How to Create a Waldorf home

Waldorf homeCreating a Waldorf Home

Whether their children are grades students at a Waldorf school, homeschoolers studying with a parent-teacher or preschoolers organically learning and growing at home, many families appreciate a warm, organic environment and they want to create a Waldorf home.

The home is the perfect place for Waldorf principles to be made manifest. However your child is interacting with Waldorf Education, it is a wise and beautiful thing to sync your homelife with Waldorf ideals.

There are so many blogs and websites that give beautiful pictures of what a Waldorf home can look like, but creating a Waldorf home is about much more than beautifully painted walls and colorful play silks.

 Waldorf home window

Creating a Waldorf home comes down to three main ideas – rhythm, connection and imagination. Let’s take a closer look at these ideas and see how we can bring them about at home.

Rhythm

There are many ways you can think about rhythm, but however you decide to look at it, the value of rhythm is in providing stability and predictability for your family. What are the benefits of rhythm for your family?

  • More predictability = fewer arguments
  • Smooth transitions from one activity to another
  • Ensuring regular chores, self-care and other tasks get accomplished

Once you start with a regular rhythm at home, you’ll find that it supports you just as much as it does your children.

Rhythm in Practice

For example, when my children were younger, we had a regular routine of child bath time while I cooked dinner. Everyday around 4:30 I would go to the bathroom and start running the water, the sound of the running water naturally inspired the next activity – the little ones came to the bathroom and got ready for their bath, while I went to the kitchen across the hall and started cooking. It was such a natural part of our routine, once the water was running, taking the next step just seemed to happen on its own. As a result, the children got bathed and the family got fed – without either activity feeling like a cumbersome chore.

Connection

The next important aspect of creating a Waldorf home is connection. Of course, there are so many different kinds of connections that happen for children and parents, but the connections that I think are most important in creating a Waldorf home are connection with nature and connection with other human beings – the family.

Waldorf home garden
Connection with Nature

First, ensuring that you build outdoor time into your regular rhythm is an important way to bring Waldorf ideals to life in your home. Whether you have an infant who needs to breathe fresh air from a stroller or baby sling, a toddler who enjoys splashing in puddles, or a teenager who can help with chores in the garden, make sure you and your children get outside everyday. The sensory experiences available outdoors cannot be recreated inside and they play an important part in a child’s development. An experience of the outdoors gives children such a clear feeling understanding for the natural world – better than any book can.

Connection with the Human Being

Secondly, take every opportunity to connect with each other. In Waldorf schools information is imparted directly from teacher to student, without the intermediary of a textbook. In the home, the connection between parent and child is such a natural part of every interaction, it isn’t difficult to support the importance of that human to human connection. There are a couple of ways you can look to enhance the connection, though.

  • Tell stories to your children. There is plenty of wonderful connection that can happen through a story book, but when you tell your child a story from your imagination or an anecdote from your childhood, you’ll feel the difference.
  • Work together. Invite children into the kitchen to help you cook. Require children to set the table together. My two teens are in charge of doing the dishes together after dinner every night. The amount of laughing, storytelling and connecting that happens in that kitchen each night is a wonder. I know that when my children grow up that little ritual will be something they’ll remember and bring to their own families.

Imagination

One of the greatest gifts of Waldorf Education is its emphasis on imaginative play. The more ways you can enhance your child’s ability to use their imagination and go through the process of creating inner pictures, the more creative, artistic and fulfilled they will become. In Waldorf schools teachers tell stories without visual aids to help children exercise their capacity for inner picturing, there are plenty of ways you can support this at home, too.

Toys, Images and Stories
  • Imaginative play – Give your young children unformed toys and “play materials.” The less formed a toy is, the greater its potential and the more work your child has to do to create the toy herself. Wooden blocks, pieces of fabric, sticks and other items found in nature are the perfect playthings for young children.
Waldorf home toys
  • Images and metaphor in daily life – Go through your day-to-day life looking for little metaphors and imaginations for your child to connect with. If you need your little boy to stand up straight, invoke the image of a soldier or a king. Help your child to understand different types of plants by giving them personalities. Not only will these images give your child something to grasp onto and understand better, but it also builds flexibility of thinking.
  • Storytelling – If you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge fan of telling stories to children. The images and little narratives available to children in the form of a story are valuable on so many levels and there is no better way to cultivate your child’s imagination than to tell stories. Later acting these stories out or reproducing them in artistic form is another fantastic way of building your child’s capacity for inner picturing (and then giving those inner pictures outer form.)

