Category Archives: waldorf education


(You will have to bear with me here. I have lots going on and came up with this cute little structure for the post that will not let me cut anything out! So read on, all 1,400 words, if you dare. If not, I won’t blame you — aren’t blog posts supposed to be no more than 250 words so that the modern human can properly digest them?)

1. not calm or tranquil; disturbed; unquiet

I have recently begun attending the church affiliated with SillyBilly’s school. I can’t recall now why I went the first time; perhaps it was simple curiosity about the services or wanting to find a new social connection. But I realized that at least once during each service I was getting choked up, disturbed, unquiet. So I decided to keep going, to see what might come out of that unquiet.

Then I decided to take the pastor’s “Christianity 101” class on Monday nights. I’ve had a Bible since I was a little girl (and now own several) and went to Lutheran school for 5 years. Religion (or spirituality) has always interested me — I also attended Hebrew school for a short time as a girl and have studied Buddhism as an adult. I am the kind of person who will read the Gideon Bible in the hotel drawer instead of watching TV! So it’s not that I need to really learn what Christianity is. Rather, I’m interested in what this pastor has to say about this particular denomination.

The class often unsettles me. Missouri Synod Lutherans are fairly conservative. I’m partly conservative too — I much prefer the traditional service (hymns) to the contemporary service (praise band). But I believe enough of what I’ve read in Steiner’s cosmology and Christology to feel uncomfortable with many of mainstream Christianity’s views on eternal life, hell and heaven,and so on.

In any case I am enjoying the class and the Sunday services. I am enjoying taking Napoleona with me. I am even enjoying getting up early on Sunday and getting dressed up. And I’m enjoying my struggles with the disturbances to my thoughts on spirituality.

2. not decided or determined; inconstant; variable

This morning, when Napoleona and I went to church, it was sprinkling. A few hours later as we were finishing up in Sunday school, we heard some thunder and when we looked out the window, it was sleeting. Throughout the day we saw snow, sleet, and rain plus a few more peals of thunder. Evening has brought beautiful cloud formations with dashes of sun.

We made jokes on several occasions today about how it was springtime — yeah RIGHT! This is winter weather! But then we talked about how spring and autumn are really transitions between the main seasons of winter and summer — and even more so here in Idaho, with the cold and snow of winter and long, hot summers broken only briefly by these transitional times.

But come on! I just changed over our nature table to be all springy, with bunnies and flowers and such. What’s up with the snow???

3. not firm or steadfast in disposition or outlook; erratic; unstable

This weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to get together with some Waldorf homeschooling moms for an afternoon of crafting and chatting about parenting and Waldorf and anthroposophy. The ladies are all new to Waldorf and have little knowledge of the anthroposophical foundations, so I offered to chat about I’ve learned over the years. I also offered to show them how to make felted Easter eggs.

Now, this turned out to be quite the humbling experience. I discovered two things: I forgot the basics of felting and didn’t prepare by practicing or reading up on it. Our eggs were rather lumpy and were only rescued by extensive needle felting. And I discovered that while I feel that in my own head I have a sufficient grasp on basic concepts of anthroposophy, I can’t necessarily explain them well to others. So perhaps that’s telling me my grasp isn’t as good as I thought it was, or that I need to go back and re-read some basics to be clear on them again.

The ladies were quite forgiving (or unaware of my disconcerting feelings) and welcomed the idea of a regular study/craft group. Which will give me a structure to plan around so that I am better prepared and clear on what I’d like to say.

4. not living or staying in one place; nomadic

We are in the thick of summer planning right now. In past years, summers haven’t meant much in the way of change — the kids continued in their home-based day care, Anthropapa and I continued with our work, and the kids went for only short times at day summer camps. This year we have BIG plans.

Immediately after the school year ends, the kids and I will jet off to Los Angeles to visit with my parents. Both sets of parents have asked about Disneyland. I’m not automatically opposed to the idea, but I am opposed to my kids becoming embroiled in the Disney Industrial Complex’s marketing schemes. I think I could manage it so that we had a fun time doing age-appropriate things without focusing on buying character-driven products, but I’m not completely sure!

Then later in the summer the kids will be going out to the Seattle area to stay with other grandparents for a few weeks. Yes — they, the kids, will be staying. We, the parents, will not. We’ll take the drive out and do some things with the grandparents for a few days, and then we’ll leave them there for the grandparents to return to us later. Now, SillyBilly has stayed with his grandparents for a short time before, but we’ve never had both kids away and not for so long a time. I’m not sure what I’ll do with myself. (Other than sleep in, of course.)

