Waldorf Education: Head, Hands, and Heart (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Respect for Development

Waldorf education is based squarely on respect for children’s processes of development and their developmental stages. Individual children’s development determines how and when Waldorf teachers introduce curriculum topics. Respecting children’s development and the ways they learn is an essential foundation of all early childhood programs.


Eurythmy is Steiner’s art of movement, which makes speech and music visible through action and gesture and enables children to develop a sense of harmony and balance. Thus, as they learn reading, they are also becoming the letters through physical gestures. According to Steiner, every sound—speech or music—can be interpreted through gesture and body movement; for example, in learning the letter o, children form the letter with their arms while saying the sound for o. In the main-lesson books that are the children’s textbooks, crayoned pictures of mountains and trees metamorphose into letters M and T, and form drawings of circles and polygons that become the precursor to cursive writing. Mental imagery for geometrical designs supports the fine-motor skills of young children (Bamford & Utne, 2003).

Rhythm is an important component of all these activities. Rhythm (i.e., order or pattern in time) permeates the entire school day as well as the school year, which unfolds around celebrating festivals drawn from different religions and cultures (Bamford & Utne, 2003).

Nurturing Imagination

Folk and fairy tales, fables, and legends are integrated throughout the Waldorf curriculum. These enable children to explore the traditions of many cultures, thus supporting a multicultural approach to education. They also enrich the imaginative life of the young child and promote free thinking and creativity.

Curriculum Features

Common features of the Waldorf curriculum include these:

  • Teaching according to developmental stages, the right subject at the right time
  • The timing and method of introducing several basic skills, consistent with these developmental stages
  • The use of eurythmy in learning
  • The inclusion of other arts, as well as handwork
  • The sequential linkage between subjects, corresponding to the student’s maturity from year to year (Foster)

The Waldorf curriculum unfolds in main-lesson blocks of three or four weeks. The students create their own texts, or main-lesson books, for each subject. This enables them to delve deeply into the subject (Bamford & Utne).

Providing for Diversity and Disability

Providing for and being sensitive to diversity is an important aspect of Waldorf education. From first grade the curriculum for all students includes the study of two foreign languages. In addition, the curriculum integrates the study of religions and cultures. As a result, children learn respect for people of all races and cultures.

Waldorf schools can also experience a certain level of success with children who have been diagnosed with disabilities such as dyslexia. Because Waldorf teaches to all of the senses, there is usually a modality that a child can use to successfully learn curriculum material, which increases opportunity for learning for children with other types of disabilities and learning styles.

Some Waldorf schools are devoted entirely to the education of children with special needs. For example, Somerset School in Colfax, California, offers a variety of programs designed to meet the special needs of students ages six to seventeen years who are unable to participate in regular classroom activities. Teachers, physicians, and therapists work closely with parents to create and implement individualized lesson plans (Somerset School, 2007).

Further Thoughts

Certainly Waldorf education has much that is appealing: its emphasis on providing education for the whole child, the integration of the arts into the curriculum, the unhurried approach to education and schooling, and the emphasis on learning by doing.

However, Waldorf education, like the Montessori approach, seems better suited to private, tuition-based education and has not been widely adopted into the public schools.

Several reasons could account for this limited adoption. First, public schools, especially in the context of contemporary schooling, are much more focused on academic achievement and accountability. Second, Waldorf education may not be philosophically aligned with mainstream public education. Waldorf’s emphasis on the spiritual aspect of each child may be a barrier to widespread public school adoption. Identification of a student’s spiritual self has provoked criticism of Waldorf education, as well as humanistic education and other approaches to holistic practices.

In addition, critics object to a number of other features of Waldorf education. These include delaying learning to read, not using computers and other technology in the classroom until high school, and discouraging television viewing and the playing of video games.

Although some see Waldorf as too elitist, the schools remain a popular choice for parents who want this type of education for their children. The intimate learning atmosphere of small classes, the range of academic subjects, and the variety of activities can be very attractive.

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