Your Parenting Mojo

025: Is a Waldorf preschool right for my child?

This episode is the second in our mini-series on making decisions about preschools, which I know is on the minds of a lot of parents of young children at this time of year.  Today we speak with Beverly Amico, the Director of Advancement at the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.

Beverly helps us to understand the philosophy behind a Waldorf approach to early childhood education as well as answer those all-important questions like “Can I send my child to a Waldorf preschool even if s/he has plastic toys and watches TV?”.

Here’s the link to the Essentials in Education blog that Beverly mentions in the episode, and here is the official website for her organization, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.

References

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (2015). Waldorf Education. Retrieved from: https://waldorfeducation.org/
Edmunds, F. (2004). An introduction to Steiner education. Forest Row, UK: Sophia Books
Howard, S. (n.d.). Essentials of Waldorf early childhood education. Retrieved from: http://www.waldorfearlychildhood.org/uploads/Howard%20Article.pdf
Petrash, J. (2002). Understanding Waldorf education: Teaching from the inside out. Beltsville, MD: Gryphon House
Steiner, R. (1995). The spirit of the Waldorf school. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press
Steiner, R. (2001). The renewal of education. Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press
Steiner, R. (2003). What is Waldorf education? Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks
Waldorf Early Childhood Association of America (2017). WECAN. Retrieved from: http://www.waldorfearlychildhood.org/

 

Read Full Transcript


Transcript

Jen:                                      00:30                   Hello and welcome to today’s episode of the Your Parenting Mojo podcast, which is called Is a Waldorf Preschool Right for my Child? Regular listeners might recall that we are doing a little mini series at the moment, examining the different approaches to preschool to try and help parents make a decision about which type of school might be right for their child. We’ve already covered Montessori, so if you miss that one, you might take it once to go back and take a listen. And today we’ll talk with Beverly Amico, who is the Executive Director of Advancement at the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. Prior to this role, she was the head of school for three K through 12 Waldorf schools in Bethesda, Maryland; Boulder, Colorado, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was a life sciences teacher as well. She also sits on the board of the Council for American private education, which advocates for sound educational policy. Beverly received her bachelor’s degree in K through 12 health education from Penn State University. Welcome, Beverly.

Beverly:                              01:22                   Thank you. It’s a privilege to be here.

Jen:                                      01:24                   Thank you. So I’ve read that it’s really difficult to define the distinguishing features of a Waldorf education. Every book that I picked up said, well, we can’t really put our arms around what it is. I wonder if you could start out instead by imagining a Waldorf preschool classroom in your mind and walking us through that. What does the room look like and what are the children doing and how do they move through their day?

Beverly:                              01:46 Certainly, certainly. There were I think four words that often come to mind when you’re describing a Waldorf early childhood classroom and which will hopefully help your visitor, your listeners to be able to picture it. But first is simplicity. You’ll walk into a classroom and the surrounding environment has very few distractions. Children really don’t need much noise around them to explore and to hold their attention.

Beverly:                              02:16                   The second I’d like to use is the word goodness. Even the way the gestures of the teacher, the kind words, the soft speech, the calming rhythm, and children feel like they’re coming into a place and they feel nurtured. And then beauty, and you don’t necessarily expect this when you walk into an early childhood classroom, but the classrooms are really beautiful. There ae flowers and wooden toys and beautiful artwork on the walls and real elements of nature and that that just is, is good and healthy for all human beings to be surrounded by beauty. And then the last one, which is perhaps kind of the keystone of a welder for early childhood is this idea of wonder. It’s a place students can enter into and explorer and spark their imagination. I think even as an adult, if you’ve ever walked into an early childhood classroom, you immediately feel kind of nurtured and calm and cared for, for it’s really a very joyful place.

Jen:                                      03:16                   That sounds really cool. So what are the children spend their day doing in a Waldorf Preschool?