5. not inhabited or populated

Over the last year or two I’ve developed a short list of editing clients: a scholarly publisher, a publisher with a scholarly imprint and a trade imprint, an author who has self-published several books, and a few authors working with a scholarly publisher that doesn’t offer editing services in-house. This has kept me steadily working with a good variety of projects and keeps me on my toes as far as working with different types of clients.

Over the last six months I’ve not worked with any authors — the one author took a break from his writing schedule, and for various reasons I haven’t gotten any work from the others. During the winter holidays the scholarly publisher slowed down quite a bit.

But . . . the two-imprint publisher approached me during the holidays with a new agreement. They had lost an in-house editor and wanted me to help them by taking an increased workload. They agreed to pay me a regular amount every single week (based on the budgets for all the projects combined) and I agreed to a rather full three-month schedule of editing and proofreading projects.

Now, the one thing I really dislike about freelancing is the uncertainty of my cash flow. This agreement has taken that out of the mix, and I feel like in a way I’ve died and gone to freelance editor heaven: according to the IRS, I am still freelancing because the publisher does not substantially control how I do my work, I am free to take other clients, I work off-site, they do not withhold taxes, and so on. And yet I am receiving a regular paycheck.

So now the only concern I have (because there has to be something to worry about, right?) is that I am letting my other clients slack a bit. I haven’t been bugging the scholarly publisher for new work consistently. I haven’t been seeking out new clients. This is making my client list a bit uninhabited, and the danger lies in the possibility that this wonderful agreement could come to a close and my cash flow will be in danger again. (This hasn’t happened so far, and in fact they just asked me to extend another three months. Whew!) But putting all one’s eggs in one basket is not a good idea in the freelancing world. So maybe when the kids area away I’ll drum up some new business, or learn a new skill I can add to my repertoire.

(Did you make it this far in my ramblings? Bless your patient soul!)
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Filed under Anthroposophy, Crafting, freelancing, life, Napoleona, papa, Religion, SillyBilly, travel, waldorf education


At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about SillyBilly’s classroom. About how I was unhappy with certain aspects of the pedagogy and curriculum, and how I was worried about competitiveness at such an early age.

Some of those concerns have died down or disappeared. SillyBilly is now fine with D’Nealian handwriting. He still loves school, and the competitiveness is not at all directed at besting others but rather at achieving goals. I volunteer in the class twice a month, and have gotten to know and love the teacher and the children.

But I’ve noticed something. Parents are expected to read books to the kids at home and then the kids have comprehension (and now, vocabulary as well) tests in the classroom. SillyBilly has exceeded the goals (number of tests taken and passing scores) in each scoring period. This trimester his average book level was at third grade, and he has correctly defined words solidly in the third- to fourth-grade range on up to seventh grade!

I was like this as a child, too. I learned to read at age four, and was always at a much higher grade level in reading. I clearly remember in fourth grade going to reading class with the sixth graders, and being bored there, too.

Clearly verbal skills have been a strength for me, and they are for SillyBilly, too. And I’m noticing myself being very proud of him (justifiably so) and not necessarily looking at the big picture. Maybe this kind of pedagogy is fine for him, as it is playing to his strengths. But am I not really paying attention? What are his weaknesses that need to be brought into balance? Am I providing enough physical and artistic activity to offset the intellectual emphasis?

These are hard questions, as Anthropapa and I both tend to be intellectual (in anthroposophical-speak, we emphasize the nerve-sense pole) at the expense of physical activity. Art is somewhere in the middle with us.

It’s always been a question for me: Is it more important to meet the child where he or she is in terms of strengths, or to provide balancing activities? I think the key is to observe, observe, observe — is the child blossoming in areas of strength, or are deleterious effects arising from overemphasis on a certain aspect?

Have you experienced this, either with children or yourself — this need for balance and the need for playing to strengths? What was your answer?

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, papa, Parenting, School, SillyBilly, waldorf education

Worthy Role Models?

In elevating to a level of demiworship people with big bucks, we have been destroying the values of our future generation. We need a total rethinking of who the heroes are, who the role models are, who we should be honoring.

–Rabbi Benjamin Blech, professor of philosophy of law at Yeshiva University, on the downfall of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff (quoted in the New York Times).

What role models does Western culture give us, especially to our children?

