what is waldorf education?
As a developing member of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) we will borrow some of their wise words to describe what this education is:
Waldorf education is independent and inclusive. It upholds the principles of freedom in education and engages independent administration locally, continentally and internationally. It is regionally appropriate education with hundreds of schools worldwide today. Waldorf education is truly Inspired Learning.
Overview of Education
The Waldorf approach to education has three important features:
- Waldorf education is based on a developmental approach that addresses the changing needs of the growing child and maturing adolescent.
- Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child – the heart and the hands as well as the head.
- Waldorf schools are committed to developing capacities as well as skills so that their students will become self-aware, compassionate individuals with a sense of responsibility for the Earth.
(From Rhythms of Learning: Selected Lectures by Rudolf Steiner by Robert Tostoli)
What makes Waldorf education unique is how and when subjects are taught. First comes the experience of the subject, and from this experience comes the understanding of the concept. This genuine learning process, from perception to feeling to idea, is the basis for later abstract and intellectual learning.
Waldorf education strives to educate the full range of human potential within children. In a Waldorf school the practical and artistic subjects are equally as important as the full range of traditional subjects. All students learn two foreign languages (Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) beginning in 1st grade, and beginning in 3rd grade, they play a string instrument (violin, viola, or cello). All students are taught singing, drawing, painting, woodworking, and hand crafts. Children garden and have outdoor time as well as sports and movement classes. When homework is assigned-after grade 2-it is meaningful, constructive, age-appropriate work that is thoughtfully chosen by the teacher.
Waldorf education understands, celebrates, and supports the very important role of the teacher in a student’s life. Ideally a teacher stays with his or her class from grade 1 through grade 8 providing extraordinary continuity in curriculum. Remaining with the same class for many years allows the teacher time to gain valuable insight into each child within the larger group, to fully understand and appreciate the gifts and challenges each child brings to the classroom.
Another hallmark of Waldorf education is the morning lesson, a two hour period in which core academic subjects are taught in three to four week blocks: language arts, history, math or science. The intention of the morning lesson is to fully focus on one theme for an extended period of time and for the children to engage with that subject in a variety of ways. This allows for all children to learn deeply as all learning modalities will be engaged by the multidisciplinary presentation. Students write and illustrate their own lesson books, and these become their personal written record of their education.
Special Subject Lessons
The morning lesson is followed by 45 minute subject periods. These periods include chorus, orchestra (grade 3 – 8), handwork, Spanish, woodwork (upper grades), Mandarin Chinese, eurythmy, movement and sports, painting, and core skills review. These classes are taught by specialized teachers. The periods of study are balanced by snack, lunch and outdoor playtime. The day has a rhythmic quality which helps the children learn their lessons and grow as healthy individuals.
Students learn Spanish and Mandarin Chinese beginning in 1st grade and continuing through 8th grade. They are taught by a native speaker who brings not only a native accent to the children but also a full, rich picture of the history and culture of his or her country of origin. In 1st and 2nd grades, the students have two classes of each language every week. In grades 3 – 8, each language is studied twice a week.