Long time no see. As usual. Sorry for that.
Today I am coming to you with three activities that are inspired by the environment of the Waldorf/ Steiner school that our eldest daughter attends. Now, a bit of background information on that.
I do know that Steiner education in England and Ireland is very controversial and the many articles and blog posts I read about it were actually one of the reasons we chickened out initially. So Loulou Maya started elementary (you start at age 4 here in the Netherlands) in a “mainstream” catholic school. Two months later we got her out of there and took her to the local Steiner school, called Vrije School (free school) in Dutch. She had already attended the Vrije School kindergarten from age 3 to 4, so she (and us) was familiar with the great atmosphere, lovely materials and -let’s be honest- that hippy vibe that permeates everything in a Steiner school. She felt at ease there immediately and was genuinely happy and thriving from the first week. We are also happy to have her in a school where the arts are so highly thought of and promoted.
I have done my fair bit of googling using both English and Dutch search terms and it seems that the sectarian, dark side that appears to be the issue in other countries is not a thing here. The Dutch focus much more on Steiner’s education and child developement ideas and don’t dwell too much on Atlantis, higher spirits, re-incarnation and the like. That is not to say that the school is not spiritual. It is, however, in a way that is filled with love for all beings, embracing the unique talents of each child. None of the guilt and punishment of catholic or protestant schools. Is 98% of the parents while, upper / middle class white folk? Yup. But the group of Waldorf schools is working on this, planning to open more schools in underprivileged areas, aiming to prove that Steiner education is not for the elite. Will it work? Only time will tell.
Steiner Materials And Veganism
Well, ergh… Let’s just say those two don’t go hand in hand. Not with a bit of effort. I ‘ve written in the blog before that while we try to eat a strictly plant-based diet 80% of the time, we do have our vegetarian periods, so while I use the term “vegan” for the ease of people understanding what I eat -at a restaurant for example- I do not identify as one (mainly cause I know it would make militant vegans furious and I don’t want to go there).
When researching Waldorf education, I noticed how wonderful the aesthetics of it all was. And all those natural materials: cotton and wood everywhere. And then also silk and wool and beeswax. Hmm. It got me thinking. Of course not having plastic toys, petroleum-based plasticine, synthetic crayons and plastic markers is great for the environment. But not necessarily for the animals. On the other hand, if we f*ck up the environment even more, using non-renewable resources and causing so much plastic waste, the animals will go down with us. So what is best?
I had similar thoughts when I got a pair of boots from Vegetarian Shoes two years ago. They are made from synthetic materials, meaning bad for the environment. However, if they last long -which they totally should for the price I paid- they are probably worth it. On the other hand, I could get second-hand leather shoes, which do last long. But then by wearing them I would be normalizing the use of animal skin. Anyway, the boots are still as good as new two years later, so that’s good. I still haven’t got the answers though.
Looking into possible alternatives for the basic Steiner art materials I found that needle felting can actually be done with vegan fibers! I don’t know if it requires more skill and it would be harder for the little ones, but it can be done. The beeswax candles could be replaced with soy ones, but then you ‘d have to look hard to find those that are made of sustainably farmed soy. This article explains the issues with soy candles really well. As for the popular “play silks”, that are essentially pieces of cloth with different colors used for pretend play, those could easily be replaced with cotton. Yes, not that fancy to the touch, but good enough, if you ask me. When it comes to crayons and modeling wax, Waldorf schools again use beeswax-based ones. Soy-based would be again the vegan-friendly alternative, but the pressure soy plantations put on the environment remains a big issue.
If you ask my personal opinion, I ‘d rather use one candle that is made from beeswax and light it sparingly (they also last much longer than soy or paraffine candles) than enjoy a toxic vanilla-cappucino scented paraffine candle every time I take a shower. Same goes for the modeling materials. I feel that being mindful and using “just enough” is the most important. We have both plasticine and modeling wax at home now. Our last bucket of plasticine lasted three years. I refuse to throw it out when it becomes one colour and only if it’s full of hair and bread crumbs does it get replaces. As for the beeswax, because it is hard and takes energy to soften, kids tend to use very small pieces anyway. I loath play doh and consider it a work of the devil. A salt and flour dough will do, if my kids want something with a similar texture.
Ok, now that things are somewhat clarified, on to the crafts!
