Waldorf Education, established by Rudolf Steiner and Emil Molt in 1919, has its foundations in Anthroposophy. At the heart of Anthroposophy is the belief that humanity has the wisdom to transform itself and the world, through one’s own spiritual development. To that end, Waldorf Education holds as its primary intention the ideal of bringing forth—in every child—his or her unique potential in a way that serves the further development of humanity. The curriculum, pedagogy, and teaching methods are designed to nurture this potential.
These two educational approaches began with a similar goal: to design a curriculum that was developmentally appropriate to the child and that addressed the child’s need to learn in a tactile as well as an intellectual way. The philosophies are otherwise very different. For more information, please see this great website that highlights the differences here.
Children in Waldorf Early Childhood Programs are not taught directly to read or write. However, the activities they engage in develop capacities that prepare them for learning to write and read. These include the ability to coordinate eye and hand, to track with the eyes, to discriminate forms, to understand a sequence of events such as in a story, and to integrate visual and auditory experience.
Our goal is to foster passionate readers who continue reading for pleasure throughout their lifetimes. To that end, we introduce reading in a developmentally appropriate way, when students are more comfortable with the written word and fully ready to engage with them.
Waldorf teachers begin teaching reading in the first couple months of their first year (six to seven years of age) by teaching consonants and vowel names and sounds through an artistic approach of drawing, painting, movement, and speech. This artistic, deliberate process engages the children with great interest. Students typically begin reading printed readers with their teacher during the second half of the second year. This thorough and artistic approach to teaching literacy has been proven to build a solid base for advanced comprehension and vocabulary skills in later years.
Eurythmy is the art of movement that attempts to make visible the tone and feeling of music and speech. Eurythmy helps to develop concentration, self-discipline, and a sense of beauty. This training of moving artistically with a group stimulates sensitivity to the other as well as individual mastery. Eurythmy lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms.
All sciences begin with simple nature experiences in kindergarten and the early grades, and advance with the study of acoustics, heat, magnetism and electricity in Middle School to chemistry, biology, botany, zoology and modern physics in High School. The emphasis is on direct encounters with observable phenomena -“Describe what happened. Evaluate what you have observed. What are the conditions under which the phenomena appear? How does this relate to what you already know?” Then students are asked to think through the experiment and discover the natural law that stands behind and within the phenomena.
Waldorf teachers appreciate that technology must assume a role in education, but at the appropriate developmental stage, when a young person has reached the intellectual maturity to reason abstractly and process concretely on his or her own, which is at around the age of 14. Society might challenge this principle, as many young children are well able to complete sophisticated tasks on a computer; the Waldorf perspective is that computer exposure should not be based on capability but on developmental appropriateness. While many applaud adult-like thinking in young children, we observe that a child’s natural, instinctive, creative and curious way of relating to the world may be repressed when technology is introduced into learning environments at an early age
Children who transfer to a Waldorf classroom from a more traditional setting are typically up to grade in basic academic skills, and have little problem adapting academically. Those entering in the middle school and high school will need to learn to approach the arts in an objective and integrated way and may be required to take music lessons or world language classes, for example, to prepare them for classroom work. We find that most students new to Waldorf Education embrace this engaging and artistic style of learning with excitement and enthusiasm regardless of grade level.
Children who transfer from a Waldorf school into a more traditional school setting during grades 1-3 will likely need to spend time over the summer refining their reading skills, as Waldorf schools’ approach to teaching reading is a more graduated approach. On the other hand, students often find they are more advanced in speech and language, social studies, mathematics, and artistic activities. Children moving during the middle and upper grades should experience no academic problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age group find themselves ahead of their classmates and with an eagerness to learn.
A Waldorf teacher typically remains with the same class for five to eight years. In this way, the teacher is better able to assess each individual’s development, needs, and learning style—and the children, feeling secure in this long-term relationship, are more comfortable in their learning environment.
A Waldorf class is something like a family. Problems between teachers and children, and between teachers and parents, can and do arise. Schools typically work to resolve such problems through a conflict resolution or grievance procedure. With the goodwill and active support of the parents and the teacher concerned, schools do make the necessary changes needed to ensure the best situation for all concerned.
There are basic elements of Waldorf Education that most Waldorf educators would say are essential. Steiner’s view of the development of the child, the importance of the arts, the comprehensiveness of the cirrcuculum and the understanding of the child as a moral, social, and spiritual as well as intellectual being. At the same time there is an awareness that these principles can and should be applied in ways that are appropriate to our time and to the various cultural environments in which Waldorf Schools have been established.