Unique Aspects of Waldorf Education
Drama, painting, music, drawing, modeling, etc. are integrated into the entire academic curriculum, including mathematics and the sciences. The Waldorf method of education through the arts awakens imagination and creative powers, bringing vitality and wholeness to learning.
Cultural literacy is a key concern throughout a Waldorf program. In a society that may be nudging its children prematurely into adulthood, Waldorf schools preserve the magic and fairy-tale wonder of being a child. – Thomas Armstrong, Author
The Class Teacher
The teacher takes the same class of children through eight years of elementary school (grades 1-8), teaching all the main subjects. For the teacher, this means time to really know the children and help their gifts unfold. The child finds much stability and continuing guidance.
Textbooks are not used in the elementary grades. Instead, the teacher creates the presentation and the children make their individual books for each subject taught, recording and illustrating the substance of their lessons.
These books, often artistic and beautiful, are an important way in which art is integrated into every subject; they have been the focus of Waldorf exhibitions at American and European museums. Under the title “Education as an Art,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited student work from the Rudolf Steiner School in New York in 1979, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art showed work from Highland Hall Waldorf School in 1981. In 1979, within a period of six weeks, over 50,000 visitors attended a similar exhibit at Stockholm’s Lilljevachs Exhibition Hall. On the occasion of the 44th Session of the International Conference on Education of UNESCO in 1994 an exhibit of student art from around the world was presented in Geneva, Switzerland and New York City.
Foreign language, beginning in First Grade, gives the children insights into and facility with other cultures. The languages vary according to the location of the schools. Typically French or Spanish and German are offered.
Sciences are taught experientially-that is, the teacher sets up an experiment, calls upon the children to observe carefully, ponder and discuss and then allows them to DISCOVER the conclusion-the law, formula, etc. Through this process, rigorous, independent thinking and sound judgment are trained.
An extraordinary humanities curriculum, which begins in first grade with folk tales and fairy tales and continues in second and third grades with mythology and legends, takes the children through the full sweep of cultural heritage. The Old Testament in grade three, Norse mythology in grade four, the ancient cultures of India, Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia and Greece in grade five, provide the background for the study of history and arts presented through excerpts from original texts. By living into these cultures through their legends and literature, the children gain flexibility and an appreciation for the diversity of humankind. By the close of eighth grade, the students have journeyed from Greece and Rome to medieval history, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the age of Exploration, up to the present day.
Letters are learned in the same way they originated in the course of human history. First perceived, then pictured, and out of the pictures came abstracted signs and symbols. First graders hear stories, draw pictures, and discover the letter in the gesture of the picture. This process is accompanied by phonetic work in songs, poems, and the games that help to establish a joyful and living experience of language. Through the grades, texts taken from the rich humanities curriculum-Genesis, the “Bhagavad Gita,” the “Kalevala,” etc.-provide material for reading practice.
A morning ‘main lesson’, a two hour period in which the main substance of the day is presented, begins each school day. The subject-can be form drawing, math, Greek history, botany or acoustics-is taught for a three or four week block and put aside, often to be continued later in the term. This approach allows for freshness and enthusiasm, concentrated in-depth experience, and gives the children time to “digest” what has been learned.
Music permeates and harmonizes life in a Waldorf School through a curriculum designed to develop the innate musicality with which every child is born. In the first grade children sing and learn to play a simple wooden pentatonic flute. Both activities are practiced daily through the elementary school years. In the third grade, diatonic flutes and string instruments are introduced. Some schools provide instruction in wind instruments in sixth or seventh grades. Music is taught in a Waldorf School not only for its own sake and the joy it engenders, but also because it brings a strong harmonizing and humanizing force into the child’s life, strengthening the will and capabilities for the future.
Practical arts, handwork, and crafts are an integral part of the required curriculum from Kindergarten through High School. All children learn to knit in first grade and crochet in second, creating many functional and colorful objects such as cases for flutes or pencil cases, pot holders, puppets, hats, etc. Decades before brain research could confirm it, Rudolf Steiner recognized that brain function was founded on body function. Learning to knit and crochet in the early grades leads to motor skills that metamorphose into lively thinking and enhanced intellectual development later on. Coordination, patience, perseverance, and imagination are also schooled through practical work. Activities such as woodworking, house building, gardening and shoemaking, included in the elementary school curriculum, give the children an understanding of how things come into being and a respect for the creations of others.
Adapted from Whatcom Hills Waldorf School, Bellingham, Washington.
Waldorf Graduate Facts
Waldorf graduates grow up to do a variety of things. In a recent study, 556 individuals who graduated between 1943 and 2005 responded to a survey that indicated:
- 94% of Waldorf high school graduates attended college.
- 47% majored in arts/humanities and 42% in sciences/math.
- 88% graduated or were about to graduate from college.
- 94% were self-reliant and highly valued self-confidence.
- 96% highly valued interpersonal relationships.
- 90% highly valued tolerance of other viewpoints.
- 89% were highly satisfied with choice of occupation.
- 91% practiced and valued life-long learning.
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