Loulou Maya loved the advent spiral we created from salt dough and acrylics in December, so I was looking into ideas to create something similar for every month. Then I stumbled across perpetual calendars on pinterest. I created ours by sawing three wooden circles from some left-over pieces. I then sanded them and drew the details with white acrylic.
I gifted it to Loulou Maya on the 1st of January together with a bowl of little gemstones, to be used as markers. In this pic you can see that it is much more minimalistic than our colorful salt dough advent. But more durable too.
On the biggest disk I ‘ve marked the days of the month, the days of the week (weekend being the circles with just the outline) and the new moon and full moon. We have managed to look those up zero times so far, but I ‘m optimistic I ‘ll get to it eventually. On the middle disk I ‘ve marked the months, painting little hearts on the months when we have our birthdays. On the smallest disc the seasons are marked, with little symbols to help the girls recognize them until they are able to read.
If I made it again, maybe I would make an extra disc for the week, instead of putting it together with the days. Not sure if it would look to tall and awkward though. The other improvement I would make would be to use thick, solid wood and make dents on each day, so that the gemstone marker doesn’t slide out of place all the time.
It is a very easy project and you can add more features like the weather. Do search for “perpetual calendar” on pinterest and you will find one that suits your needs and taste for sure. And they can be really simple, made of cardboard too, so don’t hesitate!
DIY Modeling Wax
That’s a messy one but oh so pretty! We did use beeswax but if you are vegan you can probably make it using soy wax pellets. Not sure if it mixes with olive oil the same way beeswax does though, so I can’t help on that.
I looked up a few recipes online and then adjusted them to our needs. To get a Stockmar beeswax consistency you would need 5 teaspoons of olive oil and 3-4 teaspoons of lanolin (again, not vegan, I am sorry. I wonder if coconut oil would work?) per half a kilo of beeswax. We wanted it to be a bit softer so that it doesn’t take ages to warm it up, so we did 4 teaspoons olive oil and 3 full teaspoons lanolin for 250 grams of beeswax. It ended up really nice, it holds its shape when cold, warms up quickly but is a bit sticky when you work a lot with it. I read it could be cause I used too much lanolin, so that’s something to take into consideration.
With that ratio of ingredients I was able to soften the modeling wax quite fast, but it still was hard for the kids. That is kind of the point of it too, though, to focus and relax while kneading.
To color the wax we grated old, broken crayons and added them to the melted wax, oil and lanolin mixture. I don’t do wax crafts often, so I don’t have a specific pot or double boiler for that. What I do is I save all the glass jars and I use them to create makeshift double boilers, throwing them into recycling when I am done (cause wax is a pain to clean out and it will clog your drain eventually).
Needle Felting Simple Figures
I was introduced to felting, wet felting in particular, at a bazaar at Loulou’s school, where they had a workshop. It was easy and fun and very creative. A few years back a friend (hi, Ev!) had sent me the loveliest needle-felted gnome, but back then I only knew it was super cute and had no clue how it was made. Fast forward to last week, when Loulou Maya asked me if we could get some felting fibers at home, cause she loved it when they do felt work at school. We got several colors and three felting needles, and though I ‘ve stabbed myself a few times quite badly (cause I don’t listen and will felt in the air) I can confess I am in love.
This little pink mouse with the too-thick, too-rigid tale was my very first creation. I ‘ve made a bunch of little animals since, that Loulou Maya admires for a few minutes and Vera Jo adores and therefore destroys in a few hours (she is 21 months old. We are working on that “gentle touch” and we are not quite there yet, as you can imagine).
Here are some of the survivors: the creepy mermaid, the sturdy gnome (he is very tightly-knit and has survived Vera Jo’s pulling and biting and drooling all over him), the youngest mouse and the ducklings.
Loulou Maya has also made quite a few experiments and gifted her first ever little doll to a friend who had his birthday last week, so that “he will always have someone, even when he is alone”. She will be 5 in June and her fine motor skills are very good for her age, but she is still hesitant to move the felting needle quickly. She is very confident with sewing though, so she does mostly “mixed media” projects, using a bit of needle felting and then a lot of sewing to secure things into place.
So, maybe I haven’t posted for a while, but at least now you have a bunch of ideas to keep you busy till my next post (that will be who-knows-when)!