Thursday, December 13, 2007

Waldorf Unschooling: Oxymoron or Fusible Dichotomy?

When we lived in the desert, our front room had a southwestern motif from the wallpaper trim to the colors, the Native American pottery we collected during our travels in the southwest to the Navajo weaving and pictures. It was a room with a theme. But our cuckoo clock, carefully carried home from our time in Germany, graced one wall and two small Japanese prints were on another. Disparate pieces that fit together because of their meaning to us.

So, too, the way we have homeschooled over the years. Many say that Waldorf and homeschooling is an oxymoron; certainly then, Waldorf and unschooling seems impossible. And, yet, for us, the two became intertwined, merging as one in the way we approached our lives and the education of our children.

We stumbled on Waldorf education while we were exploring educational options for our oldest who was then four years old. Mainstream preschool had not been a good match for her and we found the gentleness of the Waldorf preschool/kindergarten to be inspiring. As we learned more about the Waldorf approach to the education of children as well as adults, we became more and more enamored. While I fell in love with the aesthetics my husband was encouraged by the depth and breadth of the curriculum. We decided to put both of our daughters, then aged 4 years (almost 5) and 2.5 years into a Waldorf initiative. The next four years were one of joy and wonder but also tumultuous challenges and difficulties. After four years with the school we decided to homeschool our own using a Waldorf-inspired approach.

About the same time that we decided to homeschool, I was also introduced to the writings of John Holt and became increasingly intrigued by what he coined unschooling. His writings about how children learn resonated deep within me. But I continued to learn more about Waldorf education; the writings of Rene Querido and Torin Finser resonated deep within me as well. How could it be that both would resonate?

So we plodded along. In the beginning we did try to replicate as much of the Waldorf classroom in our home as possible but I soon learned that I could lead my children to a main lesson block but I could not make them learn. My oldest had been through second grade in a Waldorf school and she "knew" how things should be though she did not really want me to be her teacher; my middle had always been quite self sufficient and independent; my youngest just needed to be allowed to be two years old.

Support for me was limited during that time. Our old Waldorf circle did not embrace our decision to homeschool; our extended families were concerned at best and critical at worst. I helped start a small homeschooling support group which enjoyed a few wonderful festivals together. Soon enough we moved cross country and so did not even have that little bit of support.

The daily grind of circles and main lessons was difficult to maintain. Family and friends were skeptical. My third grader still was not reading. So I turned more and more to John Holt’s writings and began subscribing to Growing Without Schooling. Here I found testimonials from those in the trenches whose children did not learn to read until 12 or 14 years. Here I found support for being at home doing this thing called homeschooling. Here I found Holt’s thoughts and ideas carried out by real families. Again, at the time, there was little support or resources for Waldorf homeschooling. It was sometimes hard for me to grasp the fullness of the Waldorf curriculum from the few resources that were out there. The internet had not exploded yet into the instant resource it has become today.

I still loved the richness of the Waldorf curriculum. We believed in the importance of the arts. We based our daily living and learning on my essence of Waldorf, simply: head, heart and hands. I was ever aware of the need for in-breath/out-breath to our days and weeks. I embraced the inner work that is part and parcel of a Waldorf teacher’s life. But we relaxed our daily rhythm. We let our children be free to pursue their own passions, curiosities and interests. We offered educational experiences in language arts, math, history, science, music, etc. as part of our daily life but not as lessons at the kitchen table at a prescribed time of day. I continued to read both Waldorf and unschooling authors and found kernels of truth in both. Gradually we became a Waldorf unschooling family.

We have always had family rules to live by; rules that allow us to live, play and work together for the good of all not at the expense of anyone of us. We approached our children with respect and awe; we strove to bring them beauty and wonder. Some years we were more structured than others; sometimes we did main lessons or kept main lesson books as the spirit moved us. When my children did not want to form draw, I did it for me. We used a variety of resources, some Waldorf, some not. We would use textbooks and lessons when it suited our purpose. We learned to dance together in a Waldorf unschooling way, as dichotomous as that may sound to many.

I do believe we all live with more contradictions than we might be aware of in our own lives while it is easy to see the contradictions of others. Over my many years of homeschooling combining both Waldorf and unschooling it has been bemusing to see how much both groups seem threatened by the other even as many find themselves combining both in their daily lives. For us Waldorf and unschooling became a fusible dichotomy with the ways and means of both guiding our lives of learning together.

My reason for starting this blog is to share our Waldorf unschooling journey looking back over the last 15 years and forward to the next many. I hope that some of what I say might be an inspiration and support to those who are following on this challenging but joyful way of living and learning.


Shandy said...

thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! I have a two year old and I am exploring the Waldorf philosophy. I am very interested in reading Jim Holt's work as well. I look forward to perusing your other entries.

Shandy said...

thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! I have a two year old and I am exploring the Waldorf philosophy. I am very interested in reading Jim Holt's work as well. I look forward to perusing your other entries.