I did not know what Waldorf Education was until I had the pleasure of teaching in a small Waldorf school. I found the classroom engaging, the students involved and thriving. Children were busy playing house, dress-up, singing and reciting poetry as they floated around the “homelike” classroom. The colors were warm; the atmosphere was cooperative and supportive. It was a very accepting environment and one where I felt immediately at home.
History of Waldorf
Friderich Wilhelm August Frobel opened the fist kindergarten in Germany in 1836. Children sang songs, read stories, played games and worked on arts and crafts. The emphasis was on the development of creativity and motor skills. Rudolf Steiner followed Frobel and founded a school for the children of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in 1919. Steiner was an Australian writer, researcher and educator. The first Waldorf School in America opened in 1928.
Free Human Beings and the Spread of Waldorf
I brought my than four-year old daughter with me to the Waldorf school where I taught, and it was here that I began to learn about the importance of age-appropriate learning. Waldorf methods seek to embrace the “entire child,” and the stages that that all children pass through on their way to adulthood. Waldorf’s main objective is to create free human beings who are able to give purpose and direction to their lives. This mission statement caused the Nazis to close Waldorf schools during Word War II. However, after the war, schools quickly opened up again and the teaching concept spread to South Africa, Palestine, Eastern Europe and Russia. The latest statistics (2012) show 1,025 independent Waldorf schools, 2,000 Waldorf Kindergartens and 629 Waldorf special education programs in 60 countries. In addition, there are also Waldorf-based public and charter schools as well as a great many people using Waldorf techniques for home instruction.
Preschool and Kindergarten
Waldorf kindergartens teach learning through imitation and example. Children spend a great deal of time in guided free play in a very homey classroom with natural materials and productive work. For example, children often help set the table for a group snack, grind flour and bake biscuits. Much time is spent outdoors studying nature and the seasons. Art is important and children draw with beeswax crayons or paint. Oral language is encouraged through poems, songs and movement games. One of my daughter’s favorite times of the day was when the teacher would tell a story, usually a fairytale by heart. Seasonal festivals are celebrated from a number of different traditions. The use of televisions, computers and recorded music is discouraged and is thought to be harmful to children’s early growth.
Elementary curriculum is based on the arts including visual arts, drama movement, music, instruments and crafts. Students also begin learning foreign language in first grade. There is little use of standard textbooks in the classroom, and each child creates a lesson book with an illustrated study of certain topics. Academics usually take up two hours of the day and focus on a single theme for a month. Each lesson begins with a song or poetry. Mathematics is practiced each day. Teachers generally stay with their same students for many years increasing their personal commitment to students and allowing everyone to get to know each other.
Most Waldorf students enter secondary studies when they are fourteen years old. Specialized teachers teach individual subjects. More emphasis is placed on academics at this point although students still take courses in art, music and crafts. High school studies encourage students to think on their own and develop a sense of purpose and responsibility.
About the Author: Susan Patterson is a freelance writer and a homeschool mother who taught in a Waldorf School. She writes for a variety of education and health sites including Family Cord.