Bringing the World to Your Learner:  The Gift of a Diverse Library in Waldorf Education

Bringing the World to Your Learner:

The Gift of a Diverse Library in Waldorf Education

Mohsina (Mosi) Mandil


Waldorf schools and homeschooling communities are made up of families and individuals like you, reader, who have chosen a form of alternative schooling for reasons often related to diverse student needs that aren’t being met in traditional public and state schools. Cultural heritage, geographic location, native language, age and ability, neurodiversity, and even temperament— for any number of these unique reasons and more, you have chosen to approach your student’s education in a broader and more holistic way.[i] Representation in education and literature is deeply relevant not only on the academic side but in the journey of life. I know this was the case for both of my younger siblings and me in our educational experiences.


Before the movement to include diverse educational materials in learning, I was a teenage girl of mixed race attending a typical American midwestern public high school. I noticed the absence of different cultural connection opportunities immediately after transferring from an international school, particularly in my most creative subjects/blocks: music and language. My contrasting experiences in these classes demonstrate how a diverse library can either create a lifetime love of learning and reading or prompt disinterest.


I joined the choir with a passion for song. When the director presented us with our sheet music, I was bewildered— most of the pieces were historical Christian church songs. I skimmed the melody and the Latin. They were beautiful, of course, and significant and influential compositions, but why was I holding an entire stack of the same genre of music? As this continued semester after semester, I simply became bored with the class and unhappily quit singing in school before graduation. This caused a stir even then, with one of the instructors overtly offended and unkind about my choice to leave choir because “I didn’t want to sing Christian songs.” No, I wanted to explain again; I just want to sing more than one kind of song.


My literature and composition classes were entirely the reverse. Coursework included classic novels and writings, to be sure, but they were part of an array of valuable works. We read texts by people different from me and sometimes different from anyone else in class, including the teacher! This brought ideas and concepts from outside all of our worlds and made a space where genuine learning could occur.[ii]


The learning could sometimes be uncomfortable, something I now compare to so-called growing pains. Sometimes, I entered my “brave space” facing the unknown, and sometimes, I needed to stay comfortably in my “safe space.”[iii] Nevertheless, these lessons held my interest. Instead of repeating the same lesson far beyond comprehension, we were building off various sources, finding themes, and comparing and contrasting different pieces. I came away with an even stronger lifetime love of reading and went on to continue as an educator myself with Earthschooling, Waldorf Books, and, most recently, my local community college.


While public and state education institutions have been navigating this lack of diversity more in recent years, Steiner-Waldorf education has recognized the significance of diverse voices and materials since its conception. Indeed, diversity is already built into the Steiner curriculum for us based on Waldorf philosophy! Originating in the Western esotericism of the early 20th century, Steiner-Waldorf education has become the “fastest growing, independent school movement in the world.”[iv] Soul, spirit, the whole person, experiential learning, and freedom in education toward seeking truth and knowledge are emphasized heavily. Author and Waldorf teacher Colin Price addresses our shared humanity thus:


“The striving that is characteristic of our present age involves a search for the universally human, that which – in spite of all the differences of race, skin color, creeds, customs and traditions – defines us as human beings. It is exactly in that sense that the spiritual element in a Waldorf school is active. It lives in order to embrace all diversities of belief, rather than to serve one particular direction.”[v]


Rudolf Steiner likewise addresses what we are striving for in school and life beyond, writing, “Truth is not for idle minds, but for those willing to seek it with an open heart and a keen intellect,” suggesting that “we gain knowledge and clarity through our own experience and personal exploration.”[vi] He asserts that discovering truth and knowledge requires intentional effort and action. Reading is the most accessible and, in my opinion, enjoyable and magical form of exploration for this seeking. This wonderful human ability offers innumerable and well-documented benefits and is especially important in Waldorf education, where stories, verse, and literature are major vehicles in learning and growing.


