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What is The Waldorf School Philosophy?

Child DevelopmentParent Resources

2nd December 2021

The Waldorf education consists of learning that engages the heart, head, and hands. Better still, it focuses on feeling, thinking, and doing. It is the basis on which Waldorf teachers involve and nurture children through the methodology and curriculum that integrates arts, academics, and practical skills. If you’re trying to find the right school for your child and find yourself wondering – What is a Waldorf school? Read on for a comprehensive overview of Waldorf education.

The Origin of Waldorf Education

In 1919, Waldorf-Astoria cigarette plant owner, Emil Molt, was to develop a school for company employees in Stuttgart, Germany. Molt needed a curriculum that would meet the intellectual needs of children and also speak to their humanity and spiritual sense. The school’s purpose was to help them flourish during the turbulent World War I aftermath. To develop the pedagogy, Molt turned to philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who took the task under conditions that the program would be:

  • Self-governed
  • Culturally and artistically enriching
  • Comprehensive (not split into separate vocational and academic tracks)
  • Open to workers’ children, including boys and girls from all walks of life

Steiner insisted the school teachers respond and perceive the developmental needs of children. The result would be individuals who are independent thinkers, problem solvers, and capable of meeting challenges in the real world. This commitment to forward-thinking engagement with the world remains a hallmark of Waldorf education.

The Waldorf Schools Philosophy

When it’s time to choose a school for your child, you’ll find there’s a myriad of educational philosophies and options that can be overwhelming. With prospective parents considering transitioning children from public schools to Waldorf education, the question becomes, “What’s the difference between the child’s current educational experience and Waldorf?” Let’s dive into some of the difference below:

1) Early Academics

In Waldorf education, play is work for children. This system seeks to inspire and nourish creative thinking and imagination. It delays academics until grade 1 to allow the child time for music, art, and the development of other social skills.
In public schools, academic knowledge grows linearly. The sooner children begin academics, the less likely they are to fall behind. The early education curriculum focuses on pupils attaining grade standards for graduation.

2) Curriculum and Later Academics

In same-aged classrooms, the Waldorf educators promote lifelong learning through multi-disciplinary methods that incorporate music, art, and craftsmanship. These lessons are rich in language and focus on numerous lenses. Classroom collaboration and subject integration are critical to a holistic academic experience.

Public school teachers encourage individual and accountable learning in same-aged classrooms. The lessons focus on measurable accomplishments with writing, reading, and math as the sole focus. Later, the skills are broadly applied to specialized subjects integrated into an older child’s day.

3) The Classroom

Children thrive in simple, predictable, and rhythmic environments. The Waldorf educators lead students in classrooms as collaborators. They provide regular guidance, and children often work individually.

In the public system, the child thrives in a state-of-the-art structured learning environment. The students are individual learners and collaborators under textbooks, teachers, and technology.

4) Teaching Methods

Children learn through teamwork, imitation, and Socratic inquiry. Working and watching teachers in the Waldorf system facilitates age-appropriate, academic skills. In the traditional system, teaching methods vary with the instructors. The primary focus is the students’ academic results in the classroom.

5) Materials

The Waldorf classrooms have child-created and natural materials. Students create their textbooks and learning is based on special projects, lectures, and other forms of collaboration with teachers. Technology is not part of elementary education.

In public schools, the state provides all learning materials for academic purposes. Students take notes from lectures and books. At times, they fill in accompanying worksheets, quizzes, and tests. Technology is critical in classroom processes.

6) Society

Waldorf education strives to impart ethics and produce candidates who can engage with creative and clear thinking, moral strength, compassion, and courage. It also ensures students adapt to the changing world.

Mainstream education focuses on a consistent and clear understanding of the learning process. Students are encouraged to find success in school and careers to ensure they can compete in the world economy.

7) Social Development

Students’ progress in the social realm is as essential as academic learning in school. Teachers have a fundamental role of orchestrating how the skills develop among students in Waldorf education. With public schools, students’ social development is also addressed and pertains to classroom learning. Parents handle social and behavioral issues at home.

8) Individuality

Children come with unique gifts and personalities. The role of Waldorf teachers is to identify the students’ individuality. In addition, they respect, inspire, and guide them to attain their full potential in learning and personalized engagement.
In mainstream learning, the growth of individual children is based on classroom needs. Since they focus on results rather than teaching methodology, there’s no recommendation on how teachers address students’ skills, except in measurable results.

What is the Teaching Style of a Waldorf School?

