I may get blasted for this, but when I had my children, I really had no clue about what "philosophy" I was going to raise them in. I belonged to the Do the Best You Can, Improvise, and Pray a Lot school of parenting. But if I'd known about the Waldorf method of education and the ways parents implement it at home, I might have filled my apartment with toys that Waldorf moms have in their homes, and bypassed the licensed-character and electronic-learning stuff altogether. Then again, I might not have. These judgment calls are tough to make.
The Waldorf school of thinking comes courtesy of scientist/artist Rudolf Steiner, who developed a model of education in Germany that was picked up in the UK and America in the late '20s. Waldorf schools are based on his concepts of the way children learn in three separate stages of their life: birth to age seven; ages seven to 14; and 14 to 21. For younger children, Steiner championed the idea of learning through play, artistic work, and developmentally appropriate household chores. Reading, math, science, and other academic matters, he believed, should wait until around age seven, when a child is better able to grasp those concepts.
Moms who follow Steiner's principles, whether or not they actually send their kids to Waldorf schools, are pretty easy to spot. They're the ones in the moms' groups whose children wear all-organic-cotton clothes and boast that their kids have never seen an episode of PAW Patrol. For better or worse, Waldorf students are also among the most likely not to have been vaccinated, according to Precision Vaccinations, so be prepared for a lengthy discussion if you dare bring up the topic at the playground.
Which toys would pass muster in a Waldorf home? Think natural, non-commercial, non-electronic, and open-ended. Which is pretty great, when you think about it; even in my own pre-K classroom, my students can't get enough of building with simple blocks and MagnaTiles, and dressing up in play clothes. Scoff if you will at the more woo-woo aspects of the Waldorf philosophy, but imagine your own child being presented with these playthings, and suddenly the whole philosophy sounds pretty brilliant.
1. Dress-Up Clothes
Toijoy Girls Dress Up Trunk
Having costumes and props for open-ended dramatic play is a must in the Waldorf home. And while other schools may shy away from fairy tales in the classroom, Waldorf uses them as a tool to build literacy skills. A dress-up set like this was just made for sparking hours of princess-and-dragon fun.
2. Play Kitchen
Wooden Chef's Pretend Play Toy Kitchen
Melissa & Doug
The Waldorf philosophy stresses teaching kids independence and self-confidence through household chores, and this extends to playtime as well. This cool kitchen set will occupy little gourmets for hours; it even includes a working ice dispenser that drops wooden "cubes."
3. Cloth Dolls (The Simpler, The Better)
Take-Along Poseable Pocket Dolls
Waldorf moms are all about dolls for both boys and girls. But the average Barbie or Doc McStuffins is too gender-specific to inspire truly creative play. A true Waldorf doll is handmade, using soft and natural materials like wool and cotton. It also helps if the face is either blank (like the ones on these cute colorful toys) or just two little eyes and a mouth, so that the child is free to imagine how the doll is feeling.
4. Stackable Puzzle
5. Designer Crayons
6. Nature Toy
Locomo Dale Animal Figure Wooden Toy
While other moms are yelling at their kids to stop digging in the mud, the Waldorf mom encourages it. Outdoor exploration is a major component of the educational philosophy, so a toy like this is a Waldorf family's dream come true; it's designed to be taken outside and have twigs, leaves, and flowers stuck into the head and arm holes.
Waldorf Wooden Rocking Play
This sturdy wood rocker is Waldorf-approved on two counts: First, it helps build strength and balance in little bodies. Second, it's an open-ended toy that could become a car for pretend play, a tunnel for crawling under, a seat for quiet reading, or whatever else your child can think of.
8. Play Silks
9. Cooperative Game
10. Balance Toy
11. Creative Blocks
12. Beginners' Loom
Wooden Multi-Craft Weaving Loom
Melissa & Doug
Children in a Waldorf home spend more time being creative than they do swiping at a screen. A loom like this, perfect for kids 6 and up, hones fine motor skills and concentration as they weave the (kid-safe) needle in and out of the yarn to make one of a number of crafts.