Self-Discovery and Independence


The idea of freedom is central to Steiner’s philosophy and is a principle that may be nurtured beginning in childhood and throughout adulthood. He defined being free as “to be capable of thinking one’s own thoughts— not the thoughts merely of the body, or of society, but thoughts generated by one’s deepest, most original, most essential and spiritual self, one’s individuality.”[vii]


To have exposure to, or better yet, experience with, the strange and mysterious is a sure course to realizing one’s individuality. At set points of development, children are given stories that are familiar and close to their home environment, then gradually move further from the local and established, incorporating more of the world into their schema of the recognizable and known. Both kinds of narratives — representative of the student and outside the limits of their experiences — are vital to the evolution of the self.


Alan Whitehead writes in The People Pool (2020) that the fairy tales, so pervasive in early childhood and into the lower grades, are indented to be folk tales (a mistranslation of the German “märchen”). A folk tale is distinct from a fairy tale in that it is “the story of one’s own people and place— the children’s own story.”[viii] The nature of the folk tale, then, is to undergo constant renewal and reclamation as the condition and situation of the folk change. In the words of Rudolf Steiner, these stories “serve a particular time and place of a given people or folk.”


Consider that your folk tales may differ from classic European fairy tales. Furthermore, consider what excellent resources the tales of other folks are! This is but one example you may use to examine what we can offer our students that will allow them to reflect on both the diversity within themselves[ix] and in the broader world. I offer further reading below and invite your additional recommendations!


Empathy and Morality


Another tenet of Waldorf education is love, which Steiner said “starts when we push aside our ego and make room for someone else.”[x] This someone can even be fictional because of the strong connection between reading (especially literary fiction) and empathy. With practice at being aware of other people’s thoughts and beliefs that are different from their own, readers strengthen their innate awareness of others’ feelings and perspectives, increasing emotional intelligence and social acumen applicable to their own stories.[xi] Readers practice cognitive empathy by simulating the experiences and feelings of the characters in their own minds. This makes it possible to vicariously experience another’s reality— from the protagonist of a novel to the classmate beside you.[xii] Waldorf education takes this a step further by incorporating artistic imagery, which has been shown to increase positive social behavior by three times![xiii]

I will leave you with some final words from Steiner: “receive the children in reverence, educate them in love, and send them forth in freedom.”[xiv] Top Diversity Picks


Our image of the human being, freedom in teaching, the holistic process, and relationships are pillars of Waldorf education that diversity in your library will support and advance.[xv] I have thoughtfully and carefully picked each of these books, drawing from my graduate education in social work, international perspective, and personal experience. I know my top picks will be different than yours— so share them with us!


  • Louis Braille: A Blind Boy Invents Braille by Jakob Streit (Waldorf Publications, 2023)


“Who was Louis Braille? Blinded as a child, he went on to invent the Braille writing system at just sixteen years old. In this book for children, Jakob Streit has formed an image of the life of a boy who, through his warmth, zest for life, and firm resolve, became a gift to all those around him and who, through persistent study and research, was finally able to produce the greatest gift to the blind people of the world: a writing system they could read with their hands.”


  • Fee Fi Fo Fum by Arthur M Pittis (Waldorf Publications, 2005)


“Fee Fi Fo Fum! is part of a five-book series that include more than 125 multicultural stories and poems to complement the pedagogical intentions of the language arts curriculum. The language is progressively controlled and increasingly rich in sight and phonetic vocabulary development from story to story and from book to book. Sentence structures also progress from story to story. The stories are designed for forty-five minute periods, including instruction and discussion time.”


  • The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor (Aladdin Picture Books, 1998)


“Mountain Girl can see that her family is poor – and she can see that her parents aren’t even sensible enough to notice. So, she calls a family meeting to discuss the problem. As her family sits around their homemade (from discarded lumber) kitchen table, her parents say they are rich. They begin to count up the value of the things they have.”


