What Charlotte Mason homeschoolers ought to learn from Waldorf
Do you think that Charlotte Mason’s method of homeschooling and Waldorf homeschooling are opposed?
They absolutely are not.
While they do deviate substantially once the student reaches age 10 or so, there are several things that Charlotte Mason homeschoolers can learn from followers of Rudolph Steiner.
Charlotte Mason vs Waldorf
One thing I’ve noticed while hanging out in both Waldorf and Charlotte Mason groups is that even though Charlotte and Steiner shared many ideas, their followers stress different aspects of their philosophies.
On top of that, the way Charlotte Mason’s method is portrayed in many popular curricula is just one interpretation of CM. But those who haven’t read her work often take those interpretations as The One True Way.
Waldorf schools as a system have been around for decades, and they quite frankly have been better at teaching certain aspects of the method than Charlotte Mason followers have.
Here are 6 things that Charlotte Mason homeschoolers ought to learn from Waldorf
1) Severely limit screen time
This is a given in the Waldorf world, to the point of judgmental attitudes towards those who don’t. But Charlotte Mason adherents are less likely to talk about it.
While documentaries (especially nature documentaries!) have their place, and we love Magic School Bus as much as the next family, screen time affects attitudes.
I’ve seen it in myself, in my husband, in my kids and grandchild.
I will admit, this is one area that I really struggle in. While we don’t do apps or ebooks, when my husband comes home from work, the TV is turned on.
And when Grandma comes to visit, she lets my daughter spend all day on her tablet or phone. When Grandma leaves, it’s a battle to cut the electronics again.
It’s so much easier to give in and turn on a documentary than it is to listen to whining.
Strategy: For our family, cold turkey works best. Choose a day, and turn off the TV. I hear whining for about 2 weeks, but if I’m prepared for it I can handle it.
When we’re transitioning away from TV, I make an extra effort to be outdoors.
2) Simple toys and imagination
You might think this is only for little ones, but big kids too don’t need a lot of toys.
Simple, open ended toys and imagination. They don’t need the latest video game, the latest fad toy, or expensive gadgets.
Tools and things they can do with their hands for older kids. Quite honestly, the same goes with younger kids.
My neighbor buys toys for his grandkids every time he goes to the store. Literally, every time.
Their bedrooms are filled with plastic tweeting birds that don’t work, little plastic crabs that change color in water, miniature rockets, hand slap goo, and all manner of other things.
The problem with this is that when they are outside without their toys, they are at a loss for what to do.
They aren’t used to using their imagination, so instead they beg Grandpa to use his phone so they can watch YouTube videos.
And these kids are 7 and 5 years old!
Strategy: The book Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne is my go-to book. I re-read it every year, and I give it as a baby shower gift.
Read it. Then read it again.
3) Delay Academics until almost 7
Experienced Charlotte Mason homeschoolers know this, but we seem to have a terrible time transmitting this idea to newbies.
I don’t know how many people come to a Charlotte Mason group and say “What should I be doing for schoolwork? My child is 4.” I’ve even seen people ask for phonics recommendations for children as young as 2!
While Charlotte Mason was not against kids learning phonics and everyday math if it wasn’t pushed on them, this is one area where I think we should take our cue from Waldorf.
No academics until 6 (or later)
We also do a disservice when we say “formal lessons start at 6.” Formal lessons could start at 6, but it wasn’t a requirement. Charlotte did not deny students 10 years of age admittance if they hadn’t started at 6.
The consideration of out-of-door life, in developing a method of education, comes second in order; because my object is to show that the chief function of the child–– his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life––is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavour of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects; that, in fact, the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power, because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature in the evolution of the complete human being. (Home Education, page 96)
Notice how it does not say ‘as soon as the child reaches his sixth year, he no longer gets his knowledge through his five senses, but instead uses books.’
Many kids simply aren’t ready for formal – even play based – academics until 7, or even later.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
A good page on what to do with your 6 and Under child, before formal academics, is here.
4) Telling Stories
I rarely see this mentioned in Charlotte Mason circles, but I see it everywhere in Waldorf ones.
Charlotte Mason homeschoolers tend to be so focused on books and reading books and more books, that they forget about storytelling.
Tell, don’t read, your children stories.
Note that I didn’t say “young” children.
Your children of all ages.
Storytelling is a skill that all cultures have practiced for millennia. We seem to have lost it in past years.
When you have young children, rather than reading Cinderella, tell it to them. Fairy and folk tales were meant to be transmitted orally. They were written down by ethnographers, but they weren’t meant to be passed on that way.
When your children are older and reading their own schoolbooks, tell them stories at dinner.
…tell stories around a backyard campfire.
…tell stories from your childhood.
…tell stories from their childhood (reinforce family memories).
…tell stories from your cultural heritage (fairy and folk tales – you won’t run out!).
