If you’re drawn to a specific homeschool approach but are struggling to find your own heritage and traditions reflected in its resources, consider turning inward. Muslim mamma Ashley May shares her story of crafting a Waldorf approach that resonates deeply with her own family’s roots.
By Ashley May
Many moons ago, when I had just one baby on my hip, I decided to educate my children in our home until they were at least seven. I wavered for some time between two philosophies, but finally settled on a Waldorf approach as the best foundation for our family. I adored the idea of a beautiful rhythm in our life, and read every blog post and handbook I could find about Waldorf home environments for young children. Yet... I still felt some apprehension.
We are Muslim and of African and Arab descent. How could I fully embrace a philosophy in our home when it didn’t mirror the world I knew? The festivals and seasonal crafts revolved around traditions that were different from those we routinely celebrated. The faces in the seasonal book lists usually didn’t look like us, and the stories recommended lacked cultural relevance — which was a big challenge for me, coming from a culture that highly values oral tradition as a means of guiding children. So I was left wishing for more from Waldorf.
I felt stuck in that uncomfortable space for some time, adopting bits and pieces of the approach, but never really taking on the deep reverence for the seasons and their connection to specific rituals that Waldorf is known for. And then one day, I got out of my head and gave myself permission to make it my own.
Establishing Your Family Culture
Empowered with a clear understanding of the foundations of a Waldorf early childhood rhythm, I set an intention to bring our personal family culture to life within the context of its philosophies. I meditated on the precious moments in our life — big and small. Waldorf would feel right to me, I realised, if it made space for both our Muslim rituals and practices and the strong traditions rooted in our African and Arab culture that hold a special place deep in our hearts.
Our daily rhythm had to ebb and flow with the timing of our five daily prayers; the weekly rhythm had to hold space for the sacred on a different day — sundown Thursday to sundown Friday; the seasons had to serve as an opportunity to relish in nature’s unique rhythms, celebrate our families most auspicious festivals when applicable and learn of the practices of others when we were not in observance.
I challenge you to sit for a moment and articulate your own family’s most cherished festivals, practices and traditions. Make these the foundation of your daily, weekly and seasonal rhythms, while at the same time saving space to learn more about traditions different than your own. Engage your children’s natural curiosity in exploring the other perspectives, while instilling in them a sense of pride in who they are — both as individuals, and as a part of your collective culture.
The Power of Storytelling
Some of my fondest memories are from the lap of a grandparent, hearing a story from their heart or an old nursery rhyme from their childhood. When I began to feel like the stories and books I found on Waldorf resource lists lacked diversity and inclusivity, I responded by telling stories from my own heart. In the beginning, I crafted simple stories for my little boy.
As he has grown older and we have welcomed his younger brother, the stories have evolved. I paint a picture for them with my words, crafting tales to suit the needs of each day and connecting my boys with their heritage, or exploring the unique traditions they witness in the world around them.
Storytelling is a rich practice, and arguably the best way to reach our children on a deeper level. If you are faced with the challenge of enriching your story time to include your own traditions, but feel that you lack the resources, I encourage you to reach for your memories.
Reach into your own experiences to craft stories that will warm your children’s hearts and help them to see themselves in your words. And while my children do treasure books, I find that in the evening, storytelling from the heart opens the door to the authentic discussion and connection that children crave, helping them to process all they’ve taken in from the world that day.
Inclusivity and the Whole Child
Establishing a culture of inclusivity within the fabric of your homeschool truly educates your whole child. It leads to a strong sense of self alongside the other — encouraging empathy, understanding, and compassion. Whole child education and inclusivity go hand in hand, and every homeschool with a foundation in both will flourish. So, please... know that you have permission to make your homeschool your own, whatever that looks like for your family!
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Ashley lives in Southern California with her husband and two small boys. After working for many years in educational research and evaluation, Ashley made the decision to stay home with her children. She currently spends her days immersed in play with her two little boys and her evenings working from home as an educational consultant specialising in early childhood education and teacher development. She's on Instagram @chasingwildones.