As we enter the hustle and bustle of the 2021 back-to-school season, I expect we all are feeling a bit world-weary. After all, the world is heavy right now: globally, locally and, for many of us, personally. In such troubling times, I like to double down on a few favorite practices picked up from my children’s Waldorf School, The Waldorf School of Baltimore, a place where truth, goodness and beauty blossoms.
With a 101-year proven track record, Waldorf education is the fastest growing academic method in the world, and yet the Waldorf approach is not only an educational method meant to be taught in a classroom, but a way of living—or parenting or teaching—based on a deep understanding of human development.
The Waldorf imperative is to address the whole child—mind, body and soul—with intentional indications for meeting children in the developmental stage where they are. This Waldorf education is as vital, relevant and successful today as it was a century ago, owing to the fact that while the world has changed in dramatic and sometimes alarming ways, our children’s needs have not. The good news is that you can reap the rewards of this time-tested philosophy at home regardless of whether your child will ever attend a Waldorf school.
Below are seven simple, stress-reducing, Waldorf-inspired practices you can start at home. They might be the back-to-school balm you are looking for.
Simplify Your Space
Everyone from Kim John Payne to Marie Kondo will appreciate that everything in a Waldorf classroom brings joy and nourishes the senses, or serves a useful purpose. In these thoughtful spaces, children are less likely to be overstimulated and better able to immerse themselves in the rich, imaginative free play that is so valuable to their growth and development.
It’s no secret that our environment affects how we feel physically and mentally. By embracing a Waldorf value of simplification, you can usher this calm and creative essence into your home. The above-mentioned Kim John Payne’s “Simplicity Parenting” is an excellent resource here. Helpful in our house has been to box up toys and books according to season, cycling them in and out, so that not everything is out at once.
Storytelling is fundamental to Waldorf education throughout the course of child development and, in the early years, is an important first step in literacy development. Immersing the youngest children in a strong oral tradition—complete with songs, stories and rhymes—fills their proverbial cup with rich language and beautiful pictures so that, when the time is right, it may overflow into robust writing and reading skills.
Telling stories, as opposed to reading them, sounds intimidating at first but is easier than you would think. Little ears will delight in simple nature stories while bigger kids love hearing about your childhood. As you discover the fruits of this practice for yourself, you may enjoy “taking to heart” a few favorite fairy tales as well, which may be told many times over. Set aside a special time and place for your storytelling and delight in the warm human connection that follows.
Light a Dinner Candle
On Waldorf snack tables the world over, you will find a mindfully lit candle. Incorporating this easy-to-execute “Waldorf way” into your evening meal brings about a moment of calm and distinguishes dinner away from what might otherwise be a hectic time of day.
With daily repetition, we bring meaning to the mundane and send the silent message that this time, spent together, is important. In my own home, this message has opened doors to reverence and gratitude. If there is only one Waldorf-inspired way you try at home today, I hope it’s this one!
Find Your Rhythm
In a Waldorf classroom, the daily rhythm is the backbone of the day. Resistance is rare—a few weeks in—because, well, it’s just how things are done. The rhythm of the week and of the year are similarly considered, be it bread baking on Mondays and watercolor painting on Wednesdays, or walking the winter spiral every December and dancing with rainbow-colored ribbons each May. These rhythms, when consistently carried out, are securing and build confidence as your children are better able to orient themselves in relation to the rest of the world.
This deep knowing of “what comes next” offers the same practical benefits at home than it does in the classroom. The simplest place to start is by anchoring your mealtimes, rest or quiet times, bookending them with life’s daily chores and unstructured free play, and ending with your bedtime routine. But, hey, while you are at it, why not give Taco Tuesday a fixed place on your schedule and ensure apple picking is on your annual autumn bucket list?
Embrace Simple Toys
As Joan Almon, a prominent figure in the Waldorf community and co-founder of the Waldorf School of Baltimore, was known to say, “A good toy is 90% child and 10% toy.”
Simple, open-ended toys engage the imagination in meaningful ways and set the foundation for creative thinking later in life. A basket of smooth stones can be transformed into many thousands of things, from play money and food to Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs. A play silk may become a hero’s cape, royal garb or a baby doll’s sling.
I expect you’ve witnessed this for yourself the day you realized your child could be blissfully happy with a cardboard box or entertained for hours when given free rein over the couch cushions. Give it a go by rotating out of the playroom your more fixed playthings for a few weeks and see what happens.
Say It With a Song
What do Daniel Tiger and a Waldorf early childhood teacher have in common? They both understand the power of music for capturing and holding a child’s attention. Waldorf teachers will frequently rely on verse or song to smooth transitions and invite cooperation, which, of course, paves the way for peaceful days. This technique works especially well with repetition.
In my home, a melodic “come to the table” makes for a happier suppertime march then the alternative “dinnertime” shout; and a gentle sing-song coming-in-the-door reminder to put away shoes (“line them up, two by two, that is what we like to do”) is usually better received than a potentially nagging “Don’t forget to put away your shoes.” Give it try! No singing skills required.
Movement and time in nature are vital components of a Waldorf education. Rain, snow, sleet or shine, students enjoy a portion of their day outside engaged in hands-on learning or imaginative free play. Time outside offers the perfect balance of mental and emotional stimulation without being overly stimulating. As they say, your kids can’t bounce off the walls if you take away the walls.
Getting out into nature every day, particularly wild nature, goes further still—inspiring wonder and deep respect for our shared planet. This easy and free practice is something you can take up at home. The tricky bit is simply prioritizing space for it in your day. When you do, and have kids who are calmer and kinder for it, I think you’ll find it’s worth the effort.
Scotti Morrow is the director of outreach and marketing for the Waldorf School of Baltimore. To learn more about the school and its educational philosophy, visit the school’s website.