Last month, I shared some general information about Waldorf education as well as ideas for incorporating Waldorf-inspired activities and philosophies into your daily lives. This month, I’d like to share a few ways to bring Waldorf-inspired ideas into your homeschooling, and how to mesh some of those with the styles and methods you are currently using.
First, remember that, like any other style or method, you probably won’t agree with everything Waldorf education has to offer. Or, even if you agree with something, it may not work for all members of your family. Homeschooling isn’t an all or nothing situation. Feel free to pick and choose any ideas that speak to you, and leave the rest. You can always try more later.
Also, keep in mind that in most cases Waldorf classroom education is quite different from Waldorf homeschooling. Most of us don’t have access to a highly-trained team of support teachers who will whisk our children away periodically to teach them art, music, handwork, and foreign language. And as much as I may want to, I can’t completely overhaul our living environment overnight to mimic the beautiful, natural simplicity of a traditional Waldorf classroom. Don’t put off making changes while you wait for the “perfect” home makeover or supply closet. Work where you are with what you have.
As you look at the following list, decide for yourself if there are any activities or techniques you might want to add to your own teaching toolkit. Some of these ideas may even resemble things you are already doing, and others might be easier than you think to incorporate into your regular learning rhythms.
- Main Lesson Blocks – These can loosely resemble unit studies, and they generally last about 3-6 weeks each. You might have a math block one month and focus on introducing addition. Of course, you would do short lessons in other subjects as well, but math would be your primary goal for the block. The next block might be a language arts writing block, so for math that month the child might then only practice a few addition problems each day while they shift their attention to writing. This method allows your child (and you) to focus on one new task or goal at a time.While my blocks might not always be as clearly defined as in a traditional Waldorf plan, I do make it a habit of clearly defining goals and concepts to focus on each month, so our main goal for one month might be to master borrowing or learn about Ancient Greece, instead of finishing pages x-z in a workbook or library book. Although that might be how we accomplish a goal, the goal itself is the concept to be learned.
- Main Lesson Books – Instead of relying on textbooks (especially in the younger grades), students create their own books about what they learn. This is somewhat similar to notebooking, and the students generally take great care to turn their books into beautiful works of art. Parents can give children pictures or sentences to copy (like with copywork from the Charlotte Mason method), the students can design their own pages, or you can use a mixture of the two to create a book. Special drawing paper and beeswax crayons are fabulous, but if you want to try this and don’t have any, don’t wait for the perfect supplies. Computer paper, colored pencils, and regular crayons definitely work in a pinch!
- Active Math – This takes math beyond manipulatives and gets whole body memorization involved in easy ways. Try skip counting while tossing a bean bag back and forth, hopping on one foot while reciting one of the times tables, shouting out subtraction facts during a game of leap frog, or snapping and clapping while reciting addition fact families. There are lots of fun ways to make memorizing math facts fun.
- Tell Stories with a Message – In Waldorf education, stories are carefully selected for each grade to teach the children moral lessons at critical times in their emotional and spiritual development. These lessons are never directly stated, but the students are still taught appreciation of nature, beauty, and goodness through these stories. Pick fairy tales, legends, folk tales, fables, or other stories that you believe will help your child through an issue with which he or she is struggling. Just remember to skip reading the moral at the end of those fables. Trust that your child will get the story’s message without the end lecture.
- Foreign Language – Grammar and strict vocabulary lessons for learning a foreign language are nonexistent in Waldorf early elementary education. If you can find a native speaker to have regular, informal conversations with your child, definitely take advantage of that opportunity. Otherwise, focus on fun. Learn a few songs and games (try out song cd’s from the library and search for YouTube videos) in your language of choice, and work those into your regular lessons.
- Handwork – Consider adding handwork (knitting, beadwork, sewing, weaving, etc.) to your afternoons. In addition to keeping little hands busy during a potentially stressful part of the day, handwork can teach children valuable skills and increases their ability to focus for extended periods of time. Also, don’t underestimate the hidden learning potential of counting knitted rows and patterning beads for a bracelet.
Michelle is a wife, mother, writer, and Cajun who prefers everything extra spicy. Follow along at Lagniappe Academy, for more real world Waldorf inspiration mixed in with the rest of their eclectic homeschooling.
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