The Role of Gnomes In Waldorf Kindergarten

By Diana Winters

December 21, 2001

Few parents fail to be charmed by the Waldorf gnomes, and they are great PR for Waldorf, selling well at craft fairs. Who could object to small children hearing fairy stories or dancing around pretending to see elves and gnomes? Some parents do not realize, however, that the teachers believe gnomes actually exist. It’s easy to see the gnomes as something charming and quaintly old-fashioned about Waldorf. But a little bit of gnomes is all the parents get compared to the children. Parents will be encouraged to try their hand sewing a gnome at a parent evening, for instance, and this encourages them to romanticize the Waldorf gnomes. Only a real cynic would not fall in love with the Waldorf gnomes.

It’s another thing to live and breathe gnome-culture day in-day out. The average parent has no sense of how the gnomes are served up to the children daily. The gnomes are blamed for things that people do that people should take responsibility for (teachers as well as children). The gnomes can be used to displace emotions and reactions. The gnomes are used to blow off children’s questions about how the world around them works and mystify children asking about difficult topics like sex or violence or illness. The gnomes stop rational discussion before it gets started and send common sense out the window. The gnomes can even be threatening. The children who don’t see gnomes are confused.

The gnomes, frankly, get very tiresome after awhile. Waldorf children themselves sometimes get cynical about the gnomes.

It’s hard to argue “against” the gnomes and sound like anything other than a sourpuss. But it’s about image versus reality. Parents find it so much nicer to hear children chattering about the gnomes in the grass than talking about Power Rangers and Pokemon, and it’s very easy to look no further, to feel that a “lost world of childhood” has now been restored, here it was in Waldorf all along. But in that lost world that Waldorf evokes, children were not always treated very nicely at all. The gnomes do some rotten things.