However, I soon discovered that Waldorf lends itself very well to the home environment. I wouldn’t say we are Waldorf homeschoolers, or any other label-based homeschooling description, for that matter. In general, I try to take what fits for our family from the resources and philosophies I come across instead of subscribing to a philosophy in its entirety. In any case, here are the Waldorf-inspired ideas that have worked really well for us at home:
Waldorf teachers believe that simple toys made from natural materials help encourage children’s imagination and creativity, are more calming and peaceful to handle, and are open-ended enough that children can create any kind of play scenario they wish out of very few toys. A traditional Waldorf classroom would contain simple handmade dolls and carved wooden animals, smooth stones that had been polished by the river they came from, pieces of logs and sticks and some silk cloths.
Recently, I discovered that my girls far preferred to play with dried beans, whole cloves and acorns in their kitchen set than with the clunky wooden food I’d bought for them. I figured the play food was wooden and that was natural enough, but little hands LOVE to pour, sort, pick through and smell the natural, aromatic beans and nuts.
Appreciation of Daily and Yearly Rhythms
Rhythm is a big part of Waldorf philosophy. Rhythm spans from moment-to-moment rhythmic activities, such as knitting, to daily rhythms that include regular times to wake up, eat meals, play, rest and go to bed, and bigger yearly rhythms that recognize the changes in season and holidays. Many Waldorf homsechoolers have a nature table where they display things from nature that reflect the current season. A smooth daily and yearly routine gives kids and adults a sense of security in knowing what will be coming next, and helps everyone get more sleep.
I am working towards a regular daily routine by streamlining my housekeeping, and we recently took the Usborne Book of the Seasons out of our public library to give us some inspiration for seasonal crafts and activities. Beatrice LOVED this book, as it has lots of beautiful colour pictures and a nice mix of educational activities and crafty stuff. We did just about all of the activities in the fall section before we had to return it, and I’m definitely considering buying it to have at home.
Time for Creative Play
Creativity is highly valued in Waldorf, and there is starting to be more and more scientific research to back this up. It turns out that kids who get to choose how, when, where and with whom they play (including playing by themselves) have better executive functioning. This means they develop better self control, the ability to follow instructions and find solutions to problems. Constantly being told what to to or playing highly structured games doesn’t produce the same increase in self control.
In our house, we’ve made time and space for creative play ever since Bea started carrying dollies around. The dress up clothes are within easy reach, as are the blocks and dolls. Every day we have at least a little time for the girls to play on their own while I write emails, clean the kitchen or fold laundry. This downtime for me is just as valuable as the creative, self-directed time is for the girls. It’s a win-win.
The other thing that is great about Waldorf is that it meshes really well in a frugal, environmentally-conscious household. Sure, you can spend a small fortune buying Waldorf toys if that’s what you want to do, but you don’t have to. Smooth rocks from the river are free, as are acorns and horse chestnuts. Dried black beans are very, very cheap. Having a routine costs nothing, just the time and energy to figure one out and stick to it. If you have a little skill with scissors, needles and thread, you can make your own Waldorf doll out of scrap cloth and sheep’s wool. This is the traditional way toys were made instead of bought, and it’s possible to learn these skills yourself too.
Come back next week for Part Two of Waldorf at Home with Young Children. There’s more!