Around two years ago I discovered Waldorf Steiner education (often referred to as Waldorf in USA and Steiner in UK). My eldest son attended a Steiner Kindergarten in Kent, England for around six months. The teacher encouraged me to explore Steiner education and other topics connected to Rudolf Steiner. I was immediately inspired and fascinated and have since done a tremendous amount of reading to learn as much as I can. I have found the journey very interesting and it has changed how I live my life and care for my children in a very positive way.
For over a decade now I have been on my path, exploring my spirituality and discovering what is true for me. My adventures in spirit had led me to explore subtle energy but amazingly, I had not considered the physical side of life very much beyond health and nutrition. Although my son did not stay in kindergarten for very long, I am so grateful for the time he was there for many reasons. One of the many reasons I am grateful I discovered Steiner education was connected to ‘stuff’, what I surround my children with. You know, all the stuff children have, play with and are given, in addition to all the stuff they are surrounded with that comes with a home and then all my stuff too. So much stuff. By many modern families’ standards, our possessions were rather modest but still when I took a step back and viewed all the stuff with fresh eyes, I could see I was swamped with stuff and so much of it was in the way, creating clutter, unused and some of it even harmful.
Before blazing through the house with large sacks, I took time to consider what I wanted to get rid of and keep, and why. If it was used regularly (at least once or twice a year), if it was very sentimental or very beautiful and appreicated often, it automatically got to stay. The rest I either threw into a not sure pile or gave it away. When it came to the children’s toys I took time to consider what is what they needed.
It took me several attempts to get it right. No, I don’t mean right, I don’t want to get hung on up on right and wrong as that’s all perspective anyhow. My initial efforts were well intended but missed the point completely. You see, I fell in love with the aesthetic side of a Steiner kindergarten with all the beautiful wooden toys. So I cleared out 95% of the plastic toys and replaced them with toys made from natural materials, namely wood. The playroom looked beautiful but still it wasn’t quite what I was aiming for. I continued to learn more about children and how they develop and what they really need. My children also guided me as all I had to do was watch them play and observe what is was they enjoyed playing with and what was left to gather dust.
I am sure everyone has heard someone say that at Christmas the children play more with the box than the expensive toy that comes in the box. One day I was preparing to move house and had collected several large boxes for packing. The children played with the boxes for hours and hours and that is what finally made the penny drop for me. As the children played the box became a boat, then a bus, then a tractor and a house and on and on. It was so real for them, their imaginations we alive and they were playing fully. It is incredibly beneficial for children to be fully immersed in play, everyday and from what I see, this often is not the case for many modern children.
After this observation I began to remove all the fixed toys, such as the castle, the pirate ship, the farm buildings and fire station. They were all very beautiful and made with natural materials, however they could only ever really be a castle, ship, building or fire station. My eldest son was very supportive of this as he saw them leave the playroom, commenting that it gave him more space to play. I did add a few new items but did not spend much money at all. Many of the new items were gifts from nature such as baskets filled with shells, stones, pine cones and I also added a bunch of cloths and silks we found in my room. Every day these items become something new and their play is rich and colourful. Every season I aim to make the children something. The most recent creations were a cape and some crowns.
It is clear to me now that the beautiful playroom I initially created with the wooden toys and beautiful things was more for me. I wanted to be back in that pure space that children naturally inhabit. This is probably a part of the reason I was drawn to a Waldorf Steiner education. Truth is, children are already there and do not need such props. Well meaning adults probably inhibit play and therefore development to some extent by surrounding children with so much stuff, particulary, stuff that leaves nothing to the imagination. We can provide children with an old box, a ball of wool and some pegs and they will play for longer, and certainly more creatively and imaginatively, than when given another all singing, all dancing, flashing toy.
Over the past two years I have cleared out so much stuff and there is still much that could go. I will do it when I am ready but for now I am still rather attached so some (lots?) of my material possessions. Fortunately my children do not have these issues as they have not been exposed to years of programming to ensure they are good consumers and desire material objects! I hope I am able to keep it this way for as long as possible and allow them to have what seems to be so rare these days … a natural, simple childhood.