Steiner Schools in
What is Waldorf Education?
Waldorf education is a unique and distinctive approach to educating children that is practiced in Waldorf schools worldwide. Waldorf schools collectively form the largest, and quite possibly the fastest growing, group of independent private schools in the world. There is no centralised administrative structure governing all Waldorf schools; each is administratively independent, but there are established associations which provide resources, publish materials, sponsor conferences, and promote the movement.
The best overall statement on what is unique about Waldorf education is to be found in the stated goals of the schooling: "to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives".
The aim of Waldorf schooling is to educate the whole child, "head, heart and hands". The curriculum is as broad as time will allow, and balances academics subjects with artistic and practical activities.
Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning within each child. By freely using arts and activities in the service of teaching academics, an internal motivation to learn is developed in the students, doing away with the need for competitive testing and grading.
Some distinctive features of Waldorf education include the following:
The Waldorf curriculum is designed to be responsive to the various phases of a child's development. The era of human history being studied corresponds in many ways with the stage of development of the child. For example, pre-class 1 children are presented with fairy stories matching their dreamy state of consciousness, class 4 study the Vikings and Norse mythology which suit their war-like feelings, class 5 learn of the Greeks at the time their intellect is awakening and their sense of fair play is becoming obvious, and so on.
The main subjects, such as history, language arts, science and mathematics are, as mentioned, taught in main lesson blocks of two to three hours per day, with each block lasting from three to five weeks.
The total Waldorf curriculum has been likened to an ascending spiral: subjects are revisited several times, but each new exposure affords greater depth and new insights into the subject at hand.
A typical Lower School curriculum would likely look something like the following:
In 1919, Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian philosopher, scientist and artist, was invited to give a series of lectures to the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. As a result, the factory's owner, Emil Molt, asked Steiner to establish and lead a school for the children of the factory's employees. Steiner agreed to do so on four conditions:
Molt agreed to the conditions and, after a training period for the prospective teachers, die Freie Waldorfschule (the Free Waldorf School) was opened September 7, 1919.
Currently, there are more than 600 Waldorf schools in over 32 countries serving approximately 120,000 students. There are over 50 schools and Kindergartens currently operating in Australia, and about 125 in North America.
Consistent with his philosophy called Anthroposophy, Steiner designed a curriculum responsive to the developmental phases in childhood and nurturing of children's imagination. 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.
The main reason is that Waldorf schools honour and protect the wonder of childhood. Every effort is expended to make Waldorf schools safe, secure and nurturing environments for the children, and to protect their childhood's from harmful influences from the broader society.
Secondly, Waldorf education has a consistent philosophy of child development underlying the curriculum. All subjects are introduced in an age-appropriate fashion.
Finally, Waldorf schools produce graduates who are academically advantaged with respect to their public school counterparts, and who consistently gain admission to top universities.
Dr. Rudolf Steiner was a highly respected and well-published scientific, literary and philosophical scholar who was particularly known for his work on Goethe's scientific writings. He later came to incorporate his scientific investigations with his interest in spiritual development. He became a forerunner in the field of spiritual-scientific investigation for the modern 20th century individual.
His background in history and civilisations coupled with his observation in life gave the world the gift of Waldorf Education. It is a deeply insightful application of learning based on the Study of Humanity with developing consciousness of self and the surrounding world.
Waldorf education is deeply bound up with the oral tradition, typically beginning with the teacher telling the children fairy tales throughout kindergarten and first grade. The oral approach is used all through Waldorf education: mastery of oral communication is seen as being integral to all learning.
Reading instruction, as such, is deferred. Instead, writing is taught first. During the first grade the children explore how our alphabet came about, discovering, as the ancients did, how each letter's form evolved out of a pictograph. Writing thus evolves out of the children's art, and their ability to read likewise evolves as a natural and, indeed, comparatively effortless stage of their mastery of language.
Seasonal festivals serve to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature and of the cosmos. The festivals originated in ancient cultures, yet have been adapted over time. To join the seasonal moods of the year, in a festive way, benefits the inner life of the soul. Celebrating is an art. There is joy in the anticipation, the preparation, the celebration itself, and the memories.
The reasons for this have as much to do with the physical effects of the medium on the developing child as with the (to say the least) questionable content of much of the programming. Electronic media are believed by Waldorf teachers to seriously hamper the development of the child's imagination - a faculty which is believed to be central to the healthy development of the individual. Computer use by young children is also discouraged.
Waldorf teachers are not, by the way, alone in this belief. Several books have been written in recent years expressing concern with the effect of television on young children. See, for instance, Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander, or The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn.
