An Introduction to Waldorf Education:
“Waldorf education addresses the child as no other education does. Learning,
whether in chemistry, mathematics, history or geography, is imbued with life
and so with joy, which is the only true basis for later study. The textures
and colors of nature, the accomplishments and struggles of humankind fill the
Waldorf students' imaginations and the pages of their beautiful books.
Education grows into a union with life that serves them for decades. By the
time they reach us at the college and university level, these students are
grounded broadly and deeply and have a remarkable enthusiasm for learning.
Such students possess the eye of the discoverer, and the compassionate heart
of the reformer which, when joined to a task, can change the planet.”
-Arthur Zajonc, Ph.D.
Professor of Physics, Amherst College
What is Waldorf Education?
(The following description of Waldorf education is courtesy of the Rudolf Steiner
School in New York City.)
The heart of the Waldorf approach is the conviction that education is an art.
Its goal is to present life to the children in such a way that they are
filled with wonder and enthusiasm. This demands that the presentation of
subject matter, be it math, history, or physics, must be alive and speak to
the child's experience. To truly educate a child, the HEART and WILL must be
reached as well as the MIND. The intention is not merely to instruct, but to
inspire and motivate each child's creative forces from within; to lead the
child to a balanced development of clear and precise thought, a rich and
healthy emotional life, and a developed power of will which allows worthy
application of his or her thoughts and feelings to practical challenges in
Children pass through three basic stages of cognitive development and the
Waldorf curriculum is designed to engage the abilities of the growing child
during each of these stages. In the preschool this is accomplished through
guided creative play; in the elementary school through the imaginative and
artistic presentation of material by the class teacher; and in high school
through challenging the student's awakening capacity for independent thought.
Thus, the uniqueness of the Waldorf system lies not so much in what the
children are taught (they pursue a rigorous classical curriculum) but in how
We are cautious about introducing abstract intellectual concepts too soon,
aiming instead to bring the intellectual faculty to full flower in a
deliberately gradual way. We believe that many dilemmas of the modern world
are the direct result of intellectual knowledge that has outstripped our
capacities for empathy, morality, and creativity in solving problems. Waldorf
education is designed to help children develop strengths for a lifetime.
The Waldorf philosophy recognizes a basic need in children up to the age of
fourteen or so for genuine authority, rooted in love and respect by the child
for the teacher, and in respect by the teacher for the child. This need for
authority leads to one of the most distinctive features of Waldorf education,
the Class Teacher.
In the elementary school years, the class teacher ideally advances with the
students from first through eighth grades, and the children grow in
confidence and security as their teacher's knowledge of them grows. The class
teacher presents the main academic subjects, coordinates with the special
subject teachers, and provides the link between home and school.
The class teacher is able to bring continuity to the curriculum. Through
intimate knowledge of the group of children, the class teacher is also able
to select, emphasize, and draw upon those aspects of a discipline that best
address the needs and interests of the class.
The need for independence awakens in children of high school age as naturally
as did the need for authority in the elementary years. In the high school the
class teacher's role is then assumed by subject teachers, whose authority
rests on knowledge, skill, and experience in special fields.
The students in grades one through twelve begin every day with another
distinctive feature of Waldorf education--the Main Lesson. This is a long,
uninterrupted morning lesson, which is taught by the class teacher in the
elementary school and by the subject teachers in the high school. There are
eight to ten main lesson subjects or blocks, of approximately one month's
duration, in the academic year. During each main lesson block, a major
academic subject is presented and studied intensively.
This system allows time for the students to penetrate the subject with
unusual depth and to complete a significant piece of work. In addition to the
presentation of the subject for the day and the review and discussion that go
with it, ample time is set aside to enliven the subject with poetry,
expository writing, painting, drawing, or drama. After one topic has been
fully explored, a new main lesson block is introduced. As the students
progress through the school, main lesson subjects are taken up again and
again at more complex levels of study.
A good part of the main lesson is devoted to students' individual work--the
Main Lesson Book. These books record, in writing and drawing, the path of the
students' experience with a particular subject.Each student thus creates his
or her own textbook for every subject and works on it at home, amplifying,
condensing, restating, transcribing--actions that encourage and reinforce the
learning process. There is room for pictures, colorful margins, illuminated
letters. Good penmanship is worth working for because the child wants the
book to be beautiful--a creation as well as a record. The artist in the child
is touched, and the creative energies become a powerful impetus for all
The main lesson in elementary school is followed by an outdoor recess after
which there are two 40-minute classes in subjects such as Spanish or English
and math skills, which require regular repetition. After lunch the children
devote themselves to fine and practical arts, gardening, handwork, movement,
and sports. What is being studied in the main lesson is often integrated into
the curriculum of special subjects. Thus, the rhythm of the day starts with
the work that requires intellectual focus, and ends with the more physical
activities that engage the body and hands. In structuring the year, class
teachers will order the main lessons so that the subjects unfold in a varied
and orderly sequence. In the high school, main lesson is followed by three
subject classes in the morning. The afternoon periods include practical and
fine arts and physical education as well laboratory classes related to
science main lessons.
In a Waldorf school the arts are an integral part of the curriculum. All
students learn to paint and draw, beginning in kindergarten. Sculpture also
begins in kindergarten with the modeling of figures out of colored beeswax
and progresses to working with clay in the elementary school, stone and metal
in high school. All the children sing, play the recorder, learn to read
music, and in third year begin stringed instruments. Each year, every grade
presents a play that relates to its academic program.
The practical arts--handcrafts and woodwork--balance and complement the
students' academic and artistic work. By learning to knit, crochet, sew and
work with wood and clay, students develop manual dexterity, patience,
coordination, skill, appreciation for natural materials, a feeling for color,
form, and design, and a personal sense of achievement.
Each art follows a sequence of development from year to year and all of them
supplement and reinforce the main lesson curriculum. Artistic activity is
woven into the entire fabric of each subjectand is used to teach all subjects.
A school fulfills its function to the extent that its teaching is transformed
into creative capacities for life. Waldorf graduates find that their learning
has become a part of them, a resource upon which to draw, a guide to full and
responsive living. Because of our rich curriculum and innovative teaching
methods, our students develop a love of learning, a depth of understanding,
and a distinctive individuality. Learning includes the acquisition of skills,
abilities, and information; but learning also becomes a lifetime voyage of
n teaching others we teach ourselves" - Proverb