Rhythm of the Day, Waldorf Style
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
What are we talking about in Waldorf Education when we talk about rhythm? This is a question that often comes up and it becomes even more important for us these days, as we try to readjust to our schedules and activities in our communities. My experience comes from teaching in Waldorf Classrooms for 17 years. Rhythms and routines are very individualized for each family with considerations for ages and number of children, interests and job and school schedules.
So let’s go deeper into the question. Rudolf Steiner tells educators that we are tasked with teaching children two things, 1) how to sleep and 2) how to breathe.
When we look at nature, we can see sleeping and breathing in many instances. Look at the four seasons, cycling around, giving the earth rest and rejuvenation during the winter, while the plant life is active underground. Look at day and night. For the human being, the night time when we are asleep is a time for healing sickness, rejuvenation, digesting the events and emotions of our day and in essence, an extremely important part of conceptualizing what we learn. Sleeping is letting it go, resting. In school, we experience this rest in a big way. Over the summertime, children are not in their school routine and almost forget all about numbers, or spelling. Yet when we create the rhythm again in September, the effort that it takes to recall what we know creates a space where what has been learned is imprinted into the memory, actually right into the cells in the limbs. And sometimes it does take effort! Building the rhythm of your school week will support your child’s effort in remembering what they already know.
Breathing in and out, as you know, is crucial for our survival. Yet breathing can refer to more than bringing air into the lungs and letting it out again. There are activities that are in-breath. These activities require focus and clarity. You can see it when your child is focusing on a math problem, or concentrating while writing an essay. They lean in and become still. Depending on your child’s age, this kind of focus and concentration can only last for a while before they get tired or distracted. Then your child might need an out-breath. Out-breath activities allow us to stretch and broaden our capacities of focus and concentration. Some out-breath activities include artistic activities, nature, singing, playing an instrument, gardening and just plain recess. These can provide a balance and breathing to other more focused activities. However, a child is rarely served by “just going crazy” or being overstimulated. This is different from the healthy in-breath and out-breath we try to create each day.
In general, in a Waldorf School, the daily schedule attempts to create a balance between in-breath and out-breath. This creates the rhythm of the day. Usually there is the period in the morning for more in-breath lessons, especially the main lesson and afternoons are balanced between artistic, craft and subject lessons. Actually, teachers design each lesson with a balance between in-breath and out-breath as well. After a verse or bonding activity, each lesson may contain movement, group work and individual work.
Your class teacher may offer additional activities such as crafts, field trip suggestions and homework to spread out over your week to create the balance. You may be signed up for homeschooling group activities as well. Now how can you create this balance of in-breath and out-breath weaving all of your family, job and school activities together?
Good Question! The answer is not simple, but it is doable. Observe your child. Observe your child for interest or fatigue, and shift your activity accordingly. Know that they may need a shift to rejuvenate or reset from overwhelm or they just need a break. In many school settings, there may not be the flexibility to follow a specific child’s need to transition slower, since there is a whole school schedule and the need to move along with the community. However, some children do need a gentle nudge to develop their stamina and grow their ability to participate. Try to find that nudge to increase your child’s ability to concentrate and focus for longer periods of time. They may be uncomfortable at first but will soon develop increased capacity.
As homeschoolers it is great to be able to slow down the schedule and have lots of space between activities. It is still very important, however, to have a consistent schedule that is reliable for you and your child. There is comfort and safety in knowing what to expect. We can develop the flexibility for things to change, once we have that feeling of being able to rely on the consistency around us. The most success in whatever happens in your day is based on your observations of each moment and acting accordingly.
“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.”
― Rudolf Steiner, Kingdom of Childhood
Let us know how routines and rhythms are shaping up in your house over the next few weeks. Happy Breathing and Sleeping!