Almost daily I read the posts of a yahoo message board called, Waldorf Home Educators, because the moderator of the group, Mrs. M, has wise things to say about child-rearing and schooling alike. Here is one post of hers that I especially appreciated. She gave me permission to re-post. I’d also like to mention that she has a website with resources for sale called www.magicofwaldorf.com and that she is affiliated with the The Shining Star Waldorf School in Portland, Oregon.
I think it is timely as Christian and his friends are all four years old (babies!), yet we all seem so inclined to fill up their days with classes and activities outside the home. I agree with Mrs M that a strong home rhythm and time OUTSIDE is most important for happy, settled kids.
Please Do Not “Home School” Your Kindergarten Child!
Recently I have read quite a few letters from parents who are ‘home school’ their children, ages four to six, and who have questions and concerns about what to ‘teach’, what to do, how to be, what rhythm to use, and what materials or resources to buy for this task! Often parents are asking if they can move their young child ‘ahead’ to a grades program as the child seems to be ‘ready’ to move on! Each time I receive or read one of these letters, written by very well meaning adults, I cringe!
This is why: being at HOME with your children is the HOME SCHOOL of the Waldorf world! Just being at home, following your daily routines, including the children, is the HOME SCHOOL of the child who has not yet experienced seven springs (or Easters).
However, it is not being at HOME in the way we do in this modern century or modern times with all of our entertainment gadgets and inventions. The task of the parent with children under seven springs is to create and sustain a home rhythm that would have been very strongly present before the 1960s. I say the 1960s because that is when almost every household had acquired a TV, a dishwasher, and dryers….not to mention all the other boxes and machines that have come along since. In addition, at that time, almost all households had only 1 car, not two, and Daddy usually took it to work, or on the farm, shared a car with all the relatives living around the farm.
Imagine, if you could, that you go around your home and unplug all those cords! Imagine that you have unplugged those cords, and disabled the outlets, except for the refrigerator and the freezer, and you have no access to a vehicle for most of the day. Now you are back in the 1950s…..ok, you can keep the washing machine (they came with wringers by the way I can still recall turning my grandma’s for her….). Now you have the ideal setting for a Waldorf Home Kindergarten Experience.
Waldorf education in the schools for the younger children is an attempt to re-create the HOME in the school……you ARE at home, so make it a HOME….not a storage place for all the grown up toys that have been collected……create a home where breakfast is cooked and served, dishes are set on a table with a cloth and some flowers or beautiful arrangement in the middle of the table, where please and thank you are heard, where food is passed around in pretty dishes………..where butter has its own tiny knife, where the smells of the soup pot fill the house, where the garden is tended each day, where the floors are swept, and the closets are tidy, and the children have ‘work’ to do each day, with you or with Daddy, and the rhythms are in place!
Home rhythm is what is missing in our culture: it went away with the electric light, and now has nearly vanished with instant gratification and instant entertainment and 24 hour stores and literally the loss of a strong connection with nature! Hardly anyone observes sunset or sunrises any more……our homes are curtained and shut off from the seasons, and our eyes are glued to the SCREEN in front of us. Home rhythm is the critical piece for home schooling the young child, and we must revive this knowledge and provide a platform for parents to use as an anchor, which literally does not cost anything, not even one dime!
Using a curriculum for a young child at home takes the activity out of the daily rhythm that should be in the home already, makes it artificial, sets it aside, makes it too conscious-raising! Now we will learn! That bringing of ‘now’ awakens the child, hardens the nerve sense system, forces them out of the dream-time that surrounds them with beauty and grace, and clips off part of their childhood……….Now we will color, Now we will do a poem, Now we will sing this song and so on………the singing and the poems should arise naturally, out of the rhythm of the day!
When you make the bread on a particular day, you knead and knead, and out of the rhythm of that motion, your voice emerges and you sing…….Blow wind blow and Go mill go, so the miller can crack the corn, and the baker can take it and into bread bake it, and bring us a loaf in the morn! You sing about bread and grain and bakers and millers because you ARE making bread or muffins or biscuits…………it makes sense to you and to the child! You sing about washing, you sing about cleaning, you sing about angels at bedtime, you bring integrity and rhythm to the day in your home, with your children! You say a poem about chickens when you feed them! You bring the table blessings when you eat. You have a song about the wind when are outside, taking a walk, working in the garden, and so on……what you bring in your home is rich and repeated and steady and the children know that when the leaves begin to fall, mama sings that song! Every year! They count on it and they count on you, and this beautiful stability enters their thinking and their bodies and gives them strength and wisdom and prepares them to enter the world as free human beings.
In a daily rhythm, you can examine your life and think of how to order the tasks and chores: mostly they fall into several distinct categories: taking care of our clothing, our homes, our gardens, our food, someone else, and creating what is needed…….in those general areas, we can begin to build a daily rhythm for the children and ourselves………we clean our clothes on this day: including bed clothes and human clothes and dolls’ clothes, and so on. We wash and fold and hang out to dry and iron…..another day we take care of our home: we sweep and polish and dust and shine, we wash the porch, the surfaces, and we beautify the nature table…….on another day, we prepare our weekly foods, we garden, we harvest, we grind, we bake, we can, we dry, we glean, and organize our cupboards or bake a pie or cookies for the jar……………..on another day, we go visiting! We share what we prepared, we bring a small gift, we perform a small chore, we help our neighbor or parents or friends to construct or fix something, we trim and rake, we prepare lunch together, and enjoy the company of others……….these daily rhythms are so strongly needed for the whole family and the art of economizing and using our resources wisely is needed by everyone on this planet.
