This week on the blog, I have planned a series on Waldorf homeschooling and have asked four Waldorf mothers and homeschoolers to each share a bit about their personal experience using the Waldorf education method with their children and in their home; what made them choose Waldorf and the benefits that they see it bringing to their lives.
Today I welcome mother and blogger, Coco Reinhart to share her Waldorf journey with us.
Coco Reinhart is a Waldorf mama to three beautiful young children. Together with her husband, she spends her days enjoying their Denver, CO, urban farmlette and all of its many adventures: gardening, kitchen alchemy, building projects, handwork, homemaking, dwarf dairy goats, chickens and lots of living and learning outdoors with friends and family. She loves sharing with, and supporting other mothers on their parenting journeys, especially through her blog: www.cocoreinhart.wordpress.com.
A few evenings ago I was at a monthly gathering of wise Waldorf mamas when the omnipresent anxieties around delayed academics arose in the conversation. Several moms shared stories about other families who found that their children were behind in math and reading when they transferred to other schools. (If my memory serves me correctly, these specific children were in the early grade school years.) As a trained Waldorf teacher and mother to three, others often look to me to offer a certain perspective to these kinds of questions. In this instance, my first response was to point out that there are more and more studies emerging, mostly out of Europe, that point to the detrimental long term effects of early academics. Also, I pointed out that Waldorf students do tend to lag behind their peers in math and reading in the early grades, but they usually catch up with them by the middle grades, and often surpass them in middle and high school. I find these kinds of responses help to dispel some of the concerns parents naturally carry with them from the mainstream world, and that is a really positive thing.
Inwardly, however, I feel I fall short to communicate the full gesture of Waldorf education. We use words and phrases that many can understand: holistic, arts based, developmental, moral, qualitative, and practical. Yet, as I watch the responses on people’s faces, I know that these words rarely add up to a deeply true picture that they can relate to. Thankfully, each time these exchanges occur, some small part of the truth comes into the forefront and I find I am a little closer to understanding what it is about this curriculum that is so unique, and I hope a little more able to communicate it to others. On this particular evening, as the discussion continued on around me, two words that had been subconsciously floating around the room since the beginning of this topic, crystalized in my mind: anxiety and trust.
Anxiety entangles itself with our modern lives. We worry about GMO’s in our food, chemicals in our mattresses, and lead in our window panes. We cringe when we think about fossil fuel and gang violence, sectarian wars and population collapse, school shootings and skin cancer. And if we have children, they are at the center of all of this anxiety. In fact, we are deemed good parents if we fret about all of these things in an effort to keep our children safe.
Quite naturally, this anxiety extends into education. We worry our children will get left behind or that they will not be recognized. We wonder if they will do well enough on state tests to get into the universities that allow entry into good jobs. In short, we worry that not being able to read in first grade will put a kink in the assembly line that leads to a successful adult life. As long as we view education in this way—a linear path in which information and skills are added into an empty vessel that, when filled, results in the standardized adult ready to function in society—we are well founded to have anxiety for our children’s futures. One single hole in the vessel could lead to complete failure. Off on the wrong foot, as they say.
But what if our children were not empty vessels? What if they were already formed individuals—not complete or polished, but wise in their own way and capable of meeting life’s challenges. And what if, every day they lived on the earth, they gained in wisdom through their own initiative, but also developed imbalance through the falsities that exist around them? Then, our job as parents and educators would not be to fill the vessel, but to strip back the layers of imbalance, over stimulation, and culturalization that gathered around our children, so that their own individual genius could shine through. What if we could trust in our children to unfold as they needed too—not predictably or sequentially, but truthfully and necessarily—to make a home for themselves in the universe?
For me, the result would look a lot like Waldorf education. First and foremost, because it is an approach to guiding children that places trust in the path an individual is destined to travel. And secondly, because it trusts in the power of the human spirit—that children being born today can develop the skills to solve the problems of global warming. That they can find the compassion and patience to authentically meet others, and diminish the occurrence of violence in our world. That they will find a way to feed the world’s growing population without harmful chemicals and agricultural practices. Because Waldorf education tells children, “I know you can transform the world in ways that I can hardly imagine.” But only if we teach them not to let anxiety take hold of their hearts, rather to trust in the human capacities that live within their souls.