What parents should know about the Waldorf Education system
You might be more familiar with traditional, progressive, and Montessori education and are wondering what exactly is Waldorf education. As parents, you want the best education for your child, so there’s no harm in learning more about Waldorf education principles and see if this is a match for your child. Let’s go into more detail below.
The man behind Waldorf education
The philosophy and ideas behind Waldorf education come from Rudolf Steiner. This is the reason why this education system is also referred to as Steiner education. Don’t be confused as these names are used interchangeably. Steiner founded anthroposophy, a philosophy or system that uses natural means to achieve optimum physical, spiritual, and mental health.
In 1919, the first Steiner school opened to the children of the employees working for the Waldorf-Astoria cigar factory. Emil Molt, the managing director at that time, asked Steiner to found the school. Since then, Steiner education promotes human values and experience to stimulate teaching and learning.
What does Waldorf or Steiner education teach?
Waldorf education encourages co-education. They accept and welcome children regardless of their abilities or lack of. They also do not discriminate based on cultural background, social class, and religion.
What the Steiner ethos prioritizes is the creative learning environment where children can learn at their own pace. More importantly, the Waldorf education curriculum focuses on making learning fun so that children can truly enjoy the richness of their childhood. Students learn at their own pace without any pressure.
The Waldorf education philosophy is grounded on taking into account the totality or wholeness of a child. It’s not just about academics, but equal focus and attention are given to the child’s physical, cultural, emotional, and spiritual needs. The Waldorf education system believes that this is the way to tap into the different phases of child development. Moreover, the Waldorf school curriculum balances the lessons between practical, artistic, and intellectual.
Here are some of the other qualities of Steiner or Waldorf education:
- Children are encouraged to learn through fun and real experience that helps them love learning and be enthusiastic in school.
- It believes that imagination and artistry are both integral parts of learning.
- In most European countries, this type of education is part of the mainstream provision and is state-funded.
- It has built a reputation for producing well-rounded students, has a sense of self, and confident in their diverse capabilities, which all lay the groundwork for them to be responsible citizens in the future.
What are the characteristics of Waldorf early childhood education?
It is believed that the development of each child depends on what the child learns and experiences in his/her first seven years of life. A child who lives in a positive atmosphere filled with love, warmth, affection, and guidance has a better chance at healthy development. This means that both parents and the Waldorf educator have to work together to create this positive environment for the child.
Both parent and educator should be role models. In school, Waldorf educators should also take it upon themselves to continue studying and learning how to better themselves through artistic, practical, and meditative activities. It will also help if the educators are immersed in anthroposophical studies to be able to teach the Steiner ethos properly.
In the nursery and kindergarten levels, the curriculum includes (but not limited to) parent-child programs, home care programs, and other similar programs that help promote healthy learning and development in children. This is to make sure that the child learns both in school and at home. Such programs will include activities and lessons that will promote social, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth in children.
This Waldorf education method is in place to prioritize the dignity of childhood in young kids, to allow these children to learn at their own pace but still guiding them on age-specific developmental needs. It usually starts with building the will in children to learn through physical activity until age 3 and then moving on to exploring imaginative play in the toddler years. Once the child has entered kindergarten, the cognitive approach follows.
Here’s a rundown of the characteristics of early learning under the Waldorf education system:
- Creates a loving and accepting environment for a child
- Provides opportunities for children to initiate playing alone or with others
- By promoting self-initiated play, kids are more immersed in what they’re doing, thus they’re able to absorb and learn from the experience better
- Encourages children to familiarize themselves with the social and physical environment they’re in; this can be exploring movement and sensory impressions
- Allows children to take on challenges and risks that promote learning through experience
- Shows children the importance of real experiences rather than learning through gadgets and digital apps
- Promotes activities that foster creativity, such as music, drawing, rhythmic games, painting, clay modeling, etc.
- Boosts imagination in children
- Teaches life processes that show children the capacity of humans through practical work; this includes cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc.
