Baudelaire was right: “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.”
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) is one of the most brilliant and multifaceted visionaries of the last century whose indications hold important for our current world, yet his work still remains largely unrecognized. Waldorf education was founded by Steiner, a highly respected and well-published scientific, literary and philosophical scholar who was particularly known for his work on Goethe’s scientific writings.
In 1919, Rudolf Steiner 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 certain conditions, including that the teachers who would be working directly with the children take the leading role in the running of the school, with a minimum of interference from governmental or economic concerns. Molt agreed, and the Free Waldorf School was opened shortly thereafter. Steiner later came to incorporate his scientific investigations with his interest in spiritual development. In addition to education, Steiner also applied his knowledge and experience to a variety of other subjects, including architecture, medicine, agriculture, religion and economics.
The Wisdom of Waldorf
With its roots in a philosophy called Anthroposophy, Steiner designed a curriculum that would encourage free thinking within children rather than catering to the requirements of governmental forces. The content of the Waldorf curriculum was, in and of itself, responsive to the developmental phases in childhood, as well as nurturing of children’s imaginations. More than merely ‘developmental education’, Waldorf is a deeply insightful application of learning that is based on the study of humanity.
The word Anthroposophy comes from the Greek words anthro (human) and sophia(wisdom). Steiner characterized Anthroposophy as “a path of knowledge which leads the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe”. Anthroposophy is not a religion, nor is there a specific body of teachings. Rather, one is encouraged to awaken to one’s own inner nature and to that of the outer world through a means of study and practical observation that continually asks the question: What is a human being?. It is through this awakening that Steiner believed that authentic creativity and a deep reverence for all life could be fostered.
Awakening and Learning
What helps to make Waldorf unique is not so much the subjects that are taught as when and how these subjects are introduced. Based on Rudolf Steiner’s idea that specific forces and capabilities unfold within the child in distinct seven-year cycles, the Waldorf model is designed to provide the right thing at the right time. This does not mean that there is an intention to merely impose intellectual content or to impose content to a child that is not ready to embrace. Rather, Waldorf education is designed to awaken the capacities within a child. Teaching itself is to become an art form, and one that retraces the historical journey of the soul as the content of the curriculum parallels the history of human civilization.
This task of awakening is the true task before all of us as parents. Waldorf education provides some highly effective tools for transformation in this process.
The concept of distinct seven-year cycles is central to Waldorf education. Each cycle carries its own focus and primary emphasis through which one learns. After one has concluded studies through the content of the Waldorf educational curriculum, one may continue to study Steiner’s indications for adult development, also unfolding in seven-year cycles, for the course of one’s life.
Birth to Age 7
– the process of imitation
– the virtue of goodness
– learning primarily through the hands
– rooted in the physical (or willing) realm
Ages 7 to 14
– the strengthening of ones life forces
– the process of imagination
– the virtue of beauty
– learning primarily through the heart
– rooted in the etheric (or feeling) realm
Ages 14 to 21
– the development of cognitive skills
– the process of inspiration
– the virtue of truth
– learning primarily through the head
rooted in the astral (or thinking) realm
Waldorf education is also recognized for its distinct approach to the curriculum, with an emphasis on the oral tradition, decreased use of electronic media, and an emphasis on festivals. Read more about some of these unique aspects of Waldorf education as well as the main lesson, practical arts, eurhythmy and spatial dynamics.
Age 21 and Up
– continuing personal development and transformation
– the assertion of ones will through moral responsibility
– the process of intuition
– the virtue of wisdom
– learning takes place in a cumulative, integrated nature (higher Ego)
For further reading on biographical cycles, we recommend the following books:
-The Veiled Pulse of Time (William Bryant)
– Phases: The Spiritual Rhythms of Adult Life (Bernard Lievgoed)
– The Human Life (George O’Neil and Gisela O’Neil)
The following page is from christopherushomeschool.org. A wonderful homeschooling website.
This page is for all you new folks, who’ve maybe heard of Waldorf but don’t really know what it is or who’ve stumbled upon this site and haven’t even heard of Waldorf education.
Click here for a short biographical essay on Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education and of anthroposophy.
A couple of online resources on Waldorf education:
(see our Resources page for more)
The following is a distillation of some of the characteristics of Waldorf education. The list is far from complete. Compiling it has not been straightforward because Waldorf education is not a series of do’s and don’ts. It is a process, a living tradition based on a particular understanding of child development. Additionally, Waldorf education has been primarily developed in a school setting and many of the hallmarks of Waldorf education only apply in schools. Nevertheless, we have given it our best shot, and the following should give you a very basic understanding of what Waldorf education is about. Please refer to the articles highlighted at the bottom of the page for more information. Our Resources page also has suggested reading lists for those who would like to find out more.
Under 7s: Learning is based on imitation; the imagination is nourished by the use of simple natural materials and playthings, creative play, no premature intellectual development. There is no ‘teaching’ at this stage, but the children’s capacities are enhanced by listening to stories, painting and making crafts, singing and celebrating seasonal festivals.
