What about Waldorf?

At this point, I’m sure you know that I’m going to tell you I don’t like Waldorf. Because I don’t like public school  and I don’t like Montessori and I don’t like Sudbury. So of course I don’t like Waldorf.

Here’s why. Let’s say it’s actually completely free of agenda, that kids do whatever they want that is available to them in that setting (a big caveat of course) and let’s say that the teachers are great (big leap since most can’t be fired) and let’s even say that the kids are disproportionately dyslexic (the number who are is really high – as a parent with dyslexia who has a kid with dyslexia you can trust me on this). Let’s say it’s all perfect, which is what Waldorf parents are going to say in the comments anyway.

This is what I think: it’s still school.

The premise of a school is that the parents are looking for somewhere to put their kids during the day. Sending that message to the kids makes no sense to me.

Why not be a family first, instead of sending the kids to school? You work for 70 years. You have kids that want to be at home with you for 15.  Most smart creative people can figure out something interesting to do for work that allows their kids to grow up at home, with their parents.

Looking at alternative schools is still sending kids to a babysitter. And I think parents like to think that alternative school is like looking for a high-end babysitter, but it’s not. Kids need someone who can help them identify their passion by supporting their explorations. The job of parents is to help kids find what they are passionate about. Some kids are passionate about art, or music, or sports.

None of that is best done with a Waldorf teacher. Because if you are passionate about something, you deserve a teacher who is equally passionate about that same thing. The job of a parent is to help their kid find the passion and the teacher.

School is a distraction from that, for both the kids and the parents. Even Waldorf. .

32 replies
  1. Ssc
    Ssc says:

    This is the 3rd year I’ve been dropping off and picking up from a Waldorf school every day, and I won’t be one to argue its educational advantages for school age kids. But I will say that for very young children, it’s a nurturing environment and a philosophy that respects and honors children and childhood. They are not about preparing children for the next phase of life, but in enjoying the wondrous phase they are in. The school has helped to bring out my almost 6 year old daughter’s creativity in a way that I am not sure would have happened had she been home with me. I do plan to homeschool her after this year, because with the shift to elementary, it really is just school, and very traditional school at that. (That, and it attracts people who call their children Lotus, Karma, Harmony, and Waterfall.)

  2. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    One terrific thing I learned from a Waldorf book was to use the words “How would it affect you if…..? ” with my spouse. It’s the perfect way to be respectful and yet not put either one in the mommy/deciding role. I love those words.

    Beyond that, I don’t know much about Waldorf except the teachers stay with the kids as they move up each year. That could be good and bad.

    I love how you honor the role of motherhood. It’s refreshing. You seem to always put things in perspective.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Penelope, what do you think about super-expensive ultra-elite prep schools/boarding schools with high matriculation rates into the Ivy League like Phillips Academy in Andover, MA? Student/Teacher ratio 5:1…. Just Kidding!!

    I’m on the same page as you. My husband got back from 3 weeks of being away for work and we took the kids to sushi and the Lego store. It felt like we were the only people alive with all the other kids in school… we had everything to ourselves.

    But besides that we got to talk about a recent headline we saw that said that 25 is now the end of adolescence!! We debated on whether college will now become compulsory if that’s true. It used to end with 8th grade, then high school became compulsory… so it’ll be interesting to see if college is next.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      oh! the baby and I went to lunch around 1 isn. We went to this awesome deli down the road from the office. It was so fun to just be there.
      He turns his head side to side and smiles at people.
      My heart almost explodes.
      Makes me so excited for homeschooling and every day I day dream about going places together and not dealing with stupid school schedules.