Beverly:                              03:22 Absolutely. Well, so every Waldorf school is different. They’re all independent. While we’re an association, each is different. So we do have some Waldorf early childhood classrooms that are even forest kindergartens or outdoor farm kindergartens. But traditionally our classes…There’s plenty of time for children to explore in what we’ll call child-initiated free play, exploring in nature, plenty of outdoor time, regardless of whether our location. My child was at a school in Minnesota and, and every day in that cold, in that snow, they were out to there exploring. Circle time, which is full of stories and songs and movement and a rich storytelling curriculum and puppet shows. And then there’s always some type of a project that the children are taking up for the day, whether it’s baking bread or watercolor painting or carving wood. And then the simple aspects of just being helpful in the classroom, whether it’s setting tables, folding napkins, making soup. So hopefully that gives you a little little picture of the day.

Jen:                                      04:33                   Yeah, it almost sounds like it’s a bit like a home environment in a classroom,

Beverly:                              04:38                   That’s a very good way to, to define it. And the teachers are really, they’re kind of as a parent, as you would say, to be imitated and to look up to whether they’re cooking or folding or setting up the next group play environment there; it is really like a home.

Jen:                                      05:02                   Okay. And so as parents are looking at Waldorf schools and the teachers, I wonder if you can help us understand the certification for teachers and the accreditation for schools. I think your organization is the only one that accredits schools. Is that right?

Beverly:                              05:17                   Yes. I can certainly speak to those questions. So Waldorf teachers, their path is typically after completing an undergraduate degree or a master’s degree, they’ll then come to one of our several institutes to complete either a master’s degree or a certain certificate program in Waldorf teacher training programs vary according to the institute, it’s typically a two year program,

Jen:                                      05:44                   So there’s a master’s degree in Waldorf education?

Beverly:                              05:47                   You can get a master’s degree in Waldorf Education and then some of our institutes just offer a certificate program. So it depends which, which institute that you go to.

Jen:                                      05:57                   Okay. And is it fairly common for Waldorf schools to have teachers who have been through that master’s program or is it that one of the teachers in the school might have it or maybe none. How common is it?

Beverly:                              06:07                   Yeah, I would say it’s probably a quarter that had the master’s degree and the remaining that have in Undergrad or a master’s degree in something else then have gone through the certificate program.

Jen:                                      06:24                   Okay. And so do you ever see schools that aren’t accredited by an organization that call themselves world or. And if so, what should parents look for to really judge the quality of a real Waldorf school?

Beverly:                              06:38                   Sure. Well, I can speak to that. And first of all, I’ll say that there are public charter schools that are inspired by Waldorf Education, um, so, you know, those are, are plentiful and we’re pleased that that they’re out there and thriving. And in terms of public education, the schools that are inspired by Waldorf schools, they would be part of a group called the Association for Public Waldorf Education. So that’s just a mark for a parent that is going perhaps in that direction. The Waldorf schools in the United States are all members of our association. And to confirm that, it’s usually as simple as looking on the homepage of their website and noting our logo somewhere on that page just saying that, that they’re members of the association, but it’s also a question that could easily be asked. And all of our members go through a multi year kind of rigorous path to membership where they receive mentoring that’s offered by schools in their regional circle. They receive regular visits and evaluations. And then the final stage of that process is accreditation. And this really the path is meant not only to help ensure quality and consistency, but to really ensure that a school is staying true to the principles of Waldorf education.

Jen:                                      08:05                   Okay. Alright, so let’s dig into that then since you sent me. So who was Rudolf Steiner and, and how did he develop this approach to education and why is it called Waldorf?

Beverly:                              08:16                   Okay. Well, the reason it was called Waldorf is this… Well, first let’s go to the Rudolph. Rudolph Steiner was an Austrian philosopher and scientist and he was at the time working to find solutions and I would also say healing for a broken a post World War One society. And so in 1919 Emil Malt, who was the owner of the Waldorf cigarette factory in Germany, approached Rudolph Steiner to start a school. So that’s where the name Walder comes from. And then this school at that time was quite radical and it was the boys and girls should be educated together that the school would be open to children regardless of economic standing and that the teachers who were closest to the children and their needs would be those that would be responsible for all things pedagogical. So that wouldn’t be the government and it wouldn’t be government intervention. And really the goal and the development of the program at a very small goal was to change and revitalize society through education.

