Over the course of the fifteen years in which I taught my two daughters at home with the Waldorf curriculum, we lived in four different houses. The space possibilities and the needs of each age of school changed many times, but there were some basics that I found important in creating the physical, emotional, and mental space for learning. I always worked with groups of families who were homeschooling, and everyone solved the space question in slightly different ways.
Defining the Educational Space
The first and most basic step is to choose which part of the house will be dedicated to school and to change it in some way that only happens when it is time for school. This consistency helps to set the mood and get everyone ready. In our first Kindergarten year, school was in a corner of the living room where I had a play stand with a rainbow cloth to make an enclosure for telling stories. We also had a seasonal nature table in the room. The only thing that was different on school days was that I would stand at the entrance to the room, ring a bell, and when the student came to me, I would welcome them into the room. After the morning session of movement, singing, and story, we had lunch and then art at the kitchen table. The refrigerator became the student art gallery.
By First Grade, we were in a different house, and we had a blackboard and a desk for my daughter. Especially young children are very good imitators, so seeing the teacher writing and drawing at the board gives them actions to imitate. And what is drawn or written there can stay to be visible for many lessons.
So the blackboard and bright colored soft chalk are important aspects of the space. We had a free-standing three-panel blackboard that we made with the help of chalkboard paint-- which does exist! It stayed in one corner of the dining room and could be covered when we were not in school. The new small desk was positioned facing the board when we were in school, and off to the side of the room otherwise. We kept the seasonal nature table in the room, and paintings hung on the wall. I also purchased small black slates and white chalk so the student could try out writing on a forgiving surface.
The next step was to add another desk and take out the dining room table, but otherwise, it was the school space was similar. In our final house, we had a room that could be dedicated to school and became the classroom. I still modified that space further by hanging cloths over the open entrances and putting a wicker standing screen up to define the space.
Choosing and Organizing the Right Materials for Your Space
Some families used smaller, folding blackboards and the dining room table for school. Some had a rolling blackboard that could be brought into the living room with a children’s desk that sat to the side of the room when out of school. Everyone’s house had room for movement activities, some place to sit and paint or draw or write, and a surface the parent/teacher could write on for lessons. Some of us also used a tray of sand outside to practice drawing forms or letters, again on a ‘forgiving’ surface, easily changed.
As for supplies, I was able to use a closet to organize the materials I used in school, or bins in a relatively unused room. I had a closet in the classroom and a small chest with some drawers for supplies. It’s important to be able to find what one needs at the moment! Others used storage bins under the bed, or a cabinet in the kitchen. Finding unused spaces in your home, such as under the bed or vertical storage, can help keep classroom materials from cluttering the home. Teaching gets you organized.
Adapting the Schooling Space
Every child has their own style of interacting with the world and with the people around them. Both my daughters were physically active, exploratory, and capable, especially the older one. At ten, we introduced a unique physical activity to improve the children's coordination— tall stilts. My eldest daughter really took to the activity, and soon she was going up and down stairs on stilts!
A typical classroom setup wasn’t always what their needs demanded in the moment. Our physical movement activities before sitting down to academic study needed to be challenging. At one point I turned some of it over to them and told them to construct their own obstacle course using whatever they wanted in the house and then to do the course. They loved it. Every parent knows their own child better than anyone else, and they can tailor the space and activities to fit the child’s needs and interests.
No matter what the physical setting, you can do it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Read holds a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from UCLA and is a Visiting Scientist at Rutgers University and an Associate at Ithaca College. In addition to studying at the Waldorf Institute of Teacher Training in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, she has conducted workshops on a variety of topics. These topics include music in the mood of the fifth, festivals, dyeing with plant dyes, nature meditations, and home-schooling grades one through eight. Her two daughters were homeschooled from kindergarten through the eleventh grade using the Waldorf curriculum. If you would like to learn more about Catherine or read her book about the journey of homeschooling her children titled The Genius Of Home, please visit www.thegeniusofhome.org.
Photo by Natalie Bond