About Waldorf Education

The First Waldorf School

In April of 1919, Rudolf Steiner visited the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. The German nation, defeated in war, was teetering on the brink of economic, social, and political chaos. Steiner spoke to the workers about the need for social renewal, for a new way of organizing society and its political and cultural life.

Emil Molt, the owner of the factory, asked Steiner if he would undertake to establish and lead a school for the children of the employees of the company. Steiner agreed but set four conditions, each of which went against common practice of the day: 1) that the school be open to all children; 2) that it be coeducational; 3) that it be a unified twelve-year school; 4) that the teachers, those individuals actually in contact with the children, have primary control of the school, with a minimum interference from the state or from economic sources. Steiner's conditions were radical for the day, but Molt gladly agreed to them. On September 7, 1919, the independent Waldorf School (Die Freie Waldorfschule) opened its doors.

Thus, when the "Independent Waldorf School" opened its doors, Rudolf Steiner stated, "It is not our intention to teach growing human beings our ideas or the contents of our world-view." Today, Waldorf schools continue to seek to develop the perceptions and capacities for creative thinking in young adults so that they can shape society for the advancement of humankind out of their own insights and experiences.

What is Steiner Education?

Steiner education is one of the fastest growing non-traditional educational movements in the world. Its pedagogy is based on the teachings of the late Austrian philosopher, Dr. Rudolf Steiner(1861-1925), on the development stages of childhood and adolescence.

Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education is based on a developmental approach that addresses the needs of the growing child and maturing adolescent. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education in to an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head.

The Steiner approach nurtures the child's whole being, working from the "hands" (physical) through the "heart" (emotional and spiritual) to the "mind" (intellectual).

To achieve this, Steiner education fully integrates the arts into a scientifically researched curriculum finely attuned to the development stages of childhood (Kindergarten; Lower School – Grade 1-4; Middle School - Grade 5-8; and Upper or High School - Grade 9-12).

Skills, subjects and concepts are introduced when these are appropriate to the child's physiological and spiritual development. Material presented to the children is connected directly to human experience-observation, experimentation, and participation so that it awakens the student's enthusiasm and interest.

Through the content and process of the lessons, a reverence for life and the natural world is cultivated. Fine and applied arts, traditional crafts, storytelling, music, and drama provide essential pathways for holistic learning, enlivening a comprehensive curriculum which includes language arts, math, science, history, music, foreign languages, fine art, movement education, and handwork. Teachers are given very wide latitude in using various teaching methods and educational tools at their disposal. Academic freedom is a hallmark of Steiner schools so much so that they are also commonly described as "faculty-run schools."

What is the difference between a Waldorf school and a Steiner school?

There is no difference. The very first Steiner school was named the independent Waldorf School (Die Freie Waldorfschule). This explains the interchangeable use of the terms "Waldorf school" and "Steiner school."

How many Waldorf or Steiner schools are there in the world?

It is estimated that there are now over 800 Steiner schools and 1,000 Steiner kindergartens in 50 countries on 6 continents.

What is the curriculum like in a Waldorf school?

Waldorf Education approaches all aspects of schooling in a unique and comprehensive way. The curriculum is designed to meet the various stages of child development. Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine inner enthusiasm for learning that is essential for educational success.

Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children learn primarily through imitation and imagination. The goal of the kindergarten is to develop a sense of wonder in the young child and reverence for all living things. This creates an eagerness for the academics that follow in the grades. Kindergarten activities include:

  • storytelling, puppetry, creative play;
  • singing, eurythmy (movement);
  • games and finger plays;
  • painting, drawing and beeswax modeling;
  • baking and cooking, nature walks;
  • circle time for festival and seasonal celebrations

Elementary and middle-school children learn through the guidance of a class teacher who stays with the class ideally for eight years. The curriculum includes:

  • English based on world literature, myths, and legends
  • history that is chronological and inclusive of the world's great civilizations
  • science that surveys geography, astronomy, meteorology, physical and life sciences
  • mathematics that develops competence in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry
  • foreign languages; physical education; gardening
  • arts including music, painting, sculpture, drama, eurythmy, sketching
  • handwork such as knitting, weaving, and woodworking

The Waldorf high school is dedicated to helping students develop their full potential as scholars, artists, athletes, and community members. The course of study includes:

  • a humanities curriculum that integrates history, literature, and knowledge of world cultures;
  • a science curriculum that includes physics, biology, chemistry, geology, and a mathematics program;
  • an arts and crafts program including calligraphy, drawing, painting, sculpture, pottery, weaving, block printing and bookbinding;
  • a performing arts program offering orchestra, choir, eurythmy and drama;
  • a foreign language program;
  • a physical education program

Does Waldorf education prepare children for the "real" world; and, if so, how does it do it?

It is easy to fall into the error of believing that education must make our children fit into society. Although we are certainly influenced by what the world brings us, the fact is that the world is shaped by people, not people by the world. However, that shaping of the world is possible in a healthy way only if the shapers are themselves in possession of their full nature as human beings.

Education in materialistic, Western society focuses on the intellectual aspect of the human being and has chosen largely to ignore the several other parts that are essential to our well-being. These include our life of feeling (emotions, aesthetics, and social sensitivity), our willpower (the ability to get things done), and our moral nature (being clear about right and wrong). Without having these developed, we are incomplete—a fact that may become obvious in our later years, when a feeling of emptiness begins to set in. That is why in a Waldorf school, the practical and artistic subjects play as important a role as the full spectrum of traditional academic subjects that the school offers. The practical and artistic are essential in achieving a preparation for life in the "real" world.

Waldorf Education recognizes and honors the full range of human potentialities. It addresses the whole child by striving to awaken and ennoble all the latent capacities. The children learn to read, write, and do math; they study history, geography, and the sciences. In addition, all children learn to sing, play a musical instrument, draw, paint, model clay, carve and work with wood, speak clearly and act in a play, think independently, and work harmoniously and respectfully with others. The development of these various capacities is interrelated. For example, both boys and girls learn to knit in grade one. Acquiring this basic and enjoyable human skill helps them develop a manual dexterity, which after puberty will be transformed into an ability to think clearly and to "knit" their thoughts into a coherent whole.

Preparation for life includes the development of the well-rounded person. Waldorf Education has as its ideal a person who is knowledgeable about the world and human history and culture, who has many varied practical and artistic abilities, who feels a deep reverence for and communion with the natural world, and who can act with initiative and in freedom in the face of economic and political pressures.

There are many Waldorf graduates of all ages who embody this ideal and who are perhaps the best proof of the efficacy of the education.

Why do Waldorf schools teach reading so late?

There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes in fact from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.

If reading is not pushed, a healthy child will pick it up quite quickly and easily. Some Waldorf parents become anxious if their child is slow to learn to read. Eventually these same parents are overjoyed at seeing their child pick up a book and not put it down and become from that moment a voracious reader. Each child has his or her own optimal time for "taking off." Feelings of anxiety and inferiority may develop in a child who is not reading as well as her peers. Often this anxiety is picked up from parents concerned about the child's progress. It is important that parents should deal with their own and their child's apprehensions.

Human growth and development do not occur in a linear fashion, nor can they be measured. What lives, grows, and has its being in human life can only be grasped with that same human faculty that can grasp the invisible metamorphic laws of living nature.

Why do Waldorf schools recommend the limiting of television, videos, and radio for young children?

A central aim of Waldorf Education is to stimulate the healthy development of the child's own imagination. Waldorf teachers are concerned that electronic media hampers the development of the child's imagination. They are concerned about the physical effects of the medium on the developing child as well as the content of much of the programming.

What about computers and Waldorf Education?

Waldorf teachers feel the appropriate age for computer use in the classroom and by students is in high school. We feel it is more important for students to have the opportunity to interact with one another and with teachers in exploring the world of ideas, participating in the creative process, and developing their knowledge, skills, abilities, and inner qualities. Waldorf students have a love of learning, an ongoing curiosity, and interest in life. As older students, they quickly master computer technology, and graduates have successful careers in the computer industry.

How do Waldorf graduates do after graduation?

Waldorf students have been accepted in and graduated from a broad spectrum of colleges and universities including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, Brown, and all of the top universities. Waldorf graduates reflect a wide diversity of professions and occupations including medicine, law, science, engineering, computer technology, the arts, social science, government, and teaching at all levels.

What is Eurythmy?

Eurythmy is the art of movement that attempts to make visible the tone and feeling of music and speech. Eurythmy helps to develop concentration, self-discipline, and a sense of beauty. This training of moving artistically with a group stimulates sensitivity to the other as well as individual mastery. Eurythmy lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms.

Are Waldorf schools religious?

Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational. They educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to bring about recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions. Waldorf schools are not part of any church. They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life. Waldorf families come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions and interest.

What is the philosophy behind Waldorf education?

Consistent with his philosophy called anthroposophy, Steiner designed a curriculum responsive to the developmental phases in childhood and nurturing of 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.

How many Waldorf or Steiner schools are there in the world?

It is estimated that there are now over 800 Steiner schools and 1,000 Steiner kindergartens in 50 countries on 6 continents.

