I’m going to do my best to tell this story without sounding preachy, but as a “Waldorf parent,” such is never easy. If you know nothing about Waldorf education, you know it’s something like Montessori. This is correct in that it’s a 20th century European pedagogy, but that’s where the similarities end. If you know a little bit about Waldorf, you know there’s a lot of knitting involved. This is also true. Everyone knits – kids, parents, teachers. It’s a knit-heavy community.
I think because of all the knitting, it’s assumed that Waldorf education is pretty loosey-goosey. That’s what I thought when (before kids) I was hired to assist in the first and second grades. “It’ll be great,” I told people. “When a kid is having trouble with a lesson, I’ll take them outside and we’ll make a kite.” I literally said this.
I very quickly learned that Waldorf school, despite being touchy-feely, is actually quite rigid, especially in the lower grades. Children stand in silence for their morning verse. How you stand is important, hand folding is emphasized. Lines don’t move until they’re quiet. Because learning how to work in a group is emphasized as much as book smarts, teachers have the time and the guts to turn a line around, march it all the way back to the class room and put everyone back at their desks and line up again if the line behavior isn’t up to snuff.
Waldorf schools also have a very strict home-media policy that families are expected to adhere to – that is, no media. I’m told this loosens up when kids hit about 6th grade, but until then – no media.
This means no TV and no movies. That means no iPads on the plane. The best my kids get is a video chat with a distant-dwelling grandparent or aunt, which is still considered “not ideal” by the school. (I agree – if everyone in my family would move to California immediately that would be fantastic.) Further, toys associated with television and movies are also verboten, a rule we work hard to keep in our family, make known in our family, but that is largely ignored by gift-givers.
And so it seeps in. Despite the lack of TV, my boys are still aware of Spiderman, Batman, the Legos movie, Frozen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Looney Toons, Smurfs, Elmo and a million other things I didn’t introduce them to. And not just through the toys, but through billboards, bus advertisements and the completely amusing, totally uninformed chatter of his peers.
I can’t tell you how incredible it is to hear a small group of children who have never seen Star Wars talk about Star Wars. For about a year, Otis was pretty sure Star Wars was called “The Chewbacca Story.” These are things that go uncorrected in our house. After discovering a Star Wars board book at the library, he deduced that Chewbacca and Yoda were the stars of this particular adventure – and why not? They’re the coolest looking. He argued this point for a long time, but is now aware that Darth Vadar and the Storm Troopers play a pretty big part in the proceedings. Luke, Han, Lea, Obi Wan – you don’t rate yet. No one, thankfully, seems to be aware of Jar-Jar Binks.
It pleased me to no end the other night when Otis asked me if I knew what Thunderbirds were. I said I knew that there was a kind of a car called a Thunderbird.
“No,” he said. “These are like little Thunderbirds and you shoot them out of a cannon that’s like this big and you shoot them at a rubber building that’s like this big and the Thunderbird hits the building and it falls down.” My Angry Birds phase lasted all of three minutes, but I knew what he was talking about.
“Cool,” I said. “Who told you about Thunderbirds?”
“Dante,” he said, “and for my 5th birthday, I’m gonna get the Thunderbird, and the cannon and the building and we can play!”
“I can’t wait,” I said. And I really couldn’t. If there’s a physical Angry Birds game, I would get it. Sounds fun. Especially if we call it Thunderbirds.
As we’ve continued to talk about Thunderbirds, I’ve gone ahead and taught Otis the old call and response from the Slim Gaillard song. “Thunderbird,” which is about a cheap brand of wine.
“What’s the word?” I say.
“Thunderbird!” Otis shouts back.
“What’s the action?”
And because I can’t remember the third one: “What’s the plan?”
When I heard him say this to himself over the baby monitor during nap-time, I was glad for every plane ride in which he annoyed me to no end, every 4-5 pm in which I can’t plug him in to the television while I get dinner ready, every rainy afternoon in which we keep out of the movie houses and build train tracks instead.