The Future of Waldorf Homeschooling
We would first like to say that we are very grateful to The Peridot Journal for granting us permission to reprint Barbara Dewey's fine article on the current life of Waldorf homeschooling. We believe it offers both excellent networking opportunities as well as a multitude of inspiring approaches that illustrate the myriad of possibilities Waldorf homeschooling offers.
Barbara Dewey is the creative energy behind Waldorf Without Walls, a resource and mentoring program for families seeking to homeschool their children using the Waldorf approach. For the past five years, Barbara has been teaching classes for homeschooled children and workshops on Waldorf Education for parents throughout the Midwest, especially in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Ohio and Canton, Ohio. Barbara now consults with parents all over the world by Internet, FAX and phone, helping them to write individual Waldorf curricula for their children. She also publishes a quarterly newsletter, Waldorf Without Walls. Barbara Dewey holds as a B.S. in Elementary Education, and an M.S. in Waldorf Education from the Waldorf Institute of Sunbridge College in New York. You can reach her by calling 740-269-3038, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at her web site http://web.tusco.net/barbara/www
Bob and Nancy
The future of Waldorf homeschooling is being created every day by the many families who are doing it. There are presently an estimated one to two thousand families independently homeschooling with Waldorf philosophy and methods; counting those using Oak Meadow as well, the number is probably closer to four thousand.
There are many reasons why families choose this route: there is no Waldorf school in the area, they can't afford it if there is one, there is a school but it is a long commute (often with a younger sibling spending three hours a day in the car seat), they have had an unhappy experience in the local Waldorf school, there is no grade in the local Waldorf school for one or more of their children, the parents enjoy their children and want to educate them together as a family.
A few Waldorf schools encourage the efforts of nearby homeschooling families and allow the children to attend some special classes, such as foreign language, handwork or eurythmy. Some parents serve on the board or on committees, especially the festival committee. This kind of cooperation is mutually beneficial to both groups. It often allows a small school to have a eurythmist or language teacher before they would be able to afford it alone, and it allows homeschoolers the benefit of disciplines their parents would not otherwise be able to provide. Having extra adults to work on festivals and other committees can often relieve overloaded parents and teachers in a small school.
Many homeschooling parents go to Waterville, Maine, Sunbridge or Rudolf Steiner College to take workshops and training, particularly in the grades they are about to teach their children. In the past, Sunbridge has held an annual Waldorf Homeshooling Parents Training in the summer. (Call Marjorie Blair at 914-425-0055 for information on current offerings.)
Very few Waldorf families homeschool in isolation, although many start out that way. If they have studied Steiner, they know it is important that a school age child have an authority figure other than a parent to provide a non-hereditary influence. Most parents soon find a few other like-minded families and get their children together as frequently as time and distance allow, usually at least once a week.. In time, the group often grows into a small Waldorf community which may include gardening, Men's and Women's study and singing groups, co-op food buying, etc., in addition to the educational effort.
An example of this is Bridgeways, the Waldorf Homeschooling Initiative in Cleveland, Ohio. This group has been working together for nearly five years, starting when their children were toddlers. They began with the idea of starting a school, a Waldorf kindergarten, working late into the night to write their proposal, find a site and raise funds. After two years of this they realized they were just not ready. Jean Miller, the group's chairman says, "We were feeling really scared about what would happen to our group once we became an institution and went public at a time when we weren't feeling particularly strong as a group to begin with. We realized that arriving at a proposal was not the culmination of our hard work, but only the beginning." The group took a break from "school planning," continuing to meet weekly in the evening as a Mom's Group to study, do crafts, sing, and celebrate festivals. They continued to have a weekly playgroup for their children.
About two and a half years ago, they asked me if I would come to Cleveland one day every two weeks to work with a kindergarten, a group of first through third graders, and a parent class in the evening. Those days soon grew into two days every other week, and this year into two days every week. A warm-hearted public school teacher, Royce Crall, who has been studying Waldorf education for several years, gave up her public school teaching job to work with me and the classes all this past fall. She has now taken over, and Bridgeways is experimenting with a third day of classes, and writing a 501(c)3 for non-profit status. All classes meet in an old school building, now the community center for the town of Bratenahl. They have a lending library, one of the parents has organized a book and materials ordering service, they celebrate four festivals a year, there is a Men's and Women's Group, and a Steiner study group.
Their dream is to have a building which houses a resource center and one or two full time teachers who meet with each class one or two days a week. Most of the families are happy with homeschooling now but see a part or full time school growing out of their efforts at some time in the future. One of the parents is taking the part time early childhood training in Michigan and some others are planning to do the elementary training at Sunbridge.