The Waldorf education is based on the premise of three distinct childhood stages of seven years each. Early childhood (0-7 years), middle childhood (7-14 years), and adolescence (14-21 years). Each stage shapes a child’s approach to the world emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically. Educators consider teaching methods and curricula that are tailored to developmental stages and evolve as adulthood unfolds. At each stage, the teaching style is as below.

• Early Childhood- Developing Limbs through Doing

Young children from birth to seven years live through their senses and learn through imitation. The teachers in early childhood strive to be worthy of imitation, to nurture children, and provide a gentle yet sensory-rich environment.

The play-based activities encourage kids to investigate their natural world, expand imaginative capacities, and explore social relationships. It lays the foundation for emotional, intellectual, and physical development.

• Middle Childhood- Developing the Heart by Imagination

Between 7 and 14 years, children learn through lessons touching on feelings to enliven their creativity. The Waldorf curriculum includes fables and fairy tales, biographies, and mythological sagas. Elementary teachers integrate drama, storytelling, visual arts, rhythmic movement, and music into their daily work. It weaves in an experience that brings subjects to life in children’s feelings, willingness, and thinking.

Entrusted to accompany students on various year journeys, the Waldorf grade 1-8 teachers have a role similar to parents’. They guide the student’s formal learning while awakening moral development and enhancing their worldly awareness.

• Adolescence- Developing the Mind through World Discernment

Ages 14-21 mark the development of an independent intellect and the ability to accurately examine the world and exercise judgment, discernment, as well as critical thinking. Waldorf high school students have autonomy over their learning under their teachers’ mentorship.

Waldorf School vs. Montessori Method

The Waldorf and Montessori schools are famous for elementary and preschool-age learning. Below are the differences between these systems.

• The Founders

Montessori schools follow the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori, an anthropologist and medical doctor. The first class, a “house of children”, was founded in 1907 in Rome, Italy.

The Waldorf School follows the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. The first school was opened in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919. The intention was to offer the children of the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette firm’s workers an education upon its directors’ request.

• Teaching Styles

Montessori schools believe that you follow the child. In this way, they choose what to learn as the teacher guides the learning process. It employs a hands-on and student-directed approach.

Waldorf uses a teacher-directed approach in the classroom. In comparison to students in Montessori schools, those at Waldorf start learning academic subjects at a much later age. The traditional subjects like reading, math, and writing are viewed as non-enjoyable learning experiences for children and are off until around age seven. Instead, learners fulfill their day with imaginative activities like make-believe, music, and art.

• Spirituality

On one hand, Montessori learning lacks an established spirituality. It’s adaptable and flexible to the individual’s beliefs and needs. On the other hand, Waldorf’s roots are in anthroposophy. The philosophy believes that to understand the universe, people must first understand humanity.

• Division by Level or Age

In the Waldorf system, students are grouped by age as they advance together each year. However, in Montessori, the learners are in three-year age groups, which are from 3 to 6, 7 to 11, and 12 to 15 years. During preschool, children are grouped in infant and toddler rooms. As they grow older and gain skills, they move into a new age cluster that often includes children they know well.

• Learning Activities

Waldorf and Montessori respect and recognize the children’s rhythmic and order needs in their daily routine. They recognize essentials in various ways. For instance, Madame Montessori believed that children should play with toys that teach concepts.

Waldorf education encourages children to create their toys from the materials at hand. The child’s most critical task is using their imagination. Both Waldorf and Montessori use developmentally appropriate curricula. Montessori’s system has a six-year cycle, while Waldorf works in seven years.

• Use of TV and Computers

Generally, Montessori allows parents to decide the use of popular media. Waldorf is rigid in exposing students to popular media, as the system requires them to create their own world. You don’t find computers in Waldorf classes except in higher school grades. The reason screens are not popular in Waldorf and Montessori is that they want children to develop their imagination.

• Adherence to Methodology

Maria Montessori didn’t patent or trademark the philosophy. Therefore, you find the system in many schools. Some institutions are strict in the interpretation of the Montessori precepts. Others are more eclectic. Waldorf schools stick to the standards set by the Association of Waldorf Schools.

Do You Need Help Finding a School?

Understanding the need to engage children through the heart, hands, and head, forms the primary educational paradigm in Waldorf Education. Rather than focusing solely on educational work around acquiring knowledge, creating meaningful learning processes becomes the focus. Through multisensory and multifaceted learning experiences, students and teachers can use their intelligence in developing capacities for feeling, thinking, and intentional activity.
If you need help finding a Waldorf school for your child, Wonderschool can help. We offer the best programs handled by dedicated providers. We also help families connect with directors at each stage of the learning process. Find a preschool near you and enjoy a quality early learning experience.