For the daily feeling, for me at least, the mornings are busy, lots of physical activities, lots of movement, lots of energy, and a mid morning break with snack and tea, is good, followed by an out breathing time with a walk outside for fresh air or play……..then perhaps a quieter period after lunch with reading aloud, looking at picture books, telling stories, working on the handwork by the cozy hearth, singing some quiet songs as fingers work the yarn or needles, then a resting time, followed by a slower pace towards the evening meal preparation, then the familiar comfort of warm bath, cozy bed time, story, candle, singing, and so on……drifting into sleep with a feeling of a day well spent, well balanced, well brought.
Provide for the young child a box of art items, that can be brought out when requested, with beeswax stick crayons, in red, yellow, blue, green, gold, brown, and violet. Have at hand, nice thick paper with rounded corners, in various sizes, for using when requested. Do not allow the children to just scribble a bit on many pages, keep a reverence for the clean white paper and the box of crayons, care for them, store them carefully away, and write on the paper the date and name of the child and honor the work that has been brought. Often the parent must sit right at the table, perhaps handwork at hand, being there, while the child colors…..also the same for painting, once a week or so, bring out one color of Stockmar Watercolor paint, premixed, in a small jar, and have ready a sheet of thick water color paper, rounded at the corners, lay it on a board, bring the rag, and the brush and the water jar, and allow this young child to paint carefully, while you sit nearby, with your handwork or mending, and just be there…..children 3 and 4, can paint with 1 color, age 5 and 6 can learn to use 2 colors…….keep it simple, and save the paints and they will last for years! Have at hand, Lemon Yellow, Prussian Blue, and Karminrot. You can order these directing from Mercurious.com as a homeschooler. Later, add Golden Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, and Rotviolet…..
Children and adults need more sleep than we allow in our time. Early bedtimes and rising with the sun are good habits for everyone and leave us feeling healthy and well. I have a natural feeling that if we leave our windows uncovered, the child will rise with the sun and be refreshed and ready for the day……bedtime for children up to seven springs should be at 7 pm. This is quite unusual to see families aware of this need: I see chronically fatigued and sleep deprived children and adults everywhere! Children up to seven springs need 12-14 hours of sleep per day…..if they cannot rest easily, examine the amount of brain stimulation they are receiving in the form of screens! For some children, screens can produce a brain activity like that of a person who just took several shots of espresso! Remove the screens in your home, from your child’s access, and you will find, over several months, a gradual and welcome return to natural sleep rhythms.
A home kindergarten is a beautiful adventure based on real life with real people and a house or apartment, and a dedication to rhythm, beauty, warmth, and health! Too often I hear young parents say, well, I have to do something with the kids to keep them busy while I get stuff done! So we train our children, then, to immerse themselves in an electronic virtual world of ‘mind numbing entertainment’ while we rush about to load the dishwasher, reheat an already cooked product in the microwave, download the latest computer program…….talk on the telephone……try to shovel in the mountain of plastic toys and parts into a closet or toy box….wish for a dryer that also folded the clothes……and so on……….and so on………this in itself divorces the child from her own world, his own work, her ability to feel confident about being competent, capable, and proud of what has been accomplished in this day. The child needs the full period of time of seven springs to play, to imagine with a few objects, to be quiet and to be busy, to rest and to run, to help others and to wonder. After the seventh spring, the life forces are freed up for memory work, for learning the letters, for directed academic projects and activities. Forcing or even enabling a young child into more directed educational activities is like forcing a tulip to bloom in winter: you can do it, but that bulb will never be as healthy again, it has spent its forces, it has weakened its natural state of development, for a temporary benefit.
Be patient and rest in the knowledge that you are on the right path.
Please do not buy expensive K teaching manuals or curriculums. Buy a few books on how to knit, how to grow a bio dynamic garden, how to cook simple whole foods (Nourishing Traditions is a great one), a song book if you don’t know any songs, learn to play an instrument (I highly recommend a Choroi Pentatonic Flute and books at prometheanpress.com), a wonderful broom and dustpan, some lovely bowls for baking and mixing……….and sit down to examine your lives and see how you can bring daily rhythm into your home. The parents must work together on this effort, and support one another, and it is very good to gather once a week with likeminded families for play and social activities and outings, and sharing. If you can commit to spending 2 hours in the morning on the day’s activity, 1 hour outside each day in play and exercise, 1 hour each day in resting, story telling, and handwork……you will have a home rhythm that is satisfying and better than any kindergarten anywhere! This is the ideal for the school life, later, those first six years at home, with mama or papa, spent in a useful healthy rhythm and time for the inner forces of imagination to develop and flower. In time, the academic portion of the learning begins either in a more formal home school in the Autumn after seven springs, or in a school setting.