In addition to these, there are plenty of other values that Waldorf parents impart to their children through their conscious creation of a thoughtful home-life. My strongest words of advice are to approach the creation of your home-life with consciousness and intention. Know that the crafting of your day-to-day life is what leaves your child with an understanding of the values that your family holds dear. Make sure those values are evident in your daily life and you’ll feel good about the conscious, intentional parent you are.

Related posts:

The Sanguine Child
Waldorf Sixth Grade Middle Ages
Bullet Journal for Teachers

Waldorf Education Planning Resources You’ll Use Every Year

If you’re just getting started building your Waldorf resource library, you may be wondering which books will make the worthiest investment. What are the books Waldorf teachers turn to again and again? Well here’s a list of my favorite perennial Waldorf resources.

These are the books that teachers pull off their shelves and consult every year as a refresher. The content is not specific to a particular grade, but instead these books give teachers the large view picture — the wide angle view of Waldorf curriculum, child development and classroom management. They’re definitely worth the investment.

Waldorf Education Planning Resources

The Tasks and Content of the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum by Kevin Avison and Martyn Rawson is my number one go-to resource when I begin planning the year. Then I turn to it again as I prepare each block. This book does such a fantastic job of outlining the curriculum — both vertically and horizontally — so it is really clear how all of the pieces of the curriculum fit together. There is also additional content that gives the authors’ thoughts about evaluation and assessment, classroom management and an overview of the Waldorf perspective of child development. It’s expensive, but if you buy just one book, make this one it.

School as a Journey by Torin Finser is another fantastic resource I always read during the summer before each year. This book tells the story of the author and his journey through the grades with his students. Through his real-world experience he does a great job of giving a picture of the curriculum and child development considerations for each year. I like this book so much that some years I have photocopied the chapter for the current grade and given it to parents to read.

 
I’m not one to usually recommend reading a lot of heavy Steiner to prepare for the school year, but The Kingdom of Childhood by Rudolf Steiner is a highly accessible read that is a good place to turn for some back-to-basics inspiration. Don’t be intimidated that it’s Steiner — you’ll enjoy it.

 

Teaching Children to Care by Ruth Sidney Charney is not a Waldorf resource at all, but it is my all time favorite book for inspiration about creating a positive, healthy, caring social atmosphere in the classroom. This book is super-practical, but also full of big guiding ideas. This was the first book I read in the Responsive Classroom series, and I can’t recommend it (and the rest of the series) enough. Another favorite in this series that would be particularly useful to read if you are about to start with a new class of students is The First Six Weeks of School.

 

Finally, one last book that I love for planning and general inspiration is A Handbook for Steiner-Waldorf Class Teachers by Kevin Avison. This one is not so much your traditional resource book for sitting down and reading through, but it is a book full of lists and charts that can be really useful to main lesson teachers. My favorite resource? The list of recall activity ideas — that alone is worth the price of the book.

Related posts:

Sixth Grade Backpacking Trip
Fifth Grade Language Arts
The 30 Days Till Summer Waldorf Report Writing Challenge!

Kim John Payne — The Soul of Discipline

The Soul of Discipline

My recent trip to Nelson, B.C. was inspired by an opportunity to hear Kim John Payne speak on the topic of discipline. He had such a fresh and enlivened way of looking at the topic of discipline that he made what could have been a pretty weighty topic quite light. His humorous and anecdotal way of bringing the information made us all recognize and chuckle about those challenging parenting moments that we’ve all faced.


The main content of his talk had to do with how our parenting and discipline changes and evolves as our children mature. He addressed the three stages of child development and provided a guiding image for the parent to work with during each phase.

