What is Waldorf Steiner Education?

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The aim of Waldorf schooling is to educate the whole child, “head, heart and hands”

Waldorf Steiner education was introduced by Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) who was an innovative Austrian academic whose ideas founded the basis of Anthroposophy. The insights promoted in the Waldorf Steiner Education espouse and promote universal human values, educational pluralism and meaningful learning opportunities.

The priority of the Steiner ethos is to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment where children can find the joy in learning and experience the richness of childhood rather than early testing and assessments.

Some characteristics of the Steiner method as reported are :

  • Works for all children irrespective of academic ability, class, ethnicity or religion;
  • Takes account of the needs of the whole child – academic, physical, emotional and spiritual;
  • Is based on an understanding of the relevance of the different phases of child development;
  • Develops a love of learning and an enthusiasm for school;
  • Sees artistic activity and the development of the imagination as integral to learning; Is respected worldwide for its ability to produce very able young people who have a strong sense of self and diverse capacities that enable them to become socially and economically responsible citizens.

Other characteristics of the Waldorf program are that

  • Waldorf students stay with (ideally) the same teacher for 8 years and grow with the teacher as they move along. The class teacher also becomes like an additional family member for most of the families in his/her class.
  • Reading instruction is deferred until second grade. 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. Writing is taught in first grade and naturally evolves into 2nd grade.
  • There are no grades- Learning in a Waldorf school is a non-competitive activity. There are no grades given at the elementary level; the teacher writes a detailed evaluation of the child at the end of each school year.
  • There are no textbooks- 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
  • In the younger grades, all subjects are introduced through artistic mediums, use the children respond better to this medium than to dry lecturing and rote learning.

A taster of the curriculum is as follows:

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.

Primary Grades 1 – 3

  • Pictorial introduction to the alphabet, writing, reading, spelling, poetry and drama.
  • Folk and fairy tales, fables, legends, Old Testament stories.
  • 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 civilizations.
  • 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 drama.
  • Medieval history, Renaissance, world exploration, history and biography

Special subjects also taught include:

Handwork: knitting, crochet, sewing, cross stitch, basic weaving, toy making and woodworking

  • Music: singing, pentatonic flute, recorder, string instruments, wind, brass and percussion instruments
  • Foreign Languages (varies by school): Spanish, French, Japanese and German
  • Art: wet-on-wet water color painting, form drawing, beeswax and clay modeling, perspective drawing
  • Movementeurhythmy, gymnastics, group games

Overall, Steiner believed that it was imperative to nurture children’s imaginations. 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.