I know Elizabeth has been reading recently about Waldorf education, which is a little interesting since I am currently a Montessori educator. I, myself, have read very little about Waldorf education, but there are some things that I find to be very different about them.
In Montessori education one of the important factors for young children is to make everything real. If the children are just developing their minds and coming to understand the world around them, they have no need for fantasy. The new world that they are exploring is fantastic enough. Instead of using a fake broom, they want to use a real broom and to sweep like they see the adults doing. A large chunk of the Montessori education for young children is involved with “practical life” – teaching the children how to do real, practical things in life (for a variety of reasons). For a short while I was convinced to take out all of the fantasty books from Basil’s library – anything with talking animals – in exchange for non-fiction books that explained real parts of the world or realistic / historical fiction types of books.
My shallow understanding of Waldorf is that it is the opposite – that children are encouraged to use their imaginations a lot and to do a lot of fantasy or make-believe play. Montessori children do not “play” but rather “work.” Children choose different works, and imaginative play has little to no place in the learning environment. The “work” is productive, constructive activity that continues their natural ( = ideal, perfect) development (to adulthood).
Having raised Basil now for nearly 3 years, my mind has changed a bit. He does want to do what he sees his mama and papa doing, and I still want to provide him a real broom, fork, etc. But he also loves pretending, and he knows he’s pretending. He says “I’m pretending” when I tell him the toy chimpanzee is not a polar bear. His pro-yiayia loves seeing him pretend to do church when he comes over on Sundays. In a way he is going through the motions of a Montessori “work” and repeating what he’s seen, but in another way he is doing imaginative play – which is more like Waldorf. We simply can’t get him the materials to truly do the Eucharist at home…
In the Montessori classroom there are really no “toys.” Our home is not a Montessori classroom, nor should it be. We do have toys, and here is where the Waldorf ideas really seem to hit home for me. One website I saw summed up the idea like this:
- Is it beautiful?
- Does it feel good?
- Does it leave room for the imagination?
- Will it inspire creative play?
- Is it open-ended? (That is, is there more than one way to play with it?)
These questions do guide our choice of toys. A quick conclusion from the questions is that most of the plastic, commercial toys today are automatically out. They are too specific in use, they are not beautiful, and they are made to be disposable yet are not biodegradable -> which is really the opposite of what we want to teach him about how to use resources.
It’s a bit difficult to really rule out all plastic things, such as his toilet, and at this point it would seem nearly impossible for us to do this as adults in our own environment. Still, as much as possible this is something we agree on and seems to not be in dispute between Montessori and Waldorf educators. Montessorians might heavily disagree regarding the shape and use of the toys – but not in their materials or construction. Montessori materials are nearly always made of glass, metal, or wood.
Another aspect of all of this is to consider the disposable nature of many toys offered today and the quantity of toys we have in the house. We decided a little while back to do a rotation of toys – putting some in the closet and bringing them back out when the current toys on the shelf were no longer of interest. One problem with this scenario is that our closet is only so large! We’ve begun running out of space to put the ones we want to take off the shelf.
The quality of toys can have a direct effect on the quantity of toys in these ways: Quality toys are likely higher in price, so you buy fewer (this one is hard because we are penny pinchers!). Quality toys should be more open ended, so you need fewer because you can do more with less. Quality toys should be made of better materials and last longer, so they need fewer replacements.
Here are some other articles I recently read regarding toys, plastics, etc:
MotherSpirit Article: Toys
Top 3 Reasons Why Mothers Should Get Rid of Plastic
Easy Ways to Reduce Plastics at Home
Waldorf Toys: Choosing the Best Educational Toys For Your Children <- Source of above quote
Too Many Toys <- a very interesting article about someone who was going to work for Hasbro