Beverly:                              09:31                   So that’s what we’re working to do. So we are now approaching almost 100 years of Waldorf education in the world, but that’s a little bit of its history and who Rudolph Steiner was.

Jen:                                      09:44                   OK. How did he come up with this approach then the principles that, that the, the educational system sits on there. How did he decide that society needed changing and how he was going to do it and, and how that was a valid way of doing it.

Beverly:                              09:58                   Well, so society at clearly at that point needed changing, um, you know, this was post World War one in Germany and it was a very broken society and trying to figure out how to rebuild. He was actually very involved, more on the, what is the right kind of economic path and how do we work politically in our country. So that he was really focused on that aspect and that’s how he came together with Emil Malt originally.

Beverly:                              10:33                   But what he developed at the time, and I won’t go into too much detail on it because it wouldn’t be so relevant to your audience, but he was really working on something in the cultural sphere called the threefold social order. Where the hope was that communities would really come together and businesses would come together in supporting schools and community. And the foundation of his philosophy is something called anthroposophy. And anthroposophy in in brief, is the belief that all humans are both physical and spiritual beings, and that each person in themselves has the wisdom to really transform humanity in the world which was so needed at that time through their own inner development. So practically in the classroom, um, teachers work to cultivate a sense of wonder, to inspire children to view the world even in its most basic form as magnificent. I’m really aiming to prompt each student to embrace life with enthusiasm, initiative purpose, but most importantly a strong moral compass. So anyway, long answer to a very long question. Complicated question actually.

Jen:                                      12:01                   Totally understand. So, okay. So anthroposophy sounds as though…in the sense of wonder. I can totally understand the validity of that and why it’s important to cultivate that in, in children. And I could imagine that people who have a religious background would be really interested in that too. What would you say to someone who doesn’t come from a religious background? Is, is there any link between anthroposophy and organized religion?

Beverly:                              12:26                   No, there is certainly a religious strain called the Christian community that comes from anthroposophy, but that is not anthroposophy in general. It’s actually not a religion at all. It’s a philosophy that people, regardless of religion, really come around and it’s certainly not anything that’s taught in our classrooms.

Jen:                                      12:48                   Okay. So there’s no kind of religious component to Waldorf education?

Beverly:                              12:51                   No. The religious component to Waldorf education is really historical perspectives of many religions. So it’s really kind of this a celebration of the world’s humanity and many, many religions versus anything specific.

Jen:                                      13:09                   Okay. And so while we’re on the topic of words that I don’t fully understand, what’s eurythmy?

Beverly:                              13:16                   Oh, eurythmy! So I’ll try to make that one a little bit more simple. So eurythmy is Greek comes from a Greek word, meaning beautiful or harmonious rhythm. So hopefully that can help you picture it a little bit. It’s an art form, a form of dance, and Rudolf Steiner defined it as visible speech or speech in movement or visible music, it could be called. And we offer eurythmy… It’s very unique to Waldorf schools, this form of movement really benefits students on many levels, whether it’s balanced sense of space, grace, coordination, expression, speech, working in a group, all of those things that you might say you can experience in many physical education classes as well. It’s really about bringing this sense of space and movement through speech.

Jen:                                      14:09                   Okay. So is it kind of like dance?

Beverly:                              14:12                   Yes, I think you’d say it’s most most similar to dance, you know, if you’re trying to picture it in your head, maybe it’s closer to a ballet type of moving because it’s very, it’s very flowing gestures, the gestures are very flowing.

Jen:                                      14:28                   And how is it initiated? Is there music or does somebody read a story or how does it happen?

Beverly:                              14:33                   It can be both in the younger grades. It’s fairy tales that are being moved to, and then it can become very complex musical compositions that the high school students are moving to. They’re creating these really complex and beautiful almost geometric forms on stage. It can be quite complex to execute as you get, as you get older.

