Friday, December 20, 2013

The Accidental Bystander's views on Waldorf education methods.

Being an artistic and creative person and seeing my child in that way too, I have gravitated to finding engaging materials that will develop these skills and encourage him to use his natural gift as an artist.  I knew very little about Waldorf education until 4 years ago.  I began by buying the book "Waldorf Education A Family Guide.
Rudolf Steiner was born in lower Austria in 1861.  Like Maria Montessori he saw the change of an agricultural or agrarian society transitioning into an industrial one.  A gifted son of a railroad official growing up in small peasant villages, Steiner ended up taking degrees in mathematics, physics and chemistry.   He later wrote a philosophical thesis for his doctorate.  He worked as a tutor, while studying, to a special needs child of a wealth Jewish family in Vienna.  He then took part in the rich cultural life of that city and is influenced by the Goethe scholar, Dr. Karl Julius Schroer.  Schroer is instrumental in getting Steiner the job of editing Goethe's scientific work for a new complete edition of Goethe's materials.  He spends seven years, by invitation, as a scholar at Weimar, the famous German city center of Central European culture and an archive for the writings of Schiller, Goethe and Schopenhauer.  Here he is surround by the scholars, artist, writers and great minds of central Europe. Weimar, Germany was one of the hubs of cultural and artistic figures at this time.

Steiner wrote prolifically at this time,  he lectures at Berlin Worker's Training school, but refuses to toe party line and soon after the turn of the century he is forced to drop out at this Marxist type school in Berlin.  His life begins to change dramatically at this point.  He begins to speak out publicly about his views on the inner faculties of the spiritual perceptions.  The impossibility of life concept began to be publicly spoke of now.

" n the spiritual domain, a new light upon the evolution of humanity was seeking to break through into the knowledge gained during the last third of the 19th century.  But the spiritual sleep caused by the materialistic interruptions in knowledge prevent any inkling of this, much less any awareness of it.  Thus the very time arrive, which ought to have developed in a spiritual direction of it's own nature, but which belied it's own nature - the time which began actually to bring about the impossibilities of life."         -Steiner

Steiner's spiritual awakening or rather his public speaking of his views on this subject changed the direction of the journey his life was taking.  He was a fascinating thinker and I could write a book just about him but I am wanting to move onto his educational method.

Educating the Spirit

It is hard to sum up all that Steiner contributed to here in his writings and life's work. The work of this man focuses on the individual, not just what the system of education forces the institution to address. The focus on our current education system is the adult's consciousness is pressed on the child in the name of academic achievement.
We all have a mission, a task and purpose, we need to be groomed in our evolution for ourselves and humanity. Here is a link to a documentary on Rudolf Steiner. 
Steiner Documentary

One of the things I learned in this excellent documentary was the connection Steiner made to a herbal vendor he met in Vienna during the time of his studies.  It seems it was a catalysis meet for him. Like so many moments in our life where by chance we meet a individual that helps of bring our lens into focus. I feel that the alchemist and seer that Steiner became from the scholar and research of the Vienna and Weimar days must have been an accumulation of the boy the man and the inner question.   I think the herb vendor did something to him, reaching him on some level. The non academic naturalist herb vendor gave Steiner a key to door he had forgotten about.

What drew me to this man's method was his views on educating the whole child. the education principles that respects all races, ethnic groups and religions, while finding a place for all the many cultures in it's curriculum. A world view that is taught to the child to help them arrive at their own place in the global community.  There is a deep respect for the individual in Waldorf education.  The child is seen as a human being, not just a brain you pour information into, but a being of will and feeling as well as intellect.  It 's goal is to ensure that education does not create a one side individual, who is incapable of emotional well being, who's nature as a feeling person is un-exercised and thwarted by a system that only focuses on rout memorization and blind obedience outcomes, is fully addressed.  The arts and practical skills curriculum educate the whole child in heart, brain and hand.

