The Freedom of a Waldorf Education

As the archivist for the MWS Parents Association, my role at the monthly meetings is to record the conversation then organize the notes into an accurate report for distribution to the parent body.  Somewhat like a news reporter, I try to not color what is said with my own ideas and opinions so that parents not present can simply read what was discussed without my commentary.   

This school year we invited faculty representatives to present an educational topic at each meeting for group study.  At the last meeting of this year, 6th grade class teacher Andrew Gilligan brought his incredible energy to discuss with us what it means to be a Waldorf School.  He presented with such passion and reverence I found it stifling to dilute it for the regular meeting minutes so I am sharing here what I took away from the discussion, not the least of which is an incredible gratitude that people such as Andrew Gilligan exist and take deeply into their own souls the responsibility for educating children in a way that goes much deeper than the practical curriculum of reading, writing, and math.  

Educational Freedom

education

Andrew Gilligan began his discussion about the importance of Waldorf Education in the world and what it means by asking us to think about the word freedom.  As parents, we exercise our freedom to choose the type of education that best fits the needs of our child.  Waldorf Education exercises its freedom as an independent school system, free from the full weight of government regulation.  Waldorf philosophy (or pedagogy) views children as free beings who come with unique gifts to bestow upon the world.  The children are granted the freedom to enjoy childhood.  The education itself is intended for children to grow into adults who are confident in exercising their own freedom to be who they are meant to be.

Educating for an Unknown Future

Children are the lifeblood of human society.  Children are, quite literally, our future.  While this is a popular media catchphrase, the gravity of this is taken quite seriously by teachers.  Our children will become the adults that make the decisions in our world.  The root of the word education means to draw out.  Waldorf educators abide by the philosophy that their primary role is to remove hindrances so that children are able to bring their own ideas out into the world.  This stands as a stark counterpoint to the general idea that a proper education ‘fills up’ the child with information, information that may or may not be relevant when the child is grown.  As a teacher Mr. Gilligan asks: “How is the gesture of education able to draw out the capacities that lie within the child?”  “How can we educate this child for freedom?”

We prepare a child of today for an unknown world of tomorrow by allowing them to know their own self, to rely on their inner strength, and by allowing them their own freedom within the moral compass of knowing that they must take responsibility for that freedom.  We do this by holding a quiet knowing of what childhood ought to be, by allowing them the freedom to fully experience childhood.

Education Begins with Healthy Relationships

Waldorf educator and author, Gary Lamb describes a Holy Trinity of Education made up of parents, teachers, and children.  The basic foundation of a healthy school is healthy relationships, where no one is given authority to make a decision about a child unless that individual knows the child in question and bears some responsibility for the education of that child.  No outside agency, (government, academic or industrial) should be involved in making policy decisions about education unless directly involved in providing that education to the children concerned.  If children are to be free to develop to meet the future they must be free of the demands of present economic and political considerations.  Waldorf Education is child-centered meaning all decisions regarding that education are driven by the needs of the individual child and the class in question.  Using the Holy Trinity of Education those decisions are made by the child’s parents and teachers.

pedagogical artistIndividuality in Education

In a Waldorf School, the teacher is a pedagogical artist with the freedom to bring his or her own particular interests, experiences, and skills to the students, enriching the curriculum with deeper meaning.  Public school colleagues are limited in this capacity, not because they lack the understanding or do not feel the gravity of their responsibility, but because their freedom is restricted by school systems regulated by the need to provide quantifiable results and that evaluate success according to metrics based on standards unconnected to the child’s individual capacities.  Within the Waldorf curriculum teachers are free to make choices that meet the needs of the class, assessing progress and evaluating the process as it relates to the children concerned.

Freedom to Invest in an Education

As parents we know our children, their needs and gifts, better than anyone.  As parents we have the freedom to choose the educational system we feel is the best fit for our children.  However, the cost of attending an independent school may mean some parents are unable to act on their choices.  Parents in Waldorf Schools are partners in their children’s education not only by working with the teacher in support of the work done in the classroom, but by sustaining community life and helping alleviate financial pressures through volunteerism.

Mr. Gilligan offered that it is a brave choice to become a part of a  Waldorf School. It is a free choice, not something foisted upon you and it requires a personal investment.  What it calls on us to do is to rise up and hold ourselves accountable, to sharpen our responsibility of soul.

Pedagogical artists

Freedom to Pursue Their Life’s Work.

As a parent listening to this talk, I was repeatedly moved by the depth of commitment expressed by Mr. Gilligan.  Most parents if asked, I imagine would say that what they want is for their children grow into happy, well adjusted adults.  To me this means that they will pursue what they are passionate about, something that is soul satisfying and that they can fully immerse themselves in.   What became clear to me while listening to Mr. Gilligan is that in choosing a Waldorf School, I have surrounded my children with adults doing exactly that.  Adults who felt a calling and pursued it, a calling they are free to fully inhabit to the benefit of the children.  With adults they respect, doing their life’s work with integrity and passion, the children are being shown daily that they are free to do the same.  I can’t think of a better place for my children.

Why Pre-School is Important

Joan Almon is the founding director of the U.S. Alliance for Childhood and an international consultant on early childhood education. She is also a former co-chair of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America.

