We have something really special for you today! Cynthia Schottel, an early childhood teacher, Waldorf homeschooling mom, and an all-around Wise Woman of Waldorf (yes, I just made that title up), has agreed to do a regular advice column for the Happy Hedgehog Post blog! If you have questions for Cynthia, you can email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will pass them along.
I’d like to know more about the Waldorf holidays. Where do they originate from? Folk tales? What is confusing to me is there are a lot based on saints. I know Waldorf is spiritual but why saints? Thanks!
Excellent question! Waldorf schools were developed with the Anthroposophical understanding of human development and specifically the 3 seven year cycles of a child’s development. And although Anthroposophy is not brought to the children in Waldorf schools directly, it does influence what and when things are brought to a child. Two of the most common festivals celebrated in many Waldorf or Steiner schools are Michaelmas and Martinmas, so I will speak to these two festivals (although the broader answer will apply to other festivals as well). Both do originate as Saints’ feast days, however it is with more of an anthroposophical perspective they are celebrated within the Waldorf communities. It is through these festivals that we acknowledge what is happening within ourselves and without in nature (at least for the Northern Hemisphere). Michaelmas was once a popular Christian feast day that fell out of practice in the 18th century. However, it is a very important festival from an anthroposophical perspective, second only to Easter, which is why it is commonly celebrated in the schools. This is the festival of will, strength and character building as we move into the dark half of the year. It is a time for us to confront and slay our own dragons. There are many lovely songs, stories,verses, recipes and activities to help celebrate Michaelmas available on the web. This quickly became my favorite festival of the year. Martinmas is still a beloved holiday in the region of Europe Steiner was from, which probably has something to do with the popularity of Martinmas Lantern Walks in Waldorf communities today. I remember celebrating in Germany and at my Oma’s Lutheran church here in the U.S. even. But like Michaelmas, Martinmas is a reflection of what is taking place in nature, the nights are growing longer, the days are colder and internally for us. We are moving indoors, and contracting our energy. We have left behind the expansive activities of summer and are moving within ourselves. Martinmas is a lovely celebration to bring light to that darkness, and warmth to the cold for us to carry through the season. Most families coming to Waldorf Education without an Anthroposophical background are not familiar with these celebrations but they quickly become well loved traditions for the entire family. However, you do not have to celebrate these specific holidays to bring reverence to the change of seasons or acknowledgement to our own inner rhythm of the year. Many religions have similar celebrations that are based on the seasonal rhythm of the year as well, with their own rich stories and traditions. These celebrations can be just as Waldorf as the more commonly celebrated festivals. It is most important to celebrate what is true for your family, your community and your culture.
Our city doesn’t have any Waldorf, forest, or farm school. The public schools are great but definitely press early education and I think kindergarten is way too academic. I don’t feel at all qualified to homeschool, and in all honesty I don’t really want to. I feel stuck. What do I do?
Oh gosh, this one is a tough one to answer without more details. I am going to assume relocating somewhere that does have the school you desire is not an option. I would start with asking why you don’t want to homeschool; if it is something that truly does not interest you, then it looks like public school might be your best option. Is kindergarten mandatory in your state? If so, can you delay it a year? Would you be interested in doing Waldorf enrichment at home if you did opt for public school? If you do not want to homeschool because you do not feel qualified, I would say before the grades is a great time to do your own training, read as much as you can, see if there are any like-minded homeschooling groups in your area, and if not, perhaps consider starting one. Personally, Waldorf homeschooling has been an incredible journey for me. My eldest– who is turning 20 next month– attended our local Waldorf school and I fell in love with Waldorf education. With my two younger ones, a divorce, and decision to stay at home with my children, our local school was no longer financially an option. I began to read as much as I could get my hands on, I started a Waldorf inspired playgroup, I enrolled in teacher training courses, and just recently partnered with another homeschooling mama and a Waldorf teacher and opened a three-day-a-week homeschool/school hybrid program. These last four years have been an incredible transformative journey for my whole family and I am so glad I opted to go the homeschooling route, but I also know that it is not the best option for everyone and if it something you truly do not think you would enjoy, that will come through to your child and it will not benefit either of you. It’s a tough decision. Honestly, just know that you explored all your options and you choose what was best for your family and feel good about that decision.