The Teacher as a Storyteller

While the main job of the teacher is a nurturing story teller and guide, the educator spends years with the child as they move through the seasons of education.  Each year is planned out to address the child's developmental milestones and broaden awareness of where and how they fit into their perceptive of the world.  The teacher spends much time in story telling and students are guided through creative differentiated lessons. This means a teacher must do hours of prep time and no child will be plopped down in front of work box book to do procedural math drills or even practice math skills.  The down side to this, some learners need procedural math practice. The artistic lesson in art are wonderful in my opinion but for our needs the story telling aspects  and my son's limits with auditory processing and languaging issues means he needs visual manipulatives.  The chalk board art aspect of Waldorf provides a visual model.  While this helps I know from my own experience that practical marketable skills in the arts are necessary to pay the rent and live.

Form Drawing

This is another favorite in our house.  Drawing out the geometerical shapes and learning the process of form drawing, shading, shaping and shadowing.  We spend hours with this and are thrilled to have wonderful books and resources to teach up fine arts and geometry in it's scared form.

Balance in the Real World

One must have balance.  Many Waldorf schools shun technology and even make parents sign agreements not to allow their children to watch TV or play video games. No way would this fly in my home.  Technology is here to stay and my child needs marketable skills to survive in a global community. We are not going to live in a cloistered nunnery.  We have to compete, like it or not in a global economy and since many children are become bullies from our brutalizing public education system, my son has to be able to navigate and survive living in their world too.  The key compromise for me here is to teach my son entrepreneurial marketable skills.  Yes be an artist, but realistically you must be tough and resilient and able to market yourself and thick skinned enough to survive, while sensitive enough to create.  Some of the more fervent Waldorf philosophies leave me wondering where will these kids go and how will they be prepared to live in our world.


There is also a musical piece to Waldorf where all students are made to play an instrument.  My son balks at this.  He has been in music therapy for seven years and grew to hate being forced to play or participate in any musical context.  I taught him the basics of piano and he can sight read at a beginning levels.  The thing is, he doesn't want to play an instrument right now so I will not make him.  He loves to sing and listen to music and to me that is enough.  I am a musician and have instruments all over our school room.  He is free to make music or not.  I will never force him either way.   He is a gifted singer with perfect pitch and total musical recall.  I would never jeopardize these gifts by forcing him to perform.  When he is ready the environment is there for him and I will be his greatest support and audience.  I hope he make use someday of his gifts.  Of course I still have days where I call him to the piano and make his practice what he knows like mother did to me.  It's always a balance of learn this skill because you will not be sorry some day and I do not want to do this today.   Music is a right and I do not want him to miss an opportunity to learn something that he is good at and is in his ability to master.  Wish I could find a way to lead him to wanting to learn this skill instead of resist it.

World History and the Myths

This is my son's favorite part of Waldorf education.  He loves the history and stories of myths.  I too love this component. There are also many themes that are seasonal and stories that we connect to that are part of this curriculum. Pinterest Waldorf ed pages have many ideas to help the homeschooler with ideas.  Here is my collection of Waldorf ideas on Pinterest.

Waldorf Manipulatives

Many of Waldorf materials can be made at home.  I love the natural plant dyed scarfs that younger kids can use for any kind of creative play.  I cannot afford many of these lovely natrual fiber and homemade items.  We make do.  We have bolts of old fabric we use for tent and fort building. Something we all love to do in this house anyway.  We do improvise more than traditional Waldorf allows for.  For example putting a bed's feathered comforter covering called a duvet on the bed and tying the opening around a large fan, turning the fan on so that we have an instant cave.

  We like to use tech to invent which is a not so Waldorfie.  I allow for this Mother of necessity force in Conor's creative play so it is all good in this house.  We use apps to create beautiful art from photos.  Conor did this one.

