If you’ve followed my work for any amount of time it will have become very obvious to you how passionate I am about Waldorf Education. I have completed my Foundations in Steiner Studies and Education and all four of my children attend our local Waldorf school. My Guides contain many of the stories, crafts and artistic work that you might find in a Waldorf preschool or Kindergarten. Many of my articles and my research is influenced in some way by the work of Rudolf Steiner and his adherents.
All of this said, I am also a huge believer is living authentically and in tune with your own unique family values and it just so happens that if our daily life were to be analyzed under a purely Waldorf microscope the findings would show that from a purely Anthroposophical perspective we’re not following all the “rules”.
Below are a few ways we don’t do Waldorf. I bring light to these experiences not to encourage you to do the same, but to emphasize how important it is to live in alignment with your own TRUTHS and not to follow any prescriptions blindly no matter how holy they may seem. You might totally disagree with one of my points (or all!) I welcome comments but only in a conscious and meaningful dialogue that is open to differences. Any hurtful comments will be deleted.
Test everything in the light of healthy reason.” (Rudolf Steiner, Metamorphoses of the Soul, Vol. 1, Lecture 1).
Five Ways We Don’t Do Waldorf
We Listen to Pop Music
My young children do not just listen to music “in the mood of the fifth”. Yes, they listen to classical and jazz but they also listen to (carefully curated) pop and world music.
I have always been a musical person and I believe music transcends language, exposes us to the vast beauty of our human diversity and models to children that the entire range of our emotions are valid and can and should be expressed. From a young age my children have listened to Alicia Keys, The Beatles, Beyonce, Billy Holiday, Bob Marley, Bobby McFerrin, Caribou, Coldplay, The Dixie Chicks, Elizabeth Mitchell, The Gipsy Kings, Ian Kamau, India Arie, Jai Uttal, Jay-Z, Joni Mitchell, K’naan, Lauryn Hill,Lisa Loeb, Michael Jackson, Miriam Makeba, Phish, R.E.M, Sigur Ros, Taylor Swift and many more.
We generally avoid the radio because the conversations and advertisements in between songs is completely inappropriate for young ears. Instead I have made many playlists over the years that we listen to depending on our mood. In this way I can choose songs that are not too graphic, violent or sexual.
*It is important to note that we also don’t have music playing all the time. I believe that sitting, eating and playing in silence is just as important or more.
2. I Teach my Children to Read Phonetically and When They’re Ready.
Gasp! I have received criticism from teachers in the past about it. I am well versed in the benefits of waiting until a child is physically, mentally, cognitively ready to read and I agree that most often this is around the age of seven which is when they begin teaching reading in Waldorf schools (not in preschool or kindergarten). I am extremely grateful my children have as much time as they do in a Waldorf kindergarten doing what is most important for their development at that time: playing. I also love the way the letters are brought to a child in such a spiritual and reverent way. BUT one thing I’ve learned as a parent (and human being) is that there is no such thing as “one size fits all”. My son took a very enthusiastic interest in letters and writing at the age of three. His preschool teacher at the time suggested I just ignore it and don’t put too much emphasis on it. But being the determined kid he is he took it upon himself to learn the entire alphabet both capitals and lowercase letters. When he was six I bought a few Montessori readers for him to experiment with for a few minutes while I lay beside him and helped each night before I read to him. Within a few months he was reading and by age 6 1/2 he was working his way through everything Roald Dahl had ever written while he was still learning the alphabet at school. My second child is almost 7 1/2. She did not take the same interest in reading or letters until she was almost seven. And I respected that. She began grade one and learning the letters and then something start to click. She was enthusiastic and wanting to spell words out. I searched for some simple readers for her to try but it’s no easy task finding them. I finally settled on the learning series here and she loves them. Now each night before I read her a few chapters from her current chapter book (right now we’re working through the Little House on the Prairie series again!) she reads a short story for me from her series.
