This is another school system or educational philosophy that might be known to some but surprisingly isn’t widely known: Waldorf Schools. It has a lot of similarities to Montessori, and is often compared directly to Montessori, but does stand alone in its ideology.
Waldorf schools, or Steiner schools as they are also called, were designed and developed by an Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century. He was an interesting man who strongly believed in science and spirituality. While you may not agree with his personal beliefs and ideologies, his educational ideas were great and have stood the test of time. (I personally do not believe in his personal beliefs and ideologies, but I am thankful for his educational philosophies.) Steiner believed in a unity of spirit, soul, and body. Waldorf schools reflect that in their common theme of heart, head, and hands.
The first Waldorf School was opened in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. A century later, it has become the largest independent school movement in the world. There are about 1,200 independent Waldorf schools, 2,000 kindergartens and 646 centers for special education located in 75 countries. Germany is the country with the largest number of Waldorf schools, followed by America.
CONNECTION TO THE ENVIRONMENT
Both Montessori and Waldorf schools believe children need a connection to the environment. How they differ is that Montessori focuses on real-life experiences and Waldorf emphasizes the child’s imagination and fantasy.
KEY COMPONENTS OF WALDORF EDUCATION
The key component of a Waldorf education is child-centered and teacher-guided instruction, focusing on the child. While Maria Montessori created materials for the children to work, play, discover with, Waldorf wants the students to create their own materials. Imagination and creativity are distinctive characteristics. Being able to use what is around you as playthings or learning tools is applauded.
The arts are integrated into every lesson and assignment in a Waldorf classroom. This is exciting to me! I love the arts and think they are so important in education. And you can’t talk about the arts with Waldorf schools without talking about “eurythmy”. This is integral to the core subjects. Eurythmy was created by Steiner and is a performance art. It is a Greek word which means “harmonious rhythm”. It attempts to make visible the tone and feeling of music and speech. Eurythmy helps to develop concentration, self-discipline, and a sense of beauty and the lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms. It might sound a little weird but it is beautiful to watch and amazing to see how it aids the educational retention of the students.
Here is an video example of eurythmy.
Before the age of 7 the focus is on imaginary play, learning through imitation and doing. Although the curriculum is rich with activities in language, music and play, written language and the other academic subjects are not taught.
In a Waldorf preschool, you may see children singing songs, painting, baking bread, listening to a story, using puppets, working in a garden or building with blocks. This is to allow children to use their imaginations more fully. They try to make it a peaceful and unhurried environment.
FOR OLDER GRADES
For the older grades other academic subjects are taught and foreign language is started in first grade. Assessment is continual and tests don’t happen until high school and even then are infrequent. They believe that “standardized testing is not an accurate or complete reflection of a student’s knowledge, intellectual capacities, or ability to learn.”
DO YOU HAVE TO STAY IN WALDORF SCHOOLS ONCE YOU START?
Many children do well in a Waldorf setting. But sometimes you might have to move as a family and a Waldorf school is not available. Some parents worry that their children might not transition well, but this is not the case. Students can easily transition to a mainstream school if they wish. In the earlier grades there might need to be some “catchup” as reading and writing is a graduated approach. For older students, it is often found that they are ahead of grade levels, or have the skills needed to fill any gaps they might have.
It truly is an interesting and fun method of teaching and, in being so child centered, it encourages children to learn, to explore and to develop the skills necessary, rather than being content driven. This is a style of learning I am drawn to, not only for myself but for my children. When I am in a classroom, I love to incorporate as much of these skills as possible.
Here are some other vlogs on school systems that I have done: