Waldorf Education – Everything That Parents Need to Know
If you are planning to enrol your child in a private school, you must have considered a Waldorf school at least once. Waldorf Education is a unique schooling system where children are nurtured creatively, spiritually, emotionally, and academically. It’s a free-style form of schooling that emphasises on all-round development. Every child is unique and has his/her own sets of strengths – Waldorf education helps in identifying and fostering these strengths. The idea of sending children to a Waldorf school seems great, but before you make that decision understand what Waldorf education is, the advantages and disadvantages of sending your child to a Waldorf school, and more!
What Is Waldorf Education?
Waldorf education is a system of schooling that most private schools follow. Public schools have started adopting this approach only recently, and most Waldorf schools start at pre-K. As per Waldorf schooling, kids don’t have to keep their noses buried in the books all day long. They engage themselves in various activities like art, music, cultural activities, sports, etc., which helps in their holistic growth and development. Waldorf-style education believes that kids learn best when they tap into their true nature instead of following pre-defined traditional systems. At present, there are more than 1000 Waldorf schools in the world.
The concept of Waldorf schooling was coined by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1919. Steiner believed that people have the ability to improve hands-on spiritually and emotionally. After World War I, schools were ready to embrace a new style of learning and this is when Waldorf schooling came into existence. Schools adopted a new form of education that involved teaching kids visual arts, music, crafts, knitting, and sewing. Steiner believed in nurturing all aspects of a child, i.e., the head, the heart, and the hands.
Kids learned arithmetic and geometry through woodworking and were encouraged to play outdoors in the rain. Dance, mythological themes, and stories spanning through various texts of religions like Buddhism became common subjects in classrooms. Children weren’t taught to just sit down and read but engage with their environment. The movement soon blew up and became popular until it is what we know of it today.
The first Waldorf school was founded by Rudolf Steiner in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. Since his school flourished, by the year 1938, schools that adopted his practices came to be known as Waldorf schools. Countries such as Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Netherlands, the US, and more adopted this form of education. However, these schools came to a halt in Europe during World War II. Waldorf Schooling was revived after the war ended and basic skills like math, literacy, artistic skills etc., were paired with appropriate children’s learning activities. Steiner believed that children learned best when they connected educational experiences with their feelings, and these feelings were cultivated through arts, imaginative plays, and crafts.
Here are some fast facts about Waldorf schools that you should know about.
- Waldorf schools are mostly private schools but public schools too are now adopting the Waldorf form of education.
- In many schools with the Waldorf system of education, children study with the same tutor from 1st grade to 8th grade.
- No standardized tests are given to kids and emphasis is laid on a holistic learning approach. Assessments are made at the end of the year.
- Technology or electronic devices aren’t used in classrooms and textbooks aren’t made available for learning before 6th grade.
- Children are taught how to learn naturally with an emphasis on inculcating creativity and emotional intelligence. Most kids aren’t taught how to read before they reach 1st grade and aren’t expected to learn to read until they reach the 2nd grade.
Which Children Usually Attend the Waldorf School?
Waldorf schools are most popular among progressive and liberal parents who want their children to develop holistically and learn beyond books. Children who are creative and unique also tend to attend a Waldorf school. Most parents send their kids to these schools with a hope that they will learn to discover themselves through artistic expression, music, creativity, and imaginative play. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach to Waldorf classrooms; a child may or may not learn in a Waldorf school or in another. As students aren’t even introduced to textbooks (or academics) until the 2nd grade in most cases, most parents don’t consider the Waldorf school appropriate for their kids.
The Waldorf Approach to Learning
The Waldorf approach to learning respects a child’s personality and uniqueness. It aims to foster a sense of curiosity about the world in a child with teaching being the answer to fulfilling it. The Waldorf learning approach educates the child as a whole, not just academically. Steiner believed that learning consisted of three stages- development of the spirit, mind, and body. The backbone of Waldorf education is Anthroposophy which is basically individual development. It is a type of iterative process where knowledge is assimilated over time and the child is not forced to study or develop prematurely. Senses, feelings, empathy and learning in harmony are its core aspects.
Activities That Engage Kids in Waldorf School
The activities in which kids usually engage in Waldorf schools include:
- Gardening, doll-making, knitting, and sewing
- Drawing, painting, sketching, and arts and crafts
- Singing, dancing, and enacting skits/theatrical plays
- Reading, writing, and journaling
- Listening to fables and stories and exploring nature
- Preparing snacks and eating together in a group outdoors
What You Might Find in a Waldorf School or Classroom
When your first walk into a Waldorf school or classroom, you will notice the following things:
- Kids are treated as individuals and curriculums are tailored to meet their specific needs. You won’t find teachers forcing lessons on kids but rather using teaching to help them express themselves creatively and in their own ways.
- The walls are decorated with sketches and paintings. You will find journals and handwritten notes on desks- this is the way natural education was meant to be. You will not notice any electronics, calculators, laptops, PDAs, and other electronic devices in the classrooms.
- Teachers have a healthy relationship with kids which lasts for the years to come. In Waldorf schooling, you won’t find different teachers for every grade. The same teacher will be with your kids from the 1st to 8th grade.
- Science is taught outdoors and you’ll find kids building things hands-on and interacting with their environment.
- Kids are taught cooking and gardening. Cooking and gardening lessons are common and Waldorf homeschool curriculum programs are common alongside community schools. The classrooms aren’t restricted to four walls and in some cases, like kindergarten, you won’t find any desks.
