Waldorf Schools

They're schools; seriously.

This came up in the midst of a discussion about playing outdoors ("outside" being a monolithic thing like "screentime," as Brie Jontry explained)

Someone asked:

Is there somewhere that you, Sandra Dodd,, or others, have written about Waldorf and Montessori from a radical unschooling perspective?
I responded:
SHOULD we write about Waldorf from an unschooling perspective?
WOULD we need to write about Montessori from an unschooling perspective?
end of that quote

We had, from time to time, talked about Waldorf and Montessori, usually to explain again that they were NOT what unschooling was based on, at all. But it hadn't been collected in one easily-provided link, so here comes all this. :-) The first part is from that discussion, but if you go to any of the particulars (click the stars**) you can read more, in that discussion. Other quotes are from various other times and discussions.

There was a bit of discussion and then I wrote:
I do want to talk about Waldorf and Montessori. This was posted in a discussion about control. Becoming a Waldorf parent played into this mom's problems, and eventual recovery. I like this story:


Jamie Jenkins:
I carry a lot of trauma from my childhood, and the main way that I developed to cope with mental and emotional abuse and an extremely controlling mother was to learn, as a child, to control whatever I could. The more stress I felt, the more deeply I would feel a knot tighten in my stomach, and I would have the urge to find *something* that I could control. As I grew, this turned into a very sneaky and serious eating disorder, as well as self destructive behavior that I don't need to go into detail about.

My point is, control has been my coping mechanism for most of my life. I was certain that when I had kids I wanted them to grow up feeling trusted and free to think and try things for themselves, but when I would become very stressed (which happened when I experienced PPD after the births of my first two children), I would resort to control. The trick was, it didn't look like it to me. I tried to run a "Waldorf" style house, was committed to homeschooling, and tried to control every aspect of what my kids came in contact with.

When I realized that was what I was doing, the first step I took was not to eliminate all rules; that would have realistically sent me into a panic attack and been bad for everyone. I got mental health support for myself. I found the therapy that helped me look deeply at my past and my current reactions and how intertwined they are, and I was able to begin making conscious steps away from controlling, reacting, and living in fear.

I have come so far, but I still have far to go. At least I have learned that anytime I start to think that they are doing "too much" or "not enough" of something, it is a signal for me to step away and check in to see why I am feeling afraid. A specific example, that I can laugh about now, since it happens internally these days, is that the day before my period *every month* I become absolutely convinced that unschooling isn't working and we are doing everything wrong (this is a big improvement from how it used to be for me!). My deal with myself is, "let it go until tomorrow", and, without fail, once tomorrow comes I can see things clearly and am able to relax again.

So the short answer at the end of my long answer (to the second part of the question): yes, it is absolutely possible for a recovering control freak to build a relationship of trust and joy with their children. It is a lot of work, and requires ongoing self reflection and evaluation, but if I can do it anyone can!


So one way that Waldorf is incompatible with unschooling is the level of control.

**Sandra Dodd, January 2015

Meredith Meredith
When a parent says "Montessori/Waldorf" as though the two were compatible, it's definitely not about philosophies, since they're fundamentally different on that level. On a philosophic level, Montessori is very close to unschooling - the format is different because it's created for classrooms, to make classrooms mimic rich home environments for kids who don't have those. But most adults aren't any more comfortable with the actual philosophy of Montessori than they are with unschooling (and for the same reasons) so they glom on to the materials. The materials (especially when you ignore the philosophy) don't challenge adults to re-think their perception of children.

That's really where unschooling gets radical - where Maria Montessori was radical, too - seeing the actual interests and desires of children as valuable. Waldorf seeks to shape those interests and desires into forms pleasing to adults - and most modern "Montessori style" classrooms and curricula do too. In that sense they're not much different than other classrooms and curricula, just with different materials. The idea of starting from "what does your child want?" lies at the core of unschooling and it can be surprisingly difficult for parents to face that question without getting defensive.

Colleen Burns:
I want to write more about this later, but for now I will just say that Waldorf is just so extremely based on fear. Fear of food that is not organic or biodynamic, of any kind of screens, of children learning things at the "wrong time", fear of them using black crayons! I'm not even joking about that. The warning is that doing any of these things can negatively influence the soul life of the entire world.

What I have just Loved about unschooling is that it is based in faith and love: faith in our children's interests, in our love for them, in the cool interactions we can have with others, the fascinating rabbit holes we get to explore all the time! Faith in the world too, that the cool toys they like aren't evil products of evil industries trying to destroy the world, but things that light up faces and give sparkle to our days!

J-me Faerydae
. . . . I think the moment it really occurred to me that I was buying into a very dogmatic line of thinking was when I was told I needed to teach my child the "correct" way to paint, and reference was made to needing to teach children the "correct" way to play if they hadn't been in a proper Waldorf school before.
**J-me Faerydae
and there's more, there, about art

Christina Rose
My defining moment when I realised the Steiner stuff perhaps wasn't for me after all was when my daughter was about 4 and I suggested to a friend who I had at the time pedastalised a bit because of her dedication to her children and the way she implemented all things Waldorf in her Steiner homeschool regime.

I suggested how nice it would be to meet up on the train and go to the museum in Liverpool .....her daughter was 9 at the time the age my daughter nearly is now.

Her response was she really diddnt want the children exposed to what they might see in the museum as it might cause them to ask questions that would move them away from the dreamy way of being they were currently in....that it was too soon for them to see things that would make them think and question life.....especially her 9 year old who was at some particularly important developmental stage or other...... Wow! It brought me up short and made me question everything I can tell you! I followed my own gut instincts after that .....lots of museums as they were so enjoyed at the time for my girl.....didnt take me long to find the stuff that resonated with me .....still filling myself up daily reading here and other good sources.

