How this forum works:

This forum is open to all Waldorf parents. You are encouraged to discuss the topics posted on this blog using "comments". If you have a question you would like to have addressed, please e-mail me, and I will put it on my schedule of topics. Contact me as well if you would like to post a topic yourself, so I can send you instructions.

Please remember, this forum is about supporting one another, our children, our teachers and our schools. By participating in this forum, you agree to keep your thoughts and ideas positive, even, and especially, when the topics are delicate. Try to avoid naming specific people or schools except when congratulating them on achievements. I reserve the right to remove any postings or comments that are not in the spirit of compassionate mutual support.

- Ms. Ilian

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Your Class Teacher and You

     One of the distinguishing elements of a Waldorf class is the continuity of the teacher. During the nursery-kindergarten years, a child may have the same teacher for three or four years. Once the child enters the grades, the child stays in a class with the same teacher for as many as eight years. Since school occupies  nearly half of the child's waking life for most of the year, the relationship between the child and teacher, and subsequently between teacher and parents is profound. As with all important relationships, the sailing is not always smooth. The connection between the class teacher and the family requires careful nurturing on the part of all the participating adults.

     Children begin life as a kind of sense organ. They take in everything in their environment including the moods, attitudes, emotions, and so forth of the living beings around them, particularly the people that are closest to them, their parents. This quality stays with children for a long time, growing milder as their own being becomes stronger, but still present, sometimes even into adulthood. Seeing their parents and teachers strengthening and nourishing their relationship helps the children love and trust their teacher, setting the stage for effective learning in the grade school years.

     What can you do to help this process? An invaluable aid is the home visit. Teachers usually visit each child's home when they first take the class, usually in first grade. This doesn't need to be the only visit the teacher makes to your home. It can be very supportive to the relationships between teacher and child as well as teacher and parents if the home visit can become a yearly event. I have often experienced a strengthening in my relationship with one or another child following a home visit. The visit shows that the parents value the teacher, and that the teacher values and takes interest in the family.

     The parent-teacher relationship is also strengthened through regular, direct communication with one another. The more parents can share their family values and child raising experiences and challenges with the teacher, and the more the teacher can share the events, activities, challenges and successes of the individual child as well as of the class with the parents, the stronger the bond becomes. It is especially when the parents and teacher can discuss the personal, developmental and social challenges faced in the classroom and home with sympathy, honesty and trust, that the greatest advancements are made by the child. Achieving a relationship that allows this level of communication requires dedication and work, but is rewarded by setting a social example for the children, as well as by the emergence of a friendship that can last well beyond the child's years in the teacher's class.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Maintaining a Waldorf Home

     It is a sad reality that not everyone who would choose to send his/her child to a Waldorf school is able to do so. Sometimes the reason is financial. Sometimes there is no class for children your child's age (the school is too young). Sometimes there is a Waldorf school, but the class is already over-full and no more children are accepted. Sometimes your child's needs cannot be met by the school. And sometimes there simply is no Waldorf school in the area to send your child to. One way to still give your child some of the benefit of Waldorf education, when enrolling in a Waldorf school is not an option, is to keep a Waldorf home. And for those who do have children in a Waldorf school, keeping a Waldorf home supports your child's teacher, class and overall education.

     Keeping a Waldorf home is not difficult as long as you are committed to it, and it can even make parenting easier. Most important is to establish healthy family rhythms that include moments of reverence and thankfulness. These moments can easily be incorporated into the beginning and end of the day, and  into the beginning and end of meal times. The family rhythm should include appropriate chores for the children, regular meal times, outdoor play time, quiet read-aloud time, and the like. Some families include some creative time, or have special times for baths. Rituals around meals and bedtime can be very helpful to the smooth flowing of the day.

     Another way help keep a Waldorf household is to keep electronics to a minimum. If possible, don't even have a television in the house. Keep the computer in an office where the children are not to be playing. Let them know it is a tool for work. Avoid giving children pocket electronics such as cell phones and ipods. If these things are not easily available, they will not be so tempting.

     What can we replace the electronics with then? Outdoor play in the afternoons is the most healthy activity a child can engage in after school and on the weekends. Indoors, you can teach the children to bake, provide them with handwork projects, sing with them, have them play a musical instrument, have plenty of board and card and dice game for them to play, and, of course, have plenty of good quality children's books at and above the child's reading level. At first some of these activities might take more parental involvement, but as the children learn new skills, they can take up these activities more and more on their own.

     As the children get older, the pressure to introduce electronics into their lives will increase. It is not necessary to cave in to the demand - nor is it necessary to be tyrannical in your refusal. One way to approach this difficult situation is to tell the children they can have an ipod (or whatever) if they buy it themselves with money earned - not with allowance received for chores around the house. It helps to be clear exactly what you will and will not allow. For example, it is better not to let the child have a cell phone because that involves a regular bill that the child cannot pay. Or you may decide that you will accept a computer (with agreed upon rules of use), but not a television. If your children are not ready to make reasonable agreements with you, they are probably not ready for the responsibility that accompanies the privilege being sought. This rule can apply to any other privilege as well, such as overnight visits with friends, adopting a pet, attending a party, etc.

     All these suggestions, given here in a general way, are things that I have seen work. I'm sure there are other effective approaches, as well as further questions which I invite you to share.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Choosing a School

     As parents all over the country know, enrollment/re-enrollment time is upon us the the wonderful world of school. Parents have been investigating their options, trying to ascertain what the best choice is for their children and families. For each family there are a variety of influences that determine the final choice. Each situation is unique. And the questions each family is wrestling with are also case specific. Some parents are debating: Waldorf school, or something else? This question may center around what is available - or it may be a philosophical question. It may be influenced by financial considerations, or pressure from family, friends, and neighbors. It may be influenced by the child's age and level of schooling, or by the child's current school experience.

     There are those families who have already decided that their children will attend a Waldorf school. If there is only one school in the area, than the question of which school is moot. However, there are areas where Waldorf education is thriving to such an extent that there are multiple Waldorf schools, Waldorf method charter schools, and/or Waldorf home-school groups within reach. Although the decision, Waldorf or something else, has been made, choosing the right program can still be challenging. Home schooling requires a larger investment in time and energy from the parents than sending the child to school. Charter schools ease the financial burden, but are regulated by the government, and are not free from high stakes testing. Private schools are expensive. The child's personality, developmental stage and need for social outlets needs to be considered. The size of the school and class  affect the social atmosphere, as does the reality of whether the child's class is a single or combined grades class.

     These, and many other considerations go into the decision making. How to educate your child is not a light decision. And if you are drawn to Waldorf, it is a most effective decision if it is made in the spirit of the family enrolling, and with a view to a long-term relationship with and commitment to this form of education and your school.

     With these thoughts, I open the forum to comment by readers. As moderator, I am available to answer questions, but I hope the readers will be able to connect and help each other as well.

For an excellent article by Sarah Baldwin describing what a Waldorf early childhood program is like, follow this link.