“Waldorf school education is not a pedagogical system but an art- the art of awakening what is actually there within the human being.”- Rudolf Steiner
History of Waldorf Philosophy
A different approach to early education was introduced by Rudolf Steiner in 1919 at Stuttgart, Germany. The first Waldorf School was revolutionary for its time – open to children from all social, racial, religious and economic backgrounds and over that coeducational. In Nazi ruled Germany at this time there was no place for any school that educated individuals to think for themselves.
Basic Ideas of Rudolf Steiner
Waldorf believed in comprehensive and highly cultural education that would help children to become creative and balanced individuals in the fullest sense. For this, Steiner’s prescription of ‘whole’ embraced- feelings, imagination, music, art, and movement for an individual in totality. By interconnecting grounds for the teaching of art and science, he brought in