What is Waldorf Education?
Waldorf education is a unique and distinctive approach to educating
children that is practiced in Waldorf schools worldwide. Waldorf
schools collectively form the largest, and quite possibly the fastest
growing, group of independent private schools in the world. There is no
centralised administrative structure governing all Waldorf schools;
each is administratively independent, but there are established
associations which provide resources, publish materials, sponsor
conferences, and promote the movement.
What is unique about Waldorf
Education? How is it different from other alternatives (Public
Schooling, Montessori, etc.)?
The best overall statement on what is unique about Waldorf
education is to be found in the stated goals of the schooling: "to
produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart
meaning to their lives".
The aim of Waldorf schooling is to educate the whole child, "head,
heart and hands". The curriculum is as broad as time will allow, and
balances academics subjects with artistic and practical activities.
Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning
within each child. By freely using arts and activities in the service
of teaching academics, an internal motivation to learn is developed in
the students, doing away with the need for competitive testing and
Some distinctive features of Waldorf education include the following:
- Academics are de-emphasized in the early years of
schooling. There is no academic content in the Waldorf kindergarten
(i.e. pre-class 1) experience (although there is a good deal of
cultivation of pre-academic skills), and minimal academics in class 1.
The letters are introduced artistically in class 2, with the children
learning to read from their own writing in class 2 or 3.
- During the primary school years (classes 1-8) the students
have a class (or "main lesson") teacher who stays with the same class
for (ideally) the first eight years of their schooling.
- Certain activities which are often considered "frills" at
mainstream schools are central at Waldorf schools: art, music,
gardening, and foreign languages (usually two in primary grades), to
name a few. In the younger grades, all subjects are introduced through
artistic mediums, because the children respond better to this medium
than to dry lecturing and rote learning. All children learn to play
recorder and to knit.
- There are no "textbooks" as such in the first through fifth
grades. All children have "main lesson books", which are their own
workbooks which they fill in during the course of the year. They
essentially produce their own "textbooks" which record their
experiences and what they've learned. Upper grades use textbooks to
supplement their main lesson work.
- All children learn a stringed instrument from class 3
onwards. This often includes one-on-one tuition as well as orchestra.
- Learning in a Waldorf school is a non-competitive activity.
There are no grades given at the primary level; the teacher writes a
detailed evaluation of the child at the end of each school year.
- The use of electronic media, particularly television, by
young children is strongly discouraged in Waldorf schools.
What is the curriculum at a
Waldorf School like?
The Waldorf curriculum is designed to be responsive to the
various phases of a child's development. The era of human history being
studied corresponds in many ways with the stage of development of the
child. For example, pre-class 1 children are presented with fairy
stories matching their dreamy state of consciousness, class 4 study the
Vikings and Norse mythology which suit their war-like feelings, class 5
learn of the Greeks at the time their intellect is awakening and their
sense of fair play is becoming obvious, and so on.
The main subjects, such as history, language arts, science and
mathematics are, as mentioned, taught in main lesson blocks of two to
three hours per day, with each block lasting from three to five weeks.
The total Waldorf curriculum has been likened to an ascending spiral:
subjects are revisited several times, but each new exposure affords
greater depth and new insights into the subject at hand.
A typical Lower School curriculum would likely look something like the
- Primary Grades 1 - 3
- Pictorial introduction to the alphabet, writing, reading,
spelling, poetry and drama.
- Folk and fairy tales, fables, legends, Old Testament
- Numbers, basic mathematical processes of addition,
subtraction, multiplication and division.
- Nature stories, house building and gardening.
- Middle Grades 4 - 6
- Writing, reading, spelling, grammar, poetry and drama.
- Norse myths, history and stories of ancient civilisations
(e.g. Greek, Indian).
- Review of the four mathematical processes, fractions,
percentages, and geometry.
- Local and world geography, comparative zoology, botany
and elementary physics.
