27 June 2012

Getting Waldorfy

To counter my own burning need to push Sydney academically and have her reading Chaucer by first grade, I've been requesting books on Waldorf education through the library's ILL like they're going out of style.

Some of the ideas I've read about are a bit... mmm... kooky.  Some are downright cringe-worthy and give me a case of the nervous giggles.  But other ideas really resonate with me, and those are the ones I've been incorporating into our homeschool:

1. Rhythm is important.  Our days have never really had much of a sense of rhythm.  We generally eat dinner at about the same time each day, and most days involve some sort of outing, but beyond that, the primary factor in determining the flow of our day has been, "Whatever mommy remembers that needs to get done ASAP."

 I haven't scheduled everything down to the minute, of course, but we now try to follow the same sequence of events each day.  Something like: Wake up - Eat breakfast - Mommy coffee, Sydney thirty minutes of educational tv time - School, stories, play - Snack - Run any errands - Lunch - More stories, play, cleaning - Fun outing or playground - Play while Mommy cooks dinner - Eat dinner - Independent play, hang out with Daddy - Bedtime.  We don't follow it exactly, and our rhythm is very flexible, but it's given a bit of structure to our day that really helps me out when I'm feeling flustered.

2. Focus on natural, simple toys and materials.  I've always tried to do this, to some extent, but reading these books has really helped me solidify my idea that playing children should experience the warm, living feel of materials from nature in their hands, like wood, wool, and cotton.  I think it helps us feel closer to nature, and just as important, the production of natural toys helps us to preserve nature.  It's horrific to think what the constant manufacture and discard of all those junky plastic toys is doing to the planet.

I'm not saying every toy you have needs to be hand-carved from a rare species of sustainable mahogany grown by village cooperatives in developing countries.  We still have a few plastic toys hanging around here.  But if you make the effort to choose natural materials and clothing when feasible, I do think it will benefit your child.

Also, giving children more open-ended toys, such as simple wooden blocks and plain dolls, encourages creative play.  I've been advocating this idea for some time now, and was happy to see it echoed in such diverse parenting and educational philosophies.

3. Young children learn through imitation and working with their hands.  I would love to deny this one, because it makes me feel like I need to be the perfect role model 24/7, but I've seen it in action for too many years now to argue.  So much of what Syd does and says are things she's picked up from me, and to a lesser extent the hubby.  So much of what she has learned are things she's done or felt with her own hands.  Our words and actions really do shape their minds, and on top of that, it seems as if their hands have a direct connection to their rapidly-growing brains.

To further this idea, I purchased one of those round knitting looms you can buy in most craft stores.  They're fairly simple to use- you just wrap yarn around each peg twice, then pull the bottom loop up over the top loop- but somehow are so much fun, too.  Sydney is slowly learning how to use it, and I've already used it to make two hats and a scarf.  I'm planning on picking up the larger circular loom next time I'm at the craft store to make myself hats for the coming winter.

4. Imagination is crucial.  This is the one I have the most trouble implementing, oddly enough.  I do everything I can to encourage imaginative play, but when Syd asks me a question like, "Where does the sun go at night?" or "Why do bees sting?" I can happily give a scientific explanation for the next hour and a half.  Not that that's wrong, per se, but it needs to be tempered with explanations that build their imaginative muscles, not just their academic ones.  There will be plenty of time for scientific explanations, but much more brief is the time we have to make our children feel like the world they live in is a magical place. 

It's all about balance, though.  You need to include enough truth with the magic to give your child some idea of how the world works.  If you bombard your child with stories of fairies and magic and completely omit any mention of natural phenomona, you've gone too far in the other direction.

As I mentioned, I've read several books on the subject.  These were my favorites.  All of these books are either Waldorf, or Waldorf-inspired.

If you like, you can buy through my links here and support Enchanted Winter.

I'll be posting more on this in the days and weeks to come, along with my thoughts on the spiritual philosophy that often accompanies the Waldorf philosophy.  In the meantime, see if your library has some of these books or pick them up online and let me know what you think.

Img: Tina Phillips
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