  4. Cristen H
    Cristen H says:

    Waldorf is loaded with dogma. My son went to a Waldorf pre-K, following Montessori pre-K. I love the Waldorf sensibility, natural play, outdoors, creativity, etc. Still, it’s school, and full of shoulds and shouldn’ts. The teacher at my son’s school bribed him with candy every day to get him to lay down for naptime. She didn’t ask me how I felt about the candy. Or the coercion. And, my boy either wants to run, play and fight, or watch his favorite shows on the computer. After a summer session and two weeks of regular Waldorf classes he asked to stop going. I already knew we were going to unschool after pre-K, so home he came, and our life of freedom began. School is school, no matter the flavor.

  5. Ari
    Ari says:

    I have found it very useful to steal, steal, steal ideas from alternative schools. Though we unschool…,

    From Waldorf, we have a lot of nature time.

    From Reggio, we have documentation, journals, and projects.

    From Sudbury, we have a democratic voice for the child in family governance.

    I’ve been even appreciating the “fliipped classroom” that is now used in some public schools as a possible frame for if/when my child wants to learn from a curriculum.

    Every approach to school is a laboratory for the practical application of a concept. While the “whole thing” may be a heaping pile of garbage, often there are some good ideas in each that are worth looking at and adopting outside the whole framework.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love the idea of taking the idea from other peoples’ schooling techniques! This is how people build companies – -looking for the best stuff that other people are building and steal it to make something new. So it makes total sense to do this for homeschooling as well.


  6. Jenifa
    Jenifa says:

    Wow, reality check, calm down.

    I never heard of Waldorf.

    This blog seems to ride a line between original, daring thinking and hysterical, smug, intolerance harbored by the 1%.

    Don’t worry, the 99% percent is not catching up, you’re all good.

    • JennaB
      JennaB says:

      I have to disagree and say that I think Waldorf education is pretty well-known especially among people who are interested in education or who have some background working with children. I’m a daycare provider and we learn about Waldorf philosophy in some of our educational training classes. These classes are taught to an incredibly diverse group of (mostly) women. The majority of us are lower-middle to low-income. We are certainly not the 1%!

      However, in my opinion, it is the 1% who can afford a true, private Waldorf education. An average person can rearrange their life to accommodate home education.

      I think Penelope’s views on alternative forms of school (Montessori, Waldorf, etc.) are really interesting because, before she convinced me to homeschool my son, I was (futily) saving my pennies for Waldorf and looking into the free public Montessori down the street… but I was unsatisfied with both.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Jenifa, I don’t really think it’s a class thing, this blog is about supporting homeschoolers decision to homeschool and gives overwhelming reasons why. Here is an excerpt from the following link to dispute your 1% homeschool claim.

      From Forbes:

      “The highest homeschool participation appears in households with incomes ranging from $25,000 to $75,000. The homeschool community reflects a cross-section of Americans; the children of truck drivers and lawyers, whites and blacks, rich and poor, Christians and unbelievers.”


      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        thanks for providing such useful links. I think parents who are wealthy tell themselves homeschoolers are on the social fringe. And people who are not wealthy say homeschooling is for rich people. It’s just more ways parent create excuses for why they are not homeschooling. These declarations are more a result of parental guilt than social reality.


        • Christine TC
          Christine TC says:

          I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article – in Los Angeles, it’s 79% more expensive to buy a house in a good school district vs an ‘avergae’ school district: http://la.curbed.com/archives/2013/09/homes_are_79_more_expensive_in_las_top_school_districts.php

          Also in the comments, is a discussion on how Asian students are bringing up the test scores of schools in the San Fernando Valley through their private tutoring, not by what they are learning in school, so those schools get an artificial boost when they are quite mediocre.

          • Penelope Trunk
            Penelope Trunk says:

            The study they got that data from shows that the trend is nation-wide. The higher the test scores the higher the home prices, throughout the US. It tells me that parents are willing to spend a lot of money to tell people they are putting their kids in the best school but they are not willing to spend that same amount of money to have one parent stay home to homeschool. So homeschooling for the upper middle class is not about the money, it’s about that they don’t want to be be home with their kids all day.


