My hope is that these words will encourage another family who is trying to incorporate Waldorf inspired methods into their homeschooling. We came to Waldorf when my older son was 8 1/2 and my younger son was just 4. It was July and my plan was to begin a Waldorf grade 3 in September. Let’s just say, things didn’t work out as planned . . .
Pretty early on, I learned the outward symbols of Waldorf did not impart any of the intentionality, spirituality and simplicity I wanted in our home. Because, trust me, I tried to just “buy” Waldorf in the beginning. I spent a lot of money – this is not hard! – on art supplies, child-sized German brooms and dust pans, anthroposophical books that were (and still are) beyond my comprehension and a myriad of other wooden, silken and beeswax-covered items. I scattered these things around our home and hoped, like fairy dust, they would work their magic. Surprisingly, this did not happen.
When I first came to Waldorf, I kept coming across the phrase “layer it in.” It was being given as advice to build a solid foundation – don’t do too much at once, and add in something new every year. I didn’t find this easy to follow. At the time, I had the mindset that I had to make up for all that we had missed. The clock was ticking and if I didn’t get it together right this very minute, well, all would be lost. This panicked thinking led to absolute overload, with me vacillating between over-functioning (trying to do everything) and under-functioning (doing a whole bunch of nothing). However, with the grace of hindsight, I would like to offer a few bits of advice I wished I could have given myself back then.
1. Slow down. Get a rhythm going. I felt like I heard this word all the time when I first came to Waldorf: rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. I knew I wanted what it seemed to offer, but I didn’t know how to get it. Carrie over at The Parenting Passageway wrote a post in January of that year that really showed me how to bring rhythm into our day. Taking her advice, I began to write down, on a piece of paper, exactly how I wanted our day to flow. Every morning I would start with a list: breakfast, walk, circle time, main lesson, play, lunch, play, storytime, play, dinner, night routine, bed. Eventually, I could recite this list by heart, and then – slowly but surely – our days began to resemble the list, with one activity following the next. It was not seamless or effortless, but it was a start.
2. Go with your strengths. There is a lot to learn when it comes to Waldorf: story telling, handwork, drawing with block crayons, wet-on-wet watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, celebrating festivals, baking bread, movement, verses . . . I could go on. This felt absolutely overwhelming and almost impossible. (Honestly, sometimes it still can.) I love to cook and bake, and grade 3 focuses on giving the child practical life skills. We began by making bread everyday. We made cheese, jelly and crackers. We then started grinding our wheat and baking with a sourdough starter. We also started something called “Soup Tuesday” where the boys were responsible for making homemade soup and bread for dinner on Tuesdays. This was not how I pictured homeschooling with Waldorf would look, however, it was one of the best things to come out of that year.
3. Limit internet time. Let’s face it, when you homeschool with Waldorf, you are a minority within a minority. And usually the only people you “know” who are doing this are through online groups and blogs. I was online a lot in the beginning. Melisa Nielsen’s Yahoo Group, Carrie Dendtler’s blog and Donna Ashton’s Global Waldorf Expo were my lifelines in the beginning. Those three women have become personal friends, and I honestly would not be where I am without them. However, there did come a point – about a year into homeschooling with Waldorf – that I made a conscious decision to drastically cut down my time on the internet. There is no right way to do this, but I tried to find those people who bolstered my confidence, expanded my understanding and above all made me feel good.
4. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. This is a quotation I discovered recently, and one I wish I had emblazoned somewhere very prominent when we first came to Waldorf. Beginnings are messy. They are not smooth, easy or placid. Coming to Waldorf late is a process that takes time. I may even go out on a limb here and say homeschooling with Waldorf – no matter when you come to it – is a process that takes time. If it speaks to you, if it feeds you, if you can catch glimpses of it changing you, your children and your family for the better, stick with it and give yourself that time. Listen to the whispers that speak to that part of you that resonated with Waldorf in the first place. Focus on that and ignore the rest for now. You will get there.
5. Take the long view. Waldorf doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a week or a month or even a year. In the beginning, I felt like I was treading water in the deep end of the pool, desperately trying to keep my head above water. I was vulnerable, scared and thought about quitting many times. I can honestly say, homeschooling with Waldorf has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, yet four years later it continues to expand my understanding, express my deepest desires and exhort my better angels. For me, this path allows me to be more fully engaged in my parenting, my spirituality and my everyday life.