What is Waldorf Education?
Waldorf Education creates a deeply meaningful learning process in which experience, not just acquisition, underscores knowledge, thereby encouraging students to be active thinkers.
Waldorf Education is a worldwide independent school movement founded over 100 years ago. There are now approximately 1000 Waldorf schools and nearly 2000 early childhood programs in over 60 countries. The Waldorf approach teaches through activities for the hands as well as the mind, balancing physical along with intellectual, aesthetic, and emotional development.
The first Waldorf school was started by Rudolf Steiner in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany, following the devastation of World War I. An Austrian scientist and philosopher, Steiner founded the first Waldorf school in response to a question brought to him by benefactor Emil Molt: “Is there a way to educate children that will help them develop into human beings who will be capable of bringing peace to the world?”
Waldorf Education strives to educate the whole child — head, heart, and hands — to work toward the three ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness. These three ideals taken together set the standard of education at Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, answering Steiner’s call: “… imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility — these three forces are the very nerve of education.”
Based on a profound understanding of the process of human development, our aim is to develop a balance of intellectual achievement, spiritual growth, physical health, and personal responsibility. Each subject is introduced to the children when they are most ready for it, and in a manner to which the children are naturally receptive at that stage.
The content of the curriculum expands with the ever-growing powers of the child, nourishing the inner life through stories from fairy tales, legends, myths, and history, and the outer life with the development of individual and social skills. By developing the child’s wonder and sense of beauty in the world of nature and in all humanity, we believe this lays the foundation for a truly healthy adult life — cultivating people who are independent thinking, compassionate, courageous, and purposeful human beings capable of meeting the challenges of their time.
The Foundations of Waldorf Education
Waldorf education begins with the premise that childhood is made up of three distinct stages of roughly seven years each: birth to age 7 (early childhood), age 7 to 14 (middle childhood), and age 14 to 21 (adolescence).
Each stage shapes the way children feel about and approach the world — intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually — which, in turn, shapes the way they learn. Waldorf educators believe that curricula and teaching methods should be appropriately tailored to these developmental stages.
Early Childhood: Develop the hands through doing
Young children from birth to age 7 live primarily through their senses and learn best through imitation. Striving to be figures worthy of imitation, Waldorf early childhood educators nurture each child, providing gentle and sensory-rich environments and play-based activities that encourage the young child to investigate the natural world, explore social relationships, and expand imaginative capacities. These activities lay crucial foundations for intellectual, emotional, and physical development.
Middle Childhood: Develop the heart through imagination
Between the ages of 7 and 14, children learn best through lessons that touch their feelings and enliven their creative forces. The Waldorf lower school curriculum is alive with fairy tales and fables, mythological sagas, and stirring biographies of historical figures. Waldorf elementary (or “class”) teachers integrate storytelling, drama, rhythmic movement, visual arts, and music into their daily work, weaving a tapestry of experience that brings each subject to life in the child’s thinking, feeling, and willing. Entrusted with the essential task of accompanying their students on a years-long journey, Waldorf teachers guide the children’s formal academic learning while also awakening their moral development and increasing their awareness of their place in the world.
Adolescence: Develop the mind through exploration
Age 14 to 21 marks the development of the independent intellect and, along with it, the ability to examine the world abstractly and exercise discernment, judgment, and critical thinking. Students in Waldorf high schools are given increasing autonomy over their education under the mentorship of teachers who are specialists in their fields.
From Sunbridge Institute
The Origins of Waldorf Education
Rudolph Steiner in 1905
In 1919, Emil Molt, owner of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, was looking to develop a school for the children of his employees. Molt was seeking a curriculum that would not only meet the children’s intellectual needs but speak also to their spiritual essence and humanity, thus helping them flourish in the turbulent aftermath of the Great War. To develop this pedagogy, Molt turned to Rudolf Steiner.
Steiner agreed to take on the task, under the conditions that the school be:
artistically and culturally enriching
comprehensive (that is, not split into separate academic and vocational tracks)
open to all the workers’ children from every walk of life
Steiner insisted his school’s teachers perceive and respond to the developmental needs of the children. The intended outcome would be young people who were independent thinkers and problem-solvers, capable of creatively meeting the challenges of their era.
This inclusive and forward-thinking spirit of idealism, commitment, and engagement with the world continues to be a hallmark of Waldorf Education in our time.
The original Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Germany.