The Benefits of the Waldorf Approach to Technology
Introducing children to technology before they are ready can hamper their ability to fully develop inner discipline and self-control, and can negatively impact attention, focus, critical thinking skills, and imagination. Here at Urban Prairie Waldorf School, we advocate for a low-tech approach, emphasizing experiential learning through outdoor play in early childhood, and artistic activities, field trips, practical projects, music, and theater in the elementary grades. We recognize that when our students graduate Middle School, they need to be equipped for life in High School and beyond, and this includes being met with the reality that technology is used every day by most young people, as well as in society and the workplace. Therefore, we don’t believe in completely banning technology throughout the school. Instead, we advocate for it to be introduced slowly and to be used as a tool in a conscious and mindful way.
In order to prepare our students for technological literacy, especially Middle School students who may already have access to some technology at home, we have programs for digital ethics including media literacy, privacy, and digital social responsibility. We also recognize and promote the importance of developing social-emotional skills so that our students are empathetic, emotionally aware, and emotionally resilient, and bring those skills to bear when viewing content online, especially social media. Our measured and thoughtful approach to the introduction of technology empowers our graduates and helps them successfully navigate the increasingly complex and technological world that they will inherit.
Cultivating Healthy Cognitive Functioning
At Urban Prairie, we believe nurturing our students’ cognitive functioning abilities is crucial to their learning, development, academic achievements, and overall well-being. These executive functions begin to emerge in early childhood and do not fully mature until early adulthood. Constant work and reinforcement are needed for them to fully develop, and extra care and attention are needed for neurodivergent students (for example ADHD) and those with learning difficulties since many of them find executive functioning skills particularly challenging. Studies have found that regular and prolonged screen time negatively impacts children’s executive functioning skills so we do not rush into giving our students access to technology, and focus instead on building these skills naturally through our creative and multidisciplinary approach to learning. For example, concentration is developed in music class by learning complex rhythms and singing two, three, or four-part harmonies, and attention and focus are developed naturally through listening to and recalling stories, practical skills such as woodwork and clay modeling, and educational games centered around numeracy and literacy. Having daily rhythms and routines, especially in early childhood and the early grades supports the development of attention and focus, which is why those are a core part of our curriculum.
Mental Wellbeing in a Digital Age
Nearly every teenager and many pre-teens in today’s society are exposed to some degree to social media Through this, they are susceptible to issues such as peer pressure, counting ‘likes’, looking ‘perfect’, cyberbullying, exposure to content that may not be age-appropriate, and ‘doom scrolling’ (losing track of time while scrolling through posts to find something interesting, without necessarily paying full attention).
Indeed, many of our students have noticed that their friends from non-Waldorf schools who use computers, smartphones, and gaming consoles for many hours every day, are less able to engage and interact with each other than their Waldorf peers, and seem more interested in consuming digital content than playing with their friends in real life. This provides our students with real-life evidence of some of the negative effects of too much exposure to technology.
We also recognize how important it is that our students are prepared for High School and adult life where it will be necessary for them to use technology. So, rather than banning it, we teach them how to balance virtual and real life, and how to use technology in a safe, ethical, and empowered way.
Limiting Unnecessary ‘Educational’ Technology
At Urban Prairie, we’re skeptical of the rush to introduce the latest technology to classroom learning. Current research confirms that the rapid expansion of technology in the classroom has not helped and has even often harmed student educational outcomes and mental health. We’re very conscious that since children’s mental and emotional capacities are not fully developed during elementary and middle school, they are particularly vulnerable and therefore more susceptible to the issues mentioned here. That is why we continue to follow the traditional Waldorf education methods of teaching by learning through engaging with the physical world, the senses, and imagination. In this way, not only is the subject matter tangible, relevant, and interesting, but also the students have the opportunity to engage and interact with each other in the real, physical world in a way that teaches them how to create healthy relationships with themselves and each other.
Digital Ethics: Understanding and Using Technology Responsibly
Our Middle School students are taught media literacy – discernment and critical thinking skills – in order to gain perspective in recognizing that what they see online isn’t necessarily realistic or true, and gain the tools to evaluate claims and become discerning consumers of online information. They can then apply these skills to any web content including social media, news articles, and educational websites. We also educate them about the effects of spending too much time immersed in a digital world and looking at a screen for too long. In this way, if and when they choose to use technology, and social media in particular, they are aware of the potential consequences and therefore choose to use it consciously and responsibly. Our students learn that when it is used in this way, technology can be a valuable tool that can be used to enhance their understanding of the world.
Online privacy is another core component of our digital literacy program. Keeping personal data safe online is an increasingly difficult task, but the consequences of not doing so can be devastating. We take the safety and privacy of our students very seriously by ensuring they know how to protect their personal information online, including keeping their passwords secure, not giving their details to anyone they don’t already know, not posting pictures of friends without their permission, and being honest about their age so that websites will restrict content if they are under 13 or 18.
Equipped with a high level of media literacy, critical thinking skills, and social-emotional resilience, our Middle School students know how to use technology responsibly. In fact, our students are positive role models and leaders – they have a healthier, more balanced relationship with their mobile phones, tablets, and computers than most of their non-Waldorf-educated peers, particularly regarding screen time and social media use. For them, technology is a tool to enhance learning, and it gives them valuable skills that are essential for life in High School and beyond.