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What is a Waldorf Education?

Waldorf education emphasizes a respect for nature.
In the Waldorf education model, children are encouraged to develop creative skills and to think as individuals.
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2014
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The Waldorf education is based on a unique philosophy of education developed by Rudolph Steiner. The Waldorf School aims to educate “the heart, the hands and the head,” in theory allowing a child to develop as a whole person. The Waldorf education is the biggest independent education movement in the United States and Europe with over 900 schools currently teaching the Waldorf methods.

Waldorf philosophy is based upon the belief that children learn different things best at certain stages of development when their spirituality, intellect and physical capabilities are in tune with the information presented to them. For example, unlike traditional kindergartens across the United States, Waldorf kindergarteners are not taught to read. Instead they are taught poetry, stories and folk legends which are the foundation for developing reading skills according to the Waldorf philosophy. Children are not exposed to the written language until the age of six or seven. Children that are emerging into adolescence are presented with Ancient Greek and Roman history because of the belief that adolescences face intense inner turmoil and conflict. The Greek and Roman theme is in harmony with this change.

The Waldorf education is highly attuned to the developmental needs of children at specific ages. However, the curriculum for children involves equal instruction in the arts, music, foreign language and academics as opposed to a focus on academics with brief “specials” in traditional education.

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Above all, the Waldorf philosophy of education places a strong emphasis on non competition, respect for nature and other human beings. Children are strongly encouraged to develop their creativity to the fullest and to think for themselves critically as individuals. The Waldorf education also maintains that children need plenty of time to move around and play. Each morning the children spend time doing eurhythmy. Eurhythmy is the art of movement which is done along with the recitation of verse.

Graduates of Waldorf schools generally tend to outperform their traditionally schooled peers on standardized tests. This is because students are taught subjects in depth, focusing on one lesson for three to five weeks. In these lesson blocks the subject is examined traditionally but also from other critical angles i.e., for its social consequences, philosophical value etc.

The philosophy of Rudolf Steiner that is the basis for the Waldorf method of education was highly esteemed by notable psychologists and sociologists such as Jean Piget who incorporated these methods into his model of child development. Some famous Waldorf graduates include actress Jennifer Aniston, Julianna Margulies, Kenneth Chenault and Sandra Bullock.

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anon932162
Post 7

I enrolled my three children in a Waldorf School and we were there for seven years. My closest friends were on the board and I was asked to sit on the board several times during our stay.

I ran festivals, was class coordinator and I practice law as a career. I am very familiar with the Waldorf philosophy and approach to educating the whole child. In the end, I withdrew all my children based on what my husband and I saw as a "cult" like approach to education, not child centered, but dogma centered.

In my experience, it is not true that children do better in school after they have been at a Waldorf school. What I have seen is rampant lack of reading skills in middle schools and an inability to cope with standardized tests. Also, significant problems at these schools are the social dynamics and lack of accountability by the school and teachers. There seems to be a misunderstanding of "karma" which translates into dogma and rigidity. Finally, if you look on the web, there are hundreds of accounts of similar comments by other parents that know Waldorf education very well. The patterns that I would call dysfunctional and destructive to many children seem to be on a global level. This indicates a systemic problem.

I hope parents speak out more to avoid these schools to continue educating our children.

anon256733
Post 6

Most of the comments show a real lack of understanding or experience with Waldorf education.

Prior to formal academics in grade one, the children are immersed in the language arts, but just not the written form. Instead, they are busy doing the work of early childhood, which is playing, helping, and just being kids. Just look up the value of play in early childhood and you'll be amazed.

By the time they learn to read, their comprehension and their vocabulary are both deep and rich, which forms the appropriate launching point for reading. One of my children's teachers, who in the past taught at "excellent" public schools and a very prestigious private school, assured the parents that while the new first graders had not yet been taught to read she was amazed at the maturity of their language skills; it was far superior to anything she had experienced in any of her other first grade classes. This was not accomplished with flash cards and worksheets, but by storytelling (rarely just reading to the children) that throughly engaged the children with all their senses. This is invaluable.

Now that my children are reading and I'm past the agony of them "being behind" everyone in traditional schools, I wouldn't do it any differently. They are mature and avid readers.

anon185771
Post 5

@anon156290: Saying the tv is inhabited by Ahriman is just another way of saying, for example, that tv is a "vehicle of Mammon" (as they are similar concepts). Many commentators would see this as fair comment.

As to TV reducing the creativity of children, I would direct you to the guidance on tv usage by the National Literacy Trust in the UK which details extensive academic research showing this to be exactly the case.

anon156290
Post 4

Well. Waldorf education teaches - among other things - that children of ages 7 or younger should not watch TV on the claim that an evil entity named Ahriman is present in television and it will hamper the creativity of the young child if exposed to before appropriately prepared. I don't know - sounds a lot like humbug to me.

anon112976
Post 3

My daughter has just attended her first month in a waldorf kindergarten. I am very disappointed and I have enrolled her in a public school. She was not challenged in any way, and very bored with the daily routine. She actually came home and told me "I don't like to call her teacher,she dosen't teach me anything." Personally I felt like they were teaching my daughter to be a housewife.

cafe41
Post 2

Sunny27- I agree with you. I also feel uncomfortable with the lack of structure and emphasis on subjects like reading and math. I feel that children need exposure to these critical subjects on a daily basis.

My children were reading chapter books in first grade and attend the Kumon centers twice a week for math supplementation. As interesting as the Waldorf method is, I could not see my children enrolled in such a program. I guess I am far too traditional.

Sunny27
Post 1

Excellent article, and I would like to add the Sweden follows a similar model of education and children generally outperform American children.

While there is some measurable success with this educational method, I am personally a bit uncomfortable with the idea that children are not exposed to the written language until age 6 or 7. A child’s brain within the first five years of life plays a significant role and his or her development. The educational exposure offered to during such age makes learning easier.

For example, if a child is consistently read to as a toddler, the child makes connections that the written word carries sound and generally by age 5 can start to learn how to read

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