When applying educational philosophies at home, either with babies or very young children or in a homeschool context, you are free to pick and choose the principles which best suit your family. The beauty of Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf and even RIE is that they share many defining principles. They are all holistic, child-centred philosophies that advocate respect for the child and allow them to develop at their own pace by encouraging us, as adults, to follow their lead.
Although each of these philosophies take a different approach when it comes to how the children interact with the environment, they all emphasise the importance of cultivating a simple and beautiful space that utilises natural materials and open-ended resources. This Comparison Matrix clearly outlines key similarities and differences between Montessori, Reggio and Waldorf philosophies.
One of the Waldorf practices that I love is the use of daily rhythms. Steiner placed a lot of emphasis on Rhythms and although I am not sold on his underpinning idea’s, which you can read more about in this paper here, I do believe that building rhythm in to our days, weeks , months and even our year is beneficial for both children and adults a like. A rhythm offers a consistency and predictability that children thrive upon, it provides them with a sense of security that in turn builds their confidence and self-esteem. A rhythm offers the flexibility that a schedule does not, making for much easier transitions throughout the day and resulting in a much more child-centred and respectful approach.
A rhythm is simply a flow of activities throughout your day, usually there isn’t an exact time assigned although in some cases this is unavoidable or maybe necessary. THIS post beautifully illustrates the Waldorf Style of Rhythm. The author outlines the four basic activities for health and wellbeing. These are Eating, Sleeping, Free Play and Fresh Air. These are without a doubt all things we incorporate into our days but thinking consciously about how we conduct each activity and how we transition from one to the other can make the day a lot more pleasant and fulfilling.
Our Daily and weekly Rhythm has naturally evolved over the past 8 months (and will continue to do so for years to come). In the early newborn stage our rhythm boiled down to getting a sense of the natural rhythms of day and night, it was as simple as that. We then began to shape a bedtime rhythm for Althea, something consistent and predictable for her to mark the end of the day. Admittedly it took a little while to find what worked for us but we got there in the end.
Since Althea turned 6 months I feel that we have really nailed it, or more specifically we have found the right amount and right sort of activities to incorporate into our days. Introducing solids certainly added more structure and naptimes have become more predictable. What’s more, she is now sitting up and moving around and thus able to explore her environment with increasing independence, which opens up lots of options.
Without sounding too much like a ‘Babywise: Eat-Play-Sleep’ schedule (or an Elizabeth Gilbert novel), generally our rhythm goes something like this:
Wake, Eat, Wash, Play/outing, Stories, Milk, Sleep And Repeat
+ For the most part we left it to Althea to find her own rhythm. We have let her tell us when she is hungry, tired and even bored and those things shape our day. We try and keep wake up times and bedtimes the same, with a little wriggle room, but these times evolved out of allowing her to take the lead in the early days and as a result the time has shifted a little at different stages. Naptimes happen when she’s showing early signs of being tired, at the moment this is predictably 2 hours after she wakes in the morning and 3 hours after she wakes from her morning nap.
+ Althea has the run of the apartment and now that she’s crawling she moves between the different montessori inspired playspaces we have set up for her (Follow the ‘On Our Montessori Inspired Shelves’ Series for activity ideas). She’s currently going through separation anxiety so she doesn’t go too far.
+ We usually save outings until after her morning nap. I try and keep them to one a day, if we’re heading out in the morning and the afternoon then naps don’t tend to work out too well and it just ends up feeling like too much. It just messes up our rhythm, ya know? On Wednesday we go to a morning play group, other days we might have a play date(usually after 10.30am), a trip to the shops or the library or just a walk down to the pool to dip our feet in. One thing that Waldorf encourages is getting fresh air, so even if it’s just getting out into the garden for a little while, it makes the world of difference.
+ Before a nap we tidy away, close the blinds, put the lamp on and read some stories with a bottle of milk. We do this for the morning nap, afternoon nap and at bedtime. For her day time naps she sleeps on the bed and we snuggle up together, for bedtime she feeds in my arms and then I put her down in her cot when she’s finished.
+ In the evenings she eats with us and then goes in the bath with Daddy whilst I clean up, it’s then nappy and pyjamas on, brush hair and gums (still no teeth) and stories with milk. I make sure the blinds are up before she comes in from her bath and I wind up her music box for her to signify that it’s bedtime. Sometimes we’re a little early getting ready for bed and so she plays quietly and then we start the tidy up, stories and milk.
You can see how keeping to the same rhythm (or order) might better prepare a child for what comes next. If we’re in bed reading stories she is not completely thrown when I offer her milk and we settle down to sleep. It allows us to transition much more smoothly from one activity to the next. What’s more we do not place time constraints on activities. I’m not all of a sudden rushing her through lunch or her bath because at such and such a time she must sleep. When we rush children through activities or transitions we are often taking away their independence. We end up doing things for them that they can do themselves and this does not foster confidence and self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong some days we have appointments or fixed plans and so we do have to spend less time doing certain activities but generally she has the time to move at her own pace and become engrossed in what we are doing.
And other days we do nothing much. We might not head out at all because we’re over tired or under the weather, we might not bath until bedtime or we might skip an evening bath if she’s too tired. What I love about a rhythm over a schedule is that it accommodates such twists and turns and evolves with you. The rhythms that stick often turn into little traditions and make for lovely memories.