The Governor — Early Childhood (until age 7 or so)

What the youngest child needs is for her parent to be her governor. At this stage parents are “benevolent dictators.” We decide what the children need and act (and ensure the child acts) accordingly.

In order to do this, we need to avoid asking endless questions. “What do you want for breakfast?” “Do you want to go to the park today?” “What do you feel like wearing today?” If you listen to parents that you encounter you’ll realize that this tendency to ask questions is an absolute epidemic! We ask questions even when we’re not intending to give the child a choice. “Do you want to get in the car now?” Many parents have learned a hard lesson when a child answers with a resounding, “NO!” to an option we never intended to offer.

But even parents who have learned this lesson can’t seem to stop themselves! They’ll often attempt to issue an instruction (rather than ask a question) but then follow it up with a question. “It’s time to put your jacket on. . . . Okay?”

I think this tendency arises out of a desire to be kind and respectful of others’ feelings and opinions — a noble cause, for sure. But we need to realize that children of this age just don’t have the capacity to make decisions for themselves, and even worse, being given the responsibility unnecessarily burdens them. How many of us have felt overwhelmed by the choices that are offered to us and simply wished someone else would make the decision (the espresso bar comes to mind for me.)

Similarly, we don’t need to offer our children countless reasons why they should comply with our given instructions. The ability to see the world through the lens of cause and effect simply does not kick in until age twelve or so. Hoping that a child will comply with our instructions because he or she understands the reasons why it is important is really not approaching him or her with an understanding of her developmental stage. When we say to the child, “You need to put your coat on because it is cold outside,” we are expecting a phase of development that just isn’t there yet. Even setting up cause and effect situations in the child’s life can make things harder. If we say, “Wash your hands and then you can have lunch,” we are essentially setting up a situation in which we expect the child to make the logical connection between washing hands and eating lunch.

The alternative to these situations is that the child does what he or she is told, simply because he or she is told to do so. It is the parent’s job to be the authority; it is the child’s job to comply. We give instructions, not requests. We don’t justify our instructions. We don’t plead for cooperation. We issue instructions and expect compliance.

Ensuring that compliance can take work, though. We can’t just tell our child to put on her jacket, watch her toddle off and hope it gets done. We must take her by the hand and make sure it happens. Follow through is essential so that eventually the child will consistently follow through on her own.

The Gardener — Middle Childhood (ages 8-12 or so)

During this phase the parent can no longer strictly issue instructions, instead the parent must watch, cultivate and look for the right time to harvest appropriate responses from his or her child. Children of this age need to know that their requests are being heard. They can often present their proposals with lots of thought and care, attempting to anticipate the reaction of the parent. The parent does well to ponder requests, show the child that they are being considered, and then to watch for the most opportune time and manner to respond.

To depict this phase Mr. Payne told a story about a girl of this age who was asking for permission to have a three-night sleepover on school nights. Though the parent would be tempted to respond quite dramatically to a ridiculous request, we must make every effort to show that we have to think about it, talk it over with the other parent and then come back with an answer. Recognize that your child has clearly thought the situation through. Maybe a compromise is in order. Perhaps one night would be a good way to begin. Sensitively and delicately talk this over with your child.

The child of this stage lives most strongly in the feeling realm. Sensitivity, understanding and imagination are key to working with them.

Children in the middle of childhood also need to have a strong sense that they are part of a team. They must realize that their actions impact others and they naturally tend to show consideration for others. They have a strong desire to connect with others and this is often the way to help them realize what should and should not be done. Helping them to understand how a triple sleepover would impact the family could be just the thing to help the child realize that this is not a great idea.

The Guide — The Teenage Years 

During the teen years the parent has an opportunity to reap the rewards of the previous years of work. By this time the child is ready to make decisions and choices for him or herself. The parent is there to shepherd the young adult in making these decisions, standing behind him or her to help the best decision come to light. We can ask guiding questions, suggest ideas that the teenager might not have thought of, and brainstorm together. We have to be careful about offering our opinions because a child of this age does not want to be told what to do. Thoughts and opinions that are offered with subtlety and care are often welcomed and acted on.