- Upper Grades 7 - 8
- Creative writing, reading, spelling, grammar, poetry and
- Medieval history, Renaissance, world exploration, history
- Geography, physics, basic chemistry, astronomy, geology
- Special subjects also taught include:
- Handwork: knitting, crochet, sewing, cross stitch, basic
weaving, toy making and woodworking.
- Music: singing, recorder, string instruments, wind, brass
and percussion instruments.
- Foreign Languages (varies by school): Spanish, French,
Japanese and German.
- Art: wet-on-wet water colour painting, form drawing,
beeswax and clay modelling, perspective drawing.
- Movement: eurhythmy, gymnastics, group games.
How did Waldorf education get
In 1919, Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, scientist
and artist, was invited to give a series of lectures to the workers of
the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. As a
result, the factory's owner, Emil Molt, asked Steiner to establish and
lead a school for the children of the factory's employees. Steiner
agreed to do so on four conditions:
- The school should be open to all children;
- It should be coeducational;
- It should be a unified twelve-year school;
- The teachers, those who would be working directly with the
children, should take the leading role in the running of the school,
with a minimum of interference from governmental or economic concerns.
Molt agreed to the conditions and, after a training period for
the prospective teachers, die Freie Waldorfschule (the Free Waldorf
School) was opened September 7, 1919.
How many Waldorf Schools are
Currently, there are more than 600 Waldorf schools in over 32
countries serving approximately 120,000 students. There are over 50
schools and Kindergartens currently operating in Australia, and about
125 in North America.
What is the philosophy behind
Consistent with his philosophy called Anthroposophy, Steiner
designed a curriculum responsive to the developmental phases in
childhood and nurturing of children's imagination. He thought that
schools should cater to the needs of children rather than the demands
of the government or economic forces, so he developed schools that
encourage creativity and free-thinking.
Why should I send my child to
a Waldorf school?
The main reason is that Waldorf schools honour and protect the
wonder of childhood. Every effort is expended to make Waldorf schools
safe, secure and nurturing environments for the children, and to
protect their childhood's from harmful influences from the broader
Secondly, Waldorf education has a consistent philosophy of child
development underlying the curriculum. All subjects are introduced in
an age-appropriate fashion.
Finally, Waldorf schools produce graduates who are academically
advantaged with respect to their public school counterparts, and who
consistently gain admission to top universities.
Who was Rudolf Steiner?
Dr. Rudolf Steiner was a highly respected and well-published
scientific, literary and philosophical scholar who was particularly
known for his work on Goethe's scientific writings. He later came to
incorporate his scientific investigations with his interest in
spiritual development. He became a forerunner in the field of
spiritual-scientific investigation for the modern 20th century
His background in history and civilisations coupled with his
observation in life gave the world the gift of Waldorf Education. It is
a deeply insightful application of learning based on the Study of
Humanity with developing consciousness of self and the surrounding
How is reading taught in a
Waldorf school? Why do Waldorf students wait until 2nd grade to begin
learning to read?
Waldorf education is deeply bound up with the oral tradition,
typically beginning with the teacher telling the children fairy tales
throughout kindergarten and first grade. The oral approach is used all
through Waldorf education: mastery of oral communication is seen as
being integral to all learning.
Reading instruction, as such, is deferred. Instead, writing is taught
first. During the first grade the children explore how our alphabet
came about, discovering, as the ancients did, how each letter's form
evolved out of a pictograph. Writing thus evolves out of the children's
art, and their ability to read likewise evolves as a natural and,
indeed, comparatively effortless stage of their mastery of language.
Why is so much emphasis put on
festivals and ceremonies?
Seasonal festivals serve to connect humanity with the rhythms
of nature and of the cosmos. The festivals originated in ancient
cultures, yet have been adapted over time. To join the seasonal moods
of the year, in a festive way, benefits the inner life of the soul.
Celebrating is an art. There is joy in the anticipation, the
preparation, the celebration itself, and the memories.
Why do Waldorf Schools
discourage TV watching?
