Waldorf Education: Educational Theories Defined, Part 1

Part of a series Edu Theories Defined

It sounds kind of like a type of nut. Waldorf, walnut, whatever. And honestly, when I first read the word I thought it just sounded tight laced. I imagined a glass castle of a school with children in navy blue uniforms. No offense Steiner.

Waldorf education is based on the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. His educational theory is a holistic approach to learning. “Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning.” (Source 1) Waldorf along with other critics of the public, information-packed schooling system see their holistic approach to learning as an alternative education, the art of learning.

Those who follow the Waldorf education take on a whole philosophy: development of a child into an individual with a strong understanding of their own moral, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual self. Steiner called his philosophy “anthroposophy.” Operating from this philosophy, Steiner taught that the spiritual world can be directly experienced through inner development. It is greatly influenced by the humanistic idea that there are three distinct aspects to a human being: spirit, soul, and body. Human development, Steiner taught happens in three distinct stages: imitation (0-7 years), imagination (7-14 years), and truth, discrimination, and judgment (14-21 years). During these stages one aspect of the human being is focused on as predominant, and there are specific rules on how to educate and foster understanding during each stage. Source 1, 2, 3, 4

The first classroom in a Waldorf school is designed to look like a home where the activities conducted are structured to mimic those that happen at home. The children in a Waldorf preschool or kindergarten are not stimulated by TV, computers, or any electric toy. They are asked to gather toys from nature like pine cones, acorns, wood, stones, etc. This is to further connect the child at this stage in development with their physical self. Source 1, 2

Photo Source Unknown

Photo Source Unknown

During the second stage of development, students are taught by one teacher ideally for their whole course of elementary education. They are taught abstract ideas in a way that encourages them to reach out into the world for knowledge rather than in a way that forces them to receive knowledge. This stage’s label is “imagination” and therefore all the subjects are approached with the “imagination of an artist.” In teaching science, for example, students are given the opportunity to engage with the natural world and to express what they find instead of being forced to memorize scientific facts. (Think Sid the Science Kid) Source 1, 2

The goal of the last stage of development, “Truth, discrimination, and judgment,” is to provide the individual with the opportunity to specialize in an area of study based on their own interests. It is also important that the adolescent continue learning from different teachers across multiple subjects in order to build a broad view of the world, personal ideals, and emerge as a respectable adult. Source 1, 2

Also, one can agree with the fundamentals of Waldorf’s approach to child development and the importance of guarding the imagination and the mind against harmful stimulation while not adhering to Steiner’s anthroposophy philosophy. Many home, public, and private school teachers have successfully incorporated Waldorf ideas like circle time, learning through nature, and guarding imaginative play.

“Waldorf allows children to have a true childhood through nature and playing. It protects childhood and simplicity through relationships with seasons, nature and festivals. And by waiting to teach academics until the child has completed their job of mastering movement and their bodies.” Quote from the Waldorf Connection.

More Waldorf Reading:

Articles quoted in this post:

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