Jen:                                      14:59                   So I wonder if we can spend a little bit of time teasing out the differences between work and play in a Waldorf classroom. And the reason that I want to try and help parents understand this is because I think the concept of work has a very specific meaning in a Montessori classroom.

Beverly:                              15:13                   Right.

Jen:                                      15:13                   And it’s, it’s, you know, they almost don’t speak of play. Their children don’t play, they, they call play work because Maria Montessori believed in a kind of raising the profile of play and considering its importance and basically children’s play is work. It is their work; it’s their an important thing to do? And so, uh, I think the approach is a little bit different in a Waldorf classroom. Can you tell us a bit about how play and work are viewed in a Waldorf environment?

Beverly:                              15:42 Certainly, and I think we could still say that a child’s play is their work is their development, but we certainly look at it in a different way. So I like to describe play in a Waldorf classroom as self-directed or child initiated and free play. And so I’ll often hear this phrase that Waldor graduates not only don’t think out of the box, but they never knew the box existed. These are these creative entrepreneurs initiation, change agents, problem solvers. Okay, so that Kinda gives you a picture of where we’re leading. And so the belief in a Waldorf School, which is certainly backed by research, is that this begins in early childhood with play, so where a child is able to take something relatively unformed, maybe it’s blocks, stone yarn and it can become a castle, a moat, a horse and buggy, or you know, the options are endless so that they’re able to form imaginative pictures in their head and then initiate that play on their own. So, you know, this play and a long as a play outside in nature being very physical…Research is telling us more and more as exactly what is needed for children at this specific time in their development. Um, so that, that’s kind of the, the picture of play. Shall I move on to the picture of work?

Jen:                                      17:20                   I guess it just to stick with play for a minute longer. What you’re describing that is, is some very simple play things, very simple tools that, uh, children kind of bring their own imaginations to. So we’re thinking about blocks and scarves and things that can become a multitude of different things in a child’s imagination. Is that right?

Beverly:                              17:40 Exactly.

Jen:                                      17:40                   Yeah. Okay. And I’m just thinking in my mind and contrasting that with what we heard from the Montessori approach, which was that you know, an activity stays in its and it isn’t really transferred to another area. So if, if you’re playing with the jigsaw then that stays in the jigsaw area and you don’t really bring your imagination to what a certain material could become a tool is designed to be used in a certain way and to teach a certain thing and the imaginative concept is much less brought forward than it seems to be in a Waldorf environment. So yeah. So. Okay. So let’s move onto work then. So how, uh, how is that viewed in a Waldorf environment?

Beverly:                              18:23                   I think as you were saying, play is work, right? That is the work of the child. But if you’re really trying to think of, okay, what’s typical work than typical work, right. And you know, perhaps the most important aspects of work in the early childhood classroom is that the children are part of doing something together that they’re all responsible for, whether it’s clean up after play time, baking the bread together, digging the holes for potting plants, setting the table, so on, and you know, washing their dish after snack time. It’s not necessarily seen as a chore, it’s just something they do together to support the whole. And it’s really in a, in a Waldorf classroom. Um, and again, we know this with young children, they need rhythm and they need expectation and if it’s just part of, oh, we get up in the morning and we brush our teeth and that’s what we do.

Jen:                                      19:16                   That’s not how it works at my house.

Beverly:                              19:19 Anytime you can put work into rhythm like that, it just becomes part of an expectation. Um, no, it was never quite that way in my house. I tried.

Jen:                                      19:32                   Yeah. Okay. So, um, and I’m just in my mind, my mind is racing about how I can put that to work in my house because yeah, I mean, one of the things that, that I struggle with is we get home from the, from preschool at the end of the day or daycare and you know, I asked my daughter to take her shoes and her jacket off and she throws him on the ground wherever she is. She wants to help me cook.

Beverly:                              19:54                   Oh, well that’s not a bad thing!

Jen:                                      19:57                   Yeah. And that’s awesome. You know, we, we cooked dinner together every night. It’s great, but it would be awesome. It would be even more awesome if you would put to get put away her shoes and her coat her first.