          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            The problem is chronic in the Boston area; the stats don’t really show how bad it is. Boston used to be very divided by neighborhood, back in the sixties. In the seventies, the famous busing began. Almost all the neighborhood schools, especially in good neighborhoods, were closed. To this day, there’s a complicated lottery system that buses kids willy-nilly around the city. Go down my street and you’ll find a dozen kids each going to a different school.

            One of the immediate consequences of busing was white flight to the suburbs, which also continues to this day. You’ll meet a lot of idealistic young urban parents in your neo-natal class, and you’ll say goodbye to almost all of them five years later as they move out of the district. As a result, housing values in the city of Boston are depressed compared to neighboring districts. Cross the border into Brookline and the value of the house might double. You can buy a lovely victorian by a park in Boston for the same price as a teardown ranch in Newton. And it’s all about schools.

            The good news is that homeschooling in the city of Boston is great; there are hundreds of families doing it, and group activities every day of the week.

          • Ari
            Ari says:

            Went looking for some more numbers, found this paper. Pull-quote below:

            “School quality is the most important cause of the variation in constant-quality house prices. We find that each percentage point increase in the pass rate of ninth grade students on a
            statewide proficiency exam increases house prices by one-half percent. Because pass rates vary among sampled communities from 6 to 89 percent, constant-quality house prices vary greatly due to this factor alone. The estimation results suggest that the capitalized premium for high quality schools is relatively constant per lot rather than being constant per square foot of land. “

  7. Paxton
    Paxton says:

    We send our kids off to school everyday. Then we send send them off on their own when they turn 18. Then they send us to nursing homes. Seems fair….

  8. Arachna
    Arachna says:

    Eh, I’m not convinced on the intrinsic value of spending 90% of your time with the same people day in day out, even if they are family. Having somewhere else that you are expected to go regularly and interact with someone else’s (reasonable) rules and get exposure to totally different approaches seems like pretty positive experiences for many kids. But then I’m also of the opinion that kids should really have at least three caretakers that are fulltime enough for them to get significantly attached to them and having it all on “mom” is insane if at all avoidable (and bad for both kid and mom though of course survivable and sometimes unavoidable).

    • Jana
      Jana says:

      Most homeschoolers don’t want their kids to be closed off to the world, and in fact seek out experiences where children “interact with someone else’s (reasonable) rules and get exposure to totally different approaches.”

      Perhaps we think sending our kids somewhere for 30 hours a week to complete a bunch of busywork and learn how to wait in line (is that really a concept that takes years to figure out?!) is a lame way to spend the fleeting years of youth.

      There are a ton of ways to learn how to “interact with someone else’s (reasonable) rules and get exposure to totally different approaches.” School is a terribly inefficient and incredibly boring way to learn these life lessons.

  9. karelys
    karelys says:

    This post breaks my heart.

    I agree with it yes. And yet, I feel like I am dying when all day is about tending to the needs of a little baby. And we’re not high earners so the stress of being on one income makes me wonder if the benefits aren’t buried under the stress and sadness.

    Since i got a job our family is happier. I know the kid misses me. But my depression has improved wonderfully.

    Today he came to work with me and it was the best feeling to hug him to sleep.

    The post breaks my heart because I know it’s true. And yet, doing what’s best requires so much sacrifice. And I wonder if in the process of achieving the best we are not sacrificing being happy at the moment. And each moment is a building block for what’s next. At least that’s how we are living right now.

    I hate this post right now. I don’t disagree with it. But I hate that it’s a reminder of how wide the gap is between what I can do right now and where I actually want to be and who I want us to be and what we want to do.

    It’s fucking scary.

    But guess what? today I am having a blast with my child at work so I’ll take whatever I can get whenever I can! Tomorrow I’ll figure out the rest.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for being so honest, Karelys. I understand how you could hate this post right now, because I hate most of my posts about homeschooling. I never imagined that I’d be with my kids all day. I never imagined that I’d be telling other parents they are insane for sending their kids to school. Every time I find more evidence that points to how utterly stupid and useless school is, I hate having to report it. I wish I could just go with the flow and tell all parents how great they are.