Sports stars.
TV and film celebrities.
Rich people.
Skinny, pretty people.

What values do these role models typically display?

The importance of making money.
Obsessive focus on physical beauty.
Fame at any cost.
Physical prowess not necessarily accompanied by good sportsmanship.
Manipulative public relations.

Now, of course there are rich and famous people who do good works and display honorable morals and ethics. Some celebrities stay in committed, healthy marriages for many years (Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, married for twenty years, come to mind) and others, like Bill and Melinda Gates, give massive amounts of their personal wealth away to charitable works or live in such a way that they embody more noble ideals (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for example, is an environmental activist and built an eco-friendly, energy-efficient home).

In Waldorf education the children are given examples from history and legend of those who are worthy of imitation. In second grade, they learn of the saints and hear fables and animal stories that speak to their growing sense of morality. In third grade, Old Testament stories further their internal explorations into right and wrong. In fourth grade, the Norse myths speak in yet a different way of the fables of the mighty and the low. Throughout all the grades, a progression of study of ancient and modern cultures and “heroes” such as Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi deepens the understanding of both the human condition, and what is noble and what is not.

I would hazard the comment that there are two roots to the problem of poor role models in Western culture: materialism and the cult of individual personality. We have lost sight of the importance of the soul/spiritual world in favor of acquisition of material goods, and we have forsaken the higher social purpose of our labors for the fool’s gold of propping up our astrality and lower ego forces. And so what do we hold up as precious? The glitter of fame and wealth and the passing fancy of surface beauty.


Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, Rants, waldorf education

Saturday Steiner

So, I spent the morning doing wet-on-wet painting with a roomful of other Waldorf mamas at Melisa‘s house. It was so great to meet people on this path, learning as we go. We nibbled yummy snacks, did some beautiful paintings (Sorry, I left my camera at home and left the wet paintings there! Photos next time, or check the link above.), and talked about Waldorfy stuff.

This inspired me to make good on my idea to post about one or another of the Steiner books I recently unpacked. I couldn’t find the one I really wanted, but I did find Study of Man, a series of lectures also known as the “General Education Course” that is a fundamental book for Waldorf teacher trainees.

Oh man — how can I do this? In the first five pages of the first lecture, Steiner mentions the epochs of human development, reincarnation, egoism in modern religion, and the various bodies of the human being in the transition from the spiritual world to incarnation!

Uh, yeah, let me just summarize that for ya.

Nope . . . can’t. So I’ll just revert to something we used to do during Foundation Year: find the gems. The sentences or paragraphs that just speak loud and clear, that take you by the scruff, that glimmer and sparkle with new meaning.

[A]lthough from his birth onwards we may only look upon the child with physical eyes, we will all the time be conscious of the fact–“this too is a continuation.” And we will not only look to what human existence experiences after death, i.e., to the spiritual continuation of the physical; but we will be conscious that physical existence here is a continuation of the spiritual, and that we, through education, have to carry on what has hitherto been done by higher beings without our participation.

[In reference to “pre-natal education”] If until birth the mother behaves in such a way that she brings to expression in herself what is morally and intellectually right, in the true sense of the word, then of its own accord what the mother achieves in this continuous self-education will pass over to the child. The less we think of beginning to educate the child before it sees the light of the world and the more we think of leading a right and proper life ourselves, the better will it be for the child.

So: Steiner taught that we reincarnate. We live multiple lives on earth, with (typically) long periods of time in the spiritual world in between. During the time before birth, we are in the company of higher spiritual beings (angels, archangels, etc.) as well as other human spirits, and there we learn and grow and plan for the next life.

He talked in this beginning to Study of Man about how materialism and the egoism that goes along with it have even penetrated religion in modern life. This egoism causes us to focus our attention regarding immortality only on life after death, but the life before birth deserves just as much of our attention. And if we combat this materialism and egoism, we cannot help but relate to and teach children in a new way.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, art, Books, Deep Thoughts, friends, Religion, waldorf education


In the book about the psychological roots of dogmatism that I am currently editing, the author brought in the concept of self-efficacy, which is described by Albert Bandura (who developed the concept) as “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives.”

I recall learning for the first time about Waldorf education, and being amazed that the children learn so many practical things–gardening and farming, knitting and sewing, woodworking, and so on. And then learning about the work of the Camphill movement, where children and adults with disabilities have dignified, productive roles in creating beautiful objects and nutritious food.