Beverly:                              20:07                   I remember in my early days of teaching, not doing that part of setting the form of the classroom first grade class and I paid for the rest of the year.

Jen:                                      20:22                   Oh no, you’re telling me it’s too late. So how do you go about setting that routine then? Just to, you know, diverging from our main topic for a minute.

Beverly:                              20:34                   No, it is a matter of consistency right from the beginning. Particularly when you’ve got 15, 20 children in a classroom, right with without that rhythm and form… So it’s from that day one is just business at this time, this is what we do and this is how our shoes go underneath the cubby and this is where the yarn goes in. So in that way. And if you want to go back to kind of the Montessori model you were talking about, everything has its place. It’s absolutely true when it comes to kind of the cleanup or the tone, but it’s consistency. Just like with parenting.

Jen:                                      21:16                   Yes. We’re learning that one the hard way too. So it seems to me that the concepts of storytelling and imagination are really central to the Waldorf approach. Is that right?

Beverly:                              21:25 Absolutely. You know, I would say particularly in the early childhood as we’ve already discussed, this imaginative quality is really what our early childhood is based on and not just because it’s healthy for children, but it is because what will help them flourish intellectually and emotionally as, as an adult. But in regards to storytelling, there’s a component storytelling that is certainly about imagination, right? Being able to picture those stories in your head and building that capacity to do so. But in Waldorf schools it’s also used as really the early stages of reading and writing language arts and linguistics. It first comes through through the words; words that… Our teachers when they’re telling stories, they’re, they’re very deliberate and articulate and they, they use words that are quite advanced and so they’re beautiful stories, but they’re also beautifully told stories and that’s kind of the first steps, and next, in Waldorf education. We move on to writing and then we move into reading. So storytelling is part of that picture as well.

Jen:                                      22:40                   Wait, you said you do writing first and then reading?

Beverly:                              22:44                   We do, we do. We do writing first, and then reading. And so in the early childhood, we don’t focus on reading or writing in early childhood or kindergarten and Waldorf schools; we really focus on the speech element. And then in, in first grade when students are first beginning to learn to read and write, it is through the written word. So they will first learn through writing their alphabet. And then in sounding out those letters.

Jen:                                      23:21                   Hmm. So I’m just curious as to the mechanics of how that works; how do they know what they’re writing if they aren’t reading it yet?

Beverly:                              23:29                   So, um, Gosh, I wish I had a visual for you. So let, let me, let me try to. Okay. Use your imagination.

Jen:                                      23:37                   I’m closing my eyes.

Beverly:                              23:40                   So let me find the right letter. Let’s use the letter B. So they will start with for me in that letter B on a page in maybe a story told about a bumble bee and the Bumblebee is in the shape of the letter B. So it’s all around forming this letter B and telling the story of the bumble bee and they’re starting to live into these sounds as the writing those pictures.

Jen:                                      24:12                   Yeah, I think it reminds me of an anecdote I heard about how to tell the difference between a C and a K that was described in a Waldorf environment. And it was a story about a king in the shape of a case. And something about how, if the K is not there, then you’ll know his friend the cat is always there instead of the king. And you know, there there was more to the story about the, between the cat, the king to get you to that endpoint. Right. But, uh, yeah, that, that’s what your B story reminded me of. Yeah. So, okay. So I’m just trying to put this into context of other readings that I’ve done and I’ve definitely seen a lot of research that says that if you push children to read early, then you know, that’s obviously not, doesn’t have very good developmental outcomes and that some children… Many children are not ready to read until around age seven. And many children are not ready to read until even after that point. I’m curious about the children who are ready to read earlier because when we split, when we did the Montessori episode, we heard that some children are reading in a Montessori environment at ages three and four. And you know, my daughter is two and a half and completely lead on her own. You know, she knows the entire alphabet and recites it to herself and many, many times a day, and always, always, always sounding out letters of a word and saying, what’s that spell? Um, so, so if a child is sort of at that developmental stage and Waldorf sort of doesn’t really get to reading and writing until much later and how do you bridge that gap?

