Waldorf Education | Looking In
If you are looking for a whole child based method of education then the Waldorf Education Method may be the perfect one for your child. Waldorf Education is believed by many experts to be the best method of education available today. Howard Gardner, professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, believes that the Waldorf method offers children the best opportunity to meet their full potential. Many college professors have observed that Waldorf graduates stand out amongst other students for being the most thoughtful and grounded individuals they have met, and Waldorf students consistently gain admission to top colleges. It is for these and other many other reasons that parents choose to send their children to a Waldorf School.
This education method was developed in Germany by a philosopher named Rudolph Steiner who believed “Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings, who are able themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.” The first Waldorf School was founded in 1919 and there are currently 900 Waldorf Schools worldwide and that number is expanding.
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."
A Waldorf Education typically begins at the Kindergarten level for ages 3-6. There are also playgroups for younger children and parent-child groups as well. The mixed age Waldorf classroom provides a warm nurturing learning environment for the young student.
Upon entering the early childhood classroom the first thing that might stand out are the calming yet beautiful aesthetics. The soothing textured walls which are often painted peach using a layered painting technique that gives visual texture and softness. These unique walls are one of the many ways that Waldorf Educators make the Waldorf classroom a beautiful, nurturing and calming environment for children. From the painted walls down to the naturally shaped wooden blocks, no classroom environmental detail is left to chance. The teachers reinforce this comforting tone by being warm and friendly themselves and by seeking to bond with each student on a deep personal level. Waldorf teachers visit the home of a new student before the first day of school in an effort to begin this relationship. With the child feeling safe and nurtured, they are in the best position to begin a journey of exploration and learning.
Materials within the early childhood classroom are primarily made of natural materials such as wood, wool and cotton. Not only are these materials beautiful to look at, touch and hold but they have varying weight and textures in comparison to plastic, man made materials which are more commonly used in traditional classrooms. Careful attention is paid not only to the choice of materials but also to the volume of materials, too many will overwhelm the child and create a disorganized over stimulating classroom, while just the right amount of materials will encourage imaginative play without overwhelming the child with too many choices.
With a varying age range students are allowed to socialize with not only children their own age but with variety of ages. In this setting, younger students learn from older students and older students share what they have learned with their younger classmates. Older students are given greater responsibility based on their ability and maturity. Children are aware of their progress within this group as each year as they grow, learn and mature they can see their own progress. This builds confidence.
Waldorf Educators believe that the natural outdoor environment is simply the most ideal place for young children to be. Waldorf students spend a great deal of time in the great outdoors, developing gross motor skills, engaging in social interactions and experiencing the seasons. When Waldorf students are not experiencing the great outdoors they often bring the outdoors in with a curriculum that has a major focus on nature and the seasons. This attention to the natural environment allows students to experience the world for themselves. They are not extracted from the natural environment by entering the classroom, but rather they are embracing it.
One of the benefits of outdoor play, aside from the obvious health benefits, is the first hand experience with the physical world. For instance, when a child spends time pulling a wagon they are not only experiencing what it feels like to pull something and the inherent joy that it holds, but building a foundation of knowledge that can later be applied in the study of physics.
Around the age of 6, or when the child is considered able, they will then enter 1st grade. The elementary Waldorf student will travel up the grades 1-8 with the same teacher, this allows a strong bond to develop between the teacher and student, student to student and for the class as a whole. This bond often becomes a lifetime connection for all involved. Having the same teacher through these years avoids the student and teacher having to get to know each other each school year as happens in a traditional classroom.
The Waldorf Approach to education has its roots in literature, art and a holistic approach to learning. A story which begins as a literature lesson becomes the jumping off point for a lesson in history, math, art, music etc. Elementary students engage in a multisensory approach to learning when, for instance students toss balls to each other in a rhythm to assist them in memorizing the multiplication tables or take the time to draw a scene from a history lesson with great attention to detail and aesthetics. Here is a description by a Waldorf teacher describing her approach to teaching place math:
“For example, right now I am teaching place value to second graders. I have told them the story of the Counting King. He is very, very generous and very rich in jewels. He has hired some elves to help him organize his counting house so that he knows how much he has to give. “
In addition to teaching traditional subjects such as math, English and history, the standard curriculum includes: knitting, crochet, sewing, cross stitch, basic weaving, toy making and woodworking, singing, pentatonic flute, recorder, string instruments, wind, brass and percussion instruments. Foreign language instruction begins in first grade and includes two secondary languages. Wet-on-wet watercolor painting begins in kindergarten; form drawing, beeswax and clay modeling while perspective drawings are also standard activities. Finger rhymes, Eurythmy Dance, gymnastics and group games are all standard aspects of a Waldorf Education.
While on the surface the Waldorf classroom and method may seem old fashioned with its natural and handmade materials, its focus on traditional nursery rhymes and folk tales, and avoidance of technology, this is deceptive. The environment is carefully designed in such a way to bring out the most of every child because it stimulates the greatest level of imagination, gross and fine motor skills and beneficial social interaction.
Beyond the classroom community and bond with the Waldorf Teacher, there is also a tight knit school community; Waldorf schools encourage a feeling of belonging, not only to students but to parents and families as well. There are a great many year-round activities for families such as seasonal festivals that bring the school together and create a warm connected environment for all involved. When a new baby is born into a Waldorf family other community members will often offer to cook meals and help with older siblings.
There is even an international Waldorf community with shared newsletters and networking with listings for house swaps and services. Waldorf teachers travel from foreign countries to teach at various Waldorf Schools around the world, lending an international element to the schools.
You will be hard pressed to find a healthier nutritional program for a child than that of a Waldorf School. Wholesome and mostly organic foods are the mainstay of the Waldorf Classroom. Waldorf parents are also extremely health conscious and share recipes with one another, contributing healthy meals and ingredients for the classroom on a regular basis and for special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Students and teachers cook regular meals that may include soup, bread, applesauce, rice, oatmeal as well as other healthy foods. Waldorf meals are eaten slowly with great attention paid to table manners and social graces.
Waldorf students avoid clothing with commercial images while attending school as it is distracting. It is also believed that media exposure be limited as much as possible. With the goal of raising children to discover the best self they can be, media is seen as a distraction and deviation. Even television that is meant to educate could never be as beneficial to a child as true organic play, quiet rest or interaction with people.
Woolies, or wool long johns are a favorite of many Waldorf Educators and parents living in cold climates. Since outdoor play is greatly encouraged on a year round basis, wool underwear provides children the opportunity to play outside in colder climates. Woolies are often purchased in the fall and worn through the winter, then passed down to younger siblings or traded between parents. For children that are not comfortable with wool, there is also silk underwear as well.
Rain gear is another “must have” on the Waldorf parent’s shopping list; this includes rain paints, rain coats and rain boots. Children are not inhibited by cold or rain when it comes to opportunities to explore the world. Stomping in puddles can be looked upon as an early science experiment for educators and pure fun for kids. Listening to the sound of the different types of rain can be seen as a lesson in science or an opportunity to relax to the symphonic sounds of nature. Waldorf children can experience every nuance that nature has to offer; they are all wondrous and should not be missed.
The benefits of having a child attend a Waldorf school are great and lasting for not only the student but the family as well. There is an enormous positive influence which takes place when a family allows the Waldorf influence into their lives. Home life becomes a gradually more peaceful experience, benefiting the entire family.
Waldorf Education provides students with a nurturing, whole-child based method of learning and living. It gives children the foundation they need to lead productive lives that not only benefit themselves and their families but in a greater way, the world itself.
© 2012 Tracy Lynn Conway
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