Five Ways We Don’t Do Waldorf

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

  1. 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.

18 Responses to Five Ways We Don’t Do Waldorf

  1. Thanks for this. When how “Waldorf” you are becomes a grading scale upon which families compete, I’m fairly certain everyone loses. One of the greatest lessons of motherhood for me has been how to make parenting decisions with confidence. Sometimes that means venturing out of the Waldorf-lane.
    There are lots of ways to be good parents, and lots of ways to raise healthy, self assured, confident children.
    I love the Waldorf philosophy on education and child development. It has resonated for me. I do not believe that it is any “truer” than many other philosophies. I also acknowledge that it is dated, and that its impossible for any one approach to fit every child perfectly.
    When we simply accept things because they are “Waldorf,” we are doing a disservice to our selves, and our families. I wish that parents, mothers especially, could make choices with greater confidence. I look back on the guilt that I felt when I decided to let my child watch television occasionally, and just feel sorry for myself. I beat myself up! I was ashamed! And in hindsight, a weekly television show has been an amazing gift to my daughter, who absolutely cherishes her “t.v. day.” My son could care less about television. My daughter is constantly inside of her head, and television (and audio stories, and stories, and books) allow her a break! Great! And she isn’t ruined!

    This is very rambling- I’m completely exhausted. I was just very happy to see this, and though I haven’t commented or written to you yet, felt compelled to do so.

  2. This is a great article! We are new to Waldorf and other than our brand new school environment, nobody in any of our other circles are even familiar with it, so I find it very hard to be completely ‘waldorf’…therefore when I read articles online I feel very inadequate and like I’m not doing it properly. I would love to read more ‘real’ stories like this from people who acknowledge that in these modern times you can still incorporate a bit of ‘normality’ (whatever that may mean within your circle).

  3. Thankyou for sharing this 🙂
    I think Steiner would be profoundly concerned by the thread of dogma in Steiner education. He so valued nuance and authenticity.
    It’s very human for us to seek certainty and “the right way”… I certainly do! And it’s so human to doubt and compare ourselves.
    I try to focus on having compassion for our human selves and seeing all these quirks with some detachment and kindness.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing! I too follow a Waldorf inspired parenting approach. I attended a Waldorf school from preschool until grade 12 graduation so raising my child with Waldorf ideals feels pretty natural. I too have found myself doing some “un Waldorf” things namely the ones you shared here. I found your words very validating! ❤

  5. I so appreciate this article. It is so confirming and supportive to hear about the styles and ways other families adapt personal lifestyle into particular styles of of parenting/ lifestyle/ schooling etc. I believe that our unique flair of life is so important and a valuable aspect of learning and displaying the lesson of valuing the individual. Great article! Real life

  6. Excellent article! When our little one comes along, I’m definitely going to try to stick to a “Waldorf lifestyle” as much as possible. But there are facets which just won’t fit our family. There is absolutely no way we could keep our kids from pop music, with their parents being the musicophiles they are! TV will be kept to a minimum, but at the end of the day, I want my kids to enjoy some of the shows I did as a kid. It’s so nice to hear from someone who agrees! We’re all different, so trying to fit everyone into one Waldorfy box just won’t work. Thank you for writing this!

  7. I have been a longtime follower of your IG account as I get such inspiration from how others “Waldorf.” Thanks for sharing this look into the ways you “let it go.” I, too, have training in Waldorf education (an M.Ed. where I focused on Waldorf and other holistic curricula) and was so enamoured with Steiner’s philosophy that I considered pursuing the full teacher training and becoming a Waldorf teacher. Our home environment and parenting philosophy is more Waldorf than not, but a little bit of television, music and modern medicine is certainly a part of our lives, too. I generally think I’m doing a good job, apply the principles that I think are really important, and don’t beat myself up over the 30 minute cartoon that helped me take a shower the week my husband was away.

  8. Thank you!
    There is so much I could comment here! (as I read this my 4yr old son was on my lap, having refused a nap). I avoid modelling the static modern business parent as much as possible. But they are ALWAYS AROUND!
    Foremost though, there is something that can happen to us when we try “too hard” and parent from the outside (as in, out of concern for getting it right or at least looking like we’re getting it right): it sucks the life out of us and the joy out of parenting (and teaching for that matter). It is so important to find a balance between the ideals and incorporating that which sustains us (a little music here to lift our OWN mood for instance).
    If we don’t give ourselves space to breathe we cannot live into our environment and connect with ourselves or the wonderful Others we encounter.
    Breathe, forgive, and flow with life xx

    thanks again for the reminder!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing that! I agree wholeheartedly that no philosophy is a one size fits all routine that should be followed blindly. I have one more Waldorf no-no to add to the list- my son loves Legos! I know- they are made of plastic! But as far as I am concerned they are an open ended toy and just because something is made of wood,felt or beeswax doesn’t make it right.

  10. Thank you so much for this! I find myself goingmostly Waldorf, with some aspects from Montessori and Charlotte Mason, and all from a more pagan view (some secular because my spouse is that way). I have often felt like i’m not doing enough in any area to be “Waldorf” or “Montessori” or whatever; so I love that you emphasize going with the rhythms of your family and knowing what will work best for you. So encouraging!

  11. Hi,
    I’ve never commented on your site before but I felt compelled to say, “thank you.” Thank you for your authenticity, your bravery, and for embracing what works for your family as you navigate the Waldorf way(s). As a mother and childcare provider, I am unapologetically taking ideas from many approaches to create my own “way” with children. All of the five you listed were true in our household as well as the fact that we introduce scientific/mathematical concepts early and have picture and story books (so many books!) part of the rhythm of our day. We also emphasize social justice issues in an age appropriate way (story books, and family marches mainly). Thank you for sharing your work in the world. It’s inspiring!
    Warmly,
    Kerri

  12. Hi there, I’ve never commented on any site like this but felt compelled to due to my intense relief and optimism when reading this post, especially the part about general trust for medicine. We are new to Waldorf, but I am certain it’s the best model of education in our city and that it suits my daughter perfectly. We have had concerns about particular dogma (I, myself, was sent to a very strict and dogmatic Christian private school and am completely traumatised by my experiences there!) and the general anti-science attitudes that other Steiner parents can often reflect. At the end of the day, we do our best and what we feel is right for our kids. We also don’t own a television but we do have computers and my little daughter has been very fond of The Wiggles, but our philosophical approach is 85% waldorf – perhaps that will evolve over time. It was wonderfully refreshing to read that your thoughts as a parent are similar to mine. Excellent post!

  13. Another long time reader who is joining the praise chorus for this post. I believe we all make the best choices for our own families and am saddened when I see Waldorf methodology and inspiration wielded as a parental measurement tool for “being better/doing it more correctly” than other parents (talking families here; obviously in a Waldorf school setting one would have particular expectations). It is refreshing to hear how a real family makes choices within and without the Waldorf-inspired realm. (And as a musician and music teacher I always had personal issue with the musical guidelines and felt them to be rather limiting – I don’t believe I would have become a musician if I hadn’t had a broad foundation in early childhood.)

    • So glad this resonated with you and many others Laura. I really enjoyed writing it myself and I love sharing messages that are inspiring and refreshing. Meagan.

Leave a reply