“Waldorf Students come closer to realizing their potential than practically anyone I know.”
Joseph Wizenbaum MIT Professor, Author of “Computer Power & Human Reason”
Drama, music, painting, drawing, sculpture, handwork crafts, and other kinds of creative work are integrated into the curriculum, including mathematics, language and science. Waldorf education awakens imagination and creativity, bringing vitality and wholeness to learning. No other educational approach makes such central use of multiple intelligences and learning through the arts as does Waldorf education.
The Class Teacher
The Class Teacher takes the same group of children through eight years of elementary school (grades 1-8), teaching all the main subjects. For the teacher, this means having time to get to know each child and helping them to discover their own gifts. Teachers also face the enormous challenge of working with a new curriculum each year and learning along with their students.
The Morning “Main Lesson”
The Main Lesson is a two-hour period at the beginning of the school day in which substantive material is presented. Subjects are taught in “blocks” lasting three to four weeks, then “rested”, often to be continued later in the year. This approach allows successively in-depth exposure to a subject, a periodic change of subject and pace, and time to digest material.
Textbooks are not used in the elementary grades. Instead, the teacher creates each lesson presentation and the children make their own individual books for each subject taught. These books, often artistic and beautiful, encourage self-expression, understanding of the subject, appreciation of beauty, and are an important way in which art is integrated into every subject. Lesson books from Waldorf schools are often admired for their intellectual and artistic quality and have been exhibited at American and European art and science museums. Under the title “Education as Art” the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City exhibited student work from the Rudolf Steiner School in New York in 1979, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art showed work from Highland Hall Waldorf School in 1981. In 1979, within a period of six weeks, over 50,000 visitors attended a similar exhibit at Stockholm’s Lilljevachs Exhibition Hall.
The letters are learned in the same way they originated in the course of human history. Men perceived, then made pictures, and out of the pictures abstracted signs and symbols. First graders hear stories, draw pictures, and discover the letters in the gestures of the pictures. This process is accompanied by much phonetic work in songs, poems, and games that help to establish a joyful and living experience of language. While different from the current emphasis on early reading, this time-tested methodology develops a lifelong interest in language and literacy.
“If I had a child of school age, I would send him or her to one of the Waldorf Schools.”
The sciences are taught experientially – that is, the teacher sets up an experiment, calls upon the children to observe carefully, ponder, discuss, and come to the conclusion, law, formula, etc. Throughout this process rigorous, independent thinking, sound judgment and the ability to form searching questions are developed.
Two Foreign Languages
When possible, two foreign languages are taught beginning in the first grade giving the children insights into and facility with other cultures. The languages vary according to the location of the schools.
Woodworking, practical crafts, gardening and handwork are integral to the curriculum. Students begin in kindergarten to learn basic skills for shaping wood, baking, planting and simple sewing. In the early grades, children create many functional and colorful objects like cases for their wood flutes or pencil boxes, potholders, puppets, winter scarves, etc. Decades before brain research could confirm it; Rudolf Steiner recognized that brain function was founded on body function. Through today’s research, we now know learning to knit and crochet in the early grades leads to physical coordination, patience, perseverance, and the ability to brings ideas into reality.
Music education is not always available to children in non-Waldorf schools but vocal and instrumental music permeates and is integral to life in a Waldorf school. The joy of song and movement are part of every day in early childhood classes (ages 3-6). In the first and second grades children sing and learn to play the flute. In the third grade stringed instruments such as the lyre are introduced, while the fourth graders have the challenge of learning to play a violin, cello or viola. The fifth graders join a class orchestra that included wind instruments. Music is taught in a Waldorf school not only for the joy it engenders, but also because it develops a strong harmonizing effect into the life of the class as a whole.
An Extraordinary Humanities Curriculum
The humanities curriculum begins in second and third grade with the study of mythology and legends and involves the children in higher grades with the full development of our cultural heritage. Students study the Old Testament of the Bible in grade three, Norse mythology in grade four, the ancient cultures of India, Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Greece in grade five. By being exposed to these cultures through their legends and literature, the children gain an appreciation for the diversity of mankind. By the close of eighth grade students have considered the development of civilization from Greece and Rome through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Age of Exploration, etc.—up to the present day.
The pedagogy in Waldorf schools is faculty run. Paid staff members administer business operations and enrollment coordination. Volunteers operate the non-profit governing bodies (boards of directors) that support Waldorf schools.
What Waldorf Parents Are Saying
“…finally, we found a healthy balance for the fast lane.”
“Waldorf children don’t think out of the box—they don’t even know that a box exists.”
“I love the reverence for the children.”
“We like the loving nurturing atmosphere throughout the whole school.”
FYI For Fun
Celebrities who send (or have sent) their children to Waldorf schools: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, James Taylor and Carly Simon, George Lucas, Paul Newman, Rosie O’Donnel, Glen Fry from the Eagles, John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel. Jennifer Anniston, George Lucas and Sandra Bullock are graduates themselves.
“Unimpressed with the education afforded blacks in Hempstead’s nominally integrated public schools, the Chenaults sent their kids to a small private school, the Waldorf School of Garden City, N.Y. ‘It created a useful balance for me.”
– Former Waldorf School Pupil and President & CEO of American Express, Kenneth Chenault
Chenault attended Waldorf school from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“As early as middle school, real qualities of leadership became obvious in Ken,” recalls George Rose, one of his teachers. “But at the same time, there was a certain quiet within him that won everyone’s respect.”
– Business Week December 21, 1998 issue