children knitting, children dancing around a maypole, dragond drawn in chalk in a parking lot, children painting suns, children sitting in a circle playing music, and a recorder choir

Waldorf Teaching

Community

One of the things that is most pervasive in the Waldorf classroom is the sense of community, almost family, that links the members (teacher and students). Part of this is a natural result of the fact that Waldorf students are with the same teacher and class from 1st through 8th grade. (Preschools run from birth to kindergarten, and there are some Waldorf high schools as well.) Parents are not allowed in Waldorf classrooms (as volunteers or in other capacities) because of the belief that the classroom is a space that belongs to the children. Having parents, or other adults in general, in the classroom would disrupt the community ties that have been made among the students and teacher. Also contributing to the sense that the classroom belongs to the children as their space, the walls and other surfaces are used to display their work and projects. All they have to do to see that they are a part of this place is to look around. The things that they have made are everywhere.

Children need to have a place where they belong in order to feel safe. If they don't feel that they have a safe place to retreat to when they are in trouble, they are much less likely to take the mental and emotional risks that meaningful learning involves. The purpose of turning the classroom into a place where they belong and feel safe is to encourage them to try things when they are not sure of success and know that there is something that they can fall back on if they need help.

Love of Learning

One of the biggest things that colleges have to say about Waldorf students is that they still know how to learn, and how to enjoy that experience. This enjoyment of learning and a sustained sense of wonder about the world are fostered from the very beginning. It makes perfect sense that if students enjoy the process of learning, they are going to get much more out of the actual lessons. From the very beginning, Waldorf teacher work to create a connection between their students and the material, both present and future. It is natural for children to enjoy exploring outdoors, so class follows them there. Letting them follow their interests both in this and later years allows them to more easily engage their emotions in the learning process. They are literally ďpassionate about learning.Ē This passion is something that will help them persevere even when things become challenging.

page from a Waldrof textbook about latitude

One of the things that really sets the Waldorf schools aside from others is the fact that the children make their own textbooks. This process requires them to understand the material well enough to be able to explain it to themselves at a later date when the information is not fresh in their minds. It also means that the lessons are translated into their own words, through their own ideas. They donít have to just accept the ideas of their teacher or some group of professors at a far away university who happened to have written a book that their school now uses. In this way, they produce the information for themselves in a way that makes the most sense to them. The book is also a concrete record of everything that they have learned, put together in a manner that they can take pride in. The inclusion of illustrations in these books also provides a creative outlet that engages all parts of their brain in interpreting the same material.

Play

Play is rather inextricably linked to retaining our childlike sense of wonder and reverence for the world, and also our love for learning. Waldorf students donít start academics until they are in 1st grade. Their preschool and kindergarten years are filled with unstructured play that allows them to create their own visions about themselves and the world around them. Play is how children learn and practice skills and ideas. You know this is true if you have ever watched a child build a tower over and over, trying to make it taller. So many of these play activities have lesson material embedded in them, but the Waldorf teachers donít push to make the children think about the lessons. Reflecting on the lessons of a play activity too much pulls the children out of their communion with that activity; they lose their connection to it, and it becomes dry and boring.

Interdisciplinary Studies

boy knitting a striped scarf

Although the Waldorf schools do cover all of the basic subjects in their classes, the subjects are not broken up as they are in traditional classroom. There isnít really a separate time just for math or social studies. There are certainly lessons in those subjects, but the subjects overall are integrated into an interdisciplinary curriculum. Part of this is due to the fact that much of the Waldorf work occurs in the form of large projects. This is one of the reasons for the knitting that is so often associated with the program. Knitting not only teaches fine-motor coordination, but also basic counting and pattern work, in addition to allowing the children to create something useful which they can take pride in.

This interdisciplinary idea is applied to academics as well. While studying the American Civil War, they might read books or articles about it (social studies), discuss the importance of primary documents (social studies), compare resources and casualties (math), write sentences about it using vocabulary words (writing), parse these same sentences (grammar), and learn popular songs of the time period (music). This last is another hallmark of Waldorf education: the ubiquity of the fine arts. The Waldorf system believes that every child has the inborn creative talent to become an artist and a musician. For them, these are innate human characteristics, and access to the arts is a human right. Not every child has to become another Isaac Stern or Picasso; it is enough that they know for themselves that they are creative artists and that they enjoy it. It is here that they come closest to the roots of anthroposophy on which the entire system is based.