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Waldorf and fairies? Can someone explain?

post #1 of 46
Thread Starter 
With all of the discussion of Waldorf school, I am curious- what is with the fairies? I have heard that Waldorf has created controversy so I hope no one is afraid to answer questions- I'm really just very curious and can't find much on the philosophy behind Waldorf on the internet I understand *what* they do, but not all the whys. I've seen lots of wool Waldorf dolls and fairies for sale in catologs but I never really thought about or understood what these specific dolls had to do with Waldorf education. Also, what is the controversy with Steiner? I'm just kind of wondering how this schooling could be controversial since I've never heard anything *bad* about Waldorf before We're not looking to send our kids there because we are just too much of a tecnological family for it, I think- dh is a computer programmer so I'm not sure how we'd keep computers away from the kids, but I'm still curious about it. I'm not at all wanting to get into a heated debate about it, just looking for info because I like to know about these things and I know someone in rl who is planning to send her child to a Waldorf kindergarten. If someone could point me in the direction of a website that explains these things that would be nice too
post #2 of 46
Part of the basic philosophy behind Waldorf education is that children before the age of 7 (the time of the change of teeth) are very close to their spirituality, and they should be very gently and slowly brought out of this (rather then the rude awakening that occurs at most public schools). Steiner believed that it was essential for children to believe in magic, faeries, gnomes, etc.
Waldorf style dolls are those made only of natural fibers, with rather simplistic features. All Waldorf style toys are made of natural materials so that children can feel th elife forces within them. Simple features are used so that the toys can be imbued with their own imagination.
post #3 of 46
Hi there. I've heard explanations about keeping kids under 7 immersed in sort of a dreamy state, and keeping the sense of magic alive in them. There have been lots of discussions about it on this board (you could do a waldorf search just on this board and come up with lots of info) and many members have opinions pro and con for waldorf philosophy and spirituality. The controversies are available for reading on the internet if you poke around a little. One of the members that posts here a lot refers others to a website called openwaldorf,


and I think this site has a lot of answers, though I don't know if it will specifically answer the question about fairies.

When I was a new mom I read You Are Your Child's First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin and it explained many Waldorf beliefs in an easy to read format. This may be a helpful book if you're just trying to find out more about it.
post #4 of 46
Thread Starter 
Thanks I had no idea that they actually encouraged a belief in faeries and gnomes: I guess I have some reading to do on the subject. We read a lot and my kids engage in a lot of pretend play, but I've never heard them say anything about believing in faeries. Does the school actually try to teach the kids that they are real or do they just not tell them that they aren't? I guess I'm confused:LOL
post #5 of 46
I've just started seriously researching homeschool approaches; Dd is 27 months and this is my winter project.

We do lots of imaginary play, open ended toys. Dd lives in a world where she is a piglet who is a cat today. A world where the Mommy pooper has milk for the baby pooper. We set up the living room with boxes and blocks and her little rollie vehicles and it became Chicago. She definetly lives in a magical world.

But she shocked me when she walked around the house with an empty picnic cooler and told me she had "pretend food inside." She took the cooler with her to Chicage in the living room, played in the playground made of blocks, and then told me she needed a toilet.

I feared for our white carpet (who knew we were having kids when we put that in?). I must have assumed a worried expression, and asked if she wanted to go the bathroom and finally she looked at me like I was a dunce, and said "I mean PRETEND toilet." Of course, the ones we've been building out of blocks for the stuffed animals. The first time I built a toilet out of blocks it was because I didn't feel like dragging all the stuffed animals into the bathroom every time one of them had to go.

Off topic, but as much as I do belive that Dd dwells in a different world from mine, I see she really seems to know it.
post #6 of 46
Waldorf schools teach in a very imaginative way. They use a lot of analogies in the younger grades- especially including faeries, gnomes, and other magickal creatures.
The four math processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) are introduced usually in first grade. They are generally introduced in a series of stories about some gnomes, something like this:
There were Four gnomes name Multiply, Divide, Add and Subtract. The gnomes worked for the gnome king mining gems in his mines. The gnomes are required to bring in exactly 8 gems per day. Now Multiply wears a shiny yellow coat that helps him to see far into the corner of the mine so that he finds lots and lots of gems. But Subtract had big holes in his pockets, and always seems to loose some of his gems. Divide is very generous and shares with the others his extra gems, so he alwasy comes up short, but Add manages to find more than his share and between them all they even out.

