A Gentle Path
“Mama, how many months away is my birthday?” my son asked this morning. “Four,” I answered. “How many weeks in a month?” he asked again. “Four,” I replied. He sat quietly for a moment then looked at his fingers. “So it’s sixteen more weeks?” he asked with anticipation. “Yup!” I said. Then he tried to count the days, which was a bit tough so I helped here and there. When he finally got the number he flashed me the biggest smile and said, “I love math!” I saw bright stars of achievement and genuine enjoyment in his eyes.
When he first started learning division, he went through a phase of asking me to drill him. If there are so many loaves of bread and so many children, how many loaves does each child get? He got every answer right, but after the third round he said, “Mama, it doesn’t always have to be children and bread. You can use flowers, stones, insects.” How limited my imagination is compared to my son’s unsullied one!
Thank God for the Waldorf School, I always say, constantly aware of my bread-and-children-only imagination. I never enjoyed math. I hated it. I still remember the math teacher who introduced me to anxiety. I spent every minute of her class willing myself to evaporate. That memory still causes a slight wave in my belly and makes me long for the kind of love for numbers I see in my child.
Waldorf Education is education without fear. It does not force specific results or set hard deadlines to meet them. The children learn in an enjoyable way that involves not just their brains but also their bodies. Math skills are also honed through music, handwork and movement, so the child not only learns math theoretically but also experiences it. When you learn with all of your being, the learning is deep, full and lasting.
I have been asked if I am not just a little bit worried that my children are not learning academics as quickly as others their age. Am I unrealistic? How will I prepare them for the competition out there if they’re not already computer savvy today? I answer, with full confidence, that I know they are getting a more balanced education. Stuffing their young, developing minds with information is not my idea of balanced. The concept of “getting ahead” is not my idea of healthy. I want my child to be a child; one who is allowed to grow into adulthood at a gentle pace. There is no rush.
We all know about the importance of EQ (emotional intelligence), SQ (spiritual quotient), and all the other intelligences. I want my boys to be as balanced as possible so that they can meet the world fully. I want them to be strong in every sense. What good will intellectual brilliance bring into the world, if one doesn’t have the heart and will to use it responsibly? A brilliant mind without a solid sense of self, others and the world, is a recipe for disaster, as the Philippines knows only too well. Our history is replete with such characters, present occupant of Malacañang included.
Waldorf Education, because it is gentle and focused on honoring the child’s individuality and natural development, imbues our children with the courage to be themselves. We do not have exams. Our children do not know the stress of being graded for right or wrong answers. They do not know what it is to be dubbed either intelligent or stupid, based on a one-dimensional gauge. Our children are respectful, yet will speak out when they have a burning thought or question, feel injustice, or when something their teacher says doesn’t seem right. They can do this because they are not afraid to be wrong, as so many of us are. In our school, we know that mistakes are a valuable learning tool and so children are not made to feel negative or afraid about venturing beyond perceived boundaries. They do not carry this crushing, pervasive fear of failure. Our children are allowed and encouraged to learn through experience, which includes making mistakes, and are not judged, defined or labeled for them.
The world is harsh enough; there is plenty of time for them to discover technology and stress. To meet the challenges of today’s turbulent word, we must support our children in developing inner strength so that they can stand tall and firmly to meet the world and all it brings with heart-willed intelligence, equanimity, courage, respect and love.