Using “Home” as the Model in your Early Childhood Program By Rahima Baldwin Dancy

June 2024



When I took the Waldorf Early Childhood Training in the early 1980’s, one principle that impressed me was, “The Waldorf kindergarten takes the healthy home as its model.” I didn’t quite know what that meant, never having seen “a Waldorf home” at that time–maybe they existed in Europe, but certainly not where I lived! I knew what we were doing as Waldorf early childhood teachers was play-based and that we declined early academics, but almost everything I saw (and did) with the young children was still very “Waldorf School” or “classroom” based. 

I loved all the toys and the emphasis on play, the rich oral tradition and the puppetry, but baking was about the only “home like” activity that I actually did with the children in my kindergarten class at the Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor. Here is a snapshot during Halloween one year. Even when I made the move in 1984 from the kindergarten classroom to another teacher’s home to open one of the early Waldorf in-home programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, our intention was to bring a rich “Waldorf kindergarten experience” to the children who came to our dedicated playroom–we didn’t even use the rest of the house or involve the other teacher’s infant.

It wasn’t until I read Cynthia Aldinger’s formulation of the LifeWays Principles that I realized how one might actually use home as the model and why that could provide a wonderful program and rich environment for young children. It was a tremendous relief for me to affirm that “The Living Arts” (practical activity, nurturing care, creative exploration and social ability) can form the basis not only for healthy child development, but also for later academic learning. By the time my daughter, Faith Collins, and I opened Rainbow Bridge LifeWays Program twenty-five years later, my understanding had changed tremendously.

Making a program truly “home-like” involves a lot more than adding a rocking chair or sofa or baking once a week with the children! LifeWays’ online course for in-home providers, Creating Home Away from Home,” describes four key elements that distinguish a LifeWays program: 

  • Using real life as the “curriculum” for the children
  • Centering your daily, weekly and seasonal routines around the Living Arts of practical activity, nurturing care, creative exploration and social ability
  • Creating an environment that is home-like, not institutional or school-like
  • Offering relationship-based care, in which children and adults have the time and the opportunity to build long-lasting, meaningful relationships with one another.

Each year I offer an online course for childcare providers and early childhood teachers on “Using ‘Home’ as the Model in Your Early Childhood Program.”  For three weeks starting July 10, 2024, we will consider together many elements of “a healthy home life” through four different lenses: the Physical, Rhythmical, Emotional/relational, and Spiritual/values Levels.

We’ll explore how and why these elements can form a vital part of children’s experience in childcare, preschool and even kindergarten programs. The course is organized in this way to help participants make a picture of the elements that already form an integral part of your program and to inspire you with new items or activities you could add from the various levels. 

An especially rewarding aspect of the course is the real-time sharing by participants from all over the world through the written discussion prompts and the online Zoom call near the end. The July timing is designed to provide inspiration for your fall program, and it’s a rich way for staff to learn and share together, with a discount for multiple enrollments from the same program. The course is also an ideal way to earn 15 contact hours to use for continuing education units studying something that is completely relevant and inspiring!

Whether you’ve already taken the LifeWays Training or are new to these ideas, you will be inspired by seeing so many varied ways LifeWays providers and other early childhood teachers are creating “Home Away from Home” for young children in a wide variety of settings. 


Rahima Baldwin Dancy was a founding board member of LifeWays North America and has been involved with Waldorf early childhood since 1980. She is internationally known as the author of You Are Your Child’s First Teacher on Steiner’s indications from birth through age six.