  • For the Children of the World: Stories from the International Association for Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education, edited by Louise deForest (WECAN Publications, 2012)


“Have you heard about the little possum who wanted a peach? Why did a princess wish for speaking grapes, smiling apples and ringing peaches? Do you know how the robin got his red breast, or what happened when Taijin went to live with the Seven Thunders? This little book gathers 24 delightful stories from all corners of the globe, along with 10 delicious recipes. They were sent by representatives of the 29 Member Associations that are part of IASWECE, the International Association for Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education, and all proceeds from the sale of this book will support IASWECE’s work on behalf of Waldorf early childhood education around the world.”


For my complete list of diversity picks, visit:


Bonus! Anthroposophy in Well-Known Literature Resources


As a bonus, I would also like to recommend a few titles that discuss how anthroposophy appears in well-known literary works. These include:


  • Tolkiens Hidden Pictures: Anthroposophy and the Enchantment in Middle-earth by Mark McGivern (Lindisfarne Books, 2022)
  • Who is Harry Potter? by Frans Lutters (Waldorf Publications, 2015)
  • Fairy Tales and Art Mirrored in Modern Consciousness by Monica Gold (Waldorf Publications, 2012)
  • Freud, Jung, and Spiritual Psychology by Rudolf Steiner (SteinerBooks, 2001)


BIO: Mohsina (Mosi) Mandil is president and owner of Waldorf Books, partner at Earthschooling, and instructor and development consultant at Des Moines Community College. She earned her Master of Social Work at the University of Iowa with a focus in integrated practice. Mosi has decades of educational experience in Waldorf, Montessori, and public schooling as both a student and teacher.



[i] Burns, K. (2011). The Temperaments and the Adult-Child Relationship. BEarth Publishing.

[ii] Sloan, D. (2015). Life Lessons: Reaching Teenagers through Literature. Waldorf Publications.

[iii] Brazill, S. Ruff, W. (2022). Using Transformational Leadership to Create Brave Space in Teaching Multicultural Education. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 24(2), 114-131. 10.18251/ijme.v24i2.2847

[iv] Price, C. (2005). Twelve Common Misunderstandings Concerning Waldorf Education: A Guide for Parents. Songbird Press.

[v] Price, C. (2005). Twelve Common Misunderstandings Concerning Waldorf Education: A Guide for Parents. Pg. 18. Songbird Press.

[vi] Steiner, R. (1916). The Philosophy of Freedom (R.F.A. Hoernlé & W. Hoernlé, Trans). The Rudolf Steiner Archive. (Original work published 1894) & Steiner, R. (1908). What is Self Knowledge? (Hanna con Maltiz, Trans). The Rudolf Steiner Archive.

[vii] Steiner, R. (1916). The Philosophy of Freedom (R.F.A. Hoernlé & W. Hoernlé, Trans). The Rudolf Steiner Archive. (Original work published 1894)

[viii] Whitehead, A. (2020). The People Pool. Golden Beetle Books.

[ix] TED. (2018, August 14). The power of diversity within yourself | Rebeca Hwang [Video]. Youtube.

[x] Steiner, R. (2016). The Way of Initiation (Max Gysi, Trans). Createspace Independent Publishing Platform. (Original work published 1988)

[xi] Schmidt, M. (2020, September 2). How reading fiction increases empathy and encourages understanding. Discover Magazine.

[xii] Roza, S.A., Guimarães, S.R.K. (2022). The relationship between reading and empathy: An integrative literature review. Psychology and Education, 24(2).

[xiii] Johnson, D. R., Cushman, G. K., Borden, L. A., & McCune, M. S. (2013). Potentiating empathic growth: Generating imagery while reading fiction increases empathy and prosocial behavior. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(3), 306–312.

[xiv] Steiner, R. (1922). Spiritual Ground of Education. The Rudolf Steiner Archive.

[xv] The Pedagogical Section Council (2017). The Seven Core Principles of Waldorf Education. Waldorf Publications.