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Creativity, curiosity, play, and problem-solving are all intertwined in early childhood. Social negotiation is also frequently part of the mix. In this article Joan Almon explains how play-based education supports the healthy cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of children, preparing them for the 21st century workplace where creativity is highly valued. Click the link below for the full article.

Let Them Play by Joan Almon

Finding Quiet

Contributed by Sarah Wiberg, Parent-Child Class Teacher

Parent-Chid Class Table Quiet Crafting
Tea and crafting is part of the rhythm in the Parent-Child classroom. This time offers parents a creative activity and time to connect while the children play.

I am currently enrolled in the Birth to Three Training at Sophia’s Hearth, in Keene, NH. As I was reflecting on my week of training last month,  I began to see that this training is meeting me professionally and personally in such a deep way. I  have been called to grow in ways I did not expect.

Practicing Quietness

One of those opportunities for growth came in the form of practicing and embracing quietness. One of my teachers put into question my own practice of quiet. I had been so proud of all the things that I could juggle in my mind and still appear calm on the outside. I started to realize that I do not allow enough quiet moments to come into my day – moments that could really fill and restore me instead of constantly feeling frazzled.

“A quiet mind and calm environment is fertile ground for creative play and safe social experiences and interactions.”

During class, I am often able to find a place of quiet. The strong rhythm of the morning offers opportunities to follow what is known so well and I enjoy a calm, quiet mind.  The children can often find that peace in the day when they are surrounded by what is predictable. A quiet mind and calm environment is fertile ground for creative play and safe social experiences and interactions.

Modeling Quiet for our Children

Our children find this peace when we are able to find it for ourselves. Through our modeling, they learn to feel calm in their environment.  This might be the hardest to achieve for parents.  I will be the first to admit that there are many times that it is easier to be the teacher in a class than a parent at home.  At home it is easy to become distracted by the demands of life; dishes, laundry, ironing, making lunches for school, cleaning the living room, vacuuming the floor…(care to add a few more?)  And I did not even mention the work expectations, evening meetings, or different family commitments.  How is one ever able to find a quiet moment at home with the ever-running list of responsibilities and commitments?

During the season that seems to pull us in so many directions, I challenge you as I have challenged myself, to find a quiet moment each day.  This moment could be to meditate, reflect on something in nature, read a book, or just observe our children as they play.  In this moment we may also make time for finding gratitude for what we have in our lives.  This practice helps us to find the positive in each day when it is so easy to feel overwhelmed.  Our children will feel this shift and begin to reflect it in their own lives.

Here is one of my favorite verses.

Felted Art Quiet Winter NightQuiet I bear within me
I bear within myself
Forces to make me strong
Now will I be imbued
With their glowing warmth
Now will I fill myself
With my own will’s resolve
And I will feel the quiet
Pouring through all my being,
When by my steadfast striving
I become strong
To find myself within myself
The source of strength,
The strength of inner quiet.
 -Rudolf Steiner

Many blessings during this Holiday Season.

Handwork is Meaningful Work in a Waldorf School

Why is handwork integrated in the curriculum at a Waldorf school?

Waldorf school handwork verse

As a third year parent at Meadowbrook Waldorf School, one of the first interesting things I observed was the use of handwork and other ‘meaningful work’ in the classroom.  When adults engage in meaningful work such as sweeping, cutting vegetables, or doing handwork crafts, it brings a sense of calmness to the space. It seems to possess an almost magical ability to settle the children.  One of two things often happen. The young child either imitates the work being modeled or s/he feels the security to go off and play nearby.  This is something that I witness at home and see weekly in the Parent-Child classroom.  In parent-child class, adults are given small handwork projects and the toddlers are happy to explore the selection of toys available to them.  In  early childhood grades of pre-school and kindergarten, the children are introduced to simple craft handwork projects such as finger knitting. Handwork is incorporated into the curriculum through all the grades and increases in complexity with the childrens’ advancing skills.  Learning these craft skills have the added bonus at home being a productive way to pass the time on a rainy day or a long car ride.

“Through beauty, color, and form, handwork and crafts help to lead the children from play to imaginative thinking as adults, forming a kind of bond between the two. “ from The Importance of Handwork in the Waldorf School by Patricia Linvingston published in Renewal, A Journal for Waldorf Education, Vol. 9#1, Spring 2000
A few ways handwork helps children develop. (Source: Angela Mobley)
  • Moves the child from play to meaningful work.
  • Nurtures sense of reverence and wonder.
  • Develop patience and perseverance.
  • Builds capacity to concentrate and focus
  • Builds capacity to solve problems.
  • Promotes capacities for thinking and judging.
Handwork Gift Items at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School Holiday Faire Store
Waldorf school handwork knitting needle bags

Felted wool knitting needle bags.

There will be a variety of handwork gifts at the Holiday Faire store this year.  You will find knitting, crocheting, felting, weaving  and sewing items available suitable for a range of age groups.  There are beautiful hand crafted knitting needles and handmade felted wool needle bags.  Also featured are lovely wooden beading looms with glass beads,  a natural alternative to the currently popular elastic band looms.  Shop Saturday 6-9 pm or Sunday 10-4.

Also be sure to visit the handwork display and visit with the handwork teacher to learn more about how handwork supports learning in a Waldorf school.

Waldorf school handwork item

Wooden beading loom, a natural alternative to the elastic band looms.

handwork items for waldorf school store

Various handwork projects will be offered.

 

Holiday Faire