The reasons for this have as much to do with the physical
effects of the medium on the developing child as with the (to say the
least) questionable content of much of the programming. Electronic
media are believed by Waldorf teachers to seriously hamper the
development of the child's imagination - a faculty which is believed to
be central to the healthy development of the individual. Computer use
by young children is also discouraged.
Waldorf teachers are not, by the way, alone in this belief. Several
books have been written in recent years expressing concern with the
effect of television on young children. See, for instance, Endangered
Minds by Jane Healy, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
by Jerry Mander, or The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn.
What kind of training do
Waldorf teachers have?
While requirements within individual schools may vary, as a
rule Class Teachers will have both their usual state teaching
certification, as well as training from a recognised Waldorf teacher
training college or institute. Some Waldorf training programs can also
grant B.A. degrees in conjunction with Waldorf teaching certification.
Typically, the course of study for teachers is one year full time, or
two to three years part-time. This includes practice teaching in a
Waldorf school under the supervision of experienced Waldorf teachers.
Rudolf Steiner, speaking in Oxford in 1922, defined "three golden
rules" for teachers: "to receive the child in gratitude from the world
it comes from; to educate the child with love; and to lead the child
into the true freedom which belongs to man."
Why do Waldorf students
stay with the same teacher for 8 years?
Between the ages of seven and fourteen, children learn best
through acceptance and emulation of authority, just as in their earlier
years they learned through imitation. In primary school, particularly
in the lower grades, the child is just beginning to expand his or her
experience beyond home and family. The class becomes a type of "family"
as well, with its own authority figure "the teacher" in a role
analogous to parent.
With this approach, the students and teachers come to know each other
very well, and the teacher is able to find over the years the best ways
of helping individual children in their schooling. The class teacher
also becomes like an additional family member for most of the families
in his/her class.
It's worth noting that this approach was the norm in the days of the
"little red schoolhouse".
How are personality
conflicts between students and teachers handled?
This is a very common concern among parents when they first
hear about the "Class Teacher" method. However, in practice, the
situation seems to arise very rarely, especially so when the teacher
has been able to establish a relationship with the class right from the
first grade. Incompatibility with a child is infrequent, as
understanding the child's needs and temperament is central to the
teacher's role and training. When problems of this sort do occur, the
faculty as a whole works with the teacher and the family to determine
and undertake whatever corrective action would be in the best interests
of the child and of the class.
Are Waldorf schools
In the sense of subscribing to the beliefs of a particular
religious denomination or sect, no. Waldorf schools, however, tend to
be spiritually oriented and are based out of a generally Christian
perspective. The historic festivals of Christianity, and of other major
religions as well, are observed in the class rooms and in school
assemblies. Classes in religious doctrine are not part of the Waldorf
curriculum, and children of all religious backgrounds attend Waldorf
schools. Spiritual guidance is aimed at awakening the child's natural
reverence for the wonder and beauty of life.
How do Waldorf children
fare when they transfer to "regular" schools? Is it true that once you
start Waldorf schooling it is difficult to "fit in" to other schools?
Generally, transitions to public schools, when they are
anticipated, are not problematical. The most common transition is from
a class eight Waldorf school to a more traditional high school, and,
from all reports, usually takes place without significant difficulties.
Transitions in the lower grades, particularly between the first and
fourth grades, can potentially be more of a problem, because of the
significant differences in the pacing of the various curriculums. A
second grader from a traditional school will be further ahead in
reading in comparison with a Waldorf-schooled second grader; however,
the Waldorf-schooled child will be ahead in arithmetic.
What is Anthroposophy?
The term "Anthroposophy' comes from the Greek
"anthropos-sophia" or "human wisdom". Steiner expanded an exacting
scientific method by which one could do research for her/himself into
the spiritual worlds. The investigation, known also as Spiritual
Science is an obvious complement to the Natural Sciences we have come
to accept. Through study and practiced observation, one awakens to
his/her own inner nature and the spiritual realities of outer nature
and the cosmos. The awareness of those relationships brings a greater
reverence for all of life.
