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I had recently visited my favorite Waldorf bookstore, and I came across a very colorful little book entitled “Little Gnome Tenderroot.” The cover was painted in a rainbow of colors in a style evocative of Waldorf wet-on-wet watercolor paintings. The gnomish face poking out of that array of colors was impish and intriguing. What was Little Gnome Tenderroot’s story, I wondered. Better yet, would Little Gnome Tenderroot be of interest to any of the children participating in a bookswap with my child? I was certain they might–not having actually read the book–and I picked up the gnome book fully intending to gift it. However, I thought that I would need two of these books. I couldn’t deprive my son of the joy of this tale, so I inquired about a second copy. Nope. This one little book was it. I hate to admit it, but I decided that my son needed this book more than any of his friends, so I grabbed a copy of the can’t-go-wrong Wind in the Willows and left with my books. Later, I came to the realization that Little Gnome Tenderroot would not make the ideal Secret Santa type of gift.

Once I got past the cute cover, I realized that this was not the typical Waldorf fairy story. Instead, the Tenderroot tale seemed less of a tale and more of a dramatization of Rudolf Steiner’s complex metaphysics. I have read chunks of Steiner’s Nature Spirits, so I got the gist of what Steiner theories were being personified through the gnome, tree spirits and other entities in the narrative. However, I realized that persons with no familiarity of Steiner would not be able to make heads or tails out of the strange goings on. Sadly, I realized any non-Waldorf person receiving this book might think it a cruel regift or some sort of bizarre ramblings. I am not entirely into Gnome Tenderroot as a story. However, I may try to revamp the clunky narrative in my telling and try to incorporate it into our homeschooling adventures in a way that would make sense to a child who is not read up on Anthroposophy. I will also try to read the original author (Jakob Streit) in various translations to see if the story in other narratives seems to fall as flat due to phrasing.

Little Gnome Tenderroot

Little Gnome Tenderroot

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The obvious occult leanings of Waldorf founder Rudolf Steiner might leave many wondering if Waldorf is right for them. Steiner’s educational system is excellent and can be divorced from Anthroposophy. I know it can be done, because I don’t really know anything substantial about Anthroposophy, and I’m successfully using Waldorf curricula everyday. Our days our fun-filled and revolve around nature and rhythm. This is a typical day:

1. Nature Walk
2. Sing circle songs (Wheels on the Bus, Old MacDonald, Seasonal Songs) and reciting poems (Stevenson, Yeats)
3. Doing activities that reflect our month’s theme (e.g., reading about leaves, leaf rubbing)
4. Engaging in handwork, watercolor painting or some other craft
5. Free play which usually involves playing with our home made educational games
6. Yoga (*maybe*)
7. Telling a Grimm or other fairytale & discussing it
8. Practicing writing our two letters for the month
9. Discussing our number for the month (e.g., let’s draw a one, what does it mean to be unique, name things that are unique)

See, nothing esoteric here. The only unusual thing we might do is celebrate one of the Waldorf holidays. This month is Michaelmas. I’d never heard of that until I became acquainted with Waldorf. It’s a real Christian holiday that celebrates the Archangel Michael. Apparently, it was much celebrated in Europe, but a quick look on Wikipedia suggests that it is not so well observed nowadays. We choose to celebrate these holidays for a variety of reasons. Unlike the well-known holidays, there’s absolutely no commercialism associated with them. Thankfully,my son doesn’t expect any gifts. Instead, these new, unexpected holidays are purely family oriented. The symbolism is rich, and they lend themselves to lots of fun-filled activities. Michaelmas is based around Michael defeating Lucifer portrayed as a dragon, so there’s lots of crafts and plays and storytelling with dragon themes. Kids love that.

Holidays aside, Waldorf is a superior educational system that simply can’t be beat. Right now, the focus is simple but as the age of the child progresses, it takes on the form of a classical education. Waldorf is not Dick and Jane literacy and teaching to tests. Right from the get-go, Waldorf presents very challenging texts and language for children to absorb. The youngest of children are listening to Rumi, Yeats, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost, and other great poets. Even the Grimm tales are presented in the original language. This promotes advanced literacy and vocabulary. Advanced geometric concepts are presented in ways that children can understand. Overall, everything that is taught in a way that involves the “head, heart, and hands.” The head is obviously the intellect, but use of things like oral story telling and puppetry (imagination/heart) and handwork and painting (hands) to enforce lesson material further engages the child and reinforces retention in ways that rote learning does not.

Additionally, the range of subjects is also impressive. Whereas many schools are just teaching the basics, Waldorf schools teach quite a variety of subjects in the first eight years. Botany, Art, Drama, Music, Mineralogy, Physics, Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry, Ancient Hebrew/Persia/Indian/Egyptian/Native American Culture, are just a few of the many subjects. There’s a constant focus on creativity and world culture that simply is not found in public school. The range of subjects also shows that children are capable of being challenged in ways that many public elementary and middle schools do not attempt.

That said, I’m seriously considering taking a foundational course in Anthroposophy to see if it is or is not something that I want to involve myself with further. Steiner’s metaphysics does not grab me thus far, but his educational system is brilliant. I’m tempted to see if there is anything else in Anthroposophy that may be of use.

I mentioned earlier that gnomes are ubiquitous in Waldorf culture. Why is that? I don’t know all the specifics, but I do know that the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner, believed in gnomes. Rudolf Steiner was an unabashed occultist. In his early days, he apparently had some psychic experiences that predisposed him to interest in the occult, and he eventually went on to affiliate himself with a group of Theosophists. Theosophy is a school of occult thinking for which I definitely do not care. I’ll get back to that later. For now, suffice it to say that Rudolf Steiner distanced himself in many ways from Theosophy and went on to found his own system; Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is a very complex occult system that Steiner called a “spiritual science.” Anthroposophy deals with the whole cosmos, but the gnomes are a elemental spirits that live in the bowels of the earth. They do not look like the the gnomes on the cover of Huygen and Poortvliet’s book, either! No red hats and blue coats here. LOL. The gnomes appear to be invisible mean spirited, surprisingly earth hating, asocial, clever creatures that help plants grow. If they are visible, it’s when they take on the form of frogs or toads. That’s my take on reading Steiner’s book Nature Spirits. Nature Spirits is by no means light reading. It’s some of the most abstruse, convoluted–and if you like this sort of thing–intriguing–material you’ll ever read.

What does this mean if you’re considering Waldorf education? It depends. If you’re homeschooling, it might not mean anything at all. I’ve purchased many curricula, and they have no obvious, teachable anthroposophy in them at all. Zero. If you purchase Waldorf homeschooling products, you’re likely to see gnomes, but that’s most likely along the lines of objects to set out on your nature table or counting toys. The most I’ve ever heard coming out of a Waldorf private school is gnome themed garden hunts for little children. In other words, little kids go outside and “look for gnomes” during something akin to recess. While teachers seem to operate with an anthroposophy mindset, they don’t seem to teach anthroposophy to kids in any overt way. I have several friends with kids in Waldorf schools, so this seems to be the case. Hopefully, I’ll find out myself. Until then, it’s Waldorf homeschooling!

Gnomes

Gnomes