by Donna Simmons, Founder of Christopherus Homeschool Resources
One of the core aims of Christopherus Homeschool Resources is to create curriculum materials grounded in the essence of Waldorf education. Having been a student, teacher, parent educator, Waldorf school parent and homeschooler with over 35 years’ experience of working with children out of my own ever-deepening relationship to anthroposophy, I feel uniquely positioned to bring the riches of Waldorf education to homeschoolers and, increasingly, Waldorf teachers.
Anthroposophy (‘anthropos’ – the human being and ‘sophia’ – wisdom) is the science of the spirit brought to us by Rudolf Steiner (1861 - 1925) an Austrian scientist, philosopher and educator.
Anthroposophy is not only the basis of Waldorf education, but also of forms of medicine, architecture, agriculture and gardening, curative education and eurythmy (a form of movement with artistic and therapeutic applications). Steiner also lectured extensively on the importance of new economic relationships based neither on capitalism nor on state socialism. Anthroposophy has also enriched Christianity, with a new church called The Christian Community working out of Steiner’s indications.
The core of this wisdom of humanity is the recognition that human beings are spiritual beings, descended from the spiritual worlds, who incarnate on this earth and face, out of a weaving between their personal karma (in anthroposophy karma is not seen as something fixed and unchanging) and their freedom, choices in how they feel, act and think. These abilities are of course in situ in every human being: but the task that challenges us, and which anthroposophy can be aid in, is to develop each of these capacities to their fullest. To stand upright as a human being in freedom is to be in balance between one’s thinking, feeling and willing, and to not be unconsciously swayed by them nor reactive to external circumstances.
The path to achieve such balance is long – and is well beyond the scope of this article to even touch on. But it seems important that when a parent or teacher is considering their own relationship to Waldorf education that they become aware of what lies behind it, is its foundation and its strength. By understanding the foundations of Waldorf education – even if one decides that anthroposophy is not the path that one wants to take – one can then ‘make the curriculum one’s own’ so to speak, and work gracefully as an educator and parent.
Speaking to the first teachers at the original Waldorf school (established in 1919 at the request of Emil Molt, a German industrialist who wanted a good school for the children of the workers at his factory) Rudolf Steiner said that there were three things each individual needs to commit to become a Waldorf teacher:
- Anthroposophical knowledge of child development
- Understanding of the individual children one is working with
- Unending commitment to spiritual development – or self-development
For homeschoolers, it is obvious that these three points are important as well – though of course if Waldorf education is not one’s chosen path of education for one’s children, then the first becomes irrelevant. But every parent wants to base what s/he does in terms of education and parenting on a sound understanding of child development. And every parent strives to understand her own children. As for self (spiritual) development, although some people might side step this point, in my experience, it is absolutely essential for a parent to take himself (gently!) by the scruff of the neck and commit to working on his inner life. Without this crucial step, all the tangles and messes inside oneself just burst out whilst one is trying to parent and to educate one’s children.
Even just striving to determine what is one’s own ‘stuff’ and what is one’s child can be a major step toward the kind of self-development that eases the challenges of parenting and educating.
And if it is indeed so that human beings are spiritual beings, then the three steps Steiner speaks of must have a spiritual basis – or else any talk of a holistic approach is sorely misleading, missing its basis and its rationale. This is where anthroposophy can be such a valuable tool, giving those who study it a vista from which to survey and – essentially – to understand the human journey between the Cosmos and the earthly realm, over time, and across religion, culture, nation and peoples.
In terms of parenting and educating children, this is where Christopherus can come in handy. In all our materials – books, syllabuses, talks, videos, webinars and on our forum – the purpose is to help people who wish to deepen their relationship to Waldorf education to do just that.
The approach I take is to explain aspects of the Waldorf curriculum and to point out how they mirror the developmental stages children pass through. Why stories of saints in second grade – and why does Christopherus uniquely expand this to include both saints and heroes? What is happening in the soul of the child at age 8 (second grade) that is fed by such stories? Why at age 11 (fifth grade) does Greek Mythology and the grace of geometry speak to deeply to a child? What is happening at age 11 when the curriculum turns from a mythological consciousness to historical consciousness? Why (again uniquely to Christopherus) do we have lessons focused on time, on making sundials and water clocks just at this age? And so on, from the earliest years right into the high school years.
At Christopherus we explain whysomething is done, howit is usually done in school and, critically, how one might work with it at home. We aim to help empower parents so they can make the curriculum their own – and to move beyond what they find in our materials to create their own unique homeschools – based on their own understanding of child development, of their own children and enriched by their own unique path of inner growth. Our rich basis in anthroposophy helps enormously with this goal.
Christopherus is also completely pragmatic – ‘make it work’ can be said to be our motto! As homeschoolers are found on every part of the globe, have every imaginable family constellation, come from widely differing cultural, religious, spiritual, racial, and economic backgrounds, a ‘one-size fits all approach’ would be a nonsense.
But, since each human being basically follows the same lawful progression of human development whilst at the same time being a unique individual, anthroposophy can help a parent gain rich insights into understanding their child’s developmental needs and how to meet that appropriately though the riches of Waldorf education. Our sincere wish at Christopherus is to aid parents achieve this understanding to the level that they feel comfortable with.
Please visit our very large and informative website www.christopherushomeschool.org for more information on anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf education and more. We offer many free resources as well as materials to purchase.
Donna Simmons is an anthroposophist, libertarian-socialist and member of The Christian Community. She has been involved in one way or another with Waldorf education since she was four-years-old. Currently (2018) she lives in Viroqua, WI.