musing about pregnancy, parenthood, education, play, & learning from birth until now
I don't remember covering Waldorf philosophy or Steiner as a theorist much in grad school. We may have had the odd article here and there, but all I really knew about the philosophy was that it came out of Germany and that it was considered a fairly alternative, hippie pathway. When I started thinking of approaches for PK and early elementary work, though, I realized it was a lot more prominent, although still relatively scarce throughout Maine (there is one Waldorff school in Freeport), than I originally thought.
After reading Across the Rainbow Bridge when S. was 4 months old, I romanticized the idea of Waldof in my head. A beautiful, simple approach. A focus on arts, daily routines, and happiness. No technology. An emphasis on imagination and play. What isn't to love! I was drawn particularly to the storytelling aspect as well as the minimal technology. Just like I initially romanticized the idea of homesteading, I did the same with the focus on using natural elements for everything, from dressing the child in wool to allowing play only with natural things, like fabric and clothe dolls and wooden shapes. The book was also written really well, appealing to the "good ol' days" where everything was simple. Approaching everything with happiness was essential, like daily cleaning. When I finished the book with the lovely storytelling aspect of crossing the rainbow bridge into life as we celebrate a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. birthday, my still-hormonal self was crying happy tears that I found the philosophy that would guide my homeschool.
But then I read Steiner. Like every good researcher, I wanted to hear the philosophy straight from the source. Much like many theorists, Steiner kind of rambled on and on in a pie-in-the-sky way, but again, this dry kind of approach is basically everything I read in grad school so I was used to it, if only a little out of practice. As a sidenote, the only exception to theory is Rosenblatt, who always kept everything relatively simple.
The Renewal of Education by Steiner was a typical theory read. It included a series of speeches he gave on his approach, which eventually became known as Waldorf philosophy because the initial school which followed it was in Waldorf, Germany.
I think over the years Steiner's true approach has been softened. He believed, for example, that storytelling should lack inflection so that children could come up with their own theory on the stories biases. Of course, this goes against basic principles of reading fluency and we know reading fluency connects to comprehension. To have students be able to read fluently (which includes accuracy and inflection, a concept called prosody), we must expose them to lots of oral storytelling that models effective prosody.
The concept of natural items for play without faces is also a form of imaginative play. I don't necessarily have anything against this but it just isn't realistic in my house, where S already has toys with faces. Finding faceless toys is also deceptively hard, unless you buy items from a Waldorf toy based site, which sells dolls for 50 bucks.
Then there are kooky theories like maturity based on tooth development-- essentially that a child's maturity is based on the eruption of all their teeth, and up to that point, they aren't ready to be stimulated. Well, if you watch or read anything modern on infant language stimulation, you'll find that this isn't at all true. Check out Birth of a Word, for example.
Do I hate all things Waldorf now? Not at all. In fact, we've gotten rid of our living room TV and plan to use TV sparingly, maybe once a week, if that. But, in the 21sr century, I can't get rid of my laptop or phone. She knows what they are, and she skypes with her grandparents often, but not more than about 15 minutes a day. We will limit screentime, especially until she's in middle school where she'd be developmentally ready to use it as an educational tool, but I can't have zero exposure-- I teach online, and much of my career is digitally based.
I also still like the idea of natural play, but veto the lack of stimulation. Does she have plastic toys (a Waldorf no-no)? Yes, but she also has wooden toys and plenty of grass, pinecones, and other natural things to touch outside. Will I let her eventually frolic around and play with supervision but not necessarily interaction? Sure, when she is ready...probably closer to two. It is essential now to interact with her often so that she recognizes language and conversational elements.
So, Waldorf (and Steiner) specifically might be a bit extreme, but there are components that I see myself already using and implementing. To each their own!