So why do I do this? First of all I feel that as their parent I am responsible for making sure they’re getting what they need from their school and trying to fill in the gaps where I think it’s necessary. Maybe for your child this means extra art classes if you feel they are a budding artist without enough time to pursue this interest at school. For my son, this was reading. He had a desire and a natural interest and it wasn’t being tended to at school. Second, reading is a strong family value for us. Reading articles, fiction, non-fiction and everything in between. It’s a part of our family culture and it’s only natural that some of their learning happens at home. Finally, and most important to me, teaching my children to read is a once in a lifetime privilege and opportunity. They only learn to read once and I want to be the one who spends loving, quality, one-on-one time patiently sitting with them as they embark on this journey. One of my favourite parts of the day right now is watching my daughter read a sentence with joy and confidence.
3. We Use Media when We Need it.
OK, so we don’t have a TV and because of this we have never relied on a screen to be a babysitter while we get dinner on or have a shower. BUT there are a few exceptions to our children’s screen-free childhood. The first is when we are all sick. If it’s just one child down with a simple cold we wouldn’t turn to a screen for help. That child would generally nap, listen to audio stories, draw and read all day while he/she recovered. But when our entire family has been down with sickness my husband and I haven’t hesitated to turn to a very mild children’s program to get the rest we need. The second exception to our screen-free rule is at friend’s and family’s houses. I am not about to march into someone else’s home and request that they turn their television off (unless there are violent or graphic images on). In general, if we go to a grandparent or aunt or uncles’ house we try as best as we can to go with their flow. In fact, because our friends and family know that we are screen-free they often make an effort to minimize screen-time while we’re there. Finally, we allow an absolutely free for all on all airplane rides. Is there anything more unnatural than asking a three-year-old to sit still for a 16 hour flight? I just try to choose really simple, gentle programs and download them all in advance.
4. We start Music Lessons Early.
I’m not quite sure how unWaldorf this is but my children have started music lessons somewhere between 6 and 7 years old. North who is now 9 plays guitar and piano passionately and has just begun trumpet at school. Indigo who is 7 has just started piano lessons. We are blessed enough to be able to afford music lessons and to have access to instruments. As I said above music is a very important part of our family life. I do think that young children can focus enough to really enjoy an instrument. For us there are two requirements that we look for before starting our child in lessons. The first is that they are truly interested in the instrument- my son taught himself the guitar for many months before started him in formal lessons. The second is that you find the right teacher. We have an amazing teacher who focuses on the children’s interests and follows their lead. North has only just begun formal theory and “lesson books” this year at his own request. Previously he just learned whatever songs he wanted to by ear. We also don’t push practising their personal instrument (school instruments are a different story), but then again, we haven’t ever had to because they both play almost daily of their own volition.
5. We make our own Health Decisions based on Science and Trust in the Conventional Medical Community.
Let me preface this by saying I know there are a lot of anthroposophists who make the same decisions as I do regarding health. But in general Waldorf circles have a bad reputation for being a bit too “woo woo” in terms of health. We have a trusted Naturopath and believe wholeheartedly in the importance of a balance between healthy diet, exercise, meditation and personal spirituality. I had two empowering and beautiful homebirths. We question (often scrutinize) many of our Doctor’s recommendations and have been known to ask for a second opinion. But I am not a medical doctor and I am never going to be so at some point in my mothering journey I found multiple medical professionals I liked and I chose to trust and let go. Again, I don’t believe in “one size fits all” for anything including vaccinations (eg. the immunocompromised) and I know the current medical system has an epic amount of room for improvement but based on my own research and what I know about my own children for the most part I engage in an open and educated dialogue with our family doctor as much as I can.
I hope more than anything this post inspires the confidence in you to make strong decisions for your family based on your own inner truths. Please share in the comments some ways in which you might not follow the Waldorf Way and why. It’s so important to recognize the diversity of us all in contrast to our common thread.