Disneyworld versus Waldorf

Today was an interesting day, but to explain, I’ll have to go back in time a bit…

After exploring various educational options for our children, we finally settled on Waldorf schooling two years ago. If you aren’t familiar with Waldorf schools, they’re based on the pedagogy of Rudolf Steiner, and emphasize imaginative play, art, and creativity in the earlier years. While initially dubious about the academic rigor — Waldorf kids don’t learn to read in kindergarten, for example — we have learned to really appreciate the Waldorf philosophy, particularly regarding the negative influence of media on children.

In a Waldorf school, children are strongly discouraged from watching TV and playing computer or video games, and instead emphasize artistic endeavors from painting to molding clay, dancing, singing, creating fantasy worlds with toys, and similar activities. Here’s a good summary of the overall Waldorf educational philosophy. In addition, “character-based toys” are also discouraged, so instead of having what I’d call logo toys (Barbie, G.I.Joe, Mickey Mouse, etc.) we have generic stuffed animals, carved wooden critters, etc.

For us, it works well, and we’re very pleased with how A- is growing up. She’s a bright, engaged and playful 6-yo who sings, dances, and is both silly and perceptive, without nagging or whining about wanting this, that or the other. It’s a nice antidote to the grabby/whiny mini-consumer that we encounter outside of our Waldorf circle. (Which isn’t to say that we don’t endure our share of whining and iwants, but kids are, well, still kids and they still have to go through various developmental stages on their journey to adulthood)

Yet here was our dilemma: we have a week off from school in mid-February and we just couldn’t come up with a vacation venue that would be engaging and fun for the kids. We’ve tried retreats, hikes, etc, and they’ve invariably been a frustration and disappointment.

So L- and I thought that it could be fun to go to Disneyworld, but not go into the parks. If you haven’t been to Disneyworld in Florida, it’s a pretty amazing place. It’s on a piece of land approximately the size of Manhattan, beautifully landscaped, with fabulous pools and a slick transportation system that includes the monorail, boats, and busses. Our kids love these sorts of transportation, and hanging around at a warm pool in the Florida sunshine, swimming every afternoon sounded really nice!

But then the influence of the Disney brand began to creep into our house. The kids suddenly wanted to watch various Disney movies, were whining about reading some collectors Disney books I own (that are off-limits to them), and generally getting sucked into the hype. It was truly eye-opening.

The more fundamental dilemma L- and I faced as the week progressed, particularly post-confirming reservations, was whether it was morally or ethically consistent for us to be fighting the tide of crass commercialism and consumerism on behalf of our kids (and our own mental sanity!) and yet be taking a holiday at Disneyworld?

This morning L- and I went out for breakfast and we both realized that we were deliberately avoiding sharing our vacation plans with our friends and the community at school , and that we were both anxious that we’d return and our kids would be talking about all things Disney for months. Quite inconsistent with our beliefs and values.

Yet… the pools are truly wonderful and Disneyworld is a fun and entertaining vacation destination for families. L- and I have had some terrific vacations there (as a couple, though, not with kids). So we thrashed for about an hour and then finally decided that living to our values was more important that a few days at a warm pool as we contributed to the Disney empire.

So we came home, cancelled all our plans, and booked a shorter adventure trip: Amtrak from Denver to Glenwood Springs (where they have the largest hot-springs-fed pool in the world) and a two night stay at a nice resort up in the mountains. We’ll find other things to occupy our time the rest of the week.

And you know what? As much as I appreciate and enjoy Disneyworld, I’m relieved and pleased that we’re sticking to our principals and living a consistent life. There are other pools, other trains, and certainly other busses in the world, but our kids are only going to get one childhood, and we really want that to be the best, most loving and fulfilling possible. Disneyworld can wait.

8 comments on “Disneyworld versus Waldorf

  1. Dave, I really appreciated your perspective on living to your values. We’re originally from California and have about the same story you do–been involved with Waldorf since our daughter was 2 years old (she’s 6 now), currently doing a Waldorf-inspired Kindy at home, and plan on continuing Waldorf-inspired homeschooling with a co-op.
    And yet, we went to Disneyland every Easter since our eldest was 2. Living in Southern California, it wasn’t the huge vacation that your trip would have been. We figured Easter Sunday, well, most people are in church, and being godless heathens LOL we could sneak into Disney with no crowds, spend the day riding Dumbo and Small World, and then scoot home. We did it and had a lot of fun, but yeah, I know the feeling of not wanting to talk too much about it within the community.
    We were also planning a Disney cruise back in the fall of 2001, and that was a weird feeling to tell our beloved early childhood teacher that we were spending a week up to our eyeballs in Disney’s crass comercialism. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the attacks of 9/11/2001 made us rethink our plans to travel out of the country.
    What strikes me as funny is that we rationalized our trips *to* Disney with the same reasoning that you’re *not* going to Disney–they only get one childhood. The occasional submersion into mainstream culture can be fun–and it can also reinforce why we parent the way we do the other 364 days of the year.
    We’re currently planning our trip to CA to visit friends…over Easter break…with a trip to Disney thrown in for fun…

  2. So basically you’ve traded one hype for another ….. I think you can enjoy it all. It’s all in how you view the experience and how you present it to the kids. I think you would enjoy their reaction to it and that would be something that YOU two would miss. I do believe that you have taken A- there before …. and she got cranky … is that affecting your decision also? Think about it in a few years when G- is older .. a little stamina doesn’t hurt!!!

