Inside: Do you want to help your children learn and grow in a holistic way while fostering a love of learning? This article introduces key principles of Waldorf education and shares five easy ways to integrate them into your home.
Do you want to offer your children a holistic learning experience that encourages them to think outside the box and nurtures their hearts and minds?
Incorporating elements of Waldorf education into your home is a great way to do this.
Waldorf education is based on the principles of imaginative play, nature-based learning, and fostering a secure emotional connection between the child and their environment. This approach, championed by Rudolf Steiner, focuses on self-guided discovery and encourages children to become lifelong learners.
Rather than designing education to fit the needs of the current economy (i.e., emphasizing STEM subjects over art or promoting technological skill over music lessons), the system is focused on the human being and what different pieces need to be developed as they grow up.
These pieces include imagination, creativity, social connection, practical physical skills, connection to nature, ethics, and independent thinking.
Let’s Get Clear About Something
Critics often call the Waldorf approach old-fashioned for its discouragement of screen time and standardized-test-style assessment, as well as restrictive family routine. The fact is that Waldorf educational philosophy is remarkably adaptable.
It isn’t about choosing between Luddite rejection of all new technology and helpless immersion into it. It’s about managing your choices with intention and self-control and keeping your options open.
It’s not about throwing out your textbooks (I love mine!) or totally redecorating your home by removing TVs and buying organic furniture.
Here is the deal.
For a world inundated with technology and the adverse effects of screen time coming into view, doesn’t it sound great to ground our kids in their bodies and imaginations, with the hope that they’ll grow into truly free, as well as capable adults?
Something else I love about this system of education is that it’s made to adapt flexibly to each individual child’s unique needs and interests, making it a great choice for homeschool educators looking to provide a holistic approach to learning.
Here’s the Problem
Incorporating the elements of Waldorf education into the home sounds like a lengthy and stressful process.
I’m going to be honest with you here.
This is the point where many people give up. “Waldorf philosophy sounds great but … I’m too busy. I’m tired. It’s too expensive.”
Here is the good news: you can start where you are. And then keep going. Take your time. Use what you have. You’ll soon discover that your actions can be simple yet powerful in helping your children thrive, learn, and grow.
Though it may seem daunting, there are easy ways to incorporate the main elements of Waldorf educational philosophy without feeling overwhelmed. After all, the goal is to foster a nurturing relationship and make learning a fun, meaningful experience for both you and your child.
Here are some wonderful places to start:
1. A Holistic Philosophy
First and foremost, the Waldorf approach tries to develop the whole child rather than focusing solely on academic subjects. Waldorf education recognizes the importance of educating children in the four realms of body, heart, head, and hand.
Most of us think of education as just the head, but this approach leads people into thinking their body is just a locomotion system for their brain, feelings just an inconvenience to rationality, and manual skills just fodder for a low-class job.
Instead, this philosophy encourages us to incorporate our bodies and hearts with our minds as harmonious partners hungry for experiences. Our feelings are part of our humanity, and our love, empathy, and ethics allow us to live in peace with one another. As for manual skills, they promote the capacity for thinking and foster responsibility for our own lives. The loss of any one of these would make us less complete human beings.
Therefore, it is necessary to provide opportunities for ample physical activity (body), creative exploration (heart), handwork (hand), and intellectual pursuits (mind).
Drawing time and craft projects are not a distraction; it’s development. Running, skipping, jumping, and dancing stimulate both body and mind and clear away toxic stress. Baking cookies and knitting teaches us self-reliance and an appreciation for the work that creates everything we consume.
Finally, don’t forget to allow for plenty of periods of rest and play. This utterly uncurated time is where children practice imagination, make a habit of self-motivated action, and have a chance to discover who they are and what they love.
By the way, do you want to refresh your homeschool materials without breaking the bank? Check out free homeschool curriculum resources.
2. A Nurturing Environment
As you may have gathered from the above, creating a nurturing environment that encourages your child’s creative exploration is important.
In Waldorf Schools, every age group has a different sort of classroom (they even have different colors!), and each classroom is designed to encourage a certain state of mind and provide many engaging activities and objects.
With this in mind, consider your child’s needs and design places meant to fill those needs. For instance, children, like adults, need quiet spaces where they can feel safe and concentrate on something. A special drawing table in a cozy corner with paper and pencils nearby will welcome them.