Discipline is something that we can work on together. If your teenager is going out with friends you can work together to determine an appropriate curfew. In the process you can discuss what happens if the curfew is broken. The child can be a part of this process and will often determine stricter consequences for his or her actions than the parent might have set.

When a poor choice is made we can meet with the child and talk about it. What can we do so that better decisions are made in the future? We can notice these things and create these guidelines together. In this way we are truly preparing our teenagers for adulthood when they’ll have to make these choices completely on their own.

Mr. Payne ended the talk by telling parents that if their children consistently show themselves to struggle with their current phase of development, the parent must take a step back and act out of the guidelines for the previous phase. A child must be able to be a team player before being able to make choices, and basic compliance is the foundation of it all.

fields-and-sky

Throughout the evening there were a few little gems that Mr. Payne brought.

  • Stop the “behavior modification” model. It makes children callous and insensitive to feeling. They don’t care anymore and will simply try to find the loophole. This approach also strips the parent of authority because all activity comes out of an external system of rewards and punishments. We want them to be guided by our own sense of authenticity, not some external reward.
  • Children are not disobedient, they are disoriented.
  • “Time-out” gives children a model of pushing their problems away.
  • Stop saying “Good job!” Children become praise junkies and can even become jaded as they begin to clearly recognize that not everything they do is fantastic.
  • If your child wants a “NOW answer” tell them that a “NOW answer” is “NOW” minus the W.
  • Curb interrupting children. If your child runs up and starts to talk to you while you’re speaking with someone else, put out your hand to quiet him or her, then take 4-5 seconds to tell the person you’re talking to that the child wants your attention and pause the conversation. Wait just a few seconds at first and gradually lengthen this time. Teach impulse control.
  • Don’t repeat instructions. Why should the child do it the first time if you’re just going to say it again?
This evening lecture was followed by a workshop the next day when this information was spoken about with consideration for the individual temperaments. Different children need to be worked with in different ways and the temperaments are a good way to go about considering children’s individual needs.
Kim John Payne is the author of several books, the most recently published is called Simplicity Parenting and it is about the importance of simplifying our children’s lives. His next book, The Soul of Discipline will be released soon.

Related posts:

Being a stickler
Managing the Masses
Working with Learning Differences in the Waldorf Classroom | A Waldorf Journey Podcast Episode #10

Sixth Grade Backpacking Trip

Backpacking is an amazing activity for sixth graders and I am so glad that I was able to take my class out for an excursion.

It was so great to see twelve kids, 7 parents and one teacher all packed up and ready for an adventure in the backcountry.

Our trip was a pretty beginner excursion. We hiked in a mile and a half, hiked another few miles after got there and came home the next day, but it was just perfect. The kids and parents both were left wishing we could stay another night.

We saw a moose, bear poop and plenty of reminders of how amazing the natural world is.

And I was reminded of what a wonderful thing it is for kids of this age to carry on their backs everything that they’ll need to survive a night in the wilderness.

Related posts:

Teaching Writing -- Developing an Editorial Process
More Rocks and Minerals
Block Switch Weekend

The First Day

Well, finally, the anticipation is over. The first day of school has come and gone.

We had a wonderful first day. It was great to see everyone again, all in one place.

Though I had seen all of my students at one time or another over the summer, I did wonder if seeing them all together in the classroom would make me realize how much bigger they’ve gotten or how much more mature they’ve become.

For the most part I was not struck with any sudden revelations.

But there was one moment.

As the students arrived in the morning, before the bell rang, they were just milling about in the classroom. They each said hello to me, but their interest turned almost immediately to each other. After a few minutes I realized that they were all there happily chatting away with each other while I stood — all alone — at my desk gathering my thoughts for the day.

The “invisible adult” phenomenon was an aspect of adolescence that I had forgotten about. And though I do love it when they come around my desk and ask questions and chat with me, noticing this new development of theirs made me smile.

They’re still my sweet class. They’re still happy and enthusiastic about learning. They’re still respectful and polite in their interactions with me.

They just don’t notice me quite as much.

Related posts:

An article by Christoph Weikert about main lesson rhythm
A New Poetry Book
New Sixth Grade Geometry Curriculum Guide!

