By Natalie Romano
In summer 2017, my branch library was invited to host seven on-site storytimes for The Denver Waldorf School (DWS), a local, private school whose philosophy aligns with the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. The agreement was for my library to provide a storytime and craft/art project for approximately 25 children (ages 3-6) once per week from June through August. This was our first opportunity to partner with the school, and the more I learned about the cornerstones of Waldorf education, the more inspired I became to apply the principles to our regular storytimes and school-aged programming. Additionally, the partnership motivated me to re-evaluate the ways public librarians teach technology to middle grade and high school students, and has prompted me to incorporate more elements of Waldorf education into library programming.
The Experience: Ideas and Inspiration
I began researching Waldorf foundations to see how I could combine the tenets of public library ideology with their established educational platform. During my research, I noted the following practical applications of the Waldorf path and how it translates to the pillars of public and school library programming and service philosophy:
- Storytelling: Waldorf educators strive to inspire the creative imaginations of their students by focusing on oral storytelling—mostly without the use of books—in their early childhood programs. Educators share memorized legends, myths, and traditional folktales with students in an effort to enhance language acquisition and literacy, and to model confident speech. I practiced storytelling-by-heart with the DWS group, then easily incorporated it into my regular early literacy programming at the branch.
- Arts & Creativity: In Waldorf education, holistic development begins in very early childhood, incorporating artistic and creative elements in all areas of the curriculum. A focus on unstructured artistic expression, often in the form of process art and exposure to music, theatre, and dance, creates a supportive environment in which children develop interactively and experientially. I was curious about the potential for library storytimes to involve more than singing songs as a group. I wondered how the arts and creativity element of Waldorf education could increase our library storytimes’ interactivity, as well as how to incorporate process art into our programming going forward.
- Technology: The last and perhaps most thought-provoking element of my experience was exploring technology instruction and use as part of the Waldorf curriculum. Although technology incorporation was not part of my summer sessions with DWS, my continued research has gone beyond early childhood and expands into the continued discussion around when to begin exposing children to technology. The Waldorf model is to intentionally delay the use of technology until middle school or even high school. In many cases, the philosophy is in contrast to the competencies we aim to build as library educators beginning in the early grades. Going forward, my intention is to find out how my branch library can support DWS in the teaching of technology, such as bibliographic instruction and the use of e-books, while respecting boundaries and upholding their educational philosophy.
My casual exploration of Waldorf pedagogical philosophy morphed into a deep dive into the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and how the principles of Waldorf education can be applied in a variety of settings, including libraries. The intended outcome of this partnership was to add measurable value to the DWS community, and I hope that goal was accomplished. Secondarily, though, the partnership has been mutually beneficial in the sense that it has provided me with insights into an entirely fresh educational approach, while shining light on untapped concepts that can be adapted to a library service model.
Natalie Romano is a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Joint Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation and currently serves as a branch librarian at the Denver Public Library in Denver, CO. She holds an MLIS from the University of Denver (2011.)