Waldorf schools offer a developmentally appropriate, experiential approach to education. They integrate the arts and academics for children from preschool through eighth grade. The aim of the education is to inspire life-long learning in each student and enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.
Founded in Germany in the early 20th century, Waldorf ® Education is an independent and inclusive form of education based on the insights and teaching of the renowned anthroposophist, artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. Evolving from a profound understanding of the human spirit and human development, Waldorf Education is regionally adaptive and has grown to include hundreds of schools worldwide.
Waldorf Education, established by Rudolf Steiner and Emil Molt in 1919, has its foundations in Anthroposophy. At the heart of Anthroposophy is the belief that humanity has the wisdom to transform itself and the world, through one’s own spiritual development. To that end, Waldorf Education holds as its primary intention the ideal of bringing forth—in every child—his or her unique potential in a way that serves the further development of humanity. The curriculum, pedagogy, and teaching methods are designed to nurture this potential.
These two educational approaches began with a similar goal: to design a curriculum that was developmentally appropriate to the child and that addressed the child’s need to learn in a tactile as well as an intellectual way. The philosophies are otherwise very different.
Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational.
They educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to bring about recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions. Waldorf schools are not part of any church. They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life. Waldorf families come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions and interest.
Children who transfer to a Waldorf school in the first four grades usually are up to grade in reading, math, and basic academic skills. However, they usually have much to learn in bodily coordination skills, posture, artistic and social activities, cursive handwriting, and listening skills. Listening well is particularly important since most of the curricular content is presented orally in the classroom by the teacher. The human relationship between the child and the teacher is the basis for healthy learning, for the acquiring of understanding and knowledge rather than just information. Children who are used to learning from computers and other electronic media will have to adjust.
Those children who enter a Waldorf school in the middle grades often bring much information about the world. This contribution should be recognized and received with interest by the class. However, these children often have to unlearn some social habits, such as the tendency to experience learning as a competitive activity. They have to learn to approach the arts in a more objective way, not simply as a means for personal expression. In contrast, in their study of nature, history, and the world, they need to relate what they learn to their own life and being. The popular ideal of “objectivity” in learning is misguided when applied to elementary school children. At their stage of development, the subjective element is essential for healthy learning. Involvement in what is learned about the world makes the world truly meaningful to them.
Children who transfer out of a Waldorf school into a public school during the earlier grades probably have to upgrade their reading ability and to approach the science lessons differently. Science in a Waldorf grade school emphasizes the observation of natural phenomena rather than the formulation of abstract concepts and laws. On the other hand, the Waldorf transferees are usually well prepared for social studies, practical and artistic activities, and mathematics. Children moving during the middle grades should experience no problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age group find themselves ahead of their classmates. The departing Waldorf student is likely to take along into the new school a distinguishing individual strength, personal confidence, and love of learning.
—From “Five Frequently Asked Questions,” by Colin Price; originally printed in Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
Waldorf teachers appreciate that technology must assume a role in education, but at the appropriate developmental stage, when a young person has reached the intellectual maturity to reason abstractly and process concretely on his or her own, which is at around the age of 14. Society might challenge this principle, as many young children are well able to complete sophisticated tasks on a computer; the Waldorf perspective is that computer exposure should not be based on capability but on developmental appropriateness. While many applaud adult-like thinking in young children, we observe that a child’s natural, instinctive, creative and curious way of relating to the world may be repressed when technology is introduced into learning environments at an early age.
Excerpt from NYTimes Opinion, 5/2014, Author, Beverly Amico
Computers and digital technology are not part of the early grades curriculum (1-5), although mechanical technology and the practical arts are incorporated at all levels. In high school, computers and digital aids are used in the classroom as teaching tools across disciplines, and computer-specific courses may be taught. All high school students utilize computers and digital equipment at home for research, to aid in their schoolwork and for in-class or school-wide presentations. To that end, the Waldorf School of Louisville has begun introducing and incorporating the use of technology as part of the Middle School curriculum.
Children who transfer from a Waldorf school into a more traditional school setting during grades 1-3 will likely need to spend time over the summer refining their reading skills, as Waldorf schools’ approach to teaching reading is a more graduated approach. On the other hand, students often find they are more advanced in speech and language, social studies, mathematics, and artistic activities. Children moving during the middle and upper grades should experience no academic problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age group find themselves ahead of their classmates and with an eagerness to learn.
