Last night I had a freelance assignment of covering a screening of Waldorf-educator Kim Hunter’s film, “Time to Play”. The film talks about the developmental need for allowing young children ample time for unstructured play, and how we need to work as a society at bringing this back as an early childhood priority. The screening was presented by our local Waldorf school, and the “assignment” to attend the event was truly a joy.
I have long been interested in Waldorf education. Now, as a Christian I certainly do not agree with many elements of anthroposophy. However, while I disagree with their spiritual beliefs, I agree with many aspects of Rudolph Steiner’s recommendations for early childhood: plenty of unstructured play, especially outdoors; as well as minimal electronics, minimizing toys and only using those which allow for open imagination, and are made of natural materials, keeping a rhythm and structure within the home, striving for a warm and harmonious atmosphere within the home, delaying academics until children have reached certain developmental milestones, a focus on proper sensory development, allowing children to make their own discoveries instead of always guiding them to reach conclusions and much more. Again, while I may not agree with their spiritual beliefs, much of Steiner’s research on developmental needs and milestones in children have been studied, and were found to be solid.
While at the screening, I struck up a conversation with the director of the Waldorf school, which led to an invitation for my children and I to attend their “Family Day”, which was being held this morning. So on this chilly October morning, I bundled my children and I up, and we drove out to the school.
It was an extraordinary day – because it was so ordinary. To me, the best way to describe it would be to call it an organic, tribal experience: it was a time of children of all ages coming together. Bundled up in hats and mittens and winter jackets they played the way children used to play for thousands of years – they played independently as a group, without guidance or interference or hovering from the “elders”.
It was so refreshing to see what happens creatively among children, when simplicity is allowed; when they are allowed to use their imaginations and nature. Blocks of wood became cannons and forts, birds and squirrels were spotted, games of tag were played, sticks became swords, a simple walk along a forest path became a grand adventure.
Inside the school there were minimal, simple toys – a basket of plain wooden blocks, a wooden kitchen and enamel tea set, a basket of small rocks and gems, some play silks, some books, among a few other things. Once again, the children’s imaginations came to life – and one of the most popular items? The basket of rocks, which I heard one child describe as “fairy crystals”. Children had tea parties, built block towers and castles, several curled up on the couch together, enjoying a book. Despite the simplicity of the toys, or the lack of electronics, not a complaint of boredom was uttered.
Snack time was a delightful experience. For starters, the children were involved in the food preparation. Even the littlest toddlers helped by washing apples, while the older children sliced the apples for homemade apple sauce. Each child kneaded and formed their own miniature loaf of bread. The transition to the snack time was preceded by a gentle song, then a beeswax candle was lit, bringing light and warmth to the table, as a blessing was said over the food.
While the school is equipped with electricity, it’s presence was negligible: light was provided by ample windows letting in the sun, heat provided by a wood cook stove, water provided by a system of rooftop resevoirs and piping. It was remarkable the sense of quiet peace that pervaded (despite the chatter of children), without the harshness of overhead lights or the constant hum of appliances and electronics that fill our homes. It brought to mind a quote from Kim Hunter, “Today, we have to intentionally teach our children how to listen, because of the constant noise we live with.” Surrounded by silence, I realized just how noisy our homes, work and school environments truly have become.
My takeaway from the film, from the experience this morning, was a feeling of, “I want that!” And so, I hope to strive to make our home, our school, a little more “Waldorf”. You don’t have to believe in anthroposophy, to incorporate Waldorf ideas in your home, indeed, I think it would serve us all well to strive to reduce the noise, the clutter, the toys, the electronics; to allow children more freedom in play and time, while also involving them in the work of the home more (which gives them a feeling of connection), to enjoy nature a little more, to be intentional at trying to create a warm and relaxed atmosphere within our home, to give our children a predictable rhythm. Essentially, to give our children simplicity.
The children enjoy an outdoor snack of fresh baked sourdough bread – each child created their own small loaf. My daughter shows off her “crystals” – the children took turns hammering a geode, opening it to discover the gem inside.