At Crystal Springs Waldorf Kindergarten near Traverse City, Michigan, a group of five first graders meets four days a week, and a group of eight second and third graders meets three days a week. Their teacher, Teri Sherman, gives the parents homework to work with the children on review the other days of the week. Teri, a trained Waldorf teacher, says that this system works very well. It was difficult , at first, she says, because the parents' teaching style differed from hers. Getting accustomed to that difference was a real learning experience for all concerned, and, since then, some of the parents have come up with some very creative ways to teach certain lessons, which Teri has been able to use in the classroom. Teri feels very fortunate to be able to teach only three days a week, leaving time for additional preparation and deeper study of Steiner's pedagogical lectures and writings. She feels that it is very important for children to spend time with their peer group each week. She says, "Each generation brings new impulses into the world, and when they are together, these impulses light up."
There are many such groups meeting all over the U.S, each creating their own path as they move along it. There is a teacher in Hawaii who has been meeting for several years in someone's home with 15, now fifth grade children. They meet four days per week, using Bothmer Gymnastics, doing parts of the opening in the native Hawaiian language, English and American sign language. In fourth grade they studied Man and Animal, the Kalevala, Norse Mythology, local Hawaiian geography, fractions, and grammar, and performed a play, "The Death of Balder." They also study Spanish, ukulele, and recorder. Their teacher is not officially Waldorf trained and does not call herself a Waldorf teacher but she incorporates much of the curriculum. She says, "I truly enjoy the freedom to use what feels right for these children, in Hawaii, in the 1990's"
On Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, Debby Haase and her husband have outfitted the first floor of a home they own as a classroom, with a beautiful view of the waters of Puget Sound. There Debby and Cindy Smith meet weekly with six first graders, covering three main lesson blocks this year. They do beeswax modelling, recorder, singing and knitting as well. Next year they will be meeting two days per week and are looking for a part time Waldorf teacher or mentor. Part of the group there is trying to organize a full time Waldorf school which would somehow include those who want to homeschool. It is not clear at this point what form this will take, but the group is working hard at coming to some creative arrangement. The parents meet frequently with Bill Bryant a trained Waldorf teacher in Gig Harbor who gives Anthroposophical workshops for teachers and homeschooling parents in the area.
In Nordland, also in Puget Sound, Helen Curry and her husband have constructed a lovely building on their traditional farm to house a kindergarten and resource center for older children and their parents. Their farm has milk goats, chickens, ducks, geese, and other fowl, pigs, llamas, sheep, dogs, and cats. Helen teaches the classes and does a lot of spinning and weaving. The children share in chores around the farm, including shearing the sheep, goats and llamas and washing, carding, spinning, and knitting or weaving the wool into useful articles. Helen also takes part in the homeschooling resource center provided by the local public school district, and shares her expertise and Waldorf methods with the teachers and other families there.
In San Francisco, families led by Lisa Sargent and Linda James, are organizing to provide group Waldorf educational experiences for their children, some of whom go to public or private schools and some of whom are homeschooled. There are adopted Chinese children in this group who go to the Chinese language magnet public school, but whose parents want them to have some Waldorf education. This education will take the form of Saturday enrichment classes which can include both groups as well as some weekday clsses for homeschoolers only. Individual Waldorf teachers from local schools have expressed interest in helping the group.
In Rochester, New York a Waldorf Initiative is forming under the leadership of Lynn Malooly, in cooperation with Deb Denome who runs a biodynamic community garden. The group hopes to have their homeschool and community grow with the garden. There was a Waldorf kindergarten in Rochester many years ago, and some of the people involved in that effort, now of grandparenting age, are helping this group get started.
In Sandpoint, Idaho, homeschoolers from the surrounding area, organized by Carmen Bucalo, meet together in small groups, whenever they can, to work with their children. They work in harmony with the Sandpoint Waldorf school, a small, friendly school, now housed in a bi-level ranch house and two yurts on a lovely wooded piece of property.The school and homeschooling group also co-sponsor speakers and workshops.
In Virginia a group called Hearthstone has organized homeschooling efforts and provides classes for children of all ages.
The list goes on. These are the ways in which the future is taking shape. Each of these groups, in its own unique way, is forging the future of Waldorf homeschooling. By working together in community, slowly and carefully, training themselves as they go, these parents form a strong foundation on which to build Waldorf education, whatever form it takes.
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Last update: November 3, 1998