Beverly:                              25:42                   Well I don’t want to say, there is no gap to bridge, but if the child’s reading let them read. But, and again it’s that whole thing of don’t push more and more. But if that’s something that they’re ready to do and they’re enjoying and it’s part of their play then no reason to hold it back. It’s just about pushing it before a child’s ready.

Jen:                                      25:42                   Thanks for clarifying that.

Beverly:                              25:42 Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jen:                                      26:15                   So can you tell us a bit about discipline in a Waldorf school? What does that look like?

Beverly:                              26:19                   Sure. I think, um, with young children, discipline is handled a very clear and kind words and also with, with redirection of trying to get the child involved in another activity and if they’re constantly having a challenge with it, one single group, just trying to help them get involved with something else. Important piece here with young children is you can’t really reason with a three year old. It’s not about reasoning or negotiating, it’s just about being clear that this is not okay. This is how we treat others, and let’s do this instead. So hopefully that gives you a picture and never with angry loud words

Jen:                                      27:13                   What about time out.

Beverly:                              27:15                   We typically don’t use time out in a Waldorf school, but that’s not to say that we won’t. If a child is really having a hard time and can’t, you just can’t stop their tantrum or. So sometimes what that will be is the teacher saying, you know, come on Johnny, let’s go for a walk. And they’ll go for a walk and they’ll talk. And by that time, hopefully the child will have calmed down and the teacher will have some chance to speak with them.

Jen:                                      27:42                   That sounds more like time into me than time out.

Beverly:                              27:47                   Yeah; it’s not meant to be punishment.

Jen:                                      27:49                   Yeah. And that was what I was trying to understand was, is there that element of support rather than a punishment? Because we’ve talked in previous episodes about your how when children are sitting in time out that generally not sitting there thinking about how much better they’re going to do when they’re out of time out. Yeah. So, okay, that’s good. That’s good to understand. So what kinds of children do well in a Waldorf school and are there any that might thrive better in a different environment?

Beverly:                              28:19                   I think many kinds of children do well in school. And it, it’s interesting. Oftentimes particularly in the grades are high school people will think, Oh my child’s not an artist. Maybe a Waldorf school is not right for them. And the interesting thing is I think that will certainly an artist can fit in very well in a Waldorf school. It’s, it’s the students that are maybe more on the heavy intellectual and really find balance in our approach. So not only do they get a fabulous academic exposure, but they get the arts and they get the movement and they get your resume and they’re all have music and they have two foreign languages. So it’s, I guess it’s that balance quality, if you’re looking for a place where your child will get that balance and that is something the parent really supports, then the child will do well.

Jen:                                      29:19                   Okay. And I’m just trying again, to think about the differences between Montessori and Waldorf and it seems as though children who kind of crave a structured environment might do better in a Montessori school. That’s my impression anyway. What’s your impression of that?

Beverly:                              29:36                   That’s interesting because I’ve heard that before and I’m not comparing to Montessori and, and I love the Montessori Curriculum. Truly. It’s very different. But Waldorf is very structured in terms of, as I was saying, structured in a different way. It’s very predictable. There’s very much a rhythm. There’s very much an expectation. So in that way, very structured, and even more so when you leave the early childhood, the grades. So I’m not sure if structure is the word.

Jen:                                      30:09                   What’s a better word?

Beverly:                              30:11                   I’m trying to. Yeah, I’m trying, trying to think of that. I think I’m just going to go back to what is the right fit for the family, particularly because we’re talking about younger children. If a family is looking for a more academic early academic environment, they won’t be happy in a Waldorf school. It’s not what we offer. If a family maybe would really like to have their children on computers at a young age, that’s just what they do in their household. It may not be a good fit for their family because there will be this challenge between home and school, which you never liked to be involved with. So I think particularly in the early childhood level, that’s what I would point.

Jen:                                      30:54                   Thank you. That’s very helpful to help us think through, what our own parenting goals are and not even just the goals, but the practices, you know, how do we put those to work in our daily lives and to look for a fit between that and the school. So can you tell us about a parent’s role in a world of education?