What Are the Three Stages of Waldorf Education?
Waldorf education is based on the theory that childhood is made up of three different stages of roughly seven years each. In the early stage, students are exposed to activities that help in their sensory development. In the high school stage, kids are encouraged to express themselves creatively and artistically. As the grades go higher, an inquiry into scientific studies, abstract concepts, and skills related to critical reasoning are honed.
First Stage (Early Childhood)
The first stage starts from birth to age seven. In these years, children learn predominantly by engaging themselves in sensory activities. In this stage, kids are encouraged to perform activities that help develop their fine and gross motor skills along with sensory development. Waldorf educators design various play-based activities that involve kids interacting with their surroundings.
Second Stage (Middle Childhood)
The second stage caters to the children who are between 7 and 14 years of age. Children engage in their creative senses during this time and learn best through visual storytelling, fables, and reading biographies of famous figures. Artistic activities like drawing and painting are emphasized during this time and kids learn a lot by actively learning and getting involved with their peers.
Third Stage (Adolescence)
Children between 14 and 21 years of age are in the adolescence stage or the third stage. This stage is a milestone in Waldorf education. Students mentor under specialists to develop their strengths in different subject areas. Critical reasoning and thinking along with problem-solving skills are developed during this stage. This is also when they get deeper into various scientific subjects.
Waldorf vs Montessori Schools
Montessori schooling was first invented by Maria Montessori who built the first Casa Dei Bambini (house of children) in 1907 in Rome, Italy. Rudolf Steiner started the Waldorf schooling movement in 1919 after the director of Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Company requested him to spearhead the factory children’s education after World War I. That was a time when there was a cultural, social, and economic crisis and Steiner met that need by providing a different system of education.
The difference between Montessori and Waldorf schools are noted below.
- In the Waldorf education system, academic subjects are not stressed upon during the child’s formative years. Unlike traditional schools, their days are filled with art, make-believe plays, music, dance, and fun activities. Montessori education system takes a similar approach but with an emphasis on real-life activities like cooking, cleaning, and children tending to each others’ emotional needs. Academic lessons aren’t forced upon but offered to children as a choice in Montessori systems.
- In Montessori schools, teachers don’t give lectures to students but observe. Sometimes they might give brief one-on-one lessons but in most cases they allow the students to pursue their own interests and do what they want. The Waldorf teaching method has teachers working with their students.
- Pretend play and imaginative play are the core focus of Waldorf learning. Waldorf education believes in nurturing the ‘mind, body, and spirit’ while Montessori schools believe in real-life learning. You won’t find dollhouses, pretend-kitchens, and dress-up toys in Montessori classes, unlike in Waldorf schools.
- Students get up to 3 hours of uninterrupted time every day for personal learning in Montessori classes but in Waldorf schools, they have a schedule around the day that centres around various activities.
- Montessori schools tend to focus on building the child’s character, moral values, and ethics through education while Waldorf schools focus on honing their aptitude for thinking, feeling, and learning.
Waldorf Schools: Pros and Cons
If you’re planning to enrol your child in a Waldorf school, you must remember that your child will walk on a path that will be different from the traditional system. He will find his own voice, talents, and discover his hidden creativity, but there are certain things he might miss out on. If you are planning to enrol your child into a Waldorf school, go through its pros and cons first to make an informed decision.
Waldorf schools are good, there is no doubt. If you’re having your doubts, then read the below points to find out how a Waldorf school may benefit your child.
- The schooling follows a more traditional approach and a slower pace of learning. Kids who love to act, compose plays or explore their creative side, they can do so in a Waldorf school. This school becomes a second home to kids who want to unleash their innate creativity.
- In these schools, children get plenty of opportunities to explore nature. There are a lot of activities that are carried outdoors, which gives children enough time to connect with nature.
- Kids learn more about themselves, develop their unique identities, and learn how to express themselves in various ways. Their imagination is stimulated through every project.
- The environment in Waldorf schools is safe and comforting. Kids are taught to connect with their feelings, develop empathy, and become well-rounded individuals when growing up.
- Learning is very customized and personalized for each and every child.
- Core learning in this type of schooling focuses not just on academics but also on holistic development.
Although the Waldorf school philosophy sounds great, it’s not perfect. Here are a few disadvantages of Waldorf education.
- The use of electronics is discouraged in classrooms until 6th grade in Waldorf schools. Nowadays, most schools use laptops and other essential electronics to teach children. Kids in Waldorf schools may feel lagging behind if they are not taught how to use essential gadgets.
- No benchmarks are set for reading, writing, and various academic skills that traditional schooling follows for every grade.
- There’s no competitive spirit fostered since children don’t compete but instead go on a journey of self-discovery and creative exploration.
- Your child may not catch up to learning core concepts if you end up changing schools and switch them over to traditional schooling when moving to a different city/place.
- There are no standardized tests conducted and kids might find it hard moving away from their teachers when changing schools.
- Parents have to be very involved with the child’s education since Waldorf schooling is personalized and unique. Waldorf school cost for tuition can go up to $44,300 a year for international students with additional fees for different activities.
Now that you’re aware of Waldorf schooling, the best way to make a decision about enrolment is by visiting campus and seeing how it works in-person. If you are considering this system of education for your child, visit a campus of this school and observe how kids learn over there. Take your time, learn more about it, and then make a decision!
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