Since the back to school season is upon us and our biggest supply order of the year is happening right now, I thought a post about supplies would be timely. Having supplied well over 100 Waldorf homeschoolers for a year and half, I’ve learned a thing or two about what sells best- the “must-haves”- and what items really impressed and endeared themselves to me through use in my family. So first, here is a list of the top ten items families buy.
10. Chalk- Mercurius’ pastel assortment chalk is truly a delight. I swear it makes you feel like an artist, with its rich, rich colors and the beautiful way they blend. It comes in a 12 pack, but be warned, the 12 pack does not include white. I found I really needed white, and purchased the Mercurius 12 pack of white since I like to use it often. After a year, both of my packages are well-used and I will probably be needing more pastels. You’ll want to peel the paper off of them and break them into smaller pieces for ease of use anyways, so don’t be dismayed if they arrive with a few pieces cracked- this has been known to happen.
9. Watercolor Paper- the more expensive the paper, the nicer it is. But our bestseller is the modest 150 gsm weight, which seems to be the commonly used one in European Waldorf schools. In my experience, this paper will buckle a bit as it dries if you don’t dry it very carefully. We get the best results when we apply the wet paper to the painting board using a damp sponge, and sponging it down till it sticks to the surface of the painting board. Then, after painting, allow it to dry on the board with that suction still intact. Keep in mind you may want to have extra painting boards, since many times children want to do a second painting and after setting everything up for painting, it feels more worthwhile to let them paint a few, and they will need time to dry on their boards. Mercurius offers beautiful boards, but they are pricey. I recommend making your own boards with birch plywood, which my Lowes store carries- and at only $13 for a 4 foot by 8 foot piece of plywood, you can get a lot of boards for a great price (simply use a jigsaw to round the edges). I like 1/4 thickness- when I’ve used boards thicker than that, it just seems a little awkward for me (maybe that’s just personal preference, though!). Finish your board off with beeswax polish before using it to protect it from warping over time (re-apply as needed).
8. Stockmar Beeswax Stick and Block Crayons- these are wonderful. I sell the sets of eight most often, and the tins of 16 next, but I adore the wooden box sets with 24 of each. They are used so often in my home, I consider them a very good investment. Don’t forget the sharpener for these crayons- you can get one for less than $2 that sharpens both wax crayons and Super Ferby pencils, or a more kid-friendly one that is made just for the crayons for a little extra.
7. Paintbrushes- the cow hair brushes made for the grades and the special shorter Kindergarten brushes are made to last a long time with proper care. The apply watercolors beautifully. Our most popular brush is the 20mm child’s brush, followed by the regular 18mm and 16mm.
6. Kite Paper- Useful for origami, transparencies, and window stars (the author Thomas Berger has great ideas for using kite paper; see his book Crafts Through the Year or Making Window Stars).
5. Peg People- Whether you’re making math gnomes or seasonal people for the nature table, peg people just seem to scream, “Waldorf” 😉
4. Lyra Super Ferby Coloured Pencils- These pencils are w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l. My son uses them so often, they are going to be too short to use soon! He always chooses these over conventional or Crayola type pencils, and the only other pencils on par with these are the aquarelle watercolor pencils (which are also fantastic!). The Super Ferby graphites also sell very well, and are prefect for a child’s grasp. We use these for handwriting practice.
3. Modelling Beeswax- What can I say? Stockmar’s modelling beeswax is like no other medium. I think modelling and sculpting are so important for the young child, and I love Arthur Auer’s Learning About the World Through Modeling- the perfect book to help you dive in with your children if you are feeling a lack of inspiration or know-how.
2. Wool Felt- perfect for so many crafts, wool felt is certainly a bestseller. Synthetic felt from big box craft stores just doesn’t compare; it pills so quickly that projects can end up looking shoddy before they are even finished.
1. Beeswax Candles- nothing creates a sense of reverence and wonder like lighting a candle before circle time, meal times, or during a bedtime story. I love opening our Big Dipper candle package- the fragrance of honey fills the air.
In addition to these bestsellers, there are a few things that also sell very well, although perhaps are used at certain times of the year only or they last a super long time so are purchased less frequently. Stockmar watercolors, Stockmar decorating wax, main lesson books, rain and mudpants, and Engel woolens are all staples and so several Waldorf books. Pentatonic flutes and glockenspiels are favorites, too. The number one played with toy in my house is blocks, and a set of Grimm’s substantial and colorful pyramid blocks will see hours of play- with a play kitchen, small people figures (we order very affordable ones through Peace Fleece), dress-up clothes, and dolls following in popularity.
With all these wonderful supplies, where do you begin? Well, there are a few ways to approach it. I see a lot of members of Cedar Ring Circle making one-time large purchases- especially at tax return time or for back to school. I have a core group of members who order almost every time, and then others who order a few times a year. My personal strategy is to do smaller, frequent orders. It can be very overwhelming to dive into all these new techniques. If you are just beginning in Waldorf, I would say pick one new art form and really take it in, read a book or tutorial on it, and enjoy it. I like to present all of our art supplies to my children with a story that helps maintain reverence and care. If you are on a super tight budget, I’d say stick with Stockmar watercolors, some watercolor paper, modelling wax, pure beeswax for crafts, wool batting or roving for wet-felting (such a satisfying sensory experience!) and decorating the nature table, block crayons, chalk, and coloured pencils. If your child is kindy or under, you probably don’t need coloured pencils yet; they can work with block crayons until Grade One. If they are in Grade One, you’ll need chalks (I made my own chalkboard with pressboard and chalkboard paint) and you can make your own main lesson books with good quality paper (not copy paper). Purchase muslins at the fabric store and dye 4 or 5 of them for the nature table, dress up, or story props. Use votive candles for opening circle time, meal blessings, and bedtime stories. Slowly incorporate things only as quickly as they can become a natural part of your rhythms. A few peg people and some felt, a few skeins of yarn and some knitting needles can be added as you find time for handwork.
I treat myself to a new book each month, maybe an extra on my birthday or at Christmas, but I always check the library, inter-library loan, and used booksellers first. Don’t buy a new one until you’ve finished the previous one!
With toys, make them yourself whenever possible. Let your child see you making them.
Waldorf-inspired learning and living really doesn’t need to be expensive; but it needs to be thoughtful and full of warmth from the caregiver. If you do have the resources to procure all the supplies you want, think ahead about what season you are celebrating and living through. Think of the themes in your stories, fingerplays, and blocks. Plan a meaningful craft for each celebration that becomes a part of your family tradition. But remember it is you your children need most; you, present- not you with your head in the clouds imagining all the wonderful crafts you will do or how Waldorfy your home looks!
If you are struggling to get the basics, meditate or pray about it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way- even if it doesn’t present itself as quickly as we would like. When my son began kindergarten, I remember crossing off all the crafts we couldn’t do from our curriculum because I didn’t have the supplies. My husband told me $14 for 8 crayons was for yuppies. 😉 That is why I started Cedar Ring Circle- so Waldorf education could be more accessible. Two years later, we have all the basic things we would like for our Waldorf homeschool (except a kinderlyre- maybe at Christmas!). But during that time when I just didn’t have the supplies, we had so many other rich experiences. Developing a solid rhythm, storytelling, nature walks, and helping with meaningful house or yardwork is FREE! Baking and homemade playdough are inexpensive. Begin there. Do not let material things derail you from a very spiritual pursuit. Allow the spiritual realm to work these things into your physical reality with patience and faith.