I read how Rudolf Steiner thought it was crucial for children to learn these practical skills:

It is actually the case today that most people, especially those who grow up in towns, have no idea how things, paper for instance, are made…. Think of how many people there are who drink beer and have no idea how the beer is made…. I would dearly like to have a shoemaker as a teacher in the Waldorf School, if this were possible … in order that the children might really learn to make shoes, and to know, not theoretically but through their own work, what this entails.

The Kingdom of Childhood, Lecture 7

Especially for the nine-year-old, this kind of practical work is very grounding, bringing a sense of security and personal ability. The idea is that if we have some knowledge of how to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves, then we will feel safe and competent in the world. We will also recover a connection with the world that is partly lost when we achieve self-consciousness (both at around three years when we first say “I”, and at the nine-year change when we see that we are indeed separate, individual human beings).

I’ve often wondered about the anomie one sees in so many young people, the inability to create, to control one’s surroundings, to feel productive. How much of that comes from feeling separated from the world because of a lack of understanding of the basic materials and objects around us? I’ve experienced this myself as the mother of small children: How do you explain what email is? How a telephone works? What plastic is made of? How much of an understanding of the world around us have we surrendered?

One intriguing aspect of the book I’m editing is that there are two sides to dogmatism: those who are dogmatically aggressive toward others (the person who harangues people, the dictatorial leader, the fundamentalist) and those who submit to such aggression willingly (the cult member, the staunch party member, the meek spouse). Sometimes I feel like Western society is in the grips of a lack of will forces, a victim mentality, and the acquisition of power through violence because we don’t feel we have personal, self-sufficient power.

I think of the stereotypical media portrayal of the young, black American man: angry, cocky, seeking prestige and personal dignity through dominating others. How much of that image comes from the reality that these young men have few practical skills and therefore little sense of self-efficacy? If you don’t feel that you have much control over what happens to you (being poorly educated and economically disadvantaged), then it’s not surprising that you might turn to, at best, cultural symbols of domination, and at worst, violence.

* * * * *

A wonderful example of an institution working to enhance a sense of self-efficacy in others is the Ruskin Mill Educational Trust in the UK. Young people with learning difficulties including autism spectrum and developmental delays are given practical, vocational training in arts and crafts. As the trust’s web site explains:

Many students arrive at college with low self esteem and very little expectation of leading a more fulfilling life. Students leave college with practical qualifications, a more positive self image, supported by invaluable skills for living and work. Around 30% progress to higher or continuing education and 30% find jobs or become volunteer workers immediately on leaving college. Whilst some return to their families, many are able to live independently.

Working within historically active craft centers such as the Royal Doulton glassworks in Stourbridge and the silversmithing industry in Sheffield, the trust’s three colleges give young people who would otherwise be marginalized and extremely dependent on others the ability to live independently, the skills to be creative, and the experience of personal competence that is lacking for many people today.

Periodically I check in on the RMET web site to peruse the latest Run of the Mill magazine (I can’t link directly to it, but you can Google that phrase to find it), which highlights student achievements and projects the school is working on. It’s so inspiring! There are always challenges, and some students are less successful than others. But there is also always a sense of achievement, of dignity, and of the real social benefits of this kind of initiative. What would our world look like if we all had the opportunity to learn honest, down-to-earth work?

Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, editing, waldorf education


A while back we had lots of conversation about structure, regimentation, and authority. I’m finally getting back to it now, and thought I could share some concepts from Waldorf education and anthroposophy that relate to these aspects of parenting.


Waldorf methods, especially in the early childhood period, emphasize rhythm. The thought is that the child is nurtured within a regular daily, weekly, and yearly rhythm. From the timing of daily meals to the recurrence of seasonal festivals, the social and home world of the young child nurtures the healthy development of both body and soul.

Discipline issues are greatly reduced when there are strong rhythms. Activities are taken as a matter of fact and become habits. Observe how a child can go into fits when he is occasionally made to clean his room…. Rhythm gives children a sense of security and a sense that life has real form. Knowing what’s next enables the child to go with the flow with greater ease.

-Jaimmie Marx, quoted at Waldorf in the Home.

So what is meant here by rhythm and boundaries?

Imagine that you are a four-year-old child. Now imagine that each day, you know more or less what will happen: breakfast, then playing outside, then a snack, then some quiet indoor play, then lunch, then a nap, then another snack, then a walk, then dinner, bath, and bedtime. How comforting it would be to have a basic understanding, even if not entirely consciously, that your day will unfold in a similar way!

