sorting toys and Jessica doesn't have it in her shop, I don't know what to tell you because she has it all.  We opted for the Rainbow Bowl because it was small enough for Frances to use and Charlie was a fan as well.  We currently use the Rainbow Bowl on a regular basis to teach colors and numbers, however, Frances also pretends that she is a doctor and is scooping out medicine.  Last night she was pretending that it was a bowl of dog food and she was feeding one of her animals.  This is the essence of open-ended toys.

Rocker Board

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Balance is important from the inside out in our home.  Rocking is beneficial for a child's sense of balance and aids a child's sense of the awareness of being in one's physical body.  Because this, too, is an open-ended toy, you would be surprised to know all of the ways that children discover to use this item.  When we first received our rocker board from 2XPwood, we naturally assumed that the balance aspect and rocking would be the primary use, but as it turns out, we have done everything from creating a bridge to climb over and a slide to slide down, to a cradle for a baby and a sailboat.  What may seem like a simple tool to stimulate the vestibular system, quickly became a portal into their imaginations at the same time.

Waldorf Dolls

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You may be wondering what the reasoning is behind Waldorf Dolls.  You can easily go to a retail store and purchase a baby doll for less than $10 and still reap the same rewards, right?  Not exactly.  You will notice with Waldorf Dolls that their faces are more muted in expression, some of them are even faceless altogether. This gives the child the ability to let their imagination decide what their doll looks like and also allows it to change over time.  Waldorf dolls are also made with materials that nourish the senses such as Alpaca wool for the hair and wool roving for the stuffing which gives the doll a weight that is more appealing to children. For me personally, I don't prefer dolls that wear makeup and dress like a "diva" because I feel like we have so much time to introduce those things to our children, and I want them to enjoy the childhood aspect of playing with dolls. When I chose Elfenbaum to make our first Waldorf doll, I did so because of the muted nature of the faces and because I was looking for an Ethnic doll for the tiny root.  Having "babies" of all colors have always been something that I felt was important for the development of my children. Inna with Elfenbaum is not only a gifted dollmaker, but she is a very kind spirit which is something you feel in each doll she makes.  When you place a beautiful item with beautiful materials in the hands of a child, the possibilities are endless.  As the tiny root became a bit bigger and I noticed her trying to feed her baby and put her baby to bed, we decided to incorporate things she could do with her baby.  I came across the amazing wooden swing by MumaMima Forest Tales that we could attach to our swingset outside.  Frannie spends countless hours out there swinging her baby.  It warms my heart to see her developing a nurturing nature for her doll. 

I hope this sheds some light on how we learn as a family and inspires people to find pleasure in simple things.  While Waldorf Education isn't for everyone, it was a complete game changer for the way my children learn and interact with others.  Our family rhythm changed from what felt like a techno rave on most days, to a more relaxed freely flowing Enya type of experience which I attribute that to the Steiner's methods.  As always, what works for us may not work for everyone but acceptance of each other's parenting and teaching styles still remains the best way to lead by example.  Live, Love, and Grow Roots.