Not School at Home
I wrote the following article for Lucie Smoker’s eclectic and Waldorf-inspired homeschooling website, Wonder Homeschool, which unfortunately no longer exists.
Many people are completely bowled over when they first encounter Waldorf education. The truly holistic and spiritual acknowledgement of the whole child, the aesthetics and emphasis on natural materials … For many adults the wish to work with Waldorf education is an expression of their own desire to heal something which might be missing in themselves.
But then a great and potentially damaging paradox can take hold as parents struggle to reconcile their own limitations as mere human beings with the seemingly insurmountable heights of Waldorf Perfection. How can I heal myself and my children with this wonderfully nurturing way of understanding children whilst at the same time staying up till 3am to memorize stories and prepare handwork lessons?!
Waldorf education as created and inspired by Rudolf Steiner was designed for schools – and Steiner himself often spoke about the need to compromise to accommodate the authorities who inspected and licensed school at that time in Germany. Moreover, for various reasons which are beyond the scope of this brief article, much of Waldorf education is focused on the class as a group. At least some of this has to do with destiny questions of a group of children who come together with a teacher for 8 years and much of how this is worked with is via the temperaments and other pedagogical methods. Suffice to say that when I was teaching and training as a Waldorf teacher in England, my mentor, a vastly experienced teacher from Germany who thought nothing of teaching classes of 30 or even 40 children, taught me some of the secrets of successfully orchestrating large groups of children. But few of these methods work at home.
There are elements of Waldorf education as well which, if adapted as is from the school setting, can be disastrous at home. Circle time comes to mind: many people find it very difficult to do a satisfying circle with the 6 year old, the baby and the dog! Presentation, especially in the older grades, can also be a challenge – and not simply because it is a lot of work, but because it is a form which is not always workable at home. Likewise the strict division of children according to age is something which, whilst absolutely appropriate in a Waldorf school, where all the forms and pedagogy support it, is again often neither feasible nor desirable outside the classroom.
So where does that leave us? Forget Waldorf because it’s too hard? Beat ourselves up because we are not doing Waldorf ‘properly’? No! What my suggestion is and what lies at the heart of my work with Christopherus Homeschool Resources is the simple premise, unabashedly and blatantly stolen from the unschoolers: Not School at Home.
For a Waldorf homeschooler, Not School at Home means trying to understand what lies behind, what informs, the curriculum and the methods. It is the art of appreciating the beauty of a truly holistic approach to educating children and seeing how that might apply in one’s own family situation. And it is about being fearless, honest and joyful as one creates a lifestyle that truly nurtures every family member and does not view homeschooling solely as being about the educational needs of a series of children.
So if Circle Time doesn’t work for you, then sing and move as you do chores and work in the garden! Don’t just teach your child songs which mime work – do real work and sing as you go. Don’t destroy your health and your family harmony by staying up all night memorizing a story or learning about the Norman Conquest – find a way to sometimes tell stories and sometimes read them aloud. Trust that your being together and, especially as your child gets older, that conversation, something which cannot happen in the classroom (even a Waldorf one!) will take the place of presentation.
And as for running between 4 children stationed in different parts of the house so that you can give them each a different main lesson (and I have known women who have done this) – forget it! Penetrate and think about what the essence of each grade is and find how you can give that to each of your children – but also know that it is FINE – it is healthy! – to do much of your homeschooling together, as a family. Find ways to weave back and forth, to sometimes repeat, to sometimes create something new and to strive for joy in being home together.
Blessings on your homeschool journey!
Posted on April 20, 2006 in General Homeschooling