Waldorf school at home. An experience report from America

By Eva Meilaender, February 2013

What in Germany would raise eyebrows is practised a lot in the USA and tolerated by the authorities: home schooling. Parents teach their children and also use Waldorf educational methods. A mother reports.

A warm welcome to our home school which is held mainly in the living and dining room! We are a seven-member German-American family in the state of New York: my husband Peter, professor of politics at a small Christian college, I, his wife Eva, a former lecturer in German at the University of Notre Dame, and our five children. 

After I had come across Waldorf education in a kindergarten, we educated our preschool children in that way. That is why it seemed only right to continue with Waldorf education also when they reached school age. When we had to find a school for our son Jonathan almost nine years ago, we decided after careful consideration to go for home schooling. Increasing numbers of families in the USA are teaching their children at home. As a home schooler, one is subject to the regulations of one’s home state and school district. At the start of the school year we have to submit a plan to the authorities about what we are going to teach and the materials we are going to use for that. There are prescribed subjects and content and a set number of hours which have to be taught. But the teaching method is not prescribed. Every quarter a certificate is sent to the school. At the end of the school year, the parents write an assessment report for the younger pupils; from class 4, the children take part in national, standardised written examinations.

But how can that be managed without having attended a Waldorf teacher training seminar? My greatest help, apart from the curricula by Karl Stockmeyer and Tobias Richter and the teaching methodology for art by Thomas Wildgruber, comes from “Live Education!”, a group of former Waldorf teachers who help parents undertaking Waldorf home schooling with teaching materials as well as verbal and written advice regarding main lesson planning. We parents are in contact on the Internet (www.live-education.com) and summer courses allow us to try things out in practice. When our play group period finished, we kept up contact with the Aurora Waldorf School, which is unfortunately 80 kilometres away, and continue receive suggestions and help from there.

With each new main lesson, I go back to my own education but also have to learn some things from new or improve on them in order to be able to communicate them to my children. That is a great challenge, but precisely because my children see that I sometimes also have to make an effort that is an important lesson for them. In any case, it is great fun to discover new things together.

A typical day in our “school” consists of doing housekeeping together, leisure time and learning periods. We start with a round game, followed by two separate lessons in the morning and one in the afternoon.

While Miriam is drawing a picture of Noah’ Ark in her school book after I have told her the story, Jonathan and Charlotte are learning English grammar by themselves and practice the recorder. The little ones, Veronika and Flora, are making bird feed from pine cones, seeds and peanut butter. Later Charlotte uses a rope to do measuring exercises outside with Jonathan’s help in her work on the mysterious number “pi”.

She then calculates the circumference of several circles at the blackboard. In the afternoon, Jonathan does a physics experiment. He writes his results in his school book while the others practice foreign languages (German, French, Latin or Greek). I speak German with my children – also in lessons. After coffee time, the children play outside or go to the library, ballet lessons, fencing, gymnastics or baseball. In the evening, they mostly read or play, or handwork and woodwork are on the programme. “But how do the children get to know other children?” or “How can they assert themselves in life or socialise?” We often get asked these questions. The children not only attend ballet classes and sports groups, they also meet with other home schoolers for joint excursions and nature, games, sports and music events. They are involved at the church and a home for the elderly. They take part in theatre performances at a local private school. They are open towards other children and have made friends. But, above all, they have developed a very good relationship among themselves. They help each other to learn and in my role as teacher I can increasingly step into the background.

Our educational path cannot offer everything that a Waldorf school can offer – eurythmy, for example – but many Waldorf impulses can also be realised at home. The American public and private schools face many problems, from violence to cutbacks in subjects – particularly art and music. As early as kindergarten the boys and girls are put in front of a computer with increasing frequency. Here in the state of New York learning longhand is no longer compulsory and many schools fill this freedom with the computer. The inclusion of the whole human being (spirit, feeling and practical doing) is no longer on the agenda; it is mostly a matter of complying with the standards prescribed by the state. A close relationship with nature is almost completely missing, as American schools include fewer and fewer breaks and time for outside play in their planning.

It is our wish to support our children through Waldorf education to find their own conscious way in the future and to bear witness in society to goodness, truth and beauty. This hope, which was also one of Rudolf Steiner’s central concerns, is expressed in our daily closing verse which we speak together:

“My work is done and now may rest,

What I have learned may it be blessed

And make me strong to work with love

For earth and man and God above.”

Link: www.untroddenpaths.blogspot.com

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