**Christina Rose
(ellipses in the original; paragraphs are mine)

Sarah Carley Thompson
That's fascinating! I had no idea! The Waldorf toys are very pleasing to me as an adult, but I could see that my two sons weren't into them, at least not exclusively. They also wanted nerf guns, and plastic trucks and Lego sets with instructions. I agreed that my kids *should* want to do unstructured creative play outdoors in the woods with native materials, but in retrospect I don't know why. Since *they* didn't really want to, it didn't happen, and I've had to deschool that thought.

Kelly Callahan, in response to this first quote:

---Mainly I have been watching several posts come through and am noticing that parents speak of problems they are experiencing with their thoughts about their children. I feel like there are emotional/development issues that are couched in "unschooling issues". ----
My kids each did 3 years in Waldorf early education before transitioning to a couple years of public school. Our time in Waldorf/Steiner added layers to my deschooling.

Unschooling has helped me to look at *my* seven-year old, and not what Steiner thought 7 year olds should be doing, thinking, creating with, or inspired by. His ideas are interesting, and I'm a homeopath, so I am no stranger to 'woo' concepts ;) But they are limiting and for children who do not naturally fit the mold, and are damaging. It's just like public school- different vocabulary, different activities.

I treat many children who are at the Waldorf schools and guess what? I don't see developmental issues... I see 'Waldorf issues.' Being in a school that supposedly keeps the 'whole child' in perspective and teaches to the whole child has not spared these children of having anxiety, depression, being bullied, feeling dumb, or somehow not conforming to his ideas of developmentally appropriate behavior. On top of trying to meet the child where he/she is at, I also have to counsel parents to see *their* child as an individual, who is not broken or wrong or doomed because he/she has been in Waldorf since they were 3 and has anxiety or can't read - even though Waldorf scoffs early reading, if your kid hasn't figured it out by 9, they are labeled and treated just like they do in the public schools.

Often when i meet with families who have been immersed in some pedagogy or another, what is often tossed off as developmental issues would be easily softened if radical unschooling principles were embraced. They would become a non-issue, or if not resolved, bring peace to the child, and connection back to the family, where labels and comparisons and expectations have interceded.

My son loves video games, movies, tv shows... if I had kept on with Waldorf and Steiner, I never would have connected with my son around these things that he loves. We never would have had fun and long conversations deconstructing Bob's Burgers characters. Likely we would have been arguing over his screen time, and I would have been going on about how it's not developmentally appropriate and his brain isn't ready and needs to only have nature. But we aren't, and we didn't. And his brain has been more than ready for video games and Bob's Burgers and the tv and movies he is interested in and we don't spend some of our days arguing and I don't wonder about what the 11 year old soul is supposed to be doing- I just look at my son and see it :)

The original is here, by Kelly Callahan, from August 2017

Joyce Fetteroll:
*** I find value in how Steiner thinks about children sometimes. ***
It's interesting how little John Holt is mentioned in unschooling discussions. He named the idea. He did the research that birthed the idea. Yet his name rarely gets mentioned. Some unschoolers might even ask, "Who?"

But in some ways it's good that John Holt isn't brought up. We're not filtering what we see through what John Holt told us to see. We're looking directly at our kids. We're asking, "Are they happy? What is troubling them? What do they want? What can I change to help them?"

What gets in the way of so many new unschooling parents is unreasonable expectations. They think kids must learn to read, spell, do math by a certain age, do chores, do what they're told, not eat more sugar than Mom thinks is right, bathe and sleep when Mom wants... They think unschooling parents have a magical way of getting kids to do those.

Some parent expectations come from how they were parented. Some come from school. Some come from friends and other parents. Some are accepted as truths just because the message is ubiquitous.

For unschooling to flourish, parents need to look directly at their kids. What does *this* child need? What is *this* child reaching for? If a resource helps a parent let go of unreasonable expectations and look directly at their child, then that's supportive of creating a learning environment. If a resource helps a parent understand their child better, that's a good thing *if* it removed a barrier to directly looking at their child. It's not a good thing if it puts a new filter between parent and child. (It's funny how parents who fear TV see addiction in their children. When they let go of their fear, they see engagement.)

Where does Steiner fall? Maybe for some it's the first. But the problem is that it's just as likely, if not more so, to be the second. Which is why it's not a good unschooling resource. (People can get goofy ideas even from good unschooling resources! )

Helpful questions for unschooling parents are: What does my child need? What's getting in my way of seeing what my child needs?


original, by Joyce, August 11, 2017

Rudolf Steiner had nothing to do with home education. He wasn't an educator. He wasn't a teacher. He was involved in creating a school for the employees of a cigarette factory in Germany in 1919. He died in 1925. His ideas are about spirituality, religion, the hierarchy of races. Waldorf educators learn that, even if it's not overt in what the children hear from teachers in school.

Steiner's beliefs were airy-fairy things about reincarnation and Atlantis. Radio was new, when he died. TV was in the future. Home computers were unimagined.

Elsewhere on my site:

Rippy Dusseldorp, from ideas of how to respond to curious critics:

Some school parents ask whether or not our homeschooling is similar to Montessori or Waldorf. I tell them it can have elements of either one. It is more similar to the open classroom philosophy or the democratic Sudbury model. Sometimes it has elements of Reggio Emilia. Usually at this point, they suspect I may know more about educational approaches than they do, and they change the topic.

Out and About Elsewhere:

Screentime—a blogpost by a mom who did Waldorf education for a while, but the family moved toward unschooling and is glad.

Criticism of Waldorf, Steiner and Anthroposophy (way beyond what unschoolers need as a comparison, but if you like trainwrecks and cult stories, you might have some fun at that site)

Clarity Rejecting a Pre-Packaged Life Seeing Unschooling more deeply