      We each decide how much we are willing to stick our head in the sand. It’s one of the hardest realities of adulthood for me.


    • DB
      DB says:

      Thank you for such an honest comment. I learned during 3 months of maternity leave that I would have gone stark raving mad if I were to attempt to become a stay at home mother. Oh and by the way, breastfeeding was a complete disaster for us as well, so she was mostly fed formula the first year of her life which of course has all this significance and meaning…except oh wait, it doesn’t. We’re over it.

      Anyway, after maternity leave I happily went back to work and my now 3 year old child is still having fun with her nanny and my mother (day is split between them). I think we mothers have to calm down and stop torturing ourselves.

    • Judy Sarden
      Judy Sarden says:

      Karelys, I think it gets better when they get older. My kids are 4 and 6 and I can’t imagine having them in school all day. But at the same time, I can’t imagine being home with them when they were babies. I would have gone mad. I went back to work until they were 3 and 5. At that point they were people who could talk and interact and had personalities. They still drive me crazy some times and I yell at them some times but overall, we all enjoy homeschooling. You don’t have to be perfect, being present is enough. Just remember that it will get better.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        Thank you. I am pretty anxious about doing the best, even if it means sacrifice. But sometimes sacrificing something for another just breaks the dang Jenga tower.

        Right now, my way to be cool mom and relaxed and not uptight about everything is that when he chews on his shoes I just go “eh, some dirt won’t kill him. He’s building his immune system ;)”

        But seriously I am the typical first time mom. As embarrassing and uncool as it is.

  10. Andrew M.
    Andrew M. says:

    A few weeks ago you described the crazy ‘regular school’ experience you’d had…long bus rides, negligent teachers/admins etc. You wrote, “These things kept adding up until I thought that there was no way that homeschooling could be worse than sending them to school.”

    A lot of your argument is based on this premise…which matches my own experience. What did I get out of 9th grade?

    But that isn’t a very high bar (depending on the household).

    My wife and I were waiting for you to write about Waldorf…we just talked about emailing you to see if you’d write about it and share your pov.

    We took one daughter out of Waldorf (her class had shrunk to 7 kids and was dysfunctional) but our younger daughter has a strong, balanced class with a great teacher. She was there from pre-K and I loved the homey-ness of it.

    Are we just hiring the to do pseudo-decent childcare? I guess. There are bright spots. There is weirdness.

    But I don’t think sitting around all day would be any better…so I’ll flip your rhetoric and say that “Waldorf has to be at least as good as homeschooling.” Especially when the child is home by 3:30pm (5 minute bus ride), loves her friends, and has plenty of time to roam our yard, stare at her iDevices etc.

    Both my daughters LOVED a Quaker camp they attended for two weeks. They like that better than anything (slightly insulting). Maybe they should go there for stretches of time…then pop in for a week at home…

    Ultimately it’s great that we have so much choice (Philadelphia has zillions of independent and charter schools). I just don’t think “better than public school/babysitting” is much of a goal…

    Keep going! Pull it apart some more…

  11. momofnine
    momofnine says:

    We started educating are kiddos at home 19 years ago after many of our young professional dads & cool stay-at-home-moms tossed the idea around for a year or two. We were the only family that actually pursued homeschooling from that group. The rest chose from the list of schools mentioned above with the exception of Waldorf, but I know that was mentioned at times. I don’t know the outcome of most of those original families. But I can say how we are faring (for demographic sake: Physician dad, stay-at-home fairly well educated mom, 9 children ages 10 – 26). Our children did or are doing great with homeschooling. They enjoy sports (albeit more individual like tennis, golf, surfing, and skiing,), they really love music and are all fairly good pianists, one of my sons and one of my daughters are pretty darn good artists, as they have applied to college they have received substantial academic scholarships, as they have graduated from undergrad they have successfully gone on to grad school and med school. This isn’t a brag list. We have certaily had our struggles. I just want to reinforce what Penelope is saying (not that she needs me!). It’s hard hard work to be a good parent. It’s harder to say we as a family and my kids as individuals will have a better chance to thrive if we sacrifice some parts of life and educate them at home. Is it a panacea for all educational and moral woes? Of course not. There are lots of struggles and hills to climb.. But homeschooling is a tremendous alternative to a less than perfect social experiment called institutionalized education for the 5 – 18 year old crowd.

