An Arts and Crafts Education: Waldorf

The Arts and Crafts philosophy does not lay out a coherent educational policy, for all that it talks about both children and how people learn. From this philosophy I draw a few important themes: Nature and the environment as teacher, cooperative learning, the freedom to explore and develop individual learning goals and that education must include hands, heart and head as John Ruskin would put it.

Since there isn’t a clear path laid out by Arts and Crafts thinkers, I’ve been working on creating on, both for myself and for my daughter. To that end, I’ve taken bit of educational philosophies that suit our needs, rejected the parts that don’t fit and have stitched something together that works for us. We draw from Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and even Classical modes of education.

We are without a doubt eclectic, both in educational philosophy and in our way of life. Saying that we’re a little bit Waldorf or a little bit Classical doesn’t actually say much about anything. So, with the caveat that I reserve the right at all times to change my mind, I’m hoping to write a series of posts on what we bring into our home, and what gets left on the plate as just not for us from each of the educational philosophies from which we draw inspiration.img_7483

Waldorf or Steiner schools are based on an educational, philosophical and spiritual framework developed by Rudolph Steiner to educate the children of the Waldorf Astoria cigar factory around the turn of the last century.

Ideas that we incorporate:

  • That children’s environments (including their toys) should be beautiful and use natural materials. I suspect, but do not know for a fact, that Steiner was influenced by Ruskin in this. We strive for clean, simple environments with a few high quality, open ended toys, tools, and art supplies.
  • That free play is how young children learn and imagination and creativity must be nurtured. We strive to allow Kai the freedom to choose her play and to provide an environment where all sorts of free play can take place.
  • That rhythm and repetition are the basis of a safe and stable environment for young children. We create rhythm on a daily, weekly, and yearly cycle so that Kai can know what to expect from one day to the next. We also celebrate throughout the year to mark the turning of the earth, changing of the seasons and our community around us.
  • That craft or handwork is an important part of educating our children as whole human beings. Children in Waldorf schools learn to knit, sew, build with wood and other thing that most parents might not consider educational. This more than anything else drew me to Waldorf, especially as parents are encouraged to learn these skills as well and utilize them to make their children toys.

What we do not incorporate:

  • Anthroposophy. Steiner’s understanding of the spiritual world is not our own and so we ignore both his spiritual ideas and many of the practices related to it (i.e. soul incarnation or eurythmy.)
  • Steiner’s phases of child development. We follow more modern research on this subject that I will talk about in the future.

What we modify:

  • Late reading instruction. Waldorf schools don’t begin reading instruction until age 7, and often limit student engagement with text before that, preferring oral storytelling. We embrace a text rich environment, but do not do any academic instruction in reading until Kai leads us to do so.
  • Early musical education via the recorder and specific types of music. We embrace musical education as something that should be apart of all education from pre-K to university, but don’t choose to be limited to the pentatonic scale.

There are many more aspects of Waldorf to consider, though I consider these to be the most important. I plan on posting more about how we incorporate Waldorf teachings, so stick around.

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