In contrast, imagine that you are the same child, yet each day might be at grandma’s house, or the babysitter’s, and meals might be eaten in the car, or at unexpected times. Some days you might not get a nap, or an afternoon snack. Some days you might even spend the night at grandma’s house, but you’d never know that until you got there. How unsure you would feel!

This attempt to bring rhythm to daily life is also beneficial to adults, as I’ve written about before. When we are freed from having to decide at each moment what to do, we are also freed to use our consciousness in other ways. For parents this also helps with fatigue and feeling overwhelmed–the secret behind FlyLady and lovers of slow cookers worldwide!

“Better authority with security than freedom with fear.”

-Paul Tillich, The Protestant Era, 1957.

If the child is “held” within a regular daily rhythm, then the child can be free within that rhythm to develop and grow healthily. The rhythm is seen as another form of nurturing–just as a plant that receives plenty of water but not enough sunlight will not thrive, so a child who eats well but always has some anxiety over where they will be each day might not be able to devote sufficient forces to their development, because those forces are being are being diverted into handling their worries.


In a similar way to rhythm, setting age-appropriate boundaries creates a sense of security in the child. A leading proponent of this idea was Magda Gerber, who founded Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) in California in 1978. Her work was based on the finding of Dr. Emmi Pikler of Hungary, who observed, among other things, that children who can play freely in a safe space will not only develop their physical motor skills, but will also develop a sense of self-mastery and confidence, as well as trust.

Central to the RIE concept is providing the very young child with a completely safe space, so that adult intervention is minimized and the child can freely explore and play. When my children were infants and toddlers, I used baby gates to keep them safely enclosed in our living room, and out of the kitchen when I could not supervise them there. I made sure that I did not have to constantly say “Don’t touch that!” by removing breakable items and making sure the furnishings were age-appropriate (no glass tables with sharp corners, no precious tchochkes within reach).

Now that my kids are older, I set different boundaries for them to allow them to safely develop new skills and explore the wider world. They can play outside without direct supervision, because they are old enough to remember to stay by the house and not wander off. But they are not allowed to ride their bikes in the street, because they are not yet aware enough of cars. My son can use a sharp knife in the kitchen with supervision, but he can’t yet cook on the stove.

Boundary setting shows them (if unconsciously) that I love and care about them, promotes a feeling that their world is safe, and allows them to use their growing consciousness in other ways while I provide the Ego* forces to make decisions they are not ready to make. For these reasons, I believe children want adults to set boundaries, much as they complain about some of them!


In the first six or seven years, the overriding concept for child development and education is imitation. The young child wants to do what he or she sees others doing — if you are washing the dishes, the child will want a little pan of water and some spoons to wipe with a cloth. If you are always reading a book, the child will want some books to read as well. In this same way, the child will learn to speak politely, have good table manners, and other social graces if the parents model that behavior.

Think about how we use the word authority in other contexts: someone who has the most complete knowledge or mastery of a subject, or who has been given the power to make decisions or take actions. A professor might be the world authority on particle physics, or a minister completes the marriage ceremony with “by the authority vested in me by the state, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

In a similar way, the young child looks to the parent for complete authority — mastery of all things in the environment and therefore worthy of imitation, and as the final arbiter of decisions. Having too many choices calls on Ego forces that the child does not naturally have yet, and puts an undue burden of power on someone who is otherwise (more or less) in a state of union with the world.

From [the sixth or seventh year], the child’s soul becomes open to take in consciously what the educator and teacher gives, which affects the child as a result of the teacher’s natural authority. The authority is taken for granted by the child from a dim feeling that in the teacher there is something that should exist in himself, too.

-Rudolf Steiner, An Introduction to Waldorf Educatio

Now, authoritative adults are not authoritarian, which suggests an unfeeling and ruthless ordering about of subordinates. Rather, the authoritative parent knows what is right for the child, and through loving concern directs the child through example and redirection. The parent is in charge, but it is with the sense of providing the Ego forces that the child does not yet control.

What the child sees directly in his educators, with inner perception, must become for him authority — not an authority compelled by force, but one that he accepts naturally without question. By it he will build up his conscience, habits and inclinations; by it he will bring his temperament into an ordered path….

These living authorities … embody for the child intellectual and moral strength….

With puberty the time has arrived when the human being is ripe for the formation of his own judgements about the things he has already learned.