I don't know about anyone else, but I have found for myself and for my children that we remember things told in an imaginatve way much more than in another way.

I believe that children live in a realm where all of these things really are real to them. And rather than saying that Waldof encourages or discourages the belief, they use this belief to educate the children. I second the recomendation of You Are Your Child's First Teacher.
post #7 of 46
The importance of fairies, gnomes, etc. to Waldorf is somewhat difficult to divine. At our local waldorf school there seems to be more talk of gnomes and fairies. Now, gnomes are a very important part of anthroposophy. To Steiner, they are part of his body of scientific knowledge. Just the way we most people say "rain water erodes the earth to make rivers and canyons," Steiner would say, "gnomes push the plants out of the earth and make them grow upwards." To Steiner this was considered a scientific fact. According to Steiner, gnomes also produce parasites and possess a unique gravity. Gnomes are also part of Steiner's cosmology, being spiritual beings that result from a fallen human incarnation. So, be good, or you may come back as a gnome.

You can learn more about gnomes at OpenWaldorf's Steiner Says page. You can also perform a Google search on gnomes at the Rudolf Steiner archive. This way you can read Steiner's words in the original context and form your own opinion on his view.

How does this play out at Waldorf? It really depends. One of the main factors is how committed your teacher is to anthroposophy. You can just ask them what they think about gnomes/fairies. "Are they real?" "Are they make believe?" "They seem to be an important part of the curriculum. Why?" "Did Steiner think gnomes were real? Do you agree with Steiner?" Two questions I like to ask are "was rudolf steiner clairvoyant?" and "is there anything steiner says that you disagree with?" this is sort of like asking a catholic school teacher "did jesus rise from the dead?" it helps you understand how your individual teacher is aligned with regards to anthroposophy.

You can also do what I did as my daughter got older, and simply teach her that gnomes/fairies aren't "real" (let's not debate the essence of reality). Unless, of course, you believe they are, like some Waldorf parents do.

Finally, I must point out that we all believe pretty weird things. Rather than generalize, ask questions to understand your individual Waldorf experience, and participate at your own comfort level. I've really been thinking about this lately, and will probably add something to the Waldorf Parent's Survival Guide along this them. At Waldorf, as with anywhere, (1) never be afraid to ask questions (2) speak up if you disagree with something. let the school know, and manage it with your child (3) never be afraid to let your parenting authority override waldorf's. if your child would like to read at an early age, encourage that if you wish. if you feel like it's not a big deal to watch the grinch on tv once a year, let her do it.

My opinion is that the notion of fairies/gnomes as real creatures is no big deal. So what if some teachers believe that? As I alluded to before, all kinds of teachers believe all kinds of weird things. And so what if teachers teach assuming this as fact? If you disagree, teach your kids otherwise.

My only negative experience with gnomes was that I noticed that gnomes sometimes get used to explain away bad behavior of other kids, and even teachers. My daughter had her share of a class snack swiped from her desk while she was passing the snacks out to the class, and the teacher's response was "a little gnome must have taken it." I would have much preferred for the teacher to stop the class, and get the guilty party to return it. Instead, the teacher didn't even replace the snack, and my daughter had to watch all the other kids eat their snack, wondering why a gnome had taken hers. In case you're wondering, that's the day I told her gnomes aren't real. : )
post #8 of 46
Thread Starter 
Ah. I think that last post explains it in a way that I can understand I was just thouroughly confused. We are not a God believing family so maybe that's why this is a new idea to me. I thought maybe Waldorf was a type of religion or something. I am already encouraging my child in his make believe world. He pretends to be a dog or to have a dog named Costco (yes, we do go to the warehouse store a lot: ) and I play along with him. So I guess maybe what they're doing isn't far off from what I am doing. I do think ds at 3 does on some level know the difference between real and make believe, but the lines are certainly more blurry for him than they are for me.
post #9 of 46
Thread Starter 
I was referring to khrisday's post with my last one. openwaldorf, thanks for your explanation too. Personally I would probably have issues with the method of "discipline" or lack thereof if I was in that situation No offence, but I think a more "traditional" schooling will probably be better suited to our needs. I was really just genuinely curious about Waldorf. I hadn't known anything about it and just thought it was a more back to nature approach that used a lot of art and wooden toys and kind of shunned technology in the early years. All of the other worldly stuff surrounding it is foreign to me, but interesting to learn about
post #10 of 46