- Shows the importance of interrelationships through predictable routines throughout the day; this provides children a sense of security and assurance
What are the development phases?
The focus of the development is in the physical body of a child. The child learns to walk, speak, think, and learn to control his/her movements, including the fine and gross motor skills. Waldorf kindergarten provides an unstructured learning environment where children’s imagination can run free. This is to prepare a child for the next development phase.
This is the second phase, and the focus here is on social and emotional development. First, Waldorf educators help the students learn through their senses, which means subjects and lessons are taught in a way they’re experienced. After this, the cognitive skills are up next where children learn about the usual school subjects like arithmetic, reading, writing, geography, language, and history. When a child develops these skills, he/she will have more control of his/her emotions as well as be able to think more analytically and critically.
The last phase focuses on the emotions through experiencing the self and environment. The students are now more in tune with themselves, their abilities, and their capabilities. They’re also more aware of their environment and how they can thrive in different situations set before them.
Waldorf educators try to connect with them by encouraging their own interests and supporting their abilities. With this nurturing environment, students learn more about discipline and how they can use their analytical and abstract thinking to solve problems.
Waldorf education and the complete child
If you’re a parent and wondering how your child can benefit from Waldorf education apart from what has been explained above, here are some other things to consider:
- Educators base lessons on the interest of children. This results in improved involvement among the students, which makes the kids all the more enthusiastic in learning.
- When young kids find joy and satisfaction in learning, they become motivated to learn and discover more.
- Teachers also pique the interest of students by providing learning materials where students can express their own thoughts and opinions, and then, of course, respecting and accepting those opinions. This teaches young children that their voices are heard and what they say matter, leading to a boost in self-confidence and self-esteem.
- The brain isn’t always the only one at play here as children use what they feel to learn and go about their studies.
- Waldorf schools celebrate different festivals that teach children to celebrate various aspects of life aspects and cultures. This allows teachers, students, and parents to celebrate as a community.
- There is balanced learning all the way from the head, heart, to the hands.
Waldorf education vs Montessori
In some ways, the Waldorf and Montessori education systems are similar. However, the differences between the two are worth noting and might just be the game-changer for parents who are trying to choose the best school for their child.
- The child, as an individual and creative being, is respected.
- The child must be protected from the overuse of technology as well as modern-day stresses.
- There is an emphasis on the whole child rather than a strict academic curriculum.
- The child is taught and shown the importance of nature; materials only use natural material, not plastics.
- The needs of a child are the core basis of the education system.
- Children enjoy immersing in a variety of art forms, such as dance, music, painting, theater, etc. Artistry is always very much encouraged.
The real differences:
- Waldorf early education prioritizes imaginative play and the arts. School days are mostly about arts, music, and make-believe play. Montessori early education starts with imaginative play, too, but gives children the opportunity to practice and real-life work, like cooking and cleaning.
- Under the Waldorf system, young children learn in groups, while the academic subjects are taught in a more traditional way (children at desks) but still in groups. Children get to work with the same group for six years. Under the Montessori system, all lessons are individualized, and work will depend on what a child wants to do (teachers guide when necessary).
- The Waldorf refers to study as “play” in young children, which is often based on a child’s imagination coming to life. This is how a teacher works with the student; storytelling incorporates fantasy. Using the materials will also involve a lot of imagination. On the other hand, imaginative play is considered as more of a creative process under the Montessori education. There is more emphasis on the real world. Studying is called “work” because what they do is deemed and respected as practical activities that will equip them in real life.
As you can see, every education system and method vary. Waldorf education may work for your child but not for another kid. When it comes to choosing the best school for your child, ideally, you’ll want to get your child involved in the process in some way. Check what your child is interested in and what type of environment he/she thrives in.
As a parent, you’ll also have to look into the principles and values you want for your child and see if the education system represents these. Whatever school you choose, don’t just leave it to the school to educate your child. Partner with educators so your child can learn at school and at home.