-Rudolf Steiner, The Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy

With the older child, the time has come for more independent decision making, and the transition from imitation to imagination. Now the child will build on the foundation of security and boundaries set during the earlier phase of life. By imitating worthy actions of adults over the first seven years, the older child can now begin to create both inner mental pictures and an inner sense of order.

*By “Ego” I mean what Steiner described as the immortal aspect of the human being, distinct from the physical and soul aspects.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, Parenting, waldorf education

School Days

I volunteered in SillyBilly’s classroom this last Wednesday, but I wanted to let it percolate a while before writing about it. It is just so not Waldorf, that I hesitate to write about all of this, for fear of alienating my loyal readers!

One big impression was that the classroom was really, really full. Full of stuff, visual stimuli everywhere. The walls were covered with posters and words and letters and bright colors. There really isn’t a lot of room to move around–there’s an open space in front of the blackboard (though I think it’s actually a white board, with pens instead of chalk–peeuw!) where the kids sit for stories and working with the teacher, but otherwise it’s all tables and chairs and toys and cubbies and cabinets.

The curriculum is mostly focused on reading and writing skills. The school has bought into a reading program where the kids read a book (or in this case, are read to) and then they take a reading comprehension test, which is all recorded on a computer that stores and prints out the results. The kids do this in class with their teacher, but they are also expected to read at home and then be tested on those books too. I wasn’t aware that the home reading portion had a targeted level of achievement; I thought it was just for extra credit, but no, we are already behind!

The kids practice writing letters using the D’Nealian form of writing. SillyBilly is a bit confused, because we had shown him block printing capitals before when he expressed interest in writing. I know he’ll get the hang of it because he has very good fine motor skills, but right now he’s kind of frustrated. The teacher said it’s a problem with choosing D’Nealian, because though they think it makes it easier to learn cursive later, all the kids tend to learn block printing in preschool.

One thing I helped with was giving a few of the kids a short assessment test. The paper had groups of three objects in a line of three groups, and the question would be something like, “Which group includes only things that fly?” And one group would have just birds and airplanes, but another might have one bird, one lightbulb, and one sea turtle (which kind of looks like it’s flying). I guess this was testing their comprehension of groups, kind of like the old Sesame Street “One of these things is not like the others” song.

There are a lot of “incentives”. Finish 10 homework sheets (again, I thought they were extra, but they seem to be expected/required) and get a gift certificate for a cheeseburger. Didn’t have any incidents of bad behavior? You get to choose something from the treasure box on Friday. Pass enough reading tests and you get to buy a book from the school store. Now, one day SillyBilly told us that he thought he just wanted to do the homework and reading tests so that he could learn stuff, not to get stuff. We were amazed at this pronouncement and praised his maturity. But I’m not sure if that sentiment will stand in the face of all the goodies.

There is, of course, time for play. They play outside several times a day (even more in the afternoon daycare portion), have snacks, play inside with play dough and toys, have formal PE twice a week, art and music once a week each. The teacher is a very nice person, who is clearly committed to being the best teacher she can.

But…I wish it were more beautiful there. I wish there was more time for free play. I wish it weren’t so academic. I worry that it’s overstimulating and breathless for SillyBilly.

I wish there weren’t already elements of competition in kindergarten, though I am just as guilty of this: the homework star chart is prominently displayed, and I noticed that SillyBilly and another child were tied for last. He’s only done two reading tests, and has scored 80%. I realized that I was having an inner dialogue about how I almost always got straight A’s and how I know he’s smart enough to do the same, and how I seem to be slacking on making sure he does his reading tests and homework…. And it’s just kindergarten, for heaven’s sake!

In general, I feel like if we are going to make the choice to send SillyBilly to a mainstream school, then this is a good choice. The school does try to provide a safe, child-centered environment, and within the paradigm of mainstream academics, they are very successful. The staff there are very personable (I am always greeted by name by the principal, even though it’s not a small school) and I have trust in them to keep my child’s best interests at heart.

If only it were a Waldorf school….

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Filed under Parenting, School, SillyBilly, waldorf education

A Reply to Nana

In yesterday’s post, Nana left a comment responding to my anxieties about sending my kids to private schools that are not Waldorf:

hokay! I’m an outsider here and will probably cause some apoplexy for some of you. Does anyone think it odd that a system (and don’t try to deny that it is, indeed, a system) such as Waldorf would become established in a country (Germany) which is known for its regimentation and by-the-rule-book attitude? This has been a highly organized and orderly country for a very, very long time. Let’s not forget the German propensity for rich food!

