Urban Prairie Waldorf School
"Waldorf education addresses the
child as no education does.
Learning, whether in chemistry,
mathematics, history or geography,
is imbued with life and so with joy,
which is the only true basis for later
Arthur Zajonc
(Associate Professor of Physics, Amherst College)

Frequently Asked Questions



Where is Urban Prairie Waldorf School located?

Urban Prairie is located in the Pilsen neighborhood at 1310 South Ashland Avenue.


How does this school differ from public schools?

Our school is not restrained by government regulations. No Child Left Behind has resulted in long school days with little or no recess, homework in kindergarten and first grade, and the elimination of art and music as part of the daily curriculum. Urban Prairie Waldorf School puts love of learning first, and we recognize that students love learning when there is balance between academics and the arts, between the head and hands and heart, between schoolwork and good, old-fashioned outdoor play.  Our students are also not plagued by the frequent standardized testing that has become common in public schools.


Is Urban Prairie Waldorf School religious?

Many parents who aren’t familiar with Waldorf education have a vague impression that the schools are religious, but our school is not founded on any one religion. Instead, Urban Prairie Waldorf School honors the spirituality that exists in all humans, regardless of their religious beliefs. Here is how Jack Petrash, a veteran Waldorf teacher and the author of Understanding Waldorf Education, tackles this important question:

One question that is often asked is: ‘Is a Waldorf school a religious school?’ The best answer that I have heard to that question is ‘Yes and No.’ It is not a religious school in the way that we commonly think of religion. There is no creed, no catechism, and no proselytizing. Neither are Waldorf schools sectarian, and for that reason they can thrive equally in a Buddhist country such as Japan or on a kibbutz in Israel.

And yet, in a broad and universal way, the Waldorf school is essentially religious. The word religion comes from the Latin root religare, which means essentially to re-link. Young children are not yet un-linked from their spiritual connection…This innate spiritual awareness shines in little children like the light that sparkles in their eyes.

For their continued spiritual development, children need only a little outward instruction. According to Rudolf Steiner, they simply need to be taught in a balanced three-dimensional way, one that develops head, heart, and hands to preserve their innate religious awareness.

Although the notion that a balanced education fosters spiritual awareness may seem simplistic, it is based on a theory of knowledge that is at the heart of the Waldorf approach. This understanding is that when feeling and willing -the emotional and volitional aspects of human experience – combine with thinking, children are able to form an inner connection with what they study. This connectedness enables children to live fully in the world and makes it possible for them to find meaning and wonder in existence.

Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out.
Jack Petrash
Gryphon House, 2002
p. 134-5

How does Urban Prairie teach foreign languages?

All students in grades 1-3 study Spanish three times per week as well as Mandarin Chinese three times per week.  Due to the additional curriculum load in higher grades, students above grade 3 study each language twice per week. The teaching of foreign languages plays an essential role in the Waldorf curriculum. Children are exposed to two different languages taught by a native speaker from first through twelfth grade. In the early years the focus is on exposure to the language, listening to the teacher, imitating the teacher, and recognizing the musical quality of all languages. Waldorf education aims to submerge the children in the living atmosphere of the spoken word. When this firm foundation is in place the children will be able to easily move into a more academic approach to language in the later grades.


How does Urban Prairie teach math and science?

Waldorf schools take a phenomenological approach to math and science. Our multi-faceted math program begins with the direct experience of math through movement. We introduce all four arithmetic operations in the first grade. Rhythm and song bring a sense of numbers and relationship into muscle memory. History and biography are closely related to math in the middle and upper grades. In science, the students begin with a first hand experience of nature. From nature stories in the first grade, to biodynamic farming in the third, the children care about the world around them. From this sense of stewardship, they develop a solid sense of objective observation in the middle and upper grades. The history and philosophy of science is brought through biography, while formal lab classes provide a solid foundation in the scientific method. During these eight years, our students illustrate and write their own math and science lesson books with the same sense of beauty and meaning they bring to their language arts work.


Does Urban Prairie Waldorf School have a competitive sports program?

Urban Prairie offers competitive sports after third grade. We take a developmentally informed approach to sports, saving competition for the years when the children are better able to grasp complex rules and the concept of winning and losing. Our movement program begins in first grade with basic tumbling, noncompetitive games, and circus arts. In the fifth grade the children compete in a classic pentathlon with the other regional Waldorf schools. Urban Prairie offers a competitive sports after-school program in the upper grades.


Will before and aftercare be available?

After care is available for students of Urban Prairie Waldorf School on-site from 3:00 to 6:00pm.  To date, there has been insufficient interest in a before care program.


How is reading taught in Waldorf schools?

The schools teach reading in a deeply integrated manner: building comprehension first, by engaging children orally through stories, then engaging the children physically through art and writing, and finally by engaging them visually through reading what they’ve written.

Teachers enthrall their young students with folktales, myths, rhymes and puppet shows. These stories are not merely entertainment for the children; the teachers are giving children the gift of living language. Rather than reading the stories, teachers tell them from memory, and they change and flow as all oral traditions do. Stories are repeated many times, and the children are exposed to a wide and changing vocabulary–one of the cornerstones of reading.

The storytelling of Waldorf schools teaches the children to listen, to deeply listen. There are no pictures on the pages to tell the children what they ‘should’ be seeing; each child creates their own inner story with their own images. This process of creating a personal image, or a personalized story, is the foundation for true reading and comprehension.

Once a child has the ability to form mental images in response to words, then the process of decoding words on a page makes sense. In Waldorf schools children are taught to write first and then to read from their own writing. This happens around the age of seven. Until the point of the formal introduction of reading the students are being prepared for reading through many modalities: oral activities, movement exercises, and artistic works.

There are children who will be ready to read earlier than the age of seven, others who will be ready around seven, and still others who might not be ready until after the age of seven. The Waldorf teacher is able to support all students in their reading readiness. Those who have a natural affinity or interest in reading will not be hindered by this approach just as those who are ready later will not be made to suffer embarrassment or poor marks.

Reading, of all activities, can lead to great personal fulfillment, education and pleasure. It is critical we help our children to learn to love reading. The gentle and deep approach to reading that is the Waldorf way allows our children to ‘live into the story.’ In later years this deep experience makes for readers who do not just decode but are deeply literate, who can comprehend what they read, question what they read and come to their own understandings of what they read.


What kind of training do Waldorf teachers have?

Waldorf teachers have bachelors, and sometimes masters, degrees, as well as full certification from a Waldorf teacher training program. All Urban Prairie Waldorf School class teachers will have Waldorf certification.