Steiner and many individuals since, who share his basic views, have
applied this knowledge in various practical and cultural ways in
communities around the world. Most notably, Waldorf schools have made
significant impact on the world. Curative education, for mentally and
emotionally handicapped adults and children, has established a deep
understanding and work with people who have this difficult destiny.
Bio-dynamic farming and gardening greatly expand the range of
techniques available to organic agriculture. Anthroposophical medicine
and pharmacy, although less widely known in Australia, are subjects of
It should be stressed that while Anthroposophy forms the theoretical
basis to the teaching methods used in Waldorf schools, it is not taught
to the students.
Anthroposophy has its roots in the perceptions, already gained, into
the spiritual world. Yet these are no more than the roots. The
branches, leaves, blossoms, and fruits of Anthroposophy grow into all
the fields of human life and action.
How does Waldorf deal
with kids that are not so strong academically?
Waldorf schools hesitate to categorise children, particularly
in terms such as "slow" or "gifted". A given child's weaknesses in one
area, whether cognitive, emotional or physical, will usually be
balanced by strengths in another area. It is the teacher's job to try
to bring the child's whole being into balance.
A child having difficulty with the material might be given extra help
by the teacher or by parents; tutoring might also be arranged.
Correspondingly, a child who picked up the material quickly might be
given harder problems of the same sort to work on, or might be asked to
help a child who was having trouble.
How well do Waldorf
graduates do on standard tests? How well do Waldorf high school
graduates do in tertiary education?
To the best of our knowledge, no controlled studies have been
done on these questions, but anecdotal evidence collected from various
sources would seem to suggest that Waldorf graduates tend to score
toward the high end on standardised examinations. As far as higher
education goes, Waldorf graduates have been accepted as students at,
and have graduated from, some of the most prestigious colleges and
universities in Australia.
What is Eurhythmy?
Most simply put, eurhythmy is a dance-like art form in which
music or speech are expressed in bodily movement; specific movements
correspond to particular notes or sounds. It has also been called
"visible speech" or "visible song". Eurhythmy is part of the curriculum
of all Waldorf schools, and while it often puzzles parents new to
Waldorf education, children respond to its simple rhythms and exercises
which help them strengthen and harmonise their body and their life
forces; later, the older students work out elaborate eurhythmic
representations of poetry, drama and music, thereby gaining a deeper
perception of the compositions and writings. Eurhythmy enhances
coordination and strengthens the ability to listen. When children
experience themselves like an orchestra and have to keep a clear
relationship in space with each other, a social strengthening also
Eurhythmy is usually taught by a specialist who has been specifically
trained in eurhythmy, typically for at least four years. In addition to
pedagogical eurhythmy, there are also therapeutic ("curative") and
performance-oriented forms of the art.
- Baldwin, Rahima: You Are Your Child's First Teacher.
Celestial Arts, Berkeley, 1989.
- Barnes, Henry: An Introduction to Waldorf Education.
Mercury Press, Chestnut Ridge, NY, 1985.
- Childs, Gilbert: Steiner Education in Theory and Practice.
Floris Books, Edinburgh, 1991.
- Davy, Gudrun: Lifeways: Working with Family Questions.
Hawthorne Press, Gloucestershire, 1983.
- Finser, Torin: School as a Journey. Anthroposophic Press,
New York, 1994.
- Gorman, Margaret: Confessions of a Waldorf Parent. Rudolf
Steiner College Publications, Fair Oaks, CA, 1990.
- Harwood, A. C.: Life of a Child. Rudolf Steiner Press,
- Querido, René: Creativity in Education: The Waldorf
Approach. Dakin, San Francisco, 1982.
- Spock, Marjorie: Teaching as a Lively Art. Anthroposophic
Press, New York, 1978.
- Steiner, Rudolf.: Kingdom of Childhood. Rudolf Steiner
Press, London, 1982.