7 – 14: An artistic, imaginative approach is taken to all lessons – thrilling tales of adventure in history, true hands-on learning, children creating artistic representations of what they learn. First Graders are introduced to academic work gradually, and always with activity preceding ‘head work’. For instance, the children learn to write first, copying letters and, later on, words into Main Lesson books. Reading follows writing and it is the children’s own writing which serves as their text.
14 and up: The focus is on rigorous intellectual content (but never neglecting the artistic). Lessons are taught by specialist subject teachers.
- An almost ‘Renaissance’ education: a true liberal-arts education where all children take all subjects and do not work only on areas in which they excel.
- Aiming to produce independent thinking individuals who can navigate any field they come across, not narrow specialists who know nothing of life outside their specialty.
- Holistic in approach to learning – arts, humanities and sciences are viewed as interwoven with one another, not separate fields.
- Emphasis on moral qualities such as truth, beauty and goodness which are not sermonized to the children but rather the children are surrounded by these qualities, in the way the classroom and school is built and cared for, in the actions of the adults around them, and in the content of the lessons.
- Fairy tales, legends from many cultures, and tales of heroes and saints lay moral foundations for children.
- There is a harmonious balance to each day’s lessons and to the seasonal arrangement of the curriculum. There is a time for activity (movement, clapping games, etc.), a time for taking in (listening to stories or lessons), and a time for artistic activity.
- Each morning throughout Grades 1-12 starts with a two hour main lesson block. These blocks run for 3-6 weeks and are devoted to in-depth study of a topic from the curriculum. For example, 3rd graders have a main lesson on Farming, 5th graders have a main lesson on Botany, 8th graders have a main lesson on Chemistry, and 12th graders have a main lesson on Architecture. (Please refer to books on the Waldorf curriculum for the full list.)
- During the main lesson, the children also spend time playing recorder, singing, doing a few mental math exercises, or whatever else the teacher feels is necessary to engage the children in their hearts, heads and hands.
- Ideally, each 1st grade class starts with a teacher who will be their Class Teacher for the next 8 years. She or he teaches main lesson blocks as well as other subjects and is the children’s friend, guide, and main authority figure during their time in school.
- In addition to their main lesson blocks, the children have lessons in foreign language (usually two), handwork, eurythmy (a form of movement), games, music, crafts/woodwork, and other subjects depending on grade level. They usually have weekly lessons in Math and English in the older elementary grades, in addition to the in-depth main lesson blocks on elements of these subjects.
- Practical activity is seen as an essential part of learning. Children are always, if possible, allowed to experience material first, then create their own artistic impressions of it, and then discuss or otherwise intellectually grasp the subject. An example of this could be children walking patterns on the floor which represent a five-sided star, then copying that pattern into their main lesson books, then talking with their teacher about all the 5’s around them (fingers, starfish…).
- There are no text books in Waldorf elementary schools and few in high schools. Lesson material is presented creatively and imaginatively to the students by the teacher, who uses no notes or books in his presentation. The students make their own textbooks, usually referred to as main lesson books, which contain stories, descriptions, experiments, poetry and verses, all beautifully illustrated. A book is made for each main lesson block. (For more on this please see our Unit Studies page and Homeschoolers’ Work.)
- Electronic media such as television and computers – and especially hand-held electronic games – are viewed as detrimental to the healthy development of children, especially young children. Children need to learn from other people, as ‘learning’ involves much more than the mere conveying of information. Over the years, Waldorf teachers, as well as parents, have observed the negative impact of such machines on children. Televisions, tape recorders, and computers are not used in the Waldorf elementary schools. Computers are used in moderation in the High Schools.
Waldorf education was founded by the Austrian philosopher, scientist and spiritual teacher Rudolf Steiner. It is one of the so-called ‘daughter movements’ of the anthroposophy (or ‘spiritual science’) that Steiner worked to develop in the early part of the 20th Century (along with Biodynamic Agriculture, Anthroposophical Medicine, Curative Education for children with special needs, and various artistic expressions including the new art of movement, Eurythmy).
Sometimes the schools are known as Steiner schools, but more often are called Waldorf schools, after the first school – the Waldorfschule – founded in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919 for the children of the workers at the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory.
The schools spread throughout Europe and then to North America. Today there are over 1,000 Waldorf schools and kindergartens in countries as diverse as Mexico, South Africa, Canada, Italy, Estonia, Japan, Argentina, Australia, Israel, India, and Egypt.
Each school in each country is different and the particular cultural influences of the country or community surrounding the school are brought into the curriculum. Nevertheless, all Waldorf schools work with a specific understanding of child development, rooted in Anthroposophy. The original curriculum, developed in Germany in the 1920s still forms the basis for all Waldorf schools, but there has also been much growth and change as Waldorf schools respond to the different needs of modern children.
Each school is independent. The teachers within a school work together on the basis of consensus and without hierarchy. There are national associations of schools in different countries – such as the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) and the UK Steiner-Waldorf Schools Fellowship.