Recently I’ve become intrigued with role that the four elements play in Waldorf education. Like many families, we have the Grimms Spiel & Holz four elements stackers. We also have some framed postcards of “elements fairies”. I’ve also known of some Waldorf homeschoolers who put elemental pieces on their nature table, based on a four-week cycle. I don’t quite understand how they know which week is which, so I just try to include items that represent the four elements at all times.
What I didn’t know, and am still far from truly understanding is why Waldorf educators place so much emphasis on the four elements. After doing some research, I’ve concluded that the elements’ role in Waldorf education comes largely from anthroposophy, which I’ve promised not to spend too much time blogging about, and which I’m just in the infancy of my understanding of. Still, I feel compelled to post a quote from an interesting post:
In Steiner’s anthroposophical world-view, the whole world is a macrocosmic reflection of the human microcosm. From this perspective, each of man’s four bodies finds its echo in an “element” of nature. Thus, the physical body is of the nature of earth, the etheric body of the nature of water, the astral body of the nature of air and the ego is akin to fire. In terms of the “kingdoms of nature,” we share our physical body with the mineral kingdom, our etheric body with the plant world, and our astral body with the animals. The ego is shared with no other kingdom: only the human being carries this “divine spark” into earthly life. –
Schwartz Eugene. Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education: The Kindergarten Years [Internet]. Version 1. millennialchild. 2009 Mar 16. Available from: http://millennialchild.wordpress.com/article/anthroposophy-and-waldorf-education-the-110mw7eus832b-9/.
From a less “mumbo jumbo” point of view, each of the four temperaments is associated with one of the elements, with the melancholic temperament being associated with the element of air, the phlegmatic with water, the sanguine with air, and the choleric with fire. Furthermore, the four temperaments are associated with the various stages of human development, with childhood being associated with sanguine, adolescence associated with choleric, adulthood associated with melancholic, and old age with phlegmatic.With all of this in mind, I decided to purchase the book, Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. I was adequately forewarned by an Amazon reviewer that this book might be a bit out of my element (har, har, aren’t I so punny?), but I decided to give it a try anyway. When it arrived, sure enough, I could not begin to imagine doing most of the projects in the book, which required a lot of woodworking and craftsmanship skills. So I set the book aside for awhile. Then, I was recently browsing A Toy Garden’s website and I realized that they carry many of the toys covered in the book, either in kit or pre-built format, from a variety of boats and boat building kits, to a wind car building kit, to tops, to a climbing bear, to a hot air roundabout, to a whirly gig, and more. The cost of these products range from $5-$15-ish dollars, so are quite reasonably priced, if you don’t go overboard and order them all (no, I am not an affiliate for them). There are two major projects in the book that are not carried at A Toy Garden, the first being a marble maze, which we already own as I consider it an essential to own anyway, and the second is a waterwheel, which I’d love to make, but would probably cut off a finger if in the process of doing so. Other than that, most of the other projects in the book are doable for me, such as making pinwheels, kites, paper airplanes, etc.Ironically, Dora wanted to explore water first. I say “ironically”, because neither of us was even thinking about summer at the time and because Dora is terrified of water and currently I am trying really hard to find some sort of swim lesson arrangement that meets her needs (none of my other children were afraid of water, so this is all new to me). We had a nice water-exploration set up in our backyard, with a giant metal tub full of water (why I even own such a large metal tub is beyond me, but it did come in handy!). Then, over the weekend, Dora fell into the tub, soaking herself, and we had to put it back in storage, due to her subsequent refusal to go into the backyard again if it was out. So I am not sure how much more we will do with exploring water. So we may be moving onto another element very soon.So, if you’ve made it past all of my anthroposophical woo-woo-ness and are still reading this, what is your take on the role that the four elements play in Waldorf education? And how do you incorporate the four elements into your child’s life?
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