Beverly:                              31:12 Certainly. Many of our schools are young, small schools and those schools parents have kind of all hands on deck oftentimes. But really a parent’s role in the school can take many forms depending on their time and desires and the needs of the school. So that may be everything from sitting on the board of trustees helping prepare for a festival might just mean attending monthly parent meetings. But all in all in a Waldorf school community, not only in the classroom for the children, but community in the parent body is a really important aspect.

Jen:                                      31:53                   And so I do want to address this sort of elephant in the room. I think that when you started to research Waldorf Education Online, the first ideas to percolate to the top are that children shouldn’t play with plastic toys and they shouldn’t use digital media until they’re of high school age. And so we’ve done a couple of episodes here on children’s use of digital media and we actually in our house have a, no TV while my daughter is awake rule, but Rudolph Steiner died in 1925 and I don’t think there was much plastic in toys then and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t much TV on either. So can you tell us about where those ideas come from? And we’ve talked already about how parents should look for a fit between their own values and their education or sorry, their own values and what they value for their child’s. But if, if a parent is using TV at home and has plastic toys at home, should they consider a Waldorf education?

Beverly:                              32:47                   So there’s many questions there.

Jen:                                      32:50                   There are; I’m sorry.

Beverly:                              32:53                   If it’s OK to start with a little personal story… When my son who’s now 25 entered the Waldorf Preschool program, um, my husband was working for Walt Disney Home Video…

Jen:                                      33:13                   I’m shocked!

Beverly:                              33:13 Exactly. And my son spent his mornings and evenings watching Disney cartoons. That’s what we did. And I never really thought into it. It was just part of our family life. Anyway, so we did go to an interview at the what was then Pine Hill Waldorf School in New Hampshire and the teacher asked about his viewing habits and I’m just very honest and very kindly said, you know, we, we actually prefer that the children don’t watch TV and here’s our reasons why. And my husband and I went home and broke the TV. My truly, my child had transformed his attention span. He was having problems with tantrums. He really didn’t enter into imaginative play. So anyway, I just wanted to give a case in point here. Here was a family that, you know, that was not going to fit into our lifestyle. But what we realized is it was the best thing for our child. That does not mean he never watched a video, A DVD. I guess I’m so, it doesn’t mean he didn’t have any plastic toys, it doesn’t mean he never got on a computer.

Jen:                                      34:31                   So if you, if you go kind of hardcore Waldorf, that is what is the philosophy, is that right?

Beverly:                              34:38                   Yes. And I’m going to kind of circle back to you…you said Rudolf Steiner and, well, thank goodness the education continues to evolve and so our thoughts around plastic toys and media are really based more on current findings particularly around technology in relation to the research. So just to say that, you know, that has transformed as have many, many things in the education.

Jen:                                      35:12                   So you’re saying it is okay to have some plastic toys in the home even if there might not be any or many in the school?

Beverly:                              35:19                   So. Well. And so. Okay. So that was just saying that we continue to evolve and I’m saying that I know there was a, there were no computers during Rudolf Steiner’s time and yes, there are now and our views on children and technology come from modern day research, not necessarily what Rudolf Steiner said

Jen:                                      35:39                   And I support that wholeheartedly. Um, approaches that get hung up on what would have happened in 1925 are not necessarily so helpful to us are they?

Beverly:                              35:49                   And he certainly did speak to about the technology to the future and things to look toward and so on, but it, but not specific to what we’re working on. And then in regard to the plastic toys, the reason for not having plastic toys in the classroom just goes back to that imaginative picture. There’s less formed toys. And the other piece is that quality toys made of natural materials. They provide a different quality of sensory experience for the child. So that’s why they’re used used but certainly I think that uh, that does not mean no plastic toys in the home.

Jen:                                      36:28                   OK. Thanks for helping us to clear that up.

Beverly:                              36:31                   Sure. So I hope I got to the… I hope I answered that.

