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Who is Steiner? What is Waldorf Education? And why should I paint with my kids?

Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, spiritualist, lecturer, occultist, social reformer, architect, esotericist, and educator, just to name a few of the hats he wore. There are 360 published volumes of his writings on everything from agriculture to zoology, including architecture, painting, education, economics, philosophy, cosmology, poetry, playwriting, history, comparative religion, biblical exegesis, medicine, physiology, hermetic exegesis, dramaturgy, design, and stained glass. He founded a number of schools, the first of which was known as The Waldorf School, which is now a worldwide school network. He also founded a system of organic agriculture, now known as biodynamic agriculture, which was one of the first forms of modern organic farming. His medical ideas led to the development of a broad range of complementary medications and supportive artistic and biographic therapies. Numerous homes for children and adults with developmental disabilities are based on his work, including the Camphill movement. His paintings and drawings have influenced many modern artists and his two Goetheanum buildings are considered significant examples of modern architecture. He also founded a spiritual movement called anthroposophy, which informs the teaching approach in Waldorf schools. Anthroposophy teaches practices to bridge the divisions between the sciences, the arts and the spiritual strivings of man as the three main areas of human culture. It is a pathway to developing a conscious awareness of one’s humanity and recognizes the inherent wisdom of the human being (including children) to support a lifelong quest for spiritual self-development.

Waldorf Education is probably the most well know of Steiner's work. The story goes that in 1919, Steiner was visiting a factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Emil Molt, the owner of the factory, asked Steiner if he would establish and lead a school for the children of the factory workers. Steiner agreed and the first Waldorf School was born.

It is certainly understandable why Waldorf teachers need to have a special education. Steiner's teaching can be obscure and esoteric, and the pedagogical applications can be difficult to understand. I am not a Waldorf teacher but I have been studying Steiner's teachings for a long time and the following are the core ideas that have informed my understanding of Waldorf education and what I've applied to our homeschooling:

The human being is a threefold being consisting of a body, a soul, and a spirit. A child's education should address the whole being - their physical, emotional, intellectual, social, cultural, moral, and spiritual life.

  • Human development proceeds in approximately 7-year phases. Each phase has a physical, emotional, and cognitive dimension and a primary learning orientation. The curriculum, methodologies, and assessments work within this understanding of human development.

  • The learning process is a harmonious relationship between the hands (willing), the head (thinking), and the heart (feeling).

  • The visible world is founded on something invisible which is up to us to discover.

  • The path of knowledge is at the same time a path of self-development and a path to understanding our spiritual powers.

  • The job of the Waldorf teacher is to weave together subjects and disciplines into a rich tapestry of learning experiences.

  • And lastly, from Steiner's curative teachings, there is a perfect spiritual being inside of every human. This is a core belief of mine and a great reminder when working with folks with physical, cognative, and developmental differences.

As far as wet on wet watercolor painting, it is a foundational part of the early school years in any Waldorf curriculum. Even though Steiner never spoke about the technique specifically, he did write extensively on color and the effects it has on children and all of us. He also wrote about the benefits of painting and having an art practice. There are too many citations to list here but I will try to answer the question...

Why should we paint with our children?

For all of the reasons listed above! Especially developing the relationship between the hands, the head, and the heart. Children have natural artistic abilities, love colors, and are strongly affected by colors. Taking all of these reasons together, wet on wet watercolor painting is the perfect activity for wee little children, school age kids, children and adults with special needs, and anyone looking to have a relaxing, meditative practice.

Becoming immersed in the painting process and experimenting with what happens when colors flow over damp paper and bump up next to each other can spark the imagination. For the youngest artists, wet on wet watercolor painting is basically a formless exercise that allows children to just experience the colors. The gift you are giving your little ones is the opportunity to express themself through an artistic medium and find enjoyment in the process.

NOTE: I believe it is important to honor your child's artistic abilities by purchasing the best art supplies you can afford. Stockmar paint (red, blue, yellow), a 3/4 inch soft bristle flat paintbrush, and quality watercolor paper will go far to enhancing your child's experience and cut down on frustration.

When we introduce watercolor painting exercises around the age of seven, like the ones in my Wet on Wet Watercolor Painting Course, the child moves from play to a more structured lesson with an objective. Here, will forces are squarely engaged. The exercises are simple but they are not easy. It may take more than a few tries to be successful in any one painting exercise. Trying is empowering and can lead to a variety of positive outcomes, including the occasional happy accident and the joy of finally succeeding.

Painting helps children's creative development and stimulates their brain. The right side of the brain is used for emotional and creative responses, while the left side of the brain focuses on analytical processes and logic. Learning to paint uses both sides of the brain AND engages the will force. Hands, head, and heart are very much at the center of painting.

In addition to engaging their hands, head, and heart, there are many other benefits to painting that extend well beyond the childhood years. And when I say painting, I'm referring to not only the act of putting pigment on paper but also proper tool handling, assisting in cleaning up, and properly storing our tools and supplies. If you don't teach the full cycle, you alone will be cleaning a colossal mess and painting probably won't happen often. Which would be a shame. So, get them involved early!

Aside from that, there are also other benefits of exposing children (or anyone really) to wet on wet watercolor painting:

  • Strengthens gross and fine motor skills – From broad backgrounds to fine details, practicing painting boosts motor skills.

  • Improves hand-eye coordination and hand manipulation.

  • Teaches mindfulness. Painting allows the mind to focus on the task at hand and on nothing else. Having a mindfulness practice has benefits that extend well into adulthood.

  • Encourages non-verbal communication skills. Children can express themselves in the use of different colors, the intensity of the colors, and different brush strokes. My youngest son has very little spoken language and he loves to paint for this exact reason.

  • Boosts memory recollection skills and works to sharpen the mind through conceptual visualization and implementation.

  • Develops self confidence. Being successful in a painting exercise and creating something beautiful is a huge boost to anyone's confidence, especially children. In addition, there is pride to be gained through learning to paint and taking care of your tools and supplies. This confidence easily extends to other aspects of their life.

There are so many benefits to painting with your kids. You don't have to be a student of Steiner or engage in Waldorf education to see that wet on wet watercolor painting is an amazing practice.

If you're ready to try, you can take the first three painting exercises in my Wet on Wet Watercolor Painting Course for free. If you feel we are a match and would like to explore the technique further, then the course is available to purchase. I wish you happy painting!


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