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 the US, are subjects of growing interest.

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.

We love Waldorf kids. We reject some students with 1600s on their SATs and accept others based on other factors, like the creative ability Waldorf students demonstrate.

Donna Badrig, Associate Director, Undergraduate Admissions for Columbia University

The Waldorf approach is to a remarkable degree in harmony with recent developments in the cognitive sciences related to how children learn and understand.

Dr. Paul DeHart Hurd, Professor Emeritus, Science Education, Stanford University

Waldorf students are encouraged to live with self-assurance, a reverence for life and a sense of service.

Ernest Boyer, President, Carnegie Institute for the Advancement of Teaching; Former U.S. Commissioner of Education

If you've had the experience of binding a book, knitting a sock, playing a recorder, then you feel that you can build a rocket ship-or learn a software program you've never touched. It's not bravado, just a quiet confidence. There is nothing you can't do. Why couldn't you? Why couldn't anybody?

Peter Nitze, Waldorf and Harvard graduate, Executive Vice President of Martek Biosciences Corp

I think that it is not exaggerated to say that no other educational system in the world gives such a central role to the arts as the Waldorf School Movement. There is not a subject taught that does not have an artistic aspect. Even mathematics is presented in an artistic fashion and related via dance, movement or drawing to the child as a whole. Steiner's system of education is built on the premise that art is an integral part of human endeavors. He gives it back its true role. Anything that can be done to further his revolutionary educational ideals will be of the greatest importance.

Konrad Oberhuber, Curator of Drawings, Fogg Art Museum - Professor of Fine Arts, Harvard University

American schools are having a crisis in values. Half the children fail according to standard measures and the other half wonder why they are learning what they do. As is appropriate to life in a democracy, there are a handful of alternatives. Among the alternatives, the Waldorf school represents a chance for every child to grow and learn according to the most natural rhythms of life. For the early school child, this means a non-competitive, non-combative environment in which the wonders of science and literature fill the day without causing anxiety and confusion. For the older child, it offers a curriculum that addresses the question of why they are learning. I have sent two of my children to Waldorf schools and they have been wonderfully well served.

Raymond McDermott, Ph.D., Professor, Education and Anthropology, Stanford University

Programs such as Montessori and the Waldorf Schools offer small classes, individualized instruction, and flexible, child-centered curricula which can accommodate the child and do not demand that the child do all of the accommodating . . . Rudolf Steiner was troubled by the overly academic emphasis of schools; he felt that the aesthetic side of children was being overlooked and that this should be developed along with the intellectual powers. Waldorf schools emphasize creativity in all aspects of children's work. The same teacher may stay with the same group of children for as many as eight grades. In so doing the teacher has to grow and learn with the children.

David Elkind, Ph.D., Professor of Child Study, Tufts University, Author, The Hurried Child, All Grown Up and No Place to Go; Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk

Being personally acquainted with a number of Waldorf students, I can say that they come closer to realizing their own potential than practically anyone I know.

Joseph Weizenbaum, German-born Professor Emeritus, Computer science, MIT; Author of Computer Power and Human Reason

I used to think Waldorf Education the most undamaging education, but then the more I looked into it, I found it the most beneficial system we have. People ask, "What will happen to my child in the world if he doesn't learn to read and write very early?" The issue is that the child's greatest strength for survival in a world of madness is to be whole, sane and in touch with the heart. The beauty of the Waldorf School is that it keeps children intact until they are ready to move out into the world as whole individuals. Major studies have recently dealt with the "disappearance of childhood" in America. Among many things that the Waldorf system does, it nurtures, protects and develops the intelligence of the true child. What is it that Waldorf education aims to do? We are helping to bring out the best in each child, rather than molding children to a particular perspective of society.

Joseph Chilton Pearce, Author, Magical Child and The Crack in the Cosmic Egg Evolution's End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence

Waldorf education addresses the child as no other education does. Learning, whether in chemistry, mathematics, history or geography, is imbued with life and so with joy, which is the only true basis for later study. The textures and colors of nature, the accomplishments and struggles of humankind fill the Waldorf students' imaginations and the pages of their beautiful books. Education grows into a union with life that serves them for decades. By the time they reach us at the college and university level, these students are grounded broadly and deeply and have a remarkable enthusiasm for learning. Such students possess the eye of the discoverer, and the compassionate heart of the reformer which, when joined to a task, can change the planet.

Arthur Zajonc, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Physics, Amherst College

Steiner education affects the whole family positively. Just as a child is nurtured and supported in his development, so are his parents inspired into consciousness. It is a healing education for all.

Panjee Tapales, Parent, Former Manila Waldorf School parent