 We did try dry and wet felting with the needles but it was a disaster.  I love it but need more help to do it and right now I am over whelmed with teaching.  Hard to find the time to create.  Creativity comes and goes with me, so I am putting felting on the back burner for now. Conor isn't into dolls or making them, but he would be into creating anything from Dr Who tv show.  We have done some paper crafting of the T.A.R.D.I.S.   Conor hates for me to make him do projects.  I just put the stuff out and let him go. Again it is about balance, time and money.  Waldorf uses natrual materials, bee's wax crayons and modeling clay.  The things are costly. I do have a grant but it only buys curriculum and materials that the curriculum requires. Because of the contract I am limited on many of the materials a Wadorf classroom provides.
However we did make a math manipulative for multiplication that is pretty cool that I found on Pinterest. I found this to be something I needed my husbands help with. He did it all in a few minutes. I spent $1.73 on the materials. 
shown is skip counting by 3's

Vendors of Curriculm and Resources

I purchases Live Ed curriculum and Christopherus homeschool Resources.  Both are very good.  I personally like the Christopherus system better, it is easier to teach from and the vendors were much nicer to deal with.  The Live Ed person I spoke to was not easy to deal with.  I never have heard back from that company, they are suppose to contact you for some follow up instruction, it is on their web sight, it never happened.  Also it took them a long time to return my calls or respond to my request for them to sell me materials.  Then, when the guy did call me back he was curt and act as though he was doing me a favor by selling me, a lowly homeschooler his materials.  It was unpleasant to deal with him and when the materials came it clouded my perception of them for a long time, because of his attitude.  The materials are fine though, easiy to navigate and I like being able to compare one curriculum to the other.  Keep in mind that all these curriculums are something the educator reads and tell in story using the chalkboard or paper to draw examples. There is no handouts to practice or workbooks.
I have also bought Bearth digital materials, a hybrid of Waldorf Ed. I found that system a tangle of confusion to teach with.  The good part is you get for a family life time membership the complete all grades of training.  The bad news is it is, there is so much to wade through and sort out that for me, it renders the whole program a big mess.  The materials are decent and the creator brilliant but I cannot organize with her digital platform and support is not what I need or available when you need help figuring out how to organize the material. It would cost a small fortune to print up all the materials in the files we got from our membership.   I use bits and pieces and find everything useful and informative it just is difficult to find things digitally and navigate the Dropbox component and all the headaches of being forced to look on a computer when you love books.  It is a personal preference for me not to have to wade through digitally recorded materials.
Another system I checked out was Enki Homeschooling Ed. This also is a form of Waldorf but only goes up to 4th grade using the Live Ed curriculum and resources.  I felt it was high priced for what you got.  Comes with a Yahoo group and support on line. No one answered or followed up on any my questions of how to adapt or gear lessons for special needs learners.  

The Special Needs Child ACCEPTANCE and Waldorf Education

I am not really sure how Waldorf schools are with their special needs people.  I have seen this refusal to label children or accept labels in the alternative educational schools.  By refusing to label kids with learning disabilities or call a child on the spectrum autistic an educator can do some damage and set a tone for non-acceptance of all the shapes of people in our society.  Teachers need to observe and see.  You can not go into educating with a mind so full of learned facts you can not see what is happening each moment.  Autism does not go away because you are unable or unwilling to call it by it's name. I respect and tolerate educators who do not want to label children by any of the many and over diagnosis conditions that doctors slap on kids today.  However ADD, ADHD, SLD, PPD, ASD and OCD conditions do indeed exist and in my opinion you do a disservice to children by not getting them diagnosed as soon as possible, as this leads to getting them into the therapy and early intervention programs that can help them be all they can be while leading full and productive lives.  Ignoring a thing does not make it go away.  Refusing to call something by it's name and address the behaviors and issues is dangerous and dishonest.  It can also have life long effects on a child.  

I love the Waldorf Method and philosophy of education.  I think I love who Steiner was even more.  Fascinating how his minds in the 1800's came up with and created so much information in education, science and living arts.

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