Now let’s apply this phenomenon to every day life, but in reverse. If you give your children the kind of nurturing environment which the Waldorf method encourages, it will be instilled in them and carried with them wherever they are.

If Waldorf could bloom in Germany, then Waldorf raised children can bloom anywhere. Kids need to be introduced to a variety of controlled experiences. Otherwise how can they learn to make intelligent, well thought out, decisions for themselves when they leave the nest?

Henitsirk needs to stop beating herself up over this because it’s not healthy for her and her family. She needs to put a more positive light on the challenge which life has given her at this time and remember – it’s not forever, but it is for now.

I started to write a response comment, and then realized that it was too long and might as well be its own post.

Yes, Waldorf sprang from the Germanic culture, with all its wonderful regimentation and paternalism and nationalism. Now, Steiner actually spoke and worked vigorously against those tendencies. In fact, his ideal for Waldorf schools was different in many ways, but he had to compromise with the state in order to manifest the schools in such a way that they would be not private but available to all. (See this PDF from the Research Bulletin on some of the ways in which Waldorf school methods might be a result of either Steiner working with necessities of his time and place or of our misinterpretations of his teachings.) Sort of the way Waldorf charter schools have done in California and other places. (Something good to remember for those who feel charters aren’t “real” Waldorf!)

Steiner also felt that younger children needed what you could call “regimentation”, though not in an authoritarian way, but rather an authoritative way. For the exact reason that you describe in your second-to-last paragraph: so that children are given a firm, secure foundation to later, when they are ready, make their own way. So, the Waldorf curriculum is highly structured in a sense: certain things are only taught to certain grades, painting for young children is not free expression but rather painting a certain motif modeled after the teacher, etc. This is an interesting article on young children in particular, and how strict discipline is not useful and in fact might be harmful (warning: published in 1963, very un-PC references to “primitive” cultures!).

I found a wonderful passage (see p. 45) from a lecture by Steiner on the healing effects of education. It seems like a gift for me in my questioning and anxieties right now:

[A]s grown-ups we do not find such great value in what we ourselves have become through our own education. We do not look back with deep gratitude on what we received through instruction and education. Ask your own heart whether this gratitude is always alive….

Advice to self: Breathe. Observe. Find gratitude in your heart. Be conscious of motives coming from fear or anxiety, as they will mislead you. Have faith.


Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

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Parzival’s Mother

The medieval German Romance Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach, is read widely in Waldorf high schools and teacher training courses, as a rich allegory for the modern human’s struggle for inner development (or as Rudolf Steiner put it, the development of the consciousness soul). (See here for an interesting article on how the story of Parzival relates to adolescence.)

I haven’t read it in a few years, but the other day it struck me that my current inner struggles about sending my kids to mainstream schools in some way resembles a thread in the plot of Parzival.

Queen Herzeloyde (Herzeleide, “heart’s sorrow”) loses her husband in battle, and so in her grief she vows to raise their son, Parzival, alone in the forest where he will never encounter knights, the chivalric life, or anything that may harm him. She doesn’t even tell him his name, only calling him bon fils, cher fils, beau fils.

Does this work?

No, of course not. One day some knights happen to ride by Parzival in the forest, and it’s all over. He’s overawed by their splendiferous armor, their knowledge of weaponry, and so on. He’s gone before Herzeloyde can say boo.

Now, without sounding too presumptuous, I remembered this part of the story when I was mulling over our school situation the other day. We’ve been pretty firmly in the Waldorf camp for a long time: Anthropapa and I have both studied the foundational works of anthroposophy and quite a bit of the Waldorf pedagogy as well. We’ve worked for two Waldorf teacher training colleges. Our kids went to a Waldorf home day care last year.

Here in the wilds of Pocatello, however, there are no Waldorf schools to be found. No Waldorf anything, so far. Just some homeschoolers and a fledgling school about an hour away. We’ll be glad to get to know them, but it’s not possible for us to commute that far right now.

So we found our best alternatives: a Lutheran school for SillyBilly, and the Early Learning Center at ISU for Napoleona. Both fine, sound schools where the kids are safe and happy all day long.


These are mainstream schools. They are definitely not Waldorf. There are computers, there are movies, there are character books. There is reading and math in kindergarten. There are USDA lunches, complete with the tater tots and pizza I remember from when I was a kid (OK, they get some fruit and/or veggies with each meal, I will admit. But none of it is organic, no less biodynamic.)

