Enter any Waldorf school or classroom, and you are likely to see students participating in hands-on activities and creative play. You may notice that each student’s main lesson book is personal and unique to him or her. You will likely see colorful displays of the students’ work, and you may marvel at the imagination that they called upon to conjure up some of their creations.
Adherents of the approach consider it to be a holistic one where the children are using what is commonly called “body, mind, and spirit,” or even “hands, head, and heart.”
A Waldorf education aims to help children naturally develop into humans that have a sense of purpose. As one Waldorf graduate said in an interview, “I learned how to learn; I learned curiosity about everything. When I finally got a computer, it wasn’t ‘this is what a computer is and this is what it’s always been,’ it was what can I do with this?” You are likely to see children bringing their ideas into action, as another graduate put it.
The Waldorf approach is considered an alternative form of education when compared to the traditional classroom. Unlike the routine curriculum common to the typical public school, students learn experientially and according to where they are in their personal physical and emotional developmental phases (using three broad childhood phases beginning with birth-approximately 7 years of age, 7-14 years of age, and 14-18 years of age).
A kindergartener in a Waldorf school learns through creative play, story telling, music, art, and even through participation in activities you might see in a household such as gardening and cooking. As more than one Waldorf school states, “Play is the work of the young child.”
When the child moves into the elementary grades, rather than hop from one subject (e.g. arithmetic) to another a half an hour later (e.g. reading), the child remains on a subject for longer blocks of time, giving ample time to learn and allow the material to “sink in.” These lesson blocks may last weeks, depending on the topic.
Another example of how a Waldorf elementary education differs from traditional education can be seen in how children begin to learn writing. For example, instead of just “learning the alphabet,” the students will learn the origin of the alphabet, and how the letters themselves evolved. Other aspects of elementary school life will include expressing what they are learning through movement and dance (“eurythmy”), learning a new language, and more.
In high school, the primary, or main lesson block structure continues, and are typically studied at the beginning of the day. The lesson books are created by the students themselves, and will contain the students’ work – drawings, reports, maps, observations, research, references, etc.
Subjects are integrated, and while all the “usual” high school subjects are covered (e.g. English, Math, Science, etc), students naturally come to see the interrelations between them. For example, they may be creating artistic drawings of the ancient pyramids, while applying the principles of geometry that they have been learning. And while students will most likely be involved with community service projects throughout their education, there will be additional emphasis on it during high school.
The movement was founded by Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner, whose philosophy included educating and encouraging children to become “morally responsible, and integrated individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education)
The name “Waldorf” comes from the first school that Steiner opened in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919, developed to educate the children whose parents worked at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company. Today, “Waldorf” is the trademarked name of the method.
There appears to be growing interest in incorporating components of the Waldorf approach and philosophy in mainstream schools. To learn more about this, read the paper that was presented at the 2012 conference of the American Educational Research Association held April 13-17, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia: http://www.academia.edu/1584938/Holistic_Education_in_the_Public_Sector_Examining_Parents_Perceptions_of_Waldorf_Charters
What Happens to Waldorf Students When They Step Out into the World — Bonus Interviews https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiH-_P097ho
Association of Waldorf Schools of North America http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/