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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:

  • self-governed

  • 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.

Additional Insights

Waldorf Education: What is holistic learning?

Waldorf Education: What is holistic learning?

Founded in the early 20th century, Waldorf education is based on the insights, teachings and principles of education outlined by the world renowned artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. The principles of Waldorf education evolve from an understanding of human development that address the needs of the growing child. Waldorf schools integrate the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade to enhance and enrich learning. Waldorf education aims to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities. In this interview we talk to Henning Kullak Ublick, representative of Waldorf German Association and Coordinator of Waldorf100 (, about what holistic learning is and the development stages of the human being. Inspiring conversations are brief interviews with people who are leading the change in education. Some insights from these interviews will be part of the Film "Searching For Superman" for 2021. SEARCHING FOR SUPERMAN FILM PROJECT WEBSITE: Two years travel around Europe searching for inspiring educational projects and schools to connect people and experiences with the aim of inspiring and growing change makers all over the world: If you want to recibe alerts about new videos SUBSCRIBE to our YOUTUBE CHANNEL. YOU CAN ALSO FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook: Instagram: INQUIRIES email us at:
Educating Children For The Journey: Jack Petrash at TEDxRockCreekPark

Educating Children For The Journey: Jack Petrash at TEDxRockCreekPark

Our world is changing at a rapid and dramatic pace. Every decade brings technological advances and unforeseen social change. So how can we prepare our children for a world we can't envision? The best way to do that is to educate our children to develop three essential capacities: a capacity for vibrant and vigorous activity, a capacity for a sensitive and yet resilient emotional life, and a capacity for clear, focused, original, thinking. In order to develop these three capacities, we must educate our children in a multidimensional way in school. The place to begin is through self-directed play with the young child. Play is the wonderfully creative work of early childhood. When young children play, they are focused, attentive, and completely involved in what they are doing. This is a characteristic of genius and innovative individuals often keep this playful nature intact throughout their lives. The second way to educate children for the future is through art. In the grade school it is possible to teach all of the academic subjects in a manner that integrates art. In doing so we create an educational program that addresses a child's need to be engaged imaginatively and emotionally in each lesson. When we teach children through a foundation of active play and a solid framework of artistic experiences, we help them develop the third essential ability, a capacity for dynamic, curious, and original thinking, a thinking that enables our children to ask the questions that are still waiting to be asked. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have created a standards driven educational system that only asks our children to use half of their human intelligence, just the left side of their brains. And sadly, fifty percent is a failing grade by any standard. Our children deserve more, much more. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)
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