The Waldorf approach to education began with one school designed for the children of the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company and it blossomed into a worldwide educational movement (Uhrmacher, 1993). Basically, Waldorf schools are private, nonsectarian programs with an arts-based curriculum. Children learn subjects such as literacy, math, science, and so on through artistic activities.
Waldorf schools apply the thinking of Rudolf Steiner, who developed a system of education in Germany in 1919 as an alternative to traditional education (Foster, 1984). Steiner, like many early childhood educators, believed in educating the whole child, but his interpretation of whole included the mind, the heart, and the will. Steiner also believed that curriculum comes from the child. "Education does not give or take but strengthens the forces within each child" (Aeppli, 1986, p. 10). Said differently, you must know children well in order to educate them. Waldorf teachers have two major intentions as they work with children:
- To develop subject matter through image, rhythm, movement, drawing, painting, poetry, drama, and so on;
- To involve aesthetics in all that is done throughout the school day (aesthetic conditions) program. (Uhrmacher, 1993, p. 89)
Basic Ideas of Rudolf Steiner
Rudolf Steiner's thinking about curriculum was similar to the thinking of John Dewey. Contrary to the thinking of many educators, Steiner pointed out that teachers do not provide experiences for students. You may be startled by that idea, but his thinking was that teachers provide conditions (such as materials, space, schedule, etc.) and then each child has her own experience. So, one way of looking at Steiner's educational system is to examine some of the conditions of his schools (Uhrmacher, 1993, p. 91):
- Aesthetic conditions. Those conditions that enhance a child's appreciation of beauty and sensuality
- Social conditions. Those conditions that promote or strengthen interactions and relationships between children, and between children and adults
- Symbolic conditions. Those conditions such as stories, pictures, rituals, and ceremonies that will teach and influence children indirectly
- "Sensitive" conditions. Those conditions that enhance a child's perceptive abilities or a child's "feeling live"
Some of these conditions may sound unusual or be difficult to understand due to a translation of Steiner's ideas into English. However, when we visit a Waldorf classroom, you'll see what those conditions look like in practice.
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