Fairies and Gnomes

I compare it to belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. They are creatures that make life more magical for children. Most grow out of their belief in them after the 9 year change, some sooner. In Kindergarten, many of the stories told are fairy tales because they connect to our most primal souls. Fairies and gnomes are an integral part of this. There are some parents who feel that children should never be told anything false, so they have difficulty with fairies, Santa Claus, etc. Waldorf is not for them.

In our family, both my husband and I are engineers and very technically oriented. We chose Waldorf so our children would be more rounded. It allows them to be children for as long as possible. My children often leave gifts for the fairies in our garden. Sometimes they disappear and sometimes they do not. When they are older, I am sure that they will have outgrown fairies and Santa but they will have had a magical childhood free from Power Rangers, Pokemon, etc.

Someone mentioned the math characters. My son's first grade did not have gnomes but characters named: Sir Plus, Lady Divide, Mr. Minus, and something Mulitply. They made the characters out of beeswax and when they made the math symbols they looked like these characters. It really helped my son's memory with math and it made it fun and interesting. In 2nd grade, they did pirate math. Dividing the loot. Those that learned all of their times tables became pirate kings or queens with a crown. If they could do all their division tables, jewels were added to the crown. Thus far we have several kings and queens but no one has jewels yet.
post #11 of 46
I compare it to belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.
I think you're dead on with that analogy with regards to the child's experience. Someone on the SJU list pointed out all the other fictional characters we, as a society, bombard our kids with. Elmo, Big Bird, Eloise, etc. I was just playing a game with my daughter trying to name famous people and their reputation, and 80% of the ones she came up with were make believe. Certainly, for children, what we call "fiction" and "reality" are a beautiful big mush in their brains. So on that level, "so what?" is a pretty strong argument in favor of gnomes at Waldorf.

I think some parents just want to know how these subjects work in the mind of the teacher, and how that is reflected in the curriculum, and the classroom experience.
post #12 of 46
I just wanted to make a quick note re. technologically-oriented families and Waldorf:
Just because your child attends a Waldorf school doesn't mean you can't teach what you want them to learn at home. My husband is very computer-oriented, as well. My daughter sometimes plays games on the PBS kids website; she asks her dad about computers all the time; and she goes to a home-based Waldorf preschool two mornings a week. Similarly, if she wanted to learn how to read, I would teach her.... but I would never push something on her if she wasn't interested yet, kwim?
It should also be noted that children exposed to a lot of technology early on tend to have a diminished capacity for imaginitive play which is a crucial building block in helping them understand abstract concepts as adults. I would assume that you wouldn't be actively pushing your child to learn all about computers and such at a young age...
post #13 of 46
Thread Starter 
Oh, no, we're actually not even encouraging him to do anything on the computer at all at this point and he is very imaginative. In fact, my dh doesn't even really like those kids computer programs because he feels that they really aren't going to teach the child to use the computer, and I think there are better ways to go about teaching letters, numbers, etc. Those programs might help them use a mouse, but we don't feel that it's necessary to learn to use the mouse at age 3. What I meant in my original post was that ds is exposed to computers in that they are around and on while he is awake. We've shown him the noggin and pbs websites and played games on those sites for fun on a couple of occasions as well. Also, while we aren't encouraging computer use in him by age 3, my hunch is that because the computer is around and dh is so involved in computers, the kids will become interested in them well before high school age. That probably wouldn't keep me from sending my child to Waldorf if I really wanted to, but there are other things about it that I don't agree with on a philosophical level, upon further investigation.
post #14 of 46
>It should also be noted that children exposed to a lot of technology early on tend to have a diminished capacity for imaginitive play which is a crucial building block in helping them understand abstract concepts as adults.<

