So many of us are initially drawn to Waldorf Education because of the beauty of the materials, the connection to the natural world, and the warm, coziness of the early childhood environment. We become even more convinced that Waldorf is for us when we imagine our children enveloped in the nurturing environment created by the wool felt, silk playcloths, and wooden toys.
And though these things are lovely, many of us don’t realize the greatest gifts of Waldorf Education until months or even years after our children have begun the journey.
A long time ago one of my mentors made a comment that has always stuck with me and has guided my teaching ever since. She said, “The one thing you cannot teach a child is how to have a new, original, creative thought that no one has ever had before.” What an idea! How can I really teach children to think for themselves? The moment I open my mouth (let alone teach my students a concept) I am filling them with pre-formed ideas that many people (myself included) have thought about endlessly.
So I wonder, how important is it that my students have the ability to have new, creative ideas? Maybe they’ll make it just fine in the world without this ability. It doesn’t take long to wrestle with this question. The moment I think about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other brilliant entrepreneurs I can see that the most successful people in our society are those who think in a creative and inspired way. And then, when I think about the condition of our world and the creativity that our current fast-paced world thrives upon I’m even further convinced that creative thinking is an essential skill.
But what can I do to help children have ideas that no one has ever had before? As I’ve thought about it I’ve realized that the best thing I can do to support the development of this skill is to create fertile ground, cultivate the seeds of thought and establish the form and rhythm that will allow the child’s own imagination to take over.
I have found that this is best done by engaging the child’s imagination with moments of wonder. With wonder, an opening comes that allows for the arrival of true inspiration.
What does that wonder look like? At different ages it takes on different forms.
In early childhood it comes around most often through experiences of the natural world. Very often those moments of wonder are so striking that we remember them even years later. I remember when I was a child watching the raindrops on the car window and having a clear moment of awe and wonder as I tried to determine how the drops chose to move around on the window.
In the grade school years those moments of wonder come about as children connect with the world through their feeling life. Younger children immerse themselves in stories and create the pictures in their imaginations. The story itself provides the opening.
Older children are inspired by observation that leads to thinking. I remember a physics demonstration that I did with my sixth graders. We completely blacked out the windows of our classroom and turned off the light. With a light on a dimmer switch I gradually let the light fill the room while the students observed the changes they saw. They were positively filled with wonder as they observed the shadows change to form and then become full of color. They wondered why that happened and the opening was created. Creating wonder for these older children is a huge passion of mine and it is the main topic of my blog.
As children get older it is thought that inspires this wonder more than anything else and it all comes about through our efforts to have our children experience the world in a completely open way, rather than through fixed concepts.
Wonder is truly the most essential component of the Waldorf curriculum and, in truth, it can arise in the most mundane experiences. The key to having children experience wonder is to fill their lives with rich and varied sensory experiences.