If reading together is an important activity (as it is in my family!), then a reading chair with a bookshelf next to it will remind you all of that activity’s importance.
But this approach extends beyond the ‘classroom’ of your home because your kids are constantly learning through their whole environment! Your job is, therefore, to make your entire home into a welcoming, interesting, and engaging world.
It means incorporating music, dancing, singing, storytelling, and puppet shows into your kids’ lives whenever you can.
Welcome them to participate in your home functions through cooking, gardening, and cleaning activities. Make an engaging outdoor space for them to run around, dance, build, investigate, and explore their independence.
In the end, every space a child explores is a learning environment, so make your home a place beckoning with a range of activities that will spark your child’s curiosity and develop their interests. It’s as though your entire home becomes their teacher, with or without you directing a lesson.
3. Waldorf Arts and Crafts
You are probably beginning to connect the dots here and can see how handicrafts provide an opportunity to develop creativity, hone manual skills, develop self-reliance, and teach kids to appreciate the effort of makers.
This last point is especially important today. As I’m sure you’re well aware, our culture produces huge amounts of waste. Industrial production allows for incredible output, enough to refill the average person’s house many times over in a lifetime. And indeed, many of us, including our children, expect to buy and rebuy, update, throw out, and replace continually.
However, that pattern creates a huge waste problem for our planet, the mentality of never enough, as well as the reality of millions of underpaid workers making it all happen. On the other hand, if we can teach kids the beauty of the lovingly made object, all the thought and effort that goes into it, then we encourage them not only to make certain things themselves but to buy for quality and longevity and to avoid waste.
Another benefit of crafts is their connection to history. Techniques for handmade objects are usually the result of centuries of cultural development, responding to all sorts of circumstances.
It’s fascinating, educational, and grounding to see your own efforts as part of an ongoing history. Waldorf philosophy came from an Austrian philosopher, but he encouraged educators to dig into the traditions of wherever they were and where their students came from.
All these reasons give arts and crafts a central place in Waldorf philosophy, but as complex and deep as that all sounds, it happens through the simplest exercises. Just bake some bread. Fold a paper fan. Make pancakes. Grow vegetables. Cut paper snowflakes. Craft a homemade card for Grandma. It’s all right there.
4. Natural Materials
Waldorf classrooms are filled with wood, rocks, acorns, sticks, and natural fibers like wool, silk, and cotton. There are some metals, glass, paper, and card, but plastics are avoided.
The central goal here is to connect children to the natural world and make the transformation from natural to man-made more understandable. When kids sit at a wooden table, it’s not so hard to feel the tree. When kids hold a piece of plastic, however, they have no instinct for the material. It’s anonymous and so rather dead and cold.
Waldorf believes that kids are particularly sensitive to these qualities and that the softness, warmth, and identity of natural materials comfort and engage them. They promote sensorial exploration and inspire open-ended play.
Waldorf philosophy also wants to impress kids with the tangible feeling that humans are intertwined with the natural world. Countless psychological studies today show that connecting with nature through a walk in the woods or looking at clouds is hugely beneficial to our state of mind. We feel our worries growing smaller, our inner chatter calming down, and our curiosity piqued.
Choosing natural over synthetic materials points kids to nature through simple, everyday experiences.
5. Teaching Life Skills
Finally, Waldorf education emphasizes the importance of teaching life skills, such as responsibility, self-discipline, self-reliance, and confidence. These can be encouraged through activities like gardening, chores, and even learning to sew and knit.
It’s not so much that we’re trying to raise children who will one day knit all their own sweaters. The goal isn’t that kids avoid consumer goods altogether, though the ability to make things yourself does give you more options and greater freedom.
The deeper goal though is to teach kids that they can learn to do practically anything if they make an effort and that seeing a project through to the end is a wonderfully satisfying experience.
With the development of discipline and an experience of the results of dedicated effort, kids learn that they are capable and can trust themselves to solve problems and complete tasks well.
Sound like adulting to anyone yet?
By following these simple suggestions, we can easily incorporate the elements of Waldorf education into our homes without the stress that often comes with it. You don’t need to reject everything you’ve built up or buy a bunch of new props. In fact, so much of this holistic education system is about appreciating and incorporating what’s already happening in your home into this mindset. With an intentional environment, some natural materials, and engaging activities, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience that helps both parent and child grow into beautiful, fully complete human beings. Believe me, it’s well worth it!