Cynthia Schottel, an early childhood teacher, Waldorf homeschooling mom, and an all-around Wise Woman of Waldorf has returned with more excellent advice! If you have questions for Cynthia, you can email them to me at email@example.com, and I will pass them along.
Hi Cynthia! This is our family’s first year with Waldorf. Can you tell me a little about typical Waldorf Halloween celebrations?
Halloween is a personal favorite holiday of mine, but like most Waldorf parents, when we celebrate I want our family to go a little bit deeper into the holiday than the candy free-for-all and spooky images that surround the holiday. There are many different traditions surrounding this time of the year, most are either based on a time that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead are now at their thinnest or on the final harvest of the year, the culling of the herd, the blood harvest. It’s a time to honor your ancestors and your loved ones that have passed over. It’s a time to celebrate the sacrifices made so we may survive during the winter, and it’s a time when the world seems a little bit dark, a little scary, and a little magical. Some families set a place at their table and serve a silent candlelit feast in remembrance. You can create a shrine with photos and a few of your loved ones’ favorite things. I have always really liked this aspect of the holiday, but as a family that fortunately has not experienced the loss of any loved ones since my youngest children were born, I feel like the silent feast would be too heavy for my children and they really would not be able to connect to its meaning.
My little ones are quickly approaching 5 years old, and still very much in the dream world so we keep it light and fun with just a touch of spooky. We have a few favorite Halloween stories that we tell in October. How Witchamaroo Became the Pocket Witch by Suzanne Down, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, and Pumpkin Moonshine by Tasha Tudor to name a few. We also do a pumpkin growing movement journey and Halloween songs and verses for our circle time, a favorite song of ours is :
Jack-o-Lantern. . Jack-o-Lantern
You are such a funny sight
As you sit in the window
Looking out at the night
Once you were a yellow pumpkin
Growing on a sturdy vine
Now you are a Jack-o-Lantern
Let your candle light shine
(You can hear it sung on YouTube for the tune.)
But my absolute favorite thing to do are to create or attend Halloween Journeys with other like minded parents. This will be our third year of doing this and Sparkle Stories has some wonderful ideas examples of these.
We did a version of The Wily Will-o-Wisp on a farm two years ago with a few friends and it was absolutely magical. Last year we attended one based on Grimm’s fairytales characters at a Christian Community Church (An Anthroposophical Church) and this year we will be putting one on at our homeschooling enrichment center. These have been wonderful alternatives to going door to door for candy, that my family absolutely loves. They can be as elaborate as you like or very simple, if you do not have enough actors to tell your tale you can set up little vignettes that you will come to along your journey, and you can act as the narrator for each scene.
My four-year-old really wants to read. She knows all the letters of the alphabet and even some of their sounds. I know Waldorf schools don’t teach reading until the grades, but I don’t want to discourage her when she is asking to learn. What should I do?
You will get different answers from every one you ask, so this is just my own opinion and where I am at on this journey too. I come from a family of early readers; I majored in literature in college and even owned a book store. Literacy is very important to me! I have to say this was the absolute hardest thing for me to get on board with Steiner’s suggestions of when to bring literacy to children. With that said, I am still not 100% on board. I feel like so many children are incarnating into this world right now from previously literate lives and the amount of text children are exposed to even in the most sheltered environments is begging them to start decoding their world earlier and earlier.
My own children shocked me fairly recently. While playing with sidewalk chalk outside, they started writing and naming (correctly for the most part) letters! I had not worked with them at all with letters; I merely answered their questions when they would ask what a specific letter was, what sound a letter made, or what letter a word began with. I will continue to answer their questions. If they teach themselves to read, so be it. I am not doing anything to discourage nor encourage literacy right now. I would continue answering her questions but also make sure that she is doing activities that get her into her body, plenty of movement, also work on some of the fine motor skills, crossing midline activities, experiencing color through art, lots of modeling with play dough or beeswax, riding a bicycle, jumping rope etc. Many children that read young never really feel comfortable in their bodies, or master them. I read at 3 but am very clumsy and lack any sense of grace or coordination. I think it’s important to try to foster a balance between the head and the body. This imbalance is often depicted in stereotypes such as the “dumb jock” who is too much in his body or the “asthmatic nerd” who is too much in his head.
Regardless if she reads at 4 or 9 though, I would absolutely take the time when she reaches first grade to bring the letters to her through the fairytales, and not move quickly through them or skip the lessons all together because she already knows the letters. The stories and the way the letters are experienced in Waldorf education are so important for the development of the 7 year old child and so much richer than just knowing that that group of lines, forms a “K”. I think this is a mistake that many homeschooling parents make with Waldorf, assuming their child already knows the content of the block or even the entire grade therefore the parent skips it. Yes, they do topically understand the concepts brought to the them in those blocks but they have not had the opportunity to really experience the lesson to take it all in and internalize it the way Steiner intended and it is important to stay with the stories and content intended for that particular age.