Waldorf Education is the fastest growing global educational movement. Because Waldorf is so unique, there are many fascinating questions. Here are some of the most often asked. Click the questions to expand.
More About Waldorf
What is Waldorf education?Waldorf education is a unique and distinctive approach to educating children that is practiced in Waldorf schools worldwide. Waldorf schools collectively form the largest—and quite possibly the fastest growing—group of independent private schools in the world. There is no centralized administrative structure governing all Waldorf schools; each is administratively independent, but there are established associations which provide resources, publish materials, sponsor conferences and promote the movement.
What is the philosophy behind Waldorf?Consistent with his philosophy called anthroposophy, Steiner designed a curriculum responsive to the developmental phases in childhood and nurturing of children’s imaginations. He thought that schools should cater to the needs of children rather than the demands of the government or economic forces, so he developed schools that encourage creativity and free-thinking.
Why should I send my child to Waldorf school?
The main reason is that Waldorf schools honor and protect the wonder of childhood. Every effort is expended to make Waldorf schools safe, secure and nurturing environments for the children—and to protect their childhoods from potentially harmful influences from the broader society.
Secondly, Waldorf education has a consistent philosophy of child development underlying the curriculum. All subjects are introduced in age-appropriate fashion.
Finally, Waldorf schools produce graduates who are academically advantaged with respect to their public school counterparts and who consistently gain admission to top universities.
What is unique about Waldorf education? How is it different from other alternatives (public school, Montessori, etc.)?
The best overall statement on what is unique about Waldorf education is found in the stated goals of the schooling: “to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives…”
The aim of Waldorf schooling is to educate the whole child, “head, heart and hands”. The curriculum is as broad and balances academic subjects with artistic and practical activities.
Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning within each child. By freely using arts and activities in the service of teaching academics, an internal motivation to learn is developed in the students, doing away with the need for competitive testing and grading.
Some distinctive features of Waldorf education include the following:
- Academics are de-emphasized in the early years of schooling and creative play and pre-academic learning is emphasized.
- During the elementary school years (grades 1-8) the students have a class (or “main lesson”) teacher who stays with the same class for (ideally) the entire eight years of elementary school.
- Certain activities which are often considered “frills” at mainstream schools are central at Waldorf schools: art, music, gardening, cooking and foreign languages, among others. In the younger grades, all subjects are introduced through artistic mediums, because the children respond better to this medium than to dry lecturing and rote learning. All children learn to play the recorder and to knit.
- Learning in a Waldorf school is a noncompetitive activity. There are no grades given at the elementary level; the teacher writes a detailed evaluation of the child at the end of each school year.
- The use of electronic media, particularly television, by young children is strongly discouraged in Waldorf schools.
What is the curriculum at a Waldorf school like?
The Waldorf curriculum is designed to be responsive to the various phases of a child’s development. The relationship between student and teacher is, likewise, recognized to be both crucial and changing throughout the course of childhood and early adolescence.
The main subjects, such as history, language arts, science and mathematics are, as mentioned, taught in main lesson blocks of two to three hours per day, with each block lasting from three to five weeks.
The total Waldorf curriculum has been likened to an ascending spiral: subjects are revisited several times, but each new exposure affords greater depth and new insights into the subject at hand.
What kind of training do Waldorf teachers have?
Class teachers will have both a university degree and teaching certification from a recognized Waldorf teacher training college or institute. Typically, the course of study for teachers is from two to three years and includes practice teaching in a Waldorf school under the supervision of experienced Waldorf teachers. Teachers must also satisfy whatever state credential and licensing requirements might apply.
Rudolf Steiner, speaking in Oxford in 1922, defined “three golden rules” for teachers: “to receive the child in gratitude from the world it comes from; to educate the child with love; and to lead the child into the true freedom which belongs to man.”
Why do Waldorf students stay with the same teacher for eight years?
Between the ages of seven and fourteen, children learn best through acceptance and emulation of authority, just as in their earlier years they learned through imitation. In elementary school, particularly in the lower grades, the child is just beginning to expand his or her experience beyond home and family. The class becomes a type of “family” as well, with its own authority figure—the teacher—in a role analogous to parent.
With this approach, the students and teachers come to know each other very well, and the teacher is able to find over the years the best ways of helping individual children in their schooling. The class teacher also becomes like an additional family member for most of the families in his/her class.
