A Healing Education
I’ve been thinking a lot about the educational system in the country today and how this has contributed to the current crisis we’re in. Each time I do, I am so thankful that I discovered the Waldorf School.
My son is in his second year at the school and I cannot imagine putting him anywhere else. I know that when he is there—with or without me—he is in capable hands. He is with teachers who truly love and respect him as an individual and as a child. He will not pick-up annoying, negative habits that I will have to spend time undoing. In fact, these days, it works the other way. He usually picks up a disturbing habit or two from the household and then I bring the concern to school where his teacher helps me sort it out! His teacher has helped me with concerns regarding behavioural changes, potty training, diet, overall health and other unexpected things that crop up in the course of parenting. Their approach always feels right and is always, always geared towards the balanced development of my child. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have such a community behind you.
Just this afternoon, my son was busy creating a horse with some rope, a small blackboard, pieces of wood and several pieces of cotton gauze. His emerging imagination seems boundless. He doesn’t watch television and spends hours in creative play in his sandbox. He sits still at mass and is hardly ever all over the place anywhere. I can bring him to the supermarket and not worry about a scene over something he insists on buying. He has asked me several times for this and that toy in a store and I have been able to tell him no. He sometimes asks why but always accepts my decision calmly. He knows his boundaries.
We are not without our difficult moments. He has had his share of tantrums but for the most part, he is calm and contained. Yes, some of this has to do with his personality and the way we parent him, but the influence of the Waldorf school has played such a vital role in his development.
Let me quote a paragraph from the Waldorf Parenting Handbook. “Consider how Waldorf Education works. There is no early, forced intellectualisation; simple toys of natural materials are used to stimulate the child’s powers of fantasy and imagination. It is a balanced education of the whole child of thinking, feeling and willing. Teaching methods are based on the child’s natural stage of learning: imitation in the early years, a beloved trusted authority figure in the middle years, and the intellectual search for truth after puberty. There is a natural unity of art, science and moral/spiritual values in the curriculum material.
Waldorf education is in harmony with Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “There is a relation between the hours of our life and the centuries of time. The hours should be instructed by the ages and the ages explained by the hours.” This is just what the Waldorf school does: correlates the hours of the child’s life with the ages of mankind’s development. Just as the embryo, in utero, repeats man’s biological evolution, so the growing child retraces the evolution of man’s consciousness, his spiritual odyssey.”
This alone told me that it was the kind of environment I wanted my child to grow-up in. It is, finally, an educational system that sees that my child is not just a physical body and that the process of his development must be respected and allowed to unfold.
One of the things that attracted me most was the school’s emphasis on the three activities of the human soul—thinking, feeling and willing. The Waldorf school aims to balance these three aspects in the developing child. Joan Almon, a Waldorf kindergarten teacher with over 20 years experience writes, “The three areas are distinct but also highly interconnected. One cannot function without the other two, yet each brings its unique qualities to the individual. When we speak of a well-balanced person, we usually mean that all three aspects are active and working together harmoniously. If one aspect predominates so strongly that others are suppressed, we find one-sided people. From this condition, there arise stereotypes and caricatures. The caricature professor, for example, lives in an ivory tower, a picture of living solely in the activity of thinking, isolated from feelings and will. In contrast, the oversized jock, all brawn and nipo brain, lives in the will, in the limbs and in the huge amounts of food he consumes. In between, the artist is wrapped up in the feeling life, a bohemian existence teeming with human relationships and with little connection to the practical or intellectual. These are extremes, of course, but the pictures are helpful in understanding how one-sided we become if we do not cultivate all three aspects of our nature.”
Think of the businessman who is so successful but whose home life suffers. He is probably strong in thinking and willing, but obviously weak in his feeling life. Think about your genius neighbour who is full of brilliant ideas but can’t seem to get any of them off the ground. He is strong in thinking but weak in the will. These are but a few examples of the kind of imbalance that the Waldorf school, in its curriculum, tries to address.
The other thing I appreciate about the school is the budding parent community that surrounds it. So many of us are involved in the school and because of it, are learning so much. The other day I was sitting with some parents in the school, discussing ways we could help the school and our children, all the while listening to the strains of violins being played by the grade school classes. It felt good to be part of such a positive, creative, soul and spirit-affirming community.
People have asked me what I would like my son to be and I always say the same thing. I would like him to grow up whole and balanced in thinking, feeling and willing, able to stay true and connected to his essence and all parts of his being. This seems like such a Herculean task but with the invaluable Waldorf education behind him, I know I am completely supported in my journey.