Jen:                                      36:35                   You did. You certainly did. So let’s talk about transitioning out of a Waldorf preschool environment because I think that there are a primary and secondary education opportunities available in some communities, but it’s much less common than preschool facilities, at least what I’ve read. So I’m curious if those opportunities are not available in a certain community, how well the children transitioning out of a Waldorf system into a more traditional educational system?

Beverly:                              36:59                   So, um, the difficulties with a going from a priest at Waldorf preschool into maybe a mainstream kindergarten, is that what you’re thinking?

Jen:                                      37:12                   Yes.

Beverly:                              37:12                   …is if any reading has been taught in preschool, so obviously the children will not have, have learned those skills as they enter into the kindergarten, but what we typically find, unless there’s some type of a real learning challenge is that will the reading will, will come and it will unfold. So I wouldn’t say it’s anything to fret about, but just to know that that will be a reality.

Jen:                                      37:42                   Okay. Are there any other issues like that that parents should be aware of?

Beverly:                              37:45                   No, that that’s the primary issue. I think the other thing is, you know, you’re in an environment that some extremely nurturing and just depending on the environment that you’re going to, it may feel very different and it might take your child a little time to get used to a new environment. But, um, I think that’s true for four year olds regardless of where they’re going.

Jen:                                      38:11                   Yeah, it’s going to be a transition no matter what environment from and to. Okay. So what are your, some of your favorite resources to direct parents toward who might be interested in learning more about whether Waldorf could be a right fit for their family?

Beverly:                              38:27                   If you’re someone who really wants to pick up a book there is a Waldorf publications online and what, you know, one of the books that I liked it actually I think you had in your resource list, Jen, is his Jack Petrash’s Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out, but I know so many people like to kind of read in blog form now or article form. And if a parent were to go onto WaldorfEducation.org, they would find blogs and articles and find a school renewal an E-Journal on Waldorf Education. So I think that site does a great job at just directing you to the resources that you might wish to explore.

Jen:                                      39:17                   Okay. That’s great. Yeah. And I think one thing that became clear as I was reading through the Waldorf books, they can be a little dense. I think the Petrash one was actually the least dense and the most readable of all of them to actually get your head around what is Waldorf. So definitely second that recommendation.

Beverly:                              39:36                   Yes. I appreciate it. And I think, you know, there’s the blog is called Essentials In Education and it takes kind of all, well all of the core premises of Waldorf education and speaks to it, but then backs at all with the research. So you were saying, you know, this is really a parent community where you’re exploring research… What really is the best thing for my child? And so that may be of interest for those that really want to delve into some research.

Jen:                                      40:01                   Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you so much. We’ll definitely make sure that that isn’t the references for people who are interested in digging to that. Thanks for your time, Beverly. I really appreciate your willingness to walk through some of the things that are commonly misunderstood about Waldorf as well as, the theory. So I really appreciate your taking the time to speak with us today.

Beverly:                              40:18 Wonderful. Thank you for the opportunity, Jen.

Jen:                                      40:20                   Thanks for listening. And you can see the references for today’s episode at YourParentingMojo.com/Waldorf


Also published on Medium.

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About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership

She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com

And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school

3 Comments

  1. Nicole on February 21, 2017 at 1:43 AM

    I found this to be so helpful! I’m also a big researcher, but this interview brought some ideas together for me around Waldorf vs. Montessori. I hope your next post is about Reggio!

  2. Christina on February 21, 2017 at 8:03 PM

    Great idea for an episode! My friend is on the board of directors for a public charter school in Oakland, Community School for Creative Education, and I’ve shared this episode with her.

  3. Kerry on February 27, 2017 at 5:14 PM

    So enjoyed the talk on early Waldorf education. My 4 children attended Waldorf schools,
    and the feedback from the local high school was that the children who came from the Waldorf school were centered, inquisitive, eager to learn, courageous and capable, and always brought new ideas and creativity to the classrooms. In fact, almost every valedictorian and salutatorian at our public high school has come from the local Waldorf school.

    One thing I might add to the early childhood discussion is that of Head, Heart and Hands in the Waldorf philosophy.

    Thanks very much!

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