I wonder if it has to do more with the *type* of technology. My children are about the most imaginative that I have ever come across. Yet they both are very computer literate, and have been exposed to the computer since they were infants. One cool thing about the internet is that whenever they ask me a question that I can't answer, we look online.

Last year my then 4 year old asked, "What does a raccoon sound like?" and when I said I didn't know, my then 7 year old said "Well, I'll look it up!" and she did.

They have also always seen tv; but only pbs. Typically they watch about 3 hours a week. They have never played video games, though.

Yet imagination rule with them. I think the ttime of exposure and type of exposure can certainly affect imagination; but it can also breed imagination, too. When the girls were on their Jane Goodall kick, we read every book about her in the library, we watched two videos about her, we went to an IMAX movie about her, and they looked her up on line. Then they played her for days and days, taking turns being the researcher and the researched. Sometimes it was Jane Goodall and chimps; moreoften though it was Crystal (don't know why *that* name) and some penguins.

I'll bet that children exposed to *alot* of *anything* at a young age have a diminished capacity for enjoyment of something else. Like, if a child only reads books and doesn't play with other children, that child probably has a diminished capacity for social interaction, for example.
post #15 of 46
Just have to say that I went to Waldorf school 2 -9th grades, and maybe my memory is failing me, but I absolutely do not recall ANY talk of gnomes or fairies. My teacher taught math with a little story about a big pile of cabbages that kept being added to, subtracted from, etc. (go figure). I'll have to ask my sibs who went from k-12 what they recall...
post #16 of 46
Momsgotmilk4two, the example Openwaldorf gave of the teacher telling the child "a little gnome must have taken it" would have upset me, too. That's not a Waldorf approach, really, it's a way for the teacher not to have to admit she didn't really know how to handle the situation! A more Waldorf approach would have been to get down on the child's level, EMPATHIZE with him/her, and ask if she'd like another snack. Later, the teacher can act out a story with her wooden figures and silks (it's how stories are told in the Waldorf school, typically) or just tell one, about the situation.
The belief is, esp. with fairy tales, that children will "get" the moral story and take in what they need out of it without the teacher having to openly accuse anyone or punish the class. It's worked with my children!! (When I use a story to get my point across, like when my children don't like to clean up before bed. Children just seem to have this innate capacity to apply moral stories to their own lives, as needed.)

post #17 of 46

In the grades, the teacher might say

"So and so's snack has disappeared, would anyone else like to share their snack?" thus fostering empathy and sharing amongst the class. I find that my son's 2nd grade class is very quick to help out a fellow classmate though they also like to play pranks (not malacious but playful) on each other.
post #18 of 46
Does the school actually try to teach the kids that they are real or do they just not tell them that they aren't?
Fairies and gnomes have never been proven not to exist. I would not want dd going to a school that told her they absolutely were not real.
post #19 of 46
this is all so fascinating to me...I've been coming here for well over a year, but I never really investigated what 'waldorf' meant....I thought it was like Montessori..lol

we would probably not be able to send any of our children to a waldorf school, but as we plan on homeschooling, I would definately incorporate some of these philosophies into our learning.

I dont like 'lying' to children either, and probably wont encourage santa or any of that stuff, but the whole waldorf approach to childrens minds seems so well suited and 'magical'...and probably does speak to them perfectly....and I liked what greaseball said about it has never been proven that gnomes and fairies dont exist! I find it no more fantasy oriented than those who believe that a god/gods really exist.

how fun!
post #20 of 46
Ooh, I like that response, too, Rhonwyn!

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