What is the connection between Waldorf schools and oral storytelling?Waldorf education is deeply bound up with the oral tradition, typically beginning with the teacher telling the children fairy tales throughout kindergarten and first grade. The oral approach is used all through Waldorf education: mastery of oral communication is seen as being integral to all learning.
How do Waldorf children fare if they transfer to public school?
Generally, transitions to public schools, when they are anticipated, are not problematical. The most common transition is from an eight grade Waldorf school to a more traditional high school, and, from all reports, usually takes place without significant difficulties.
Transitions in the lower grades, particularly between the first and fourth grades, can potentially be more of a problem, because of the significant differences in the pacing of the various curriculums. A second grader from a traditional school may be further ahead in reading in comparison with a Waldorf-schooled second grader; however, the Waldorf-schooled child will be ahead in arithmetic.
How does a Waldorf teacher deal with learning issues?
Waldorf schools hesitate to categorize children, particularly in terms such as “slow” or “gifted”. A given child’s weaknesses in one area, whether cognitive, emotional or physical, will usually be balanced by strengths in another area. It is the teacher’s job to try to bring the child’s whole being into balance.
A child having difficulty with the material might be given extra help by the teacher or by parents; tutoring might also be arranged. Correspondingly, a child who picked up the material quickly might be given harder problems of the same sort to work on, or might be asked to help a child who was having trouble.
Is Waldorf education relevant to Special Needs children?The Anthroposophy-based Camphill Movement has a particular focus on special-needs individuals. The social, cultural, and economic principles of the International Camphill Movement were developed by Dr. Karl König (1902 – 1966). In Pennsylvania, for example, Camphill Soltane attempts, “to build healthy social relationships in an environment dedicated to personal and social renewal, healing, and caring for the land. In these activities, both independence and interdependence are fostered by recognizing the full potential of each individual. This enables each person to grow into the life of the community while allowing the community to grow within the individual.”
Why is so much emphasis placed on festivals and ceremonies like Michaelmas?
Seasonal festivals serve to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature and of the cosmos. The festivals originated in ancient cultures, yet have been adapted over time. To join the seasonal moods of the year, in a festive way, benefits the inner life of the soul. There is joy in the anticipation, the preparation, the celebration itself and the memories.
The four traditional seasonal festivals are Michaelmas (fall), Christmas (winter), Easter (spring) and St. John (summer).
Michaelmas, September 29: St. Michael is known as the conqueror of the dragon, the heavenly hero with his starry sword (cosmic iron) who gives strength to people.
Christmas: An ancient festival; celebrated when the sun sends the least power to the earth, as a festival which awakens in the human being an inkling of the very wellsprings of existence, of an eternal reality. It is a time when the soul withdraws into the innermost depths to experience within itself the inner spiritual light.
Easter derives its name from pre-Christian goddess symbols of rebirth, fertility and spring. The renewal of man’s being is celebrated with that of the earth. Ancient symbols of the hare and egg are both known as signs of the return of life after winter’s sleep.
Midsummer Day/St. John, June 24: Ancient peoples, watching the sun reach its high point at this time, lit bonfires to encourage it to shine and ripen their crops. It is a time when the cosmos brings the spiritual to man—a time when the spiritual, which animates and weaves through everything in nature, is revealed.
Are Waldorf schools religious?In the sense of subscribing to the beliefs of a particular religious denomination or sect, no. Waldorf schools, however, tend to be spiritually oriented. The historic festivals of Christianity—and of other major religions as well—are observed in the class rooms and in school assemblies. Classes in religious doctrine are not part of the Waldorf curriculum, and children of all religious backgrounds attend Waldorf schools. Spiritual guidance is aimed at awakening the child’s natural reverence for the wonder and beauty of life.
Why do Waldorf schools discourage TV watching?
The reasons for this have as much to do with the physical effects of the medium on the developing child as with the (to say the least) questionable content of much of the programming. Electronic media are believed by Waldorf teachers to seriously hamper the development of the child’s imagination—a faculty which is believed to be central to the healthy development of the individual. Computer use by young children is also discouraged.
Waldorf teachers are not, by the way, alone in this belief. Several books have been written in recent years expressing concern with the effect of television on young children. See, for instance, Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, or The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn.