I feel like, despite my best intentions, my kids are off into the dark woods, following a bunch of people dressed in shiny stuff and sporting the coolest rides they’ve ever seen.

Now, I realized that Parzival had some kinda destiny to follow, what with all the finding the Grail and helping the Fisher King and all. But Herzeloyde just wanted to protect him, so that neither of them would have to feel the grief she felt at the loss of her husband.

I don’t anticipate falling down dead the way Herzeloyde did when Parzival left her. But I do feel like we’ve tried so hard to provide a safe, nurturing place for my children, and now they’re off to fight wholly different and unanticipated battles.

And unlike Herzeloyde, I have options. We could move closer to the fledgling Waldorf school. I could homeschool them. Some day, we’ll probably move somewhere else, perhaps where there is a Waldorf school. But right now, I’m feeling my own heart’s sorrow.

*  *  *  *  *

Images from the beautiful Codex Manesse.

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Books, Deep Thoughts, Napoleona, papa, Parenting, SillyBilly, Uncategorized, waldorf education

Teeth and Rebirth

SillyBilly has had a permanent tooth erupting for the last few weeks. It was there, coming up quite shyly behind his slightly loose milk tooth, right in the bottom front. Today the dentist pulled that little shy milk tooth, plus the two next to it for good measure, to allow the permanent teeth to settle in nicely in their appointed spots.

We all know what a momentous occasion the loss of the baby teeth is. How big the child is, moving into a new phase of life! But what does this event mean from a spiritual perspective?

Rudolf Steiner spoke many times about the significance of the change of teeth. He explained that for the first seven years or so, the child’s physical body is being built up by the etheric (or life) body. The peripheral formative forces mold the physical organs and systems, and set them in their right relation and functions.

Another aspect of this formative phase is that the very young child has an inherited physical body, one that is the product of heredity. If you observe a room full of babies, you will see a marked similarity in their forms and faces. It is as their bodies are merely prototypes. In this first phase of human life, the child constantly remolds this inherited body into essentially a brand new, self-created physical body.

This is part of the wisdom behind all of those colds, infections, and childhood diseases: to help the child re-create the physical body anew, so that the child’s spirit can have a distinctive vehicle all its own. When this remolding process is complete, the child has exchanged the generic prototype for his or her true, individualized body. I have recently observed how different SillyBilly’s facial structure is, how he somehow looks “older” and more awake, and more individual.

The change of teeth is a visible, tangible sign of this work. The inherited milk teeth are literally pushed out by the permanent teeth. The child’s etheric forces have done their intense physical work, and can now be freed to help the child’s soul and spirit, with thinking and memory.

This is the wisdom behind Waldorf schools generally waiting until age 6 or so for children to leave kindergarten, so that the child is developmentally ready to begin formalized learning. (Other physical signs of first grade readiness may include the limbs lengthening and the head being in a smaller proportion to the body, the narrowing of the ribcage, the appearance of arches in the feet, and changes in the heart and respiration rates. There are many developmental signposts as well.)

One thing Waldorf teachers and physicians have noticed is that children’s permanent teeth are erupting sooner. Steiner always mentioned age 7 as the time of the change of teeth; now it is more likely to be 5 or 6! Many people theorize that this is a sign of the overall speeding up of child development, possibly exacerbated by the general intellectualization and abstraction of modern life. Perhaps our etheric forces are being forced to finish their work too soon. Some anthroposophical physicians are concerned that this may cause negative health effects in the future, because the etheric forces are somehow weakened by not being allowed to develop in their own time.

And a little backup for all these assertions, from the source:

At about the seventh year the human being is actually born a second time; that is to say, his etheric body is born to free activity just as his physical body is at the moment of physical birth. As before birth the mother’s body works on the human embryo, up to the change of teeth spiritual forces of the cosmic ether in a similar way work upon the etheric body of the human being, and about the seventh year these forces are thrust back just as the maternal body is at the time of birth. Up to the seventh year the etheric body is as if latent in the physical body, and about the time the teeth are changed what happens to the etheric body can be compared to the igniting of a match. It is bound up with the physical body, but now comes to its own free, independent activity. The signal for this free activity of the etheric body is indeed the change of teeth. For anyone who has a deeper insight into nature this change of teeth holds a quite special place.

-Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 13 December 1906.

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