Early Childhood Education

Waldorf Education, what does it look like?

What is Waldorf Education and what does it look like?

Waldorf Education is a style of teaching that focuses on educating the whole being – body, soul and spirit. It is one of the fastest growing independent school movements in the world with over 1,000 Waldorf schools worldwide. It is a pedagogy that was created and developed by the Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner who was born in 1861 and died in 1925. Who was Rudolph Steiner?

Rudolph Steiner was an Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect and a spiritual man who believed there needed to be a synthesis between science and spirituality.  His approach is a holistic one that takes the entire child into account, the heart, the hands as well as the head.

What is the philosophy of Waldorf?

The philosophy is related to his teachings called – Anthroposophy - that means literally, ‘wisdom of knowledge of man’. Today a large focus of Waldorf Education involves learning through the arts, like music, dance, theatre, writing, literature, legends and myths. The philosophy of Waldorf is to awaken the innate talents and abilities of the child. Waldorf schools operate in a non-discriminatory way without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, religion or national origin. The goal is education that will enable students to be able to choose in freedom and realize their individual path.

How is the philosophy applied in the classroom?

Teachers in a Waldorf classroom do what they can to cultivate and work in support of a young child’s deep, inborn reverence for the world and of it being an interesting and good place to live in. The curriculum is structured for age appropriateness and is broken down into 3 developmental phases of childhood:  from birth to 6 or 7, from 7 to 14 and from 14 to 18. As for early childhood education, what goes on in a Waldorf preschool classroom would look something like this:  teachers nurturing children’s imaginations, telling stories and encouraging free play and fantasy. Toys are made of natural materials like wood, pine cones, cotton, silk, shells, stones, things they have collected that are used to play with and beautify the room. Classes are structured and play-based with dependable routines. There are mixed-age classrooms and children often have the same teacher for many years. There is an emphasis on creative learning through creative activities such as music, reading, singing, acting, etc., there is also a sense of cooperation and community.

What sets Waldorf apart from other philosophies?

It stands out in that there is no formal grading system and Waldorf does not include media in the classrooms like computers and electronics. Children are not introduced to formal reading until the first grade. Programs are “all weather” and children spend a quality time outdoors telling stories and playing.

Jamie Quirk, Communications and Outreach Director at Waldorf School of Princeton in New Jersey says, “A Waldorf education teaches kids how to think, not what to think, and to develop themselves as well-rounded individuals with an innate curiosity and love of learning. When they leave the Waldorf environment, they are equipped to rely on their own inner compasses to help steer them on their individual journeys, rather than fit into one specific niche.”