I have nothing but admiration for the Waldorf philosophy of education. I've always been drawn to the gentle hues of the wet-on-wet watercolor paintings, the beautiful ways in which nature and natural elements are the cornerstones of crafting, and the respect with which children are treated under the method.
Sort of hoaky title aside, Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children has opened my mind to so many new possibilities and ways of creating a family culture. Heaven on Earth gives you a gentle introduction to the Waldorf philosophy and a treasure trove of ideas for implementing it in your home. The appendices alone, with their panoply of resources, are worth the price of the book.
"What?!" you say? I thought you were a Montessorian? Indeed, I am. There are many similarities in the two philosophies, and some key differences. Here's a summary of these from a Montessori point of view, and here's one from a Waldorf point of view. If I could add my two cents I'd say that, while Montessori might work best for one child, Waldorf could be better for another. For example, some children really want to read at age four, and others simply have no interest until much later. (Actually, this is a common misconception of Montessori - that it forces children into academic work at a young age. In fact, it's totally okay for a Montessori child to not read until elementary school. Follow the child is the rule!) Also, I don't believe that the two need to be mutually exclusive. I could easily envision a daily family rhythm that includes Montessori for a few hours in the morning and a fantastic free play time in the afternoon. While I find myself absolutely on board with the majority of Waldorfian thought, my Montessori background and my own personality will lead me to omit fairies, gnomes, etc. in our family's experience of Nature. After reading more about Waldorf, though, I'll venture to say that the gnomes and fairies aren't at the center of the philosophy. It is wonder and awe for the natural world that Waldorf seeks to encourage in the child, and Montessori is totally on board with that. In my own opinion, the world is so full of real wonders that no fairies and gnomes are needed to spark a child's curiosity and creative play. But that's just my personality, and I realize that other families find joy in believing in these magical creatures.
What I find so refreshing about Heaven on Earth are its suggestions for consciously molding a family rhythm and a family culture. A family's daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms (routine is a less attractive word, isn't it?) are reassuring for the young child. I loved the author's accessible suggestions for creating this rhythm, from making a candle-lit bedtime ritual to having one day a week be "bread-making day" to preparing the home for seasonal festivals. Since reading the book, I've become more aware of creating these daily touchstones for Finn - from taking time every morning for a slow walk along a nearby nature trail to playing the same music at bedtime every night.
And the book's suggestions for creating an outdoor play environment? Oh my. Suffice it to say that, in the last week, we've procured many tree stumps and I'm busy mapping out and designing a child-friendly space in our backyard. Here's a peek at what I have in mind.
I'm interested to hear your thoughts on Montessori and Waldorf. Even if Waldorf as an educational philosophy isn't of interest to you, you should read this book if you have little ones - it's really wonderful and the ideas within its covers are useful for all families.