One of the things that often strikes me in the course of consulting with clients or reading through what people say on my discussion forum (or my old yahoo group) is how by making just a few simple changes to their family life, profound differences have been felt. By simply slowing down, ignoring popular admonitions to sign ones children up for every enrichment class and group activity available and just being at home, parents constantly tell me that major changes have occurred in their family. They find that they are more peaceful and less stressed; that the children start to play more and argue less; and that they find that life is generally more peaceful.
So my advice to people new to Waldorf, to those who e-mail me, awed at the beauty and profound appeal of Waldorf education and its implications for parenting is: take it easy and just go one step at a time. Waldorf is so tremendously different from accepted and popular ideas about how children learn - what children are - that when someone finds Waldorf and suddenly feel validated by what might have been lurking in her heart for some time, there is a tendency to try to "do it all." Suddenly the house needs to be redecorated and the walls lazured in pale shades of pink and yellow; all the plastic monstrosities have to be thrown out; the TV and video are no longer welcome; and a myriad of other changes seem to all need to be done at once.
But be careful! This is still about you - and about your partner and children. You need to make Waldorf work for you and your own family's very special and individual circumstances. You need to slowly live into this new way of being and penetrate its meaning, one small piece at a time. If you rush and think in terms of major make-overs instead of gradual changes, then the danger is that one is simply taking on forms and ways of being without really understanding them. Favoring wooden toys has a number of reasons behind it having to do with open ended play, developing a sense of aesthetics and nurturing the senses. Developing a sensible family schedule has to do with the fact that young children naturally learn best by repetition and imitation and that strong rhythms allow them to learn mainly through their physical bodies instead of through their minds. Emphasizing artistic forms of learning has to do with developing a moral sense in the child, with strengthening his feeling life and encouraging him to be creative. And so on.
Waldorf can seem intimidating. And the more one scratches the surface, the more one sees how much there is to learn and how huge this way of understanding children - of understanding life - really is. Working with Waldorf is a process, a process with many small goals.
Here are a few things which parents I work with tell me are some of the best small steps toward Waldorf they have taken:
* Work out a sensible plan for mealtimes in your family. It goes without saying that the television has no role during mealtime when there are children involved. Even music can become just more filler, just another way of avoiding silence. Make sure mealtimes and expectations fit your children and are not simply designed with adult ideals in mind.
* Ensure that there is a rest time - a nap time if the children are 4 or younger - every day. This is a quiet time on the bed for under 7's and in their room for under 12's. This is your time for a rest, too.
* Think about your family's spiritual life together. How do you mark the passing of seasons and various important festivals? Create simple but special celebrations which you can do year after year. Think about how you bring a sense of reverence and awe to your family celebrations.
* Make sure the children have time to play outdoors every day - no matter the weather. Even a short walk is better than being cooped up all day. Make sure the time is as unstructured as possible and that the children have plenty of opportunities to play amongst trees and stones, boulders and meadows, hills and streams - and not just man-made playgrounds.
* Learn about the different stages that children go through as they grow and figure out how you can best protect your child from moving from one stage of growth precociously into the next. Childhood is precious and it is hard to make up for lost opportunities.
* Having said that, rid yourself of any guilt that might be lurking. especially if you used to parent very differently and then discovered that you resonate with Waldorf, give yourself a break. We all do what we think is best at the time and cannot do things which we know nothing about. This also means that if your children are used to behaving in certain ways, it will take a lot of patience and slow small steps to change.
* But getting rid of the tv will have immediate consequences. Gong cold turkey is a lot easier for many folks than endless negotiations about how much tv. Severely limiting children's exposure to tv (and of course computer) will have immediate noticeable effects on their ability to play creatively, amuse themselves, do artistic work and engage with others. But.... expect a period of whining and crying as you transition the tv out of your life!
* Join my Waldorf discussion forum and find support from em and from other Waldorf parents! Join our co-line community of mothers (and one or two dads) who share the joys and challenges of living without tv, getting plastic toys from in-laws, struggling to know what to do when a child doesn't read - and much much more! You don't have to go it alone!