While requirements within individual schools may vary, as a rule Class Teachers will have both their usual state teaching certification, as well as training from a recognised Waldorf teacher training college or institute. Some Waldorf training programs can also grant B.A. degrees in conjunction with Waldorf teaching certification. Typically, the course of study for teachers is one year full time, or two to three years part-time. This includes practice teaching in a Waldorf school under the supervision of experienced Waldorf teachers.
Rudolf Steiner, speaking in Oxford in 1922, defined "three golden rules" for teachers: "to receive the child in gratitude from the world it comes from; to educate the child with love; and to lead the child into the true freedom which belongs to man."
Between the ages of seven and fourteen, children learn best through acceptance and emulation of authority, just as in their earlier years they learned through imitation. In primary school, particularly in the lower grades, the child is just beginning to expand his or her experience beyond home and family. The class becomes a type of "family" as well, with its own authority figure "the teacher" in a role analogous to parent.
With this approach, the students and teachers come to know each other very well, and the teacher is able to find over the years the best ways of helping individual children in their schooling. The class teacher also becomes like an additional family member for most of the families in his/her class.
It's worth noting that this approach was the norm in the days of the "little red schoolhouse".
This is a very common concern among parents when they first hear about the "Class Teacher" method. However, in practice, the situation seems to arise very rarely, especially so when the teacher has been able to establish a relationship with the class right from the first grade. Incompatibility with a child is infrequent, as understanding the child's needs and temperament is central to the teacher's role and training. When problems of this sort do occur, the faculty as a whole works with the teacher and the family to determine and undertake whatever corrective action would be in the best interests of the child and of the class.
In the sense of subscribing to the beliefs of a particular religious denomination or sect, no. Waldorf schools, however, tend to be spiritually oriented and are based out of a generally Christian perspective. The historic festivals of Christianity, and of other major religions as well, are observed in the class rooms and in school assemblies. Classes in religious doctrine are not part of the Waldorf curriculum, and children of all religious backgrounds attend Waldorf schools. Spiritual guidance is aimed at awakening the child's natural reverence for the wonder and beauty of life.
Generally, transitions to public schools, when they are anticipated, are not problematical. The most common transition is from a class eight Waldorf school to a more traditional high school, and, from all reports, usually takes place without significant difficulties.
Transitions in the lower grades, particularly between the first and fourth grades, can potentially be more of a problem, because of the significant differences in the pacing of the various curriculums. A second grader from a traditional school will be further ahead in reading in comparison with a Waldorf-schooled second grader; however, the Waldorf-schooled child will be ahead in arithmetic.
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 Australia, 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.
Anthroposophy has its roots in the perceptions, already gained, into the spiritual world. Yet these are no more than the roots. The branches, leaves, blossoms, and fruits of Anthroposophy grow into all the fields of human life and action.
Waldorf schools hesitate to categorise children, particularly in terms such as "slow" or "gifted". A given child's weaknesses in one area, whether cognitive, emotional or physical, will usually be balanced by strengths in another area. It is the teacher's job to try to bring the child's whole being into balance.
A child having difficulty with the material might be given extra help by the teacher or by parents; tutoring might also be arranged. Correspondingly, a child who picked up the material quickly might be given harder problems of the same sort to work on, or might be asked to help a child who was having trouble.
To the best of our knowledge, no controlled studies have been done on these questions, but anecdotal evidence collected from various sources would seem to suggest that Waldorf graduates tend to score toward the high end on standardised examinations. As far as higher education goes, Waldorf graduates have been accepted as students at, and have graduated from, some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in Australia.
Most simply put, eurhythmy is a dance-like art form in which music or speech are expressed in bodily movement; specific movements correspond to particular notes or sounds. It has also been called "visible speech" or "visible song". Eurhythmy is part of the curriculum of all Waldorf schools, and while it often puzzles parents new to Waldorf education, children respond to its simple rhythms and exercises which help them strengthen and harmonise their body and their life forces; later, the older students work out elaborate eurhythmic representations of poetry, drama and music, thereby gaining a deeper perception of the compositions and writings. Eurhythmy enhances coordination and strengthens the ability to listen. When children experience themselves like an orchestra and have to keep a clear relationship in space with each other, a social strengthening also results.
Eurhythmy is usually taught by a specialist who has been specifically trained in eurhythmy, typically for at least four years. In addition to pedagogical eurhythmy, there are also therapeutic ("curative") and performance-oriented forms of the art.
This article is based on one
originating from Lefty's site.
I have altered it slightly so it is more Australian oriented.