A Waldorf teacher typically remains with the same class for five to eight years. In this way, the teacher is better able to assess each individual’s development, needs, and learning style—and the children, feeling secure in this long-term relationship, are more comfortable in their learning environment.
A Waldorf class is something like a family. Problems between teachers and children, and between teachers and parents, can and do arise. Schools typically work to resolve such problems through a conflict resolution or grievance procedure. With the goodwill and active support of the parents and the teacher concerned, schools do make the necessary changes needed to ensure the best situation for all concerned.
Assessment may vary slightly from school to school, but at the Waldorf School of Louisville, a full assessment of each student’s progress is provided in the form of a year-end narrative assessment in all subject areas. These assessments are supported by bi-annual parent teacher conferences and class meetings throughout the year.
We believe that standardized testing is not an accurate or complete reflection of a student’s knowledge, intellectual capacities, or ability to learn. Thus our curriculum does not put focus on standardized test-taking preparation, particularly in the lower and middle grades. In high school, SAT and ACT preparation courses may be offered, or interested students may pursue independent or external preparation coordinated through college counselors.
Waldorf students have been accepted in and graduated from a broad spectrum of notable colleges and universities. Waldorf graduates reflect a wide diversity of professions and occupations including medicine, law, science, engineering, computer technology, the arts, social science, government, and teaching at all levels.
According to a recent study of Waldorf graduates:
- 94% attended college or university
- 47% chose humanities or arts as a major
- 42% chose sciences or math as a major
- 89% are highly satisfied in choice of occupation
- 91% are active in lifelong education
- 92% placed a high value on critical thinking
- 90% highly values tolerance of other viewpoints
The Waldorf School of Louisville graduated it’s first eighth grade class in 2015. Since then, our graduates have attended a variety of area high schools:
- du Pont Manual & Youth Performing Arts School
- St. Francis
- Oldham County
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Our goal is to foster passionate readers who continue reading for pleasure throughout their lifetimes. To that end, we introduce reading in a developmentally appropriate way, when students are more comfortable with the written word and fully ready to engage with them.
Waldorf teachers begin teaching reading in the first couple months of first grade by teaching consonants and vowel names and sounds through an artistic approach of drawing, painting, movement, and speech. This artistic, deliberate process engages the children with great interest, and by the end of first grade, children are writing and reading sentences and short texts. Students typically begin reading printed readers with their teacher during the second half of second grade. This thorough and artistic approach to teaching literacy has been proven to build a solid base for advanced comprehension and vocabulary skills in later years.
Waldorf schools are not art schools. The curriculum offers a classical education in all academic disciplines that fully integrates the arts into its teaching methodology. Why? Because research continues to show that the inclusion of the arts in academia increases aptitude and creative thinking in areas such as math and science, and has a positive effect on emotional development as well.
Music education plays a significant role in Waldorf schools from grade one through high school. All students learn to play flute or recorder in first grade, and are encouraged to take up an orchestral instrument beginning in third grade; wind instruments are offered as an alternative to strings in the middle grades. Vocal music is also introduced in Grade l, with the complexity of choral material increasing by age level.
Eurythmy is the art of movement that attempts to make visible the tone and feeling of music and speech. Eurythmy helps to develop concentration, self-discipline, and a sense of beauty. This training of moving artistically with a group stimulates sensitivity to the other as well as individual mastery. Eurythmy lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms.
People assimilate language most easily when young. This language ‘window’ is recognized in Waldorf schools, and virtually all schools teach one or two world languages beginning in first grade. The Waldorf School of Louisville currently offers both Japanese and Spanish in Grades 1-8.
All sciences begin with simple nature experiences in kindergarten and the early grades, and advance with the study of acoustics, heat, magnetism and electricity in Middle School to chemistry, biology, botany, zoology and modern physics in High School. The emphasis is on direct encounters with observable phenomena -“Describe what happened. Evaluate what you have observed. What are the conditions under which the phenomena appear? How does this relate to what you already know?” Then students are asked to think through the experiment and discover the natural law that stands behind and within the phenomena.