When my first daughter was born, I was a classroom teacher and curriculum coordinator for a private school. Part of my job was to discuss with prospective parents where their child should be placed based on an entrance exam, discussions with the child, and records from the child's previous school. Back then, they nearly had to scrape me off the ceiling any time a homeschooling parent came in and said, "We don't have any records. We didn't have to keep anything." I'd had years of formal education brainwashing to set off all the alarms when I heard a statement like that. Most of the time, the children were just fine, and they were put right into an age-appropriate classroom; still, it took a while for me to be at ease with a lack of "formal" education for a young child - even for a very young child. Needless to say, when I quit my job to work from home as a freelance writer and stay home with my daughter, I attacked her preschool education in the way I was most comfortable - the alphabet, charts, worksheets, the whole bit.
It wasn't until much later, after our second daughter was born and we began researching homeschool as an option for our oldest, that I started looking into Montessori techniques. The concepts seemed right to me. I had an active toddler who needed lots of activities to keep her busy and feel important, and the Montessori activities I read about fit perfectly with what we were already doing. I created my own list of potential activities, and began immediately incorporating those into our daily activities with great success.
At some point (as is usually the case once you start researching Montessori techniques), I started hearing about Waldorf. At first, I brushed it off . . . after all, there was nature (bugs, ew), wool (itch), and knitting (I have the clumsiest fingers in the world!) for crying out loud . . . this was not for me. But the more I was home and tuning in to what my second child needed and the more I considered homeschooling as a viable option for my first child, the more it began to make sense. Growth and change and all that.
Lately, I've been reading You Are Your Child's First Teacher: What Parents Can Do With and For Their Chlldren from Birth to Age Six. The more I read about Waldorf philosophy, the more I relate to it and realize a lot of the similarities between Waldorf and Montessori ideas. Both believe in learning through doing, which is great. While my oldest was content to sit and absorb, my youngest is a little tornado-of-do. Both believe in being conscious of one's work and activities, and to do things with care and attention. Great! How many times have I driven somewhere only to find myself somewhere else or unsure how I got there? Yeah, a little attention would be great. Instilling some attention in my kids would be even better. Both believe in time for free play, creating inviting spaces, limiting technology (video games, television, etc.), and imitating real work.
At their core, the philosophies are very similar, but the activities can vary greatly. Waldorf focuses on exposing children to nature; utilizing simple, nature-inspired toys; artistic activities; and fairy tales and stories from other cultures.
Oh, and rhythm.
Did I mention the rhythm?
I have to be one of the most rhythmless mothers I know. And I'm not talking about music. I'm the kind of person who will, several hours after showering, say, "You know, I think I forgot to wash the shampoo out of my hair this morning." I never do anything in the same order. As a major control freak and checklist addict, I try very hard to develop habits and order in my life . . . with very little success. So, the whole Waldorf rhythm thing is very difficult for me. Not that I don't see it as useful. I just don't know how doable it is for me. We're pretty good about eating and going to bed at the same times every day, but everything in between is a big, muddy mess.
But I like the idea of it, especially for the little one, and I'm trying to integrate more Waldorf ideas into our daily lives. And, of course, like everything, I am apt to pick and choose what I like from different styles and make up my own path anyway. I'm considering Seven Times the Sun: Guiding Your Child Through the Rhythms of the Day (the library doesn't have it, bummer) to maybe get some more specific ideas for activities and ways to find our own . . .
. . . rhythm.
For a list of Waldorf links for more information, visit AtoZ Home's Cool's Waldorf page.
For a rundown of some of the differences between Montessori and Waldorf, visit About.com's Montessori vs Waldorf comparison page.