Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rainbow Bridges

I just checked out Beyond the Rainbow Bridge through interlibrary loan, as part of my continuing, but slightly ambivalent quest to be a Waldorf Mama Wanna-be. I fully expected to be completely annoyed by the whole thing (nice attitude going into it, don’t you think? But that was the January me, the February me is non-judging). I was really quite pleasantly surprised by both the non-preachy tone and the constructive ideas therein.

For instance, Waldorf education recommends children have playtime with all four elements—earth (dirt, mud, sand), air (bubbles, flags, parachutes), water (tub, hose, pool), fire (sitting in front of the wood stove, watching candles, fighting over who gets to blow them out). OK that is totally hippy-dippy kooky, but I love the idea (how completely counter to our culture of TV, plastic, crap, junk, etc.) and my kids love every single one of those activities. When we start a fire in the living room wood stove, which has a window, E and Z will sit and play in front of it for hours. If I gave them mud, a basin of water and bubbles at the same time, they'd be in heaven!

I really wish I’d read this book before M was born or when he was really little, especially the part about rocks, shells, pinecones, bits of cloth are the best playthings. How much money could I have saved? How many Legos could I have avoided stepping on? I would of course have to tell C—who insisted all M would ever need to play with was cardboard boxes—that he was right. But I’m an adult. I can handle it.

I also like the ideas in creative discipline. When telling your kid to do something, say “You may put your pajamas on now.” Not, “will you go put on your pajamas?” because the inevitable answer is ‘NO!’ Also not, “PUT ON YOUR G—D--- PAJAMAS RIGHT NOW BEFORE I….” See how much nicer it is to say “may”? I’ve been trying this all week and it actually works. Maybe I’m just not evaluating the results objectively, and maybe after a few more days the novelty will have worn off and they’ll go back to ignoring me 100% of the time, but I like it (I also try to combine it with the 2x2 rule a friend of mine related in my last issue of GEMINI—stand on two feet, two feet away from your child—much more effective than shouting up the stairs!) And I’ve even used the technique of wrapping your child’s hands in a silk cloth and sitting with him when he hits someone, saying, “When our hands are warm and strong they don’t hit.” Again, totally hippy-dippy, but soothing for both of us, and a pleasant extension of Scott Noelle’s “Time-In,” which I have found more pleasant and more effective than time-outs.

I also like the idea of preserving the dreamy and magical essence of childhood—when M was little I always gave the most detailed and scientific answers to all of his (many, many, many) questions, and those answers always led to more and more questions, until finally we’d get to, “because of the Big Bang!” He’s a very smart, mathematical, scientific child, but he’s also sooooo literal-minded and has a hard time with pretending and other magical types of thinking. I wish I’d given him more magical answers to the questions he asked when he was two or three or four. Like the other night, E and Z asked why it was night and I said (straight out of the book), “Because Father Sun has gone to bed and Mother Moon got up.” They were satisfied with that answer, but wanted to know if “Mother Moon sleeps all day like Mama.” Ha! I wish.

I feel like I need to re-read the book to absorb it all more fully. It’s definitely made me wanty for a Waldorf-type preschool option (although a completely un-dogmatic one of course—I’ve heard horror stories of Waldorf teachers taking the whole philosophy a bit too far) instead of TV daycare.

Edited to add:
The one part I'm not entirely on board with is the heavy emphasis on using fairy tales as the main literary source. I loved reading Grimm's when I was younger (but much older than E, Z and M are now), but last weekend I read them Hansel and Gretel after we attempted to build some gingerbread houses, and I was very bothered by the language and imagery describing the witch and the stepmother. It struck me that many of the fairy tales recorded by the Grimm brothers were likely heavily influenced by the violently misogynistic and genocidal witch hunting days of the reformation. So I guess I'll be on the look-out for more enlightened fair tales. Which begs the question, what makes a tale a fairy tale? Does it necessarily have to be a folk tale or legend? Are all folk tales fairy tales? Do more modern stories count? Should I have taken more English classes in college?


  1. Even though we are sort of die hard Montessori types (but not so die hard that we don't love fantasy), I definitely see the lure of Waldorf. My friend on the Saints And Spinners blog sends her daughter to a Waldorf school.

  2. It's funny how even though Montessori and Waldorf are almost exact opposites in some ways, the same people are drawn to both (at least I am)--my dream school would have a Montessori room and a Waldorf room and children could wander freely between them both (plus lots of wide open outdoor space)...hmmm maybe the dogmatic types would call this blasphemy?

  3. Those misogynistic fairy tales make terribly good object lesson for how not to treat people, male, female or imaginary.

    As an old school English teacher, I hold with the notion that the Western Canon is the canon for reasons we cannot understand because we are immersed in our own history.

    That is not to say we have to swallow it whole and genuflect in the direction of H.C. Andersen's Denmark. There are some really good fairy tales from other cultures that celebrate female ways. I may be able to put my hands on one if I step over near the bookshelf.


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