  3. Dave,
    Enjoyed the read. I was raised Waldorf (Waldorf school in Lexington, MA � plus a good bit of it at home as well) and have always been very thankful that my parents did that. I am now on the cusp of having children of my own with my beautiful wife who was not raised Waldorf. There have been arguments. She was raised by Disney, TV and the media and is having a very hard time letting it go. At first she thought it would be no problem � then she missed it, a lot. But I think that the anticipation and expectations/opportunities for our future children won out. Good luck from one grown Waldorf kid to you and yours.

  4. Hi Brian,
    Looks like an old blog but I can’t resist the urge to comment. We’re considering Waldorf for our daughter when she reaches school age (she is only 14 months old now) and I’m considering become certified as a Waldorf teacher. I love the idea of minimizing consumerism in children but know how hard that endeavor will prove to be.
    We already have a dancing Elmo doll (which she loves) and a few other pooh and sesame street items that we received as gifts. I don’t intend to buy these things for her in the future but imagine that my parents will look toward a family trip to Disneyworld in a few years. Is a one-time trip that off-the-mark?
    As a grown Waldorf kid, how do you think your schooling impacted your worldview? Are you thankful for your education or did you find it too different and therefore restrictive? Was your families’ world Waldorf…will we be losing friends should we select that path?
    Obscure sources reference racism, satanism and some call Waldorf a cult. Those statements seem extreme…my understanding is that it is losely based on Christianity and that there is a mystical element as a result of Steiner’s belief. What did you learn of Steiner while in school?
    Overall the curriculm is amazing and I think that the hands on approach to learning is ideal. I am just hoping that you can enlighten me regarding your experiences.
    Thanks much, Kim

  5. Here’s an ironic footnote, two years later, almost to the day: we have two weeks off school in late March and we’ve rented a condo on Sanibel Island in Florida for a week’s stay. Now we have three kids too, A- is 8, G- will be 5 and K- is one. After our week of playing on the beach and collecting seashells, guess where we’re going for four days? Disneyworld.
    This time we figured that it wasn’t the focus of the trip (the kids are just as excited about playing on the beach for an entire week as going to Disneyworld) but that being able to stay at the Swan and enjoy the boat rides, pools and activities for a few days would be a nice cap to our holiday. We’re even having my father-in-law meet us there to share the fun, and warned him more than once that we’re not going to the parks every day — we might go ONCE — but that we mostly want to just enjoy the facility and pools, a nice counterpoint to the beach and, frankly, unknown experience of Sanibel Island.
    And, two years later, Waldorf is splendid and this evening I got to enjoy listening to my second grader read a 64-page book to my four year old. She did great with the book and her reading skills are phenomenal when I consider that a year ago she knew letters but no more than a dozen words!

  6. “As a grown Waldorf kid, how do you think your schooling impacted your worldview? Are you thankful for your education or did you find it too different and therefore restrictive? Was your families’ world Waldorf…will we be losing friends should we select that path?”
    Dear Kim,
    I realize this isn’t your blog (sorry Dave) but I am a Waldorf graduate, 21 year, junior at the University of Chicago. I am just starting up a blog (http://almostgirl.coffeespoons.org) and one of the aspects is my Waldorf education. I am very thankful for my Waldorf education. One element of it that has been the most helpful, and one that I don’t think has been emphasized enough is Waldorf’s top down pedagogy. The curriculum is designed such that you go whole to parts and this has a huge impact on how your thinking develops. At traditional schools you get tricked into believing you are either a logical and linear left brain thinker or a creative lateral right brain thinker. Thus we start to think that we are either scientific detail oriented people or expansive big picture creative types. But the point is our brain can do both, we are capable of both seeing the big picture and accounting for all the details. What Waldorf education teaches you is how to do both. You start with the big picture in the younger grades, experiencing every subject. Your curiosity is aroused and each time you encounter a subject you are left wanting more. As you go through the grades the details start to fit themselves in, no longer do you have a basic picture of gravity and other forces but you begin to deal with the details of Newton�s Laws and Classical Mechanics and then even move onto more modern lines of thinking with quantum mechanics. But the joy and interest and the big picture excitement of that first encounter stick with you. You are capable of thinking about physics as a whole subject filled with wonderful, terrible, and awesome phenomenon even as you deal with the nitty gritty of solving complicated equations. Now if you had only encountered the details of physics as most students do for the first time in high school you would either fall in love with the details (though few do) and never think about the whole picture of physics and its consequences or you would hate the subject instantly because you have no appreciation of what it means and the details would seem meaningless and confusing.

  7. Ha! You have nooooo idea how well I related to that post. My older children grown, starting over has been harder to keep the Waldorf thing at home, and I find myself swaying around my friends, co-workers, relatives in ways I didn’t before when I was younger. Life as a work in progress, finding my way to the me of later-in-life parenting that hasn’t sold out on the things most important to me…

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