I became interested in Waldorf education when K was 4. I devoured anything I could find on this captivating philosophy, scouring the internet, reading books and talking, talking, talking. I was so delighted when I discovered a Waldorf inspired class in my city and joined myself and K up immediately. The class was utterly enchanting but it was when the teacher started her ‘story-time’ that I completely fell in love! It was a purely magical experience for me, let alone for K! I watched her eyes sparkle with wonder as she watched the story unfold.
When I was a new storyteller in the mid 1990s, I read Storytelling and the Art of Imagination, and Storytelling With Children by master storyteller Nancy Mellon. Mellon has been closely connected to the Waldorf movement for a long time, and from her books I picked up a few elements of Waldorf storytelling. However, my formal introduction to Waldorf came when I read an extensive article in a 2003 edition of Utne Reader magazine. That article described a curriculum that used storytelling throughout the discipline.
As I did more research, I was particularly taken with the personalities of the math gnomes used to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. If you’ve ever read Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth and wished you too could visit the lands of Digitopolis and Dictionopolis where numbers and letters have tactile attributes, then you will understand how joyful I felt when I made this discovery.
In the six years that my daughter has attended Waldorf school, storytelling transformed her life. The stories themselves are based on folk tales, nursery rhymes, or come from the teachers’ own imaginations, but they inevitably take their inspiration from nature. In the parent-toddler class, the teacher used wool figures and knitted animals on displays made with silks, stones and pinecones. When she spoke, her measured tones allowed the child’s imagination to take hold without any attempt to manipulate emotions with overt vocal inflections.
In preschool, the teacher used a story mat (often called a “naturescape”) evocative of the one found in The Knitted Farmyard by Hannelore Wernhard. Since I was a parent helper and in the classroom each day, I experienced how the teacher composed a unique tale for each child’s birthday. My daughter’s birthday story was about creatures who visited the sun to find out why he was hiding away–as it turned out, the sun had a cold. The animals returned to their homes by way of the rainbow bridge, which in keeping with the Waldorf tradition, connects heaven to earth.
In kindergarten, the stories were simple folktales sometimes done with silk marionettes: “The Shoemaker and the Elves,” “The Seven Ravens” and “Snow White and Rose Red” were all favorites at my daughter’s school. At home, my daughter told her own stories using a few silks and wooden play-clips to make scenery, and her dolls plus a few marionettes for characters. Here is a link to a puppet show she did a year ago that hints at the story going on in her mind: My Daughter’s Marionette Puppet Show.
Waldorf has influenced my creative storytelling as well. I have been making embroidered wool felt dolls that support storytelling in its most fluid form: children’s imaginative play. While some of my creations are based upon existing characters, the majority of the dolls I make are for children and their grownups to be inspired to create their own stories. Sometimes these stories reflect life’s challenges, and other times, they mirror desires and dreams. As I write in all of my shop listings, “I care about each doll I make, and hope you will find a doll in the shop you feel is yours.” I wish the same for your stories.
–Farida Dowler is the blog author of Saints and Spinners and is an active member of Etsy’s NaturalKids Team with a shop called Alkelda: Dolls for Storytelling. She is trained as a children’s librarian, which is why she cannot resist recommending books she thinks you might enjoy.