Waldorf box of tricks

Henning Kullak-Ublick

Her husband’s job means that he often does not come home until late or at all, but family R. is privileged: the children have their mum around, attend the Waldorf kindergarten and her husband earns enough for both. There are no real existential worries.

Maria knows Anne P. from kindergarten; the eldest of her two children will also start school in the autumn. She works, is a single parent and despite her frugality often does not know how she will manage to the end of the month.

Both mothers have a common problem: they do not know how they can fulfil the expectations of the Waldorf school to which they would prefer to send their children. School starts at 7:30 in the morning in a rural environment – that means organising car sharing; parents’ evening every six weeks; regular cleaning duty in the classes; building weekends; class plays/scenery/costumes/catering; monthly gatherings; school festivals; bazaar/baking/crafts/serving; carnival; members’ meetings. In short: the school is a real hive of activity and there is more than enough to do for everyone to contribute!

But what will happen when the time arrives when both/all four children go to school and everything multiplies with work, household, birthdays; with children needing attention, sometimes arguing, sometimes ill, practising musical instruments, cultivating their not yet electronically submerged adventurousness? What then, what if they don’t manage on top of everything else to bake gingerbread houses, don’t attend every parents’ evening or – God forbid – try to “buy” their way out of cleaning duty? Are they then “beyond the pale”?

Can any of that still be described as healthy?

I don’t think so! Of course it is wonderful if children see how their parents turn from watching to doing, how school life is enriched as a result and education becomes a joint endeavour of all adults. But it has to remain flexible and here it is worth taking a peek into the Waldorf box of tricks: why do our pupils learn to write business letters or how accounting works, why do they do gardening, carpentry or smithery, go on practice placements and “look into the world” wherever they can?

So that they become practiced in life! What could be more obvious than to establish pupil companies in which they clean, build, bake, cook, do lighting, prune trees, make things for the bazaar and do everything which the adults can no longer manage on their own? There are already many such pupil companies which demonstrate that they work, but have we really exhausted the educational potential which lies in pupils helping to organise their school? Could it be that joint operation by parents, teachers and pupils represents a huge opportunity?

I hope for the six children that their parents decide in favour of the path which might appear a bit more thorny, because, as we know, that is where the loveliest roses grow. But I also remember a diary entry from Astrid Lindgren: “And then there still has to be time simply to sit and look at nothing in particular!”

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984–2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – Hague Circle. Author of the book Jedes Kind ein Könner. Fragen und Antworten zur Waldorfpädagogik.