Waldorf: More Than Just a Salad, or Half of a Famous NYC Hotel. Who Knew?

My daughter has been at her preschool for almost three weeks now, and in less than a month of only 3 mornings a week there, I’ve noticed some real changes in her, as well as in our household.  Waldorf style schools are famous for discouraging television watching, encouraging the use of wooden toys that inspire imaginative play, and relying heavily on the natural world as a teacher.  Going in I was like, “yes, yes, all of that sounds lovely”, but skeptical if it would really change my family much.

However, through studying the suggested readings, conversations with the teachers, and just observing how they do things there (Olive has had a bit of a hard time being away from her mama, so I had to join the class one day), I am finding myself making some subtle yet huge changes in my parenting.

First of all, now that I have 3 mornings to myself to get things done, we are having to use television a lot less.  In the past, we popped on a show whenever I needed to take a shower, do chores, or make a phone call.  Now, I can do a lot of those things while she’s gone, so  I have more time to play with her rather than rely on television.

I should state that we really used very little television before, so my daughter barely even asks for it now.  Since Olive has become more used to imaginative indoor play at school, she is doing it more at home.  Also, she has been exposed to opportunities to do work there, so now she’ll help me with the dishes, with folding clothes, and cleaning up.  Of course she doesn’t actually help too much, but if she is a part of the task, she is at least occupied while I am completing it.  And she feels like she is a part of my life and my duties, that she has a role in the household.

One of the things I’ve been learning from the readings the school has suggested is that kids play differently when their toy choices are simple, beautiful, and encourage their imagination.  So, I did a purge of our toys, giving away plastic trucks and buses that make noise, and keeping a small basket of pretty items, including an eye patch, an apron, several magic wands, a spinning top, and, of course, her treasure chest.  Now Olive has her play kitchen, her art desk, her tool table, her musical instruments, her books, and a few dolls.  That’s about it, and it seems to be all she needs.

I am really excited by the idea of giving Olive things that are beautiful, and that engage the senses.  I remember my obsession with a small ceramic box with colorful stones in it, which I played with for hours as a child.  I imagined it had been imbued with some special magic, and I invested all kinds of powers in the stones.

With this in mind, I took out all my crystals the other day, and Olive and I had a little rock party.

rock party

I brought out a candle, and she basically told me about what she does at school as we played.  “Oh, that’s the Quiet Candle”, she told me.  “Let’s blow it out”, she suggested, so we did, and she said, “There’s the Smoke Fairy!”  She picked up one of the rocks and pretended it was a seashell, singing a little song that they use at school to gather for the story time.  When I laid out a pretty cloth for the rocks, she said, “That’s like the puppet show!”

crystal training

One of the moms at school introduced me to the YA books written in the late 80’s/early 90’s by Monica Furlong: Wise Child and Juniper.  These sweet novels are all about young girls being trained in the ways of healing and magic, and how those arts can totally live in compatibility with Christianity.  Intrigued, I looked in to more about the author, and she was instrumental in the effort for women to be ordained in the Church of England, and wrote several biographies about spiritual figures who were pushing the boundaries of patriarchy and oppression.

What I really love about the books are that they depict the coming of age of these girls, and it is not without struggle and pain.  A big part of my parenting style is allowing Olive to work hard at the things that she wants, even if that means she gets frustrated sometimes.  The message of these novels are that hard work helps you find courage to be who you are meant to be.  I can’t wait to read them to Olive one day, but in the meantime they were a good reminder for me that introducing Olive to the rhythms of the natural world, and allowing her to do more and more work with me are important growing opportunities for her.

This also led me to get my urban butt out into nature.  A mother from school invited us on a hike, and while my first instinct was “Hmm… most of the hikes I like to do are on paved roads that are lined with coffee shops”, I thought of Juniper and took the leap.

glen park3

I have to admit it was rather refreshing, if a bit cold and damp.  And when we got home, Olive doubled her usual nap time, so I suppose hikes do have their benefits!

At a party on New Years Day, a woman who heard that my daughter was starting Waldorf preschool the following month assumed a knowing smile and said, “Oh, you are about to enter into this truly magical time with your little one.  It will be so precious — giving up TV, getting in touch with nature, eating whole foods… just you wait.”  I really wanted to punch this lady in the face, as she was using all the language that usually makes me want to barf all over the Tevas of the people spouting it, but I just smiled wanly and went to refresh my drink.  Looking back, I can see what she meant.  I hope that I will never appear to be that dreamy-eyed about it, but I admit that there is a change happening in our household, as a result of Olive’s new school.

Although at first she was so sad to leave me, today when I came to get her, she hugged me for just as long as usual, but asked if we could stay longer!  And, this week has been the first time she’s peed in the potty, so I guess she’s growing up all over the place.

I’m interested to see where this journey takes us next — as long as I don’t have to give up red lipstick and going out dancing after Olive’s bedtime, I’m feeling much more open to the process.

6 thoughts on “Waldorf: More Than Just a Salad, or Half of a Famous NYC Hotel. Who Knew?

    • Awesome! I think you’ll like them. I really want to read all her biographies now — Therese of Lisieux, Thomas Merton, etc. I’m excited to learn more about a feminist Episcopalian author!

  1. Loved this story. She is beautiful. I remember when I was a child my mother took boxes and nailed them to a tree. She decorated the inside of them with furniture out of a catalog, and also people. I had a kitchen, living room, bedroom etc… She then took a hoe and made a small road with it in the dirt and gave to me a lid. This lid served as my car. I cannot tell you how many miles I drove turning that lid in that road, and how many dolls fit in those boxes. Some of my greatest memories are in the simple things I did and had as a child. Thanks for sharing this and bringing them back. God Bless, SR

  2. Wow, your play time with olive is amazing. I’m so glad her preschool is opening up so many new doors.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I look forward to hearing more about Olive’s adventures in the land of Waldorf education. I’ve been finding that, since we moved up to Sonoma County, I’m very concerned about finding a program for my son that will give him great educational opportunities AND teachings and teachers who have some consciousness about POC children and families. It’s looking like it’s going to be pretty either or up this way. I’m inspired, though, to think of ways we can incorporate more of these practices at home.

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