It seems sort of proper to start with an introduction. My name is Allison and I have a 3.75 year old dd named Cecily. We discovered the world of Waldorf here on MDC when Cecily was a little over 1.5 years old. In many ways at that time it was like a breath of fresh air. I fell in love with the slow pace, the immersion in the natural cycles of the year, the going back to a time when a person showed his/her love through manual work.
By profession I'm a former medieval historian so I'm not all that particularly keen on modern life: I own a very cheap cell-phone and I have no idea how to text anyone to save my life, LOL! I think there is much beauty in Waldorf practice, but as we learned more and more about Waldorf some things I found to be lovely on paper but impractical in our lives. Also, as a Christ-following Christian, I have major qualms with the foundation of Anthroposophy, which was founded by Steiner through clairvoyancy. This is strongly opposed by my religious faith, so in our lives it is paramount that we separate our love of a more natural, slow-paced life from the Anthroposophical roots of Waldorf. Someone once told me that the lifestyle we lead is less "Waldorf" and more "traditional Germanic" and I think that's true; the difficulty lies in finding community, which is important for anyone. Seeing as how I don't live in Germany nor can I become Amish, I must find that communal sense among Waldorf circles, which can be tricky since, in the words of St. Paul, I must be "in the world but not of the world." I currently say that we live in the world of gray, where we don't fully fit in with the mainstream world nor can we fully fit in with the Waldorf world.
How we apply Waldorf to our lives:
~ Family Culture. I believe one of the most lovely aspects of Waldorf is its creation and preservation of a family culture. I think having family traditions, foods, and festivals is part of the basic framework of the human existence, and our modern world has abruptly divorced humans from our cultural past. I think it's imperative for people's psychological well-being to be connected to each other through wholesome rites of passage.
~ Connection to the Seasons. Like culture above, I think that a connection to nature and the rhythm of the seasons is part of our human heritage that we have lost. God called his creation "good," and I think that by appreciating the natural world we are giving the glory due to God for his handwork. I think also there are some beautifully poetic truths to the cycle of the year: birth, bloom, fading, and death. Focusing on these has enriched our lives immensely.
~ Story-telling. I love books, as does my dd, but I think there is something wonderful about listening to a storyteller bring a story to life with words. We try and tell lots of stories at our home, and this is constantly an area in which I'm trying to improve in myself.
~ The Sacredness of Manual Labor. I love that Waldorf places such a strong emphasis upon handwork, which I define in the broad sense of just "creating with one's hands." The act of baking by hand, wood-working, cleaning one's house, doing paper crafts like origami or hand-crafts, etc. In our faith, even the amazing St. Paul who traveled and evangelized throughout the Roman world was a tent-maker to support his ministry. In our world that devalues human labor and disconnects us from our fruits, I think that returning to the beauty of manual labor is vital to our human spirit.
~ Head, Heart, Hands-on Learning. We are homeschoolers and I really love the multi-sensory and multi-dimensional approach that Waldorf has toward learning. I think humans naturally seek to experience knowledge in this way. For instance, my own dd who is 3.75 and is figuring out reading on her own (gasp!) not only likes to "know" her letters but to build them with blocks, trace them in sand or fingerpaint, etc. She does this without any artificial prompting on my part. I think the more connections you can make with head knowledge the more it becomes ingrained into you.
~ Art. I grew up the daughter of an artist so I have a deep love and appreciation for art. I love that Waldorf stresses high-quality art materials for children, and approaches art not as an extra-curricular activity but as worthy of lots of consciousness.
~ Anti-media. Thankfully, here on MDC most mamas understand that media can be a double-edged sword. For our family, we decided when dd was born to turn off the television and our lives have been richer because of it. I also have no desire to expose my vulnerable dd to the poor modeling of children's programming (I'm thinking Spongebob here) nor to rampant commercialism. I genuinely love that my dd has no idea who Barbie is.
~ Imaginative Play. I fully agree that play is the work of childhood, and that play is sacred. Toys should be treated with respect and children should have the time and space to play.