How are personality conflicts resolved between students and teachers handled?This is a very common concern among parents when they first hear about the “Class Teacher” method, where teachers follow children through elementary school. However, in practice, the situation seems to arise very rarely, especially so when the teacher has been able to establish a relationship with the class right from the first grade. Given the sort of person who is motivated to become a Waldorf teacher, incompatibility with a child is infrequent: understanding the child’s needs and temperament is central to the teacher’s role and training. If problems of this sort should occur, the faculty as a whole would work with the teacher and the family to determine and undertake whatever corrective action would be in the best interests of the child and of the class.
History and General Information
How did Waldorf education get started?In 1919, Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, scientist and artist, was invited to give a series of lectures to the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. As a result, the factory’s owner, Emil Molt, asked Steiner to establish and lead a school for the children of the factory’s employees. Steiner agreed to do so on four conditions: the school should be open to all children; it should be coeducational; it should be a unified twelve-year school; and that the teachers, those who would be working directly with the children, should take the leading role in the running of the school, with a minimum of interference from governmental or economic concerns. Molt agreed to the conditions and, after a training period for the prospective teachers, die Freie Waldorfschule (the Free Waldorf School) was opened September 7, 1919.
Who was Rudolf Steiner?
Dr. Rudolf Steiner was a highly respected and well-published scientific, literary and philosophical scholar who was particularly known for his work on Goethe’s scientific writings. He later came to incorporate his scientific investigations with his interest in spiritual development. He became a forerunner in the field of spiritual-scientific investigation for the modern 20th century individual.
His background in history and civilizations coupled with his observation in life gave the world the gift of Waldorf Education. It is a deeply insightful application of learning based on the Study of Humanity with developing consciousness of self and the surrounding world.
How many Waldorf schools are there?
Currently, there are more than 1200 Waldorf schools in more than 60 countries. Approximately 160 Waldorf schools are currently operating in North America. There are also public Waldorf programs in many states.
A directory of schools in the United States or Canada is maintained by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). Schools elsewhere in the World can be located through the Mother site of the Waldorf world, the Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen, in Stuttgart, Germany.
Other Common Questions
What is anthroposophy?
The term ‘anthroposophy’ comes from the Greek ‘anthropos-sophia’ or ‘human wisdom’. Steiner expanded an exacting scientific method by which one could do research for her/himself into the spiritual worlds. The investigation, known also as Spiritual Science is an obvious complement to the Natural Sciences we have come to accept. Through study and practiced observation, one awakens to his/her own inner nature and the spiritual realities of outer nature and the cosmos. The awareness of those relationships brings a greater reverence for all of life.
Steiner and many individuals since, who share his basic views, have applied this knowledge in various practical and cultural ways in communities around the world. Most notably, Waldorf schools have made significant impact on the world. Curative education, for mentally and emotionally handicapped adults and children, has established a deep understanding and work with people who have this difficult destiny. Bio-dynamic farming and gardening greatly expand the range of techniques available to organic agriculture. Anthroposophical medicine and pharmacy, although less widely known in the US, are subjects of growing interest.
It should be stressed that while anthroposophy forms the theoretical basis to the teaching methods used in Waldorf schools, it is not taught to the students.
Anthroposophy has its roots in the perceptions, already gained, into the spiritual world. Yet these are no more than the roots. The branches, leaves, blossoms, and fruits of Anthroposophy grow into all the fields of human life and action – Rudolf Steiner
Where can one get more information on Anthroposophy on the Internet?
The Anthroposophical Society in America is a good place to start.
What is eurythmy?
Most simply put, eurythmy is a dance-like art form in which music or speech are expressed in bodily movement; specific movements correspond to particular notes or sounds. It has also been called “visible speech” or “visible song”. Eurythmy is part of the curriculum of all Waldorf schools, and while it often puzzles parents new to Waldorf education, children respond to its simple rhythms and exercises which help them strengthen and harmonize their body and their life forces; later, the older students work out elaborate eurythmic representations of poetry, drama and music, thereby gaining a deeper perception of the compositions and writings. Eurythmy enhances coordination and strengthens the ability to listen. When children experience themselves like an orchestra and have to keep a clear relationship in space with each other, a social strengthening also results.
Eurythmy is usually taught by a specialist who has been specifically trained in eurythmy, typically for at least four years. In addition to pedagogical eurythmy, there are also therapeutic (“curative”) and performance-oriented forms of the art.