To paraphrase Maple Village School’sAdministrator, Christina Sbarra, parents who have chosen to send their children to Waldorf schools have chosen a unique education, an education with great depth, wisdom, and richness. By taking up the task of understanding that education more fully, parents can support their child’s (children’s) learning that much more. We need to make an effort to educate ourselves on aspects and philosophies of Waldorf Education so that we can better support and help our teachers teach our children in this beautiful way.Discipline in a Waldorf classroom is multifaceted, complex, subtle and wonderfully compassionate. I have often watched our teacher handle a conflict and thought how beautiful it is to see everyone’s needs being met in a firm, gentle and understanding way. I have thought how much easier and quicker for the teacher it would be to just scold a child who has acted inappropriately, how much more soul goes into disciplining in the Waldorf way and I have come away feeling supremely thankful that my children are experiencing discipline in this way rather than the way I experienced discipline when I was their age.
I do understand that the nuances of Waldorf discipline can be easy to miss and that’s why it’s important for us parents to learn what our teachers are trying to effect. Waldorf discipline is a process not an instant act. So, here is an article from The Mountain Schools website that explain some of the aspects of Waldorf discipline.
Waldorf Education has many creative and adept ways of handling the disciplinary possibilities and/or requirements within a Kindergarten setting. First of all, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Our primary form of preventing difficult behavior from the children is by establishing a well-balanced “breathing” rhythm to the daily routine.
Just as breathing involves an in breath and then an out breath and then another in breath we lead the children from an activity that requires them to contain their energy to an activity that allows them to release the energy they just drew in to an activity that draws them in again. For example, right after Ringtime, an activity that requires the children to stay in a circle and follow along with the teacher for up to a half-an-hour we release them into Free Play. Then, after an hour or so of free play they are ready to be guided into a quieter, more restful time – to breath back in. We follow a microcosm of this pattern within the times of the day where more concentration and stillness is asked of the students, such as in Ringtime and story time. For example, during Ringtime we will stand still and reverently say a poem or play a game where the children must be quiet for a time, and then lead them into singing a song in which they get dance,run or jump for a time and then we bring them down to the ground again with a quiet or small movement activity.
Waldorf teachers are trained to observe their students to look for signs that they are ready to transition from an in breath to an out breath or visa versa. If the children begin to lose color in their cheeks, for example, it is time to transition to an “out breath” activity. If the children are becoming overly wild and beginning to nag at one another it is time to “bring them in”. It is an art form to never keep the children “in” or “out” for too long. We also have clever ideas up our sleeves for individual students who may need to be brought “in” during the middle of free play time, for example. Little activities such as grinding grain, sorting shells from the stones basket, or molding some beeswax lets the overextended child take a “time out” from the free play environment. This “time out” is in no way conveyed as a punishment. The teacher simply suggests to the child that she or he needs their help for a moment and lovingly guides them to the task. This breathing rhythm of our day works wonders – it keeps the children’s energy balanced and content. When we ask them to change activities they are truly ready for the transition, it is as natural and unconscious as our readiness to breath in or out. The day, therefore, tends to move along joyfully and harmoniously without forceful, difficult demands being made of the children.
When it happens that a child does do something to harm themselves, another person or creature in the class, or any materials in the classroom our first approach to the situation is for the teacher to model the behavior we wish to see from the child ourselves. This works very well because of the child’s instinct for imitation. If one child causes physical harm to another, instead of correcting the child with words and instructions we take up the child who has been hurt in our loving arms and model caring for them. We might say something like,”oh, our hands are for hugging” and then tend to the child’s wound with a comforting stroke or a band aid. If a child knocks down a fort that another student has built, for example, we simply move into the situation and begin rebuilding it lovingly. The constant modeling of moral and ethically sound behavior does much more for the disciplining of a young child than any scolding ever will.
If the behavior we wish to see is modeled by the teacher and the child still continues with the hurtful or disturbing behavior the teacher will generally take the child to the big rocking chair and hold them in their laps quietly, sing them a little song or tell them a pedagogical story. The pedagogical story is a brilliant way to impart corrective information to a young child. Waldorf teachers are trained to be able to take a situation in which a child is not behaving morally and create a story that mirrors the situation but is not obviously the situation. For example, the story will contain a den of wolf pups where one pup is constantly taking and gobbling up the food of another pup. The story describes the same type of behavioral problem as the child is up to and results in the pup learning its lesson – like maybe the mama pup eventually puts it outside the den until all the other pups have finished eating and then lets the others go out and play while the other one comes in and eats alone. By making the story interesting and endearing the young child will open up to it in its feelings and receive the true moral of the story without ever having to be lectured or shamed.
If the child continues to misbehave and is not responding to either modeling, a pedagogical story, or a task to help the teacher we may then consider whether the child should go home and rest for the day and set up a conference with the parents to learn more about what might be happening outside of school and ways we might be able to remedy the situation.