1. 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 non-profit, independent 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.
The best overall statement on what is unique about Waldorf education is to be 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 as time will allow, and balances academics 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. There is no academic content in the Waldorf kindergarten experience (although there is a good deal of cultivation of pre-academic skills), and minimal academics in first grade. Literacy readiness begins in kindergarten with formal reading instruction beginning in grade one. Most children are reading independently by the middle or end of second grade.
- During the elementary school years (grades 1-8) the students have a class (or “main lesson”) teacher. The ideal and goal is that the class teacher stays with the same class for the entire eight years of elementary school. This, however, is not always the case, for many different reasons, one being the high demand this puts on the versatility of the teacher.
- Certain activities which are often considered “frills” at mainstream schools are central at Waldorf schools: art, music, gardening, and foreign languages (usually two in elementary grades), to name a few. In the younger grades, all subjects are introduced through artistic mediums, use the children respond better to this medium than to dry lecturing and rote learning. All children learn to play recorder and to knit.
- There are no “textbooks” as such in the first through fifth grades. All children have “main lesson books”, which are their own workbooks which they fill in during the course of the year. They essentially produce their own “textbooks” which record their experiences and what they’ve learned. In some schools upper grades may use textbooks to supplement skills development, especially in math and grammar.
- 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.
- 3. What is the philosophy behind Waldorf education?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.
- 4. 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.
Currently, there are about 900 Waldorf schools in 60 countries. Approximately 150 Waldorf schools are currently operating in North America. There are also public Waldorf programs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Detroit, Michigan.
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 Worldcan be located through the mother site of the Waldorf world, the Bund der Freien Waldorfschulen, (Federation of Free Waldorf Schools) in Stuttgart, Germany.
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 childhood from 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.
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.
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.
Reading instruction, as such, is deferred. Instead, writing is taught first. During the first grade year the children explore how our alphabet came about, discovering, as the ancients did, how each letter’s form evolved out of a pictograph. Writing thus evolves out of the children’s art, and their ability to read likewise evolves as a natural and, indeed, comparatively effortless stage of their mastery of language.
9. 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.
10. 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
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