When doing research on early education, you might find information on Waldorf schools in your area. There are currently 900 Waldorf schools in 83 countries, making Waldorf Education the fastest-growing independent educational movement in the world.
But what is Waldorf and what separates this approach from other educational philosophies?
According to the Waldorf approach, education should “educate the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head,” according to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. Waldorf schools provide a curriculum that cultivates growth in imagination and the arts, as well as standard subjects. Waldorf teachers try to create a natural enthusiasm for learning within their students. Even dry material is presented in an exciting, visual way.
Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner developed this philosophy in 1919 when he visited the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in war-defeated Stuttgart, Germany to set up a school for the workers’ children. He spoke to the factory workers about the “need for social renewal, for a new way of organizing society and its political and cultural life.”
The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America describes his belief that “the human being is a threefold being of spirit, soul, and body whose capacities unfold in three developmental stages on the path to adulthood: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.” Teachers execute this belief by developing age-appropriate curriculum based on these three developmental stages: from birth to approximately 6 or 7 years old, from 7 to 14 years old, and from 14 to 18 years old.
Today’s Waldorf School
In today’s Waldorf early childhood school, you will likely find:
- A home-like environment (including an area for cooking and baking) that is secure and inviting.
- Walls painted in bright colors, often adorned with student artwork.
- Toys made of natural materials (for example, pine cones, wood, cotton, silk, shells, stones).
- Games, books, and puppets.
- No computers—Waldorf teachers begin using classroom computers in high school.
- An area for nature walks.
- Teachers who nurture students’ creativity and encourage free play.
- Teachers who model daily life activities in a way that young students can imitate during play.
- No standardized testing.
Some critics of the Waldorf system state that academics are not a high priority in the younger years, instead focusing primarily on arts and the imagination. In fact, students have no formal reading, writing, or math curriculum until age 7.
- Waldorf Education is the fastest-growing independent educational movement in the world.
- Waldorf education educates the whole child—the heart and the hands—as well as the head.
- The Waldorf approach focuses on developing creativity and a love of learning within each student.
- Waldorf students don’t use computers until high school.