I’ve been interested in alternative education since before we were planning to start a family, mostly because I am so fascinated with the direction our world is headed, from exponential technology to globalization and even the seemingly contradictory movement toward consciousness, simplicity, and a return to more natural living.
Already, my professional work is completely independent of geography: we live a slow life on a farm in the countryside where we grow our own food and hike every day, yet we are also connected via Skype, Whatsapp, Slack, Gmail, and Trello to some 40+ other professionals across the globe who we synergistically work with to create, manufacture, test, and distribute tangible products that inspire and improve the lives of others.
As humans, we now all have access to more information than we could imagine as quickly as we can type—yet we no longer have a need to retain it, but a need to effectively process and manage it. Any of us could attend MIT online for free today if we wanted…or we could sit with our feet planted in the earth and connect with both nature and ourselves in a way that gives us clarity and insight.
Our world is shifting more rapidly than we can conceive and the dichotomy of what’s possible is quickly accelerating on both ends of the spectrum—how do we reconcile the two? How do we raise children who are prepared for the way the world will be for them?
Wonderful Waldorf Wisdom
In a time when life for kids can easily be too much, too fast, and too soon, I feel more strongly than ever that childhood needs to be nourished and protected, and this is precisely why I have begun to fall in love with the Waldorf Steiner approach to early education.
At the more than 1,000 Waldorf schools worldwide, the power of less is embraced to encourage calmer, more secure, and happier kids. The arts are woven into each day and learning is experienced through all senses. From spending time outdoors to making food, crafts, and music and celebrating nature’s rhythms, the development of each child’s whole self takes center stage.
By encouraging creativity, close relationships, connection with nature, ethics, values, positive inner dialogue, emotional intelligence, and spirituality, learning is holistic and integrated into the very fabric of the child’s character.
Yuval Noah Harari, historian and author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, says our greatest resource today is our attention and it is being sought at every turn like never before. If you have a TV, tablet, or smartphone, I don’t need to tell you twice. And, as technology improves, the ability of advertisers, platforms, algorithms, and the like to capture our hearts and minds will as well.
Combine this with how easily a child’s senses can be overloaded (whether it’s by too many toys, choices, movements, noises, or activities) and you have the perfect storm for an overstimulated, disconnected yet overconnected childhood.
By suggesting that children’s early years should be free of attention-grabbing technology and requesting that students wear comfortable, pattern free clothing made from natural fibers, Waldorf schools effectively mute the whirling, buzzing distractions of our day so that childhood is preserved in a way that allows their authentic selves to develop and emerge.
In one of my favorite parenting books, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne said: “By simplifying clothes you ease transition. You offer freedom from choice and overload, while still allowing for the slow and sure development of personal expression.” He goes on to say that simplicity provides the ease and well-being to develop a strong sense of self.
I couldn’t agree more. That is exactly what we had in mind when we developed our collection of sustainable, high-comfort, and pattern-free play clothes here at The Simple Folk. We wanted a line of childrenswear that allowed space for the journey of self-discovery to evolve organically and authentically.
Preparing Our Children for Tomorrow
Harari predicts that the most important skills we can invest in to prepare for the world in the coming years is emotional intelligence and mental balance, because he says the hardest challenges will be psychological. He meditates every single day.
Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, is adamant that our education system is outdated and needs to change. He said in an interview: "We cannot teach our kids to compete with the machines who are smarter—we have to teach our kids something unique. In this way, 30 years later, their kids will have a chance."
Sir Ken Robinson is an author and education reformer who said: “Our task is to educate their (our students) whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something of it...We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it's an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
One thing is for sure, our children will make their mark in a different world than we’ve grown accustomed to. Perhaps what I love most about the Waldorf approach to education is that it provides an environment where each student can be firmly rooted as an individual so they can develop resilience, flexibility, and the strength of character needed to navigate the future.____________________________________________________________________
If you’re interested in learning more about alternative education philosophies and practices, below are a few books I have personally enjoyed:
• The One Room Schoolhouse by Salman Khan
• The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
• Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, M.Ed. and Lisa M. Ross
• Free to Learn by Peter Gray
• Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D. and Gabor Maté, M.D
• Dumbing Us Down, by John Taylor Gatto
• Courage to Grow, by Laura A. Sandefer