Cleaning up

Today my students and I worked on packing and cleaning up the classroom. It was a nice reminder of how good it is for them to have the care and maintenance of the classroom be a part of our work together. They were so inspired to pull things apart, take everything off the shelves, scrub the woodworking, and dust in places that have been long forgotten about. They found composition books from last year that we’d been saving just-in-case and they loved going through — seeing their old handwriting and drawings. They realized how hard it is to clean dried paint off of their painting jar holders, and I know at least one of them will be much more careful to avoid spilling in the future.

These are the kinds of things that remind me that education in a Waldorf school is a whole-life education. We are working with so many different aspects of our students’ development, though it is so easy to get pulled into focusing just on the academic. I love that I have the opportunity to get to know my students in so many different ways, and to help them learn so many different things.

Related posts:

Meditation
Life in Greece
Ancient Civilizations Curriculum Guide Now Available!

Person House Tree Drawings

Tomorrow I’m planning on doing a set of drawings with my class that are referred to as the “Person House Tree” drawings. The idea is that with the very minimal instruction to draw a picture that includes a person, a house and a tree, the child creates a drawing that gives a small glimpse into his or her development.

A book that I have found very useful for understanding these drawings is Audrey McAllen’s Reading Children’s Drawings.

I haven’t found this book on Amazon, but many of McAllen’s other books can be found there, and they are all just as wonderful. Her books Sleep, The Extra Lesson and Teaching Children Handwriting are all fantastic — absolute staples!

Related posts:

Monday Art
Cleaning up
Sixth Grade Backpacking Trip

The Sanguine Child

When you imagine the typical, light-hearted, happy-go-lucky vision of childhood bliss, you are picturing the sanguine child.

Children who skip and run more than they walk, who are never down for more than a moment, and who positively bounce along through life are sanguine children. In fact, the temperament that typifies childhood as a whole is sanguine.

The element that corresponds to the sanguine is air. Sanguines are light, happy and fleeting. They flit from one activity to the next and though they enjoy a wide variety of activities, most often their energy and focus is on social matters. Sanguines have lots of friends and like to be surrounded by many different types of people. They can be the life of the party, though they may only stay for a short time before it’s time to move on to something new, because for the sanguine, variety is the spice of life.

Who is the sanguine in the classroom? The sanguine is the blond, curly-headed girl in the middle of the room who is surrounded by her friends — a group that includes everyone in the class. She is bubbly and almost always smiling. She flits from one friend to another in a happy light-hearted way. Her flitting nature may sometimes cause her to hurt the feelings of another (probably a melancholic) but she doesn’t really mean it and as far as she’s concerned unless it happened 3 minutes ago, it’s ancient history.

She is physically active and happiest when the lesson includes movement. When she moves, the observant eye will notice a bounce in her step and a tendency to walk on her toes. She loves to dance, jump and play.

The sanguine appreciates lessons that move along quickly. She processes things quickly and though she usually understands it all before she moves on, if something takes too much focus and energy, she’ll happily move on before she has fully penetrated a topic.

How can the teacher best meet the sanguine? First of all, recognize the sanguine’s gifts. Her happy nature can be a blessing in the classroom and can often bring a melancholic friend out of his or her despair. The sanguine can make things a lot of fun! In those heavy adolescent years, this is a blessing indeed! When doing skits in the class, I always make sure there is a sanguine in each group. Sanguines love drama and can often lead the charge in helping a group of students pull something together.

Seat the sanguine right in the middle of the room. She’ll be happiest there, surrounded by friends, but she’ll also benefit from her classmates’ presence holding her in. If you put her next to the window she’ll be off in the clouds with the birds and the butterflies for the whole lesson.

At the same time that we recognize the sanguine’s gifts, we must also acknowledge her challenges. What the sanguine needs most of all is grounding. Without it she’ll never be able to take that wide range of interests and activities and put them to purposeful use. She’s got plenty of air, it’s up to us to help her find some earth, too.

Related posts:

Meditation
The First Day
Working with Learning Differences in the Waldorf Classroom | A Waldorf Journey Podcast Episode #10