…tell stories from other cultures.
Strategy: Think you’re a terrible storyteller? Practice!
First, read or listen to a story. The next day, do the same thing. That night, tell it to yourself. The next morning, re-read it and tell it to yourself again. Now you’re ready to tell it to your kids!
It’s ok if the characters change. It’s ok if the words change. It’s ok if you leave out an entire scene, or make up a new one.
Adjust it as you need to for your family.
Know going into it that some stories will resonate much more than others. That’s ok, too.
5) Head, heart, and hands
“Head, heart, and hands” is talked about a lot in Waldorf circles, but rarely in Charlotte Mason groups.
It’s a great way of looking at the CM method though, and making sure you aren’t overbalancing in one direction or another.
Many people use Charlotte Mason education and only use the academics.
As with Waldorf, academics are only one part of a Charlotte Mason education.
Head, heart, and hands.
Head – academics – got that covered. Yep.
Heart – Christians would most likely consider this the religious aspect, but many of you reading this are not Christian.
We still need to address the heart.
Do you have a spiritual tradition? Great! No? That’s fine, too! (Read Is Charlotte Mason for Christians only?)
Every student should be reading biographies that will inspire them to be better people.
Strategy: Consciously train your children in our social contract. The ones that most people agree is necessary for a polite society.
Some are obvious – Don’t kill someone unless it’s self-defense. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. Tell the truth.
Others are not so obvious – Tolerance. Being polite. Good manners. Kindness. Standing up to injustice.
Other ways Waldorf followers practice “heart” is by letting beauty sink into their children. Painting, drawing, repeating stories, going slow. In Kindergarten for your Three to Six Year Old from Christopherus, the author Donna Simmons says, “Think soul nourishment, not tasks accomplished.”
That one sentence says it all.
Hands – while Charlotte Mason circles will talk about handwork, that’s where they generally stop.
The “hands” part of a Waldorf education encompasses not only handwork, but also sculpting, painting, drawing, and body movement.
Did you know that clay modeling was done every year for ages 6-14 in the PNEU programmes?
Or that students were expected to ‘illustrate scenes from their tales, in brushwork’? That sounds like the painting of their lessons that Waldorf students do!
Waldorf education says that 1/3 of the curriculum is physical. Charlotte Mason homeschoolers should be doing just as much.
Playing outdoors, jumping rope, riding bikes, climbing trees, playing scout games, stalking birds-insects-lizards-frogs-animals, dancing. Even swimming is specifically mentioned by Charlotte that everyone over the age of 7 should do.
6) Primary Source reading
One thing that I see stressed in Waldorf groups is that you should read Rudolph Steiner’s lectures for yourself.
The same applies to Charlotte Mason’s works.
While those “in the know” always recommend reading her original volumes, many who consider themselves CM homeschoolers haven’t actually done it.
You may think that reading blogs and listening to podcasts will give you a sense of Charlotte Mason education, and you’re partly right.
But when you do that, you’re not getting Charlotte’s thoughts. You’re getting your interpretation of someone else’s interpretation of her words!
They are secondary sources – someone’s interpretation, summary, discussion, description, or analysis of the primary sources.
I always, always recommend that you read her works for yourself, and draw your own conclusions.
The original volumes are being reprinted by both Living Books Press and Simply Charlotte Mason. The Charlotte Mason Plenary is publishing an annotated version along with a study guide they expect to release Fall 2018. (Read my review of The Plenary)
But there is so much more than just the original six volumes!
From The Charlotte Mason Digital Collection website: “This database provides digital access to Charlotte Mason’s manuscripts, journals, correspondence and other archival documents housed in Ambleside (UK), where she established a teacher’s college.”
Not only are there several years’ worth of Parents’ Review volumes, but also A Liberal Education for All: Practical Workings of the PUS, letters, edited manuscripts, more than 12 years of PNEU programmes, and the Mother’s Educational Course with markups for future terms.
You can get lost in there for weeks (*cough* ask me how I know). And by immersing yourself in not only her volumes, but also the programmes, A Liberal Education for All, and the Parents’ Review, your understanding of the method will increase exponentially.
Here’s a little secret – I don’t agree with some of the interpretations of other “experts” in the Charlotte Mason community.
I don’t agree with them because I’ve read the source material for myself and drawn a different conclusion.
Maybe you will draw a completely different conclusion than I or other people do. That’s ok! But you will never know unless you read for yourself.
Six things you should be incorporating into your Charlotte Mason homeschool if you aren’t already –
- Severely limit screen time – it builds the imagination
- Simple toys
- Delay academics
- Tell stories, don’t just read them
- Head, heart, and hands – balance book work, beauty and ethics, and physical movement. Think soul nourishment, not tasks accomplished.
- Primary sources. The Volumes and the Charlotte Mason Digital Collection.
What else do you incorporate from Waldorf into your homeschool?