  12. Mariana
    Mariana says:

    “Most smart creative people can figure out something interesting to do for work that allows their kids to grow up at home, with their parents.”
    Maybe in America, the land of opportunities…

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Right now my husband and I (we live in America) are trying our best to find the alternative route to support our family and do all this. It’s crazy, scary, maybe it won’t be full blown until a few more years. But it has definitely forced us to look at life a different way.

      We have found out what we are made of and made ourselves something more, something different. I am not sure if we’ll achieve it. But we’re looking for it and building. I may die trying but I just can’t continue to live the way I was once I took the red pill.

  13. Arachna
    Arachna says:

    Oh I’m totally in support of homeschooling and thinking about doing it. I just don’t think that “it’s a lot of time away from the parents/mom” is a convincing argument against all types of schools. If the stuff they do there is busywork then yeah it’s a waste but if the stuff they do is awesome and doesn’t generate homework I think there’s plenty enough family time left.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think the question is what do you mean by awesome? What could possibly be awesome for a kid besides self-directed learning? And then, of course, kids cannot be self-directed if the ratio between teacher and kid is 10 to 1. And so few people can afford a school with a ratio any lower that it’s not worth talking about. That’s the best argument against school – any school.

      A great example is what happens in the large families that homeschool. They put their kids in a “program.” Everyone learns an instrument, everyone learns Spanish, everyone learns to make dinners, it’s all about what scales because the homeschooling parent can’t customize for ten kids. So if the parent can’t do it then certainly a teacher cannot either. It’s all about student-teacher ratios.


  14. lydia
    lydia says:

    I remember wanting to be away from my parents (not mean or abusive) when I was a kid, as young as 6. We went to the children’s part of church, we went to sleep away summer camps, and we went to school. Never bothered me. Maybe you mean young though because my two youngest memories are of a bunk bed crushing my windpipe and the fear of that (was 4) and being on a bus in terror looking out window ‘crying like a fool’ (as my teen would say) for going off to headstart at ~3-4 years old.

    As to Waldorf, I’m now atheist, but have money to send kids wherever they need to go. My autistic son, my son with down’s syndrome and my son who is blind (no, we are not genetic anomalies, my family is an adoptive family) all go to Public school. My son with lower limb paralysis goes to Catholic school (ick, shrudder, he likes it, all my kids are some from of Christianity and attend church with various extended relatives which I have to repress my dislike of). The youngest and only international child who came to me with an unbelievably high IQ, diagnosed with dyslexia, amazingly well behaved and obedient, and with multiple missing limbs but able to walk with prosthetics and use upper arms prosthetics burned through 4 schools due to his ‘not liking them’ as attested by his complete personality change from upbeat and confident to crying and timid — never kicked out he just hated it: Montessori (he hated it came home and said that school is stupid is it really a school), Public, Reggio-?, Constructivist (which was supposedly ‘the best’ place every our city for kids with high IQ).

    The point: my youngest probably I should have stopped work and stayed home with for sure! Instead I stuck him in a Waldorf school figuring whatever. He likes it. I do a program with him for dyslexic reading and because he has dyslexia he is NOT a great reader but is top of his 3rd grade Waldorf school class (they are reading Little Bear; he is reading Flat Stanley and Magic Tree House.

Comments are closed.