To understand how Waldorf education can possibly live on as an exercise in remote learning, it feels important to return again to some foundational principles governing each developmental stage.
Guiding principles: will, devotion, cultivation of lower senses, imitation, goodness, the etheric of environment/adult
Human relationship is key to all stages of development, but in these youngest years it is most crucial. The children cannot imitate via a screen (nor is it necessarily desirable), they cannot develop their lower senses, and this medium is damaging to their etheric bodies. Much depends on the adults at hand: primarily, their parents. This is a difficult position, for many parents need to work to financially provide for their family, whether they have young children or not. There is little other option. Given this circumstance, the best we can do is to equip the parents to be the kind of models that our early childhood teachers strive to be at school, since in any case the early childhood kindergarten is, in many ways, an idealized version of the home environment. The teacher can help parents by guiding them into idealizing their own home environment, either by providing materials and activities, or by encouraging the parents’ own talents and interests so that their children can imitate them. Speaking personally as a parent of a kindergartener, it is much easier for me to include my daughter in my cooking, my gardening, my cleaning of house, my love of riding bikes, than to try my hand at a craft that requires instructions. The partnership between teacher and parent is key here.
Guiding principles: feeling, authority, middle senses, beauty, breathing, sleeping/waking, living concepts, sculptural and musical forces, union of spirit-soul with life-bodily
The children’s direct relationships with their teacher take on a new tenor beginning in Grade One. It is essential that children remain connected with their teacher and their classmates to continue that karmic bond. This could be done through letters, through phone calls, or through media such as Zoom (though with limitations, to be sure). Young grades school children still have such a strong imitative will that they can continue with much of the usual work through guidance by the teacher even via electronic communication. In lieu of this connection, shifting towards project-based learning helps to engage their will, something which is more difficult remotely. Certainly, when moving up in the grades, project work is helpful given the children’s burgeoning independence.
With my own Grade 7 class, I try to maintain a rhythmic connection with them by hosting a Zoom call every morning at 8:30am. Through these two months, attendance has continued to be at nearly 100% each day. They are eager to connect with me and their peers. Nevertheless, a key ingredient to the main lesson has floundered: the recapitulation. Participation is dramatically reduced, leaving the discussions cold and prone to factual, informational contributions rather than the living conceptual gestalt of a topic. Similarly, overall comprehension seems to be dipping even if the children can remember many details. On the other hand, individual artistic work––at times their writing as well––has been very strong, sometimes better than I would have expected from direct personal interactions.
These observations have led me to a pivot in my recapitulations. I started to assign work directly after giving a new lesson so that they could warm the subject with their own activity before discussing it. The following morning, I then began by sharing student work on my screen––showing illustrations, reading excerpts of writings––and only then opened the floor for questions. This led to much more fruitful discussions and also built a feeling of connection between the students as they viewed one another’s work.
Guiding principles: thinking, truth, higher senses, freedom, ideals
I leave this phase of education for other to describe.