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The Waldorf Education Method

By Esther Andrews

From time to time, I find it valuable to inform you about a method that many people believe is effective. Such is the Waldorf Method. I have asked around and found that many people aren't familiar with this method, and there are some very profound ideas that we can apply in our work with out children. Some of the ideas, though, I simply cannot agree with, and I will mention these as we proceed.

The Waldorf Education Method started by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and scientist, in 1919. Today, more than 900 Waldorf schools in 83 countries exist. In North America Waldorf has been available since 1928. The Waldorf Education philosophy is based on 3 phases of childhood development:

The first 7 years in a child life: the baby seems to be helpless and his learning is not apparent. However, it is the stage when the child is totally open to external influences and absorbs information the fastest. In this stage the child learns to walk, to talk and to think. The child does that without instruction, mostly by imitation. According to Waldorf the child imitates his parents and others and adapts their values and attitudes in addition to the way they talk and their gestures.

The second period of seven years: at this age the child loses his baby teeth, at this age the child is developing a vivid imagination, and becomes more ready for formal education. Now the child develops the ability to think more logically.

The third period of 7 years: here we look at adolescence. Now the child is on a search for the truth, and becomes an individual thinker. In this period, idealism develops, and a sense of self that is still quite insecure.

Waldorf Preschool
Here the teacher engages the kids in activities that are easily imitates, like baking, painting, gardening. The changing seasons are noted and the festivals of the year celebrated.

The method engages heavily in the nurturing of the child's imagination. The teacher tells stories and encourages free play. By playing out their own creations, the children develop their imaginations and deepen their experience of life.

Toys are made out of natural materials, like wood, cotton, silk, shells and pine cones. The children collect these from nature by themselves, and use them to play and decorate their environment. The dolls you can find at a Waldorf school don't have a detailed face, so that the kids use their imagination to fill in the details.

This is a loving environment that fosters the development of creativity.

Waldorf Grades 1 - 8
Now the child is ready to start his abstract learning, writing reading and arithmetic. The knowledge itself is important, but the process of learning is as important. The teacher strives to create a safe environment for the child to express himself and learn. Usually in the Waldorf school, the teacher will accompany the child throughout his first 8 years.

During these years, the children engage in activities that develop the imagination and creativity, like drawing, paining, poetry recitation, drama, singing and playing. The teacher strives to develop the imagination of an artist in the child. Even subjects that are not artistic by nature, are taught in an imaginative and artistic way. Everything a child uses, from a pencil to the furniture in the classroom is designed to be functional and beautiful.

Waldorf High School
Truthfulness, thoughtfulness and consideration are now the main focus. Now, after the age of 14, the student can search for these qualities in his teachers. The teacher now assumes the role of a mentor, as opposed to a figure of authority only. The student now is allowed an individual preference as to the subjects he chooses and the teachers he gravitates to.

The Waldorf method seeks to engage the whole child, while learning. For example, when reciting the multiplication table, the children pass beanbags among themselves and clap. This, according to Waldorf theory, unifies the faculties of speaking, rhythm, hand-eye coordination and cooperation.

The Waldorf Method is based on serenity and calm. It is not based on a rigorous academic program, it rather provides "education with a soul." It claims to educate the head, the heart and the hands of the students, as opposed to the public school, which according to Waldorf, educates only the head.

The Waldorf Method has it's followers, but it is also criticized by various groups. "I can't buy at all that children can't think critically until past puberty," says Janine Bempechat, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of Getting Our Kids Back on Track: Educating Children for the Future. "They are wasting a lot of valuable time [in which they could be] fostering analytical skills, debating skills, and synthesizing skills."

It is obvious that the Waldorf Method was devised by Rudolf Steiner in the early 1900's, and does not utilize the modern research that has been done on child development and learning methods. According to the Survey of Waldorf Graduates (AWSNA - The Association of Waldorf Schools in North America) Waldorf Education is achieving the following in its graduates:

Multiple Intelligences and Cross Disciplinary Learners
Global Consciousness and Sustainability
Basis for Moral Navigation
Creative Problem Solving
High Levels of Social Intelligence
Environmental Stewardship
High Levels of Emotional Intelligence
Thinkers Who Think Outside the Box
The report also mentions that after graduating from Waldorf, 94% of graduates attended college, 47% majored in arts/humanities and 42% majored in sciences/math.

In my opinion, there are some features to this method that we all can use in education: a serene and safe environment for the child to study in is always conducive to learning. A child that feels safe and is surrounded by beauty and positive support, will learn better than a child that feels threatened. The deliberate encouragement of creativity and imagination are very important to development of genius and intelligence. The use of integrated methods for learning (for example reciting the multiplication table using rhythm, movement - passing bean bags around in a deliberate pattern) and speech is a brilliant way to teach children, to keep them focused and integrate both brain hemispheres.

This method does not claim to achieve academic excellence, nor intellectual excellence. It operated from the assumption that children start developing the ability to understand abstract concepts when they get to the age of around 7, and in my opinion, many opportunities for learning and development are missed by waiting for age 7 to start learning any academic content. If we take the good features of the program, and combine them with our own plan, we can achieve the best of both worlds.

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Imagine how successful your child can be with a brilliant mind, lightning-fast learning skills, an accurate, lasting memory, creativity and problem solving skills of a genius. And please feel free to e-mail Esther with your comments, feedback and success stories!
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