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Waldorf Homeschool "A Helping Hand: Assisting the Student"

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Somewhere in the lecture cycles that Rudolf Steiner gave to the first Waldorf teachers in 1919, (Foundations of Human Experience, Practical Advice for Teachers, and Discussions with Teachers), he addressed the question of helping a student. I made a relatively brief attempt to find it so that I could give a primary source citation, but I could not find it and I have chosen instead to continue working on this article and the creation of more course content. If and when I do discover it, I will return to this article and update it to reflect the source.

As he spoke to those teachers, he gave a little picture of a teacher helping a child with some artwork. While it is obvious that we would not want to do too much, lest we weaken the child's developing will forces to do for themselves, the act of stepping in for a brief moment to help can be very valuable. The teacher demonstrates attention, care, and an example of what is possible. The child carries a new impulse, a new enthusiasm, and a new perspective. And, as important as any other aspect, the child feels the adult's good will, their warmth of soul.

This little picture stuck with me when I first read it because I have a distinct memory of this happening, with a painting, when I was in fourth grade. The teacher showed me how to shade on one side of a cactus. As she made a few brush strokes of darker paint on one side of the cactus, I could sense that what she was showing me was true, simply so--and yet it was something I had never noticed before. Thereafter, I became aware of this in the world and in artwork. Her participation, her help unlocked a door for me. I still had to turn the handle, open the door, and walk through it myself--a process that is actually still occurring for me as an artist--but her one minute of help and guidance started that process.

I have practiced this many times over the years with students. I have added the practice of asking, "May I do something here?" or "Do you mind if I help with this?" because I think it is also important to train them to sense that they have boundaries and that they can practice making choices about when others, even those with the best of intentions, are offering help. I find that the child who says "Yes, you can help," is actually even more open to what I am about to show them. Also, I will often follow-up with suggesting that they immediately do what I have just demonstrated, even if it means tracing over the very words/numbers/etc that I just produced. This is a way of taking it from mere example to engaging the actual lesson in their will forces, a very important distinction.

In education, as in most of life, actions "speak louder than words". How often do we understand an idea and then discover that putting that idea into action is a different matter altogether? When my father told me how to parallel park, the process no longer held any mystery. He told me about it. Then he did it. Then I understood completely--or so I thought. When I actually tried to parallel park, I found that the doing of the thing is what it all comes down to. So it is the same with teaching and learning in school. Paramount is the engagement of the child's will, having them actually DO whatever it is they need to learn. DO and DO AGAIN. (and again and again and again). That is where the deepest and most enduring learning occurs.

So I hope this will encourage you to participate and help while also keeping a vigilant watch on what it is that the child must also do themselves.

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