What doesn't work for us in Waldorf:
~ Anthroposophy, as I discussed above. I do believe that Anthroposophy not only has occultic roots but it is a spiritual ideology, in that it defines both spiritually "good" and "bad". I absolutely do not accept Steiner's world view of historical progression, nor do I believe in reincarnation, karma, Atlantis, gnomes/fairies, etc.
~ The emphasis upon only natural play things as imaginative. This is where I seem to differ most with people on board with Waldorf. I love the beauty of natural things, but I don't think that a wooden car functions any more creatively than a metallic or plastic one. In fact, I believe that wooden toys can actually be more limiting at times (but then, I do have a dd who loves to build aquaria in our sinks with floating MegaBloks for fish and rocks and shells for decoration). I think it's best to make many of your own toys, and that usually means either wood or cloth toys, but I also have no qualms buying an occasional toy nor do I limit myself as to the material it's made out of. When I buy toys the things I try to balance are: Is it imaginative and potentially multi-purpose? Is it ethically made? Is it affordable for me? We believe in tithing our income to God, so I cannot spend hundreds of dollars on Ostheimer figurines. I think there is a time for buying local or hand-made toys and a time for not. Sometimes plastic just makes for better play. I also like a balance of structured and unstructured toys and things from nature to use as toys.
~ The use of verses for every transition and circle time. In theory I like this idea but in our practical lives it doesn't work for us. It stresses me out having to memorize little ditties, it feels artificial when I have to remember to recite them, and it grates on dd's nerves to hear the same thing over and over. We do, however, like to spontaneously burst into poems, nursery rhymes, or songs when the mood strikes.
~ Specific types of handwork and structured creativity. I'm not a knitter nor can I sew but I'm very crafty in other ways. I'm also the daughter of an artist so it really irritates me being told to box in creativity by only painting using a certain technique and certain colors. I also am not going to pay $20 for 3 Stockmar watercolor paints when watered down Crayola tempera paint has the same effect on wet paper. I've also found that oil pastels (and even bathtub crayons sold at Toys R Us and craft stores in the children's section) have the same rich colors and creamy texture as beeswax crayons and are so much more affordable. We have an artwall at our home, which is just a large portion of our wall covered with white easel paper, and below it markers, paints, crayons, and chalk. It's wonderful to just have a place for spontaneous creativity. And I have no problem with dd drawing forms at age 2.
~ Boxing in Learning. I really dislike that in Waldorf ideology there is a particular progression laid out unilaterally for every child of what must be learned and at what point it should be learned. Life isn't that simplistic nor is the human will. I think some children may not be interested in letters until age 7 and they should not be rushed in their journey, but nor should a precocious learner be held back. My own dd became obsessed with letter at 15 months old, and knew them all by 18 months. This was completely child-led, as she noticed letters everywhere in her world (ingredients containers, sign posts, doormats, etc.). She is currently 3.75 and can read quite a few words by sight. She's also discovered the basic principles of mathmatics simply from playing with nuts, shells, rocks, and blocks. She understands that if she has 5 nuts, she can put two in one hand and 3 in the other, and yet she still has 5. Again, totally child-led, and done within a Waldorf environment. And she is incarnating beautifully.
She has quite a bit of "head" knowledge but runs, jumps, plays with vigor. Her imaginative world is rich in fantasy but she enjoys understanding the world around her. If she asks me why leaves turn color I will give her a true explanation that is on her level, not tell her that fairies painted them overnight. I get tired of Waldorf books being so black and white on this issue--they seem to present factual knowledge as being presented to children in esoteric scientific jargon or in the world of fantasy, the latter being the "approved" way. I'm also not going to present fairies, gnomes, elves as fact. I'll tell stories about them, I'll paint pictures of them, and I'll pretend with them, but I do not believe they exist and so I'm not going to present them to her as if they do. I think children enjoy fantasy but that they also appreciate non-fantasy and they both want and need to know the difference.
I'm sure there are a variety of other things I could have listed in both the pro and con Waldorf categories but these are the major things I could think of.
I'm looking forward to hearing about other's Waldorf-inspired journeys. I'm going to try and post some pictures of our home since I think it's always inspirational and helpful to get ideas from other mamas. I'd LOVE it if you would like to share pictures of your Waldorf-inspired homes and stories of the ways your family works (and chooses not to work) with Waldorf.