If you look Waldorf up on Pinterest, you will see some Leighton Miester photos from the set of Gossip Girl, but you’ll see bright, maple full sun drenched photos of happy, peaceful playrooms and children playing with wooden toys and many a brightly colored rainbow of play silks can be spotted. These photos will bring about images of organic apple picking and the sounds of acoustic guitars and the giggles of small children.
The Waldorf world is much like the Hobbit world of Tolkien, because in Waldorf, early childhood is all about fantasy. There is a strong belief that children are more in tune with the magic realm because their souls are just recently cast onto the planet in their earthly bodies. This is also the reason why free play is at the foundation of a Waldorf early childhood, while academics are saved for when children are older. I can’t begin to list all the facets of Waldorf that are wonderful. So many Waldorf principles could save the future of humanity if all children were given the chance to experience them.
When the term “real work” comes up in Waldorf, they’re not talking about a salaried job with benefits. They’re talking about old world, back to basics necessities like weaving, carving, cooking, gardening. It seems crazy to me that our society has become so far removed from these basic tasks that make it possible to live. Bringing it back to the origins is such a simple, but vastly important factor in a Waldorf education.
Staying with the same teacher throughout the grade school years is also a great idea. This person becomes a real stand by in your child’s life, not just a passing figure there to fill the bucket with the prescribed body of knowledge and move on to the next group of empty buckets. They build trust, form a bond, and begin to understand one another. Consistency allows a young child to feel secure so that they can mentally and emotionally move on to higher learning. There is also the ever presence of natural materials in a Waldorf school. Natural materials, such as wood, silk, wool and beeswax are so prevalent because Steiner believed that things from nature emitted a higher, more complex vibrational frequency- as if they carried the soul of the living thing from which they came.
There is also the added environmentally friendly factor of having things that last, and also things that are not going to sit there for eons in perfect neon splendor in a landfill. Also, if you have any kind of aesthetic sense, these items are extremely beautiful. No grades, other than a lovingly written report at the end of the year, is a breath of fresh air. Children are seen as whole, individual, unique people, and therefore are not to be measured with the same yardstick.
The spiritual aspect, though one of the things about Waldorf that I absolutely adore, is also what makes me cringe a little. Though Waldorf claims to love and celebrate all religions, Anthroposophy (Steiner’s founded system of religious belief) does play a part in a Waldorf education. I know this first hand, as I once took a job as an after school teacher at a Waldorf school where I was given some books about Waldorf education to prepare me for the position. One of the books spoke extensively about Lucifer the light bearer as a positive figure, among many other Christian constructs.
Many of the holidays celebrated are also Christian in nature. I don’t have anything against Christians per se, but my experience with the religion is not an amazing one. Christianity, however pure people may believe it to be, was responsible for horrendous atrocities throughout time (mind bogglingly, a local Christian university’s sports teams are the Crusaders). There is also a strong belief in angels, and that every child has a guardian angel that watches over them. While this is also not a big deal, my father in law told me a story about his experience with Waldorf school when his son was in Kindergarten. He came to pick him up from school one day, and couldn’t find him. When he asked his teacher where he was, she said nonchalantly that he was on the roof laying shingles. This is where the guardian angel idea can go too far, as there have been many accounts of children left unsupervised, or rather, left supervised by their guardian angels.
Despite all this, I’d still jump at the chance to send my daughter to a Waldorf school, if only it weren’t so expensive and elusive. If you’re lucky enough to have a Waldorf school near you, you still may not be able to send your child there due to the price tag. If you have a job as a professor or a high level administrator, the tuition won’t be a problem, but if you’re a working class family such as we are (try living on lower enlisted military pay for a while and get back to me), the expense would cause a huge strain on the family. There are always Waldorf charter schools, which are free due to their ties with the school system, but they often have waitlists that are more than a mile long.
The next logical conclusion is Waldorf homeschooling, but even with that, why not just graduate to the even more child-centered, child-lead idea of unschooling? While Waldorf has lots of guidelines (no plastic, no commercial toys or clothes, no technology in the early grades, specific sequence of curriculum), with unschooling you can follow your child’s lead and let them blossom using the types of materials and mediums they see fit (Legos, anyone?). That is why, for now, I will take all the wonderful ideas found in Waldorf education and leave behind all of the stuff that doesn’t work for my family.