As you explore your elementary school options, take time to find out about Waldorf education. Waldorf schools, or Steiner schools as they are often called, had their genesis in the writings and philosophy of Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). To put Steiner into some sort of context, think of him as northern Europe's equivalent of Dr. Maria Montessori.
These two remarkable people shared something in common which would ultimately lead to the establishment of educational movements based on their philosophies and approaches: namely that children from the less-privileged stratae of society were capable of achieving the same levels of academic accomplishment as children from more privileged homes. The key to success was their approach to teaching children as well as their insistence that the traditional ways of educating children not be used. In addition both Montessori and Steiner insisted on complete control of their schools. No state or local government interference would be tolerated.
Maria Montessori established her school in the poorest neighborhood of Rome because she was convinced that every child, no matter what his social circumstances, was capable of learning. Dr. Montessori carefully observed the children in her school and recorded the results of her experiment.
Rudolf Steiner like Dr. Montessori earned a doctoral degree. Steiner earned a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Rostock in 1891. [Source: Wikipedia.org] He established his first school for the children of factory workers in 1919.
Today Waldorf schools offer an alternative to traditional K-12 schools. Whereas in many traditional schools subjects are taught, in a Waldorf school subjects are experienced. Waldorf schools incorporate the arts into every subject which is taught.
Here are five facts about Waldorf schools to help you find the right school for your child.
1. Waldorf schools can be found world-wide.
With his research into childhood and human development Rudolf Steiner started the movement known as Waldorf. His first school was established for children of factory workers at a cigarette factory in postwar Germany in 1919. The name Waldorf came from the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company which was owned by Emil Molt. Molt had asked Steiner to lecture his factory workers on education and then to establish a school for their children. Steiner schools were then founded in other European countries. There are now over 1,000 Waldorf schools world-wide.
Unlike Montessori schools which have multiage classes, Waldorf schools generally are K-12 schools. The Steiner method calls for three levels of education following a child's natural growth and developmental patterns. The Montessori teacher guides a multi-age classroom. The Waldorf teacher stays with her class across several years, as a rule seven years.
2. Child-centered and teacher-guided instruction is a hallmark of Waldorf education.
Teaching in Waldorf schools is child-centered and teacher-guided. A focus on the child is something which Waldorf schools share with Montessori and other progressive schools. Where Maria Montessori created materials for her students to work with, discover and learn, Waldorf depends on the students to develop their imaginations by creating their own materials. The arts are integrated into every lesson and assignment in a Waldorf classroom.
Another feature of Waldorf is that the teacher moves or grows with the class from 1st through 8th grades. In other words the class has the same teacher for those important, formative years. Unlike Montessori classes where the teacher is an observer the Waldorf teacher carefully guides and directs his students.
An Ascending Spiral of Knowledge
explains the Waldorf curriculum and how it is taught. What is important to you and me as we evaluate a Waldorf school for our children is to understand that Waldorf schools are progressive schools. You will not find teachers teaching to a test or issuing grades to students. That approach does not fit into the Steiner philosophy of education.
The other point to make is that Steiner was a philosopher. A very erudite and very distinguished philosopher. Indeed he developed his own brand of philosophy which is known as anthroposophy. While anthroposophy per se is not taught in Waldorf classrooms, it underpins all that goes on in the classroom. You will notice the positive effect this approach brings to all your child's activities. Ideas and facts are not confined to educational silos. They are integrated across the curriculum horizontally and vertically over time. It may take you a few minutes to grasp Waldorf concepts as it certainly did for me. My eldest daughter attended a Waldorf school. It was a wonderful experience which opened her mind to so many things.
Another point to note: Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational.
3. Each Waldorf school is its own legal entity.
Waldorf schools are individually owned and operated. Waldorf schools are not a franchise operation. Each Waldorf school is individually owned and operated. Most schools are not for profit entities governed by a board of trustees. A unique aspect of a Waldorf school's governance is that the teachers run everything on a day to day basis. Parents are also actively involved in the school's life. All genuine Waldorf schools are authorized and accredited by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.
Waldorf teacher training programs are available in several locations nationwide. These programs typically run from one to three years depending on the trainee's background and attainments. Recently there have been more openings for Waldorf teachers than applicants.
4. Waldorf schools are progressive schools.
Waldorf schools are considered progressive schools. Like Montessori schools you won't find a regimented, traditional learning environment in a Waldorf school. The classes do follow the traditional grade structure. The Waldorf approach means that the same teacher will stay with the class from 1st through 8th grade.
The value of teacher continuity in the Waldorf setting is enormous. The same set of children which the teacher knows so well moves up with her to the next level. There is no adjusting to a new, unfamiliar teacher. Instead more layers of knowledge are added with that familiar, trusted guide in charge.
5. Waldorf schools have arts integrated across the curriculum.
The Waldorf curriculum emphasizes the arts and development of children's imaginations. Music and an artistic form peculiar to Waldorf schools known as eurythmy are integral parts of a curriculum centered on core subjects. English language and writing, poetry, drama, history, foreign languages, mathematics, geography and the sciences are all components in a Waldorf high school curriculum. AP courses and SAT preparation are not something which you will find in a Waldorf high school. A young adult accustomed to discovery and experiencing learning is the typical Waldorf graduate.
One of the elements of a Waldorf curriculum which is not commonly found in other schools is Eurhythmy. Rudolf Steiner created this performance art which is also used in movement therapy. It is an integral part of Waldorf curricula and complements the gymnastics component. Eurhythmy is a Greek word which means harmonious rhythm.
How do Waldorf students fare with college acceptances?
I know what you are thinking. My child has spent 12 years at this school which I think is wonderful and has done so much for my child. But she has no SAT scores. She hasn't done any Advanced Placement courses and examinations. Don't be concerned. Colleges base their decisions on much more than standardized tests. Remember: college admissions offices are looking for applicants who can think critically, who are aware of more than just facts and who can contribute their unique individuality to the college community.
Notable Waldorf graduates
include Kenneth Chenault, retired CEO of American Express, Jennifer Aniston and Sondra Bullock, actresses, to name just three.