What is Waldorf?
By Chinyelu Kunz
/ In this article
01. A deep dive into a quote by Rudolph Steiner
02. Protecting your child’s experience of the wonder of childhood
03. Embracing reverence, love, and freedom in parenting
There’s a quote by Rudolf Steiner, Founder of Waldorf Education that speaks to the very essence of this education.
Receive the child in Reverence
Educate them in Love
Let them go forth in Freedom
What’s so powerful about the words in this quote is that it not only reflects what one would hope for in their child’s education but also strive for at home. These are truly words to value as we raise our children and seek out an education that nurtures the whole person, not only the mind.
When I think of Waldorf Education and what I have experienced in this philosophy for over 25 years is that it is a “feeling” education. It seeks to nourish on the soul level in order to awaken each individuality, so they can fulfill their purpose and meet their destiny.
As a Waldorf early childhood educator, I work inwardly with the words in this quote as guiding principles. Reverence, Love, and Freedom is the very heart of Waldorf’s approach to nurturing and educating children. Although my work in the classroom was with the very littlest of children, 2 to 4 year olds, all children thrive in an environment where this approach exists.
Receive the child in Reverence
When we think about the word Reverence what probably comes to mind is deep respect for someone. Someone that we have high regard for. There are many ways to develop reverence for a child and I will touch on three ways that I worked with this guiding principle, not only in the classroom but with my own children too.
We show Reverence for the child’s individuality by respecting them as growing, developing human beings. Each child needs to be respected and honored for who they are. We are all so different, our strengths, our differences, our peculiarities and quirks and we are all special. We each have a specialness, uniqueness, and talents, talents that we have to offer the world in our lifetime. In my work as an early childhood teacher, everyday I strived to keep an openness for each child that walked into my classroom, for who they were in each present moment and who they were becoming.
We show Reverence for the child as we strive to nourish their senses in a healthy way by giving conscious attention to the environment(s) that they will engage and have experiences in. In an early childhood classroom, this is often achieved through the natural materials and toys that the children play with, like silks, wool, wooden toys, the soft color on the walls, natural fibers that they play on, like wool rugs. The ceramic or wooden bowls that they eat from to the wooden cutting boards that they help to prepare snacks on. I could go on and on because so much conscious thought is given to every detail in order to offer children real experiences with real and often high quality materials.
We show Reverence for the child when we actively protect them in the early childhood years by allowing them to be children. By not rushing them to grow up and pushing them into experiences that pull them away from the wonder and joy of the early years. We protect the young child when we give them time to experience play as the primary daily activity. Play sets the foundation for later years and allows the child to grow strong both physically and intellectually. Play gives children time to learn through their own inner activity, and meets their need to be imaginative and creative. They need adults in their lives who will offer them this protection. I see it as protection of “time”, time to explore and discover the world and themselves.
Educate them in Love
In the book, “Education of the Child” by Steiner, he says; “The Joy of children in and with their environment must therefore be counted among the forces that build and shape the physical organs” (in the early years). He goes on to say, “Such a love that streams, as it were, with warmth through the physical environment of the children may be said to literally “hatch out” the forms of the physical organs.” So what does this all mean? It means that the environments that you create and expose your child to is of great importance because they affect the physical development of your child on a cellular level.
Waldorf is about the adult (teacher, caregiver and Parent) choosing to be on a path of inner development. In the child’s early years, the adult is the environment, the adult is the weather, so to speak, and the child experiences all of it. Young children cannot help but to take it all in because they are like sponges. The older child is also greatly affected by the adults in their lives and they too need to be surrounded by adults who are striving to be healthy role models. In Waldorf early childhood, we refer to this as “worthy of imitation”. Am I worthy of imitation is an important question to ask ourselves everyday because every moment of every day our children are watching us and imitating what we do, what we say, as well as how we show up for them.
Steiner was known to visit classrooms and pose this question to the students. “Do you Love your teacher?” Children feel how loved they are especially when the love they receive is unconditional. Before we can love the child unconditionally, I believe we must first love ourselves unconditionally. This is a journey that takes time and perhaps begins with the adult working on unresolved issues in their personal life so that the children in their care are not burdened with this. Waldorf is the teacher, adult or caregiver exemplified as the model of an upright Human Being who loves themself, loves the children in their care, loves the earth and loves the time that they are living in. Waldorf is the teacher, adult and caregiver’s awareness that everything about who they are streams out from them to the children and in the environment be it the classroom or the home.
Waldorf mindfully creates environments for the child that engages them and stimulates their imagination. An environment that nurtures their senses in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them, particularly in the early years. Environments where they are eager to learn, eager to be taught, so much so that you can see this expressed in their faces and bodily movements.
In the later years, children experience imaginative and creative thought through connecting with nature, they dive into creative and artistic experiences and engaging in experiences in and out of the classroom makes it possible for them to offer their thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics.
Let them go forth in Freedom
Something I discovered early in my striving to grasp, What is Waldorf was this very concept ‘Let them go forth in Freedom’. I came to see how it related to the young adult, now having graduated from high school going out into the world, sometimes with clarity, often with questions, but being led by their own thoughts, their own individuality. To be free is to be capable of thinking ones own thoughts instead of the thoughts of others that have been predigested. Instead, thoughts that have been generated by one’s deepest, most original, most essential and spiritual self. One’s individuality. This is a goal of Waldorf, to set the young adult out into the world in freedom.
Freedom doesn’t mean that the child simply gets to do what they choose or what will always make them happy. Waldorf holds the understanding that Freedom is a process that develops over the many years as a child grows and develops. In the early years, freedom is nurtured through form, because without an experience of form there will not be freedom. Children experience form through the rhythms and boundaries that are created and held by the adult.
Waldorf is not impressing upon the young adult who they should be, what they should study or what they should do with their life. Instead, after a healthy foundation has been laid over the many years of development, it is allowing them to unfold and then trusting the process.
“Essentially, there is no education other then self-education. Every education is self-education and as teachers we can only provide the environment for children’s self-education. We have to provide the most favorable conditions where through our agency, children can educate themselves according to their own destinies.”