Artist At Work: Shelley Caskey of Waldorf Mama

August 29, 2009

Today we are joined for our weekend Artisit at Work series by Shelley Caskey, author of the popular blog, Waldorf Mama. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about your feelings on what makes the Waldorf method special and unique

I have always been drawn to the Waldorf way of life, from the very first moment I was introduced to it almost 20 years ago. The first time I stepped into a Waldorf kindergarten, I wept…as I truly felt as if I’d ‘come home’. Not only because of the aesthetic and artistic environment which, in the kindergarten, included softly painted peachy-pink walls, handmade natural fiber dolls, silks, playstands and beautifully handcarved wooden toys (although that was a big part of the initial attraction for me)…but because of the way the philosophy and curriculum truly speak to the ‘whole’ child – head, heart and hands (thinking, feeling, willing). It is based on respect for the developmental stages of the child which, in turn, determines when curriculum topics are introduced. Respecting this development and the ways in which children learn is an essential foundation of the Waldorf philosophy.


Daily rhythm plays a huge part in Waldorf education, what has yours looked like, and what made you choose that particular rhythm?

Daily rhythm is certainly the foundation of a Waldorf way of life. It is this natural ‘breathing in’ and ‘breathing out’ time that offers a sense of comfort and security to children. Likewise a seasonal and yearly rhythm encourages a sense of belonging and connection to the natural world around us. Our daily rhythm generally consists of rising in the morning to greet the day with a verse, eating a warm breakfast and then going about our ‘work’ for the day (imitation is the way young children truly learn, so it is important for them to see us going about our daily work cooking, cleaning, knitting, etc…and making sure our activities are worthy of imitation). Regular outside time and boisterous play (‘breathing out’ time) is followed by quiet inside play, craft and story time (‘breathing in’ time). After a hearty lunch we have a rest time, followed by more work and play in the afternoon. Some raucous play when papa comes home is followed by our evening meal, clean up, story time and then bedtime. We also enjoy a nature table that reflects the seasonal changes around us, as well as an annual ring to help us follow along as the year progresses.


Handwork is also an essential part of Waldorf life, tell us a little bit about how your kids learned their handwork, and how you tied your love of knitting, felting, and crafting into their lives.

Yes, handwork is indeed an essential part of Waldorf education and a Waldorf way of life. And it is certainly near and dear to my heart! Knitting, in particular, is an integral part of the Waldorf curriculum as it stimulates intellectual development. Finger knitting is taught in the early kindergarten years. Then as the children grow and develop more hand-eye coordination skills, they move into two-needle knitting. And then crochet, embroidery, felting and many other handwork crafts are introduced. What is unique and special about this particular sequence of learning is that each craft is taught at a time that is specifically related to the developmental stage of the child. Equally as important, handwork instills a great sense of achievement and accomplishment in the child…as well as an intrinsic value of handcrafted items. For more information on the role of handwork in the Waldorf curriculum…here is a great article by Eugene Schwartz, a noted educational consultant and Waldorf class teacher for more than 30 years.


What are some of your favorite books to read to your children? What makes them special and unique?

I hear this question often, yet there are so many wonderful Waldorf-inspired children’s books which I have read to my children over the years that I find it difficult to only name a few! The Elsa Beskow books come to mind, as well as the Grimm’s fairy tales (by a variety of authors). I have actually been planning for some time now to write up a list of all of our favorite story books and I hope to have a special section for this on my Waldorfmama.com website very soon. What I find most appealing and unique about Waldorf-inspired books is the simple and lovely artwork that accompanies the stories. A simple watercolor painting or pastel drawing enlivens the child’s imagination and deepens their experience of the story.



What do you feel are essential aspects of nurturing creativity with your family?

Nurturing creativity with my children is of utmost importance to me. I believe the process of learning should always be creative and active…consciously enhanced by art, music, and body movement to engage the entire being. This is, after all, how we all learn best!

How does creativity, in your opinion strengthen the learning process?

I think creativity and artistic expression is completely integral to the learning process. There is a wonderful quote from Confucius that I always recall when contemplating this, and that is: ‘Tell me, and I will forget; show me, and I may remember; involve me, and I will understand’. It is our role, as parents, to foster and encourage creativity in our children. I believe we do this by being creative ourselves and involving our children in that creative process, providing them with natural materials and tools with which to inspire their own creativity, and placing value on those things that are handmade in our daily lives.


Where do you find inspiration for your creativity?

I guess I would have to say I find inspiration for my creativity in everything around me. In nature, in my home, in my children. Usually my inspiration is born out of some need – for instance, my daughter recently needed a sunhat to wear during her kindergarten outside playtime so I went searching for a pattern so that I could knit one for her myself.


You have a handknit hat store on Etsy, tell us what the inspiration was for that pattern

The inspiration for the silk and wool pilot caps I sell in my Etsy shop actually came from a similar style hat that I bought for my second daughter years ago, just before she was born. It was a little wool and silk cap that was made in Germany and I fell in love with the style and design of that hat! The fitted ‘pilot cap’ style and under-the-chin ties kept her head nicely covered and, of course, I loved the warming properties of the wool. You can read more about my strong feelings regarding keeping children warm, as well as my yearning desire to help other mamas keep their babies’ heads covered in natural fiber hats here!


How does your photography play a part in your craft?

I am quite new to photography and still have so much to learn! But I am finding that it is a new and exciting creative outlet for me. I enjoy taking artistic photos with my own unique perspective – not only of the things I make, but also of snippets of our home life and Waldorf-inspired environment to share with my online community.


Shelley, thank you for sharing a glimpse of your life of raising children in the Waldorf philosophy.

Thank you, Heather, for this opportunity to share my love and commitment to Waldorf philosophy and the Waldorf way of life. I am grateful and truly blessed to be able to experience it in my own life and to give this gift to my children as well. For more insight and information regarding my own Waldorf journey or if you are interested in purchasing any of my Waldorf-inspired handmade items, please visit my site at Waldorfmama.com.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

julesinseach August 29, 2009 at 9:11 pm

I have a pattern for a similar pilot cap that I absolutely love. The silk really makes Shelly's hats shine.

Wonderful interview Heather.

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eesh August 30, 2009 at 5:37 am

Thank you so much for this interview. I loved it! Definitely will be bookmarking for future reference and ideas.

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Ann August 30, 2009 at 6:29 pm

An excellent interview and so inspirational. The photograph of the baby is so cute.
Thanks for sharing.

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stitching under oaks August 30, 2009 at 7:32 pm

I have heard of Waldorf style education before, but never really understood what that meant. Thanks for sharing this interview. It was very enlightening.

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Adrie August 31, 2009 at 12:58 am

Thank you for this great interview. I have a question for you and Shelley – I'd love to know how you are able to engage your children in the day's "work" (housework, coking, gardening, etc) – this is one of my biggest struggles as a parent. I agree that it's really important, and would love if you could share your thoughts on this!

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kyndale August 31, 2009 at 8:17 am

I love learning about Waldorf education. Thank you for the interview!

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Naturalearthfarm August 31, 2009 at 11:13 am

Thank you for sharing this interview. I have enjoyed the waldorfmama blog for some time now.

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SugarMama August 31, 2009 at 2:34 pm

What a beautiful post. Thanks to both of you for sharing.

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Grace September 1, 2009 at 1:33 am

Shelley has such a beautiful spirit and presence. Great interview!

PS: We have got to connect, Heather!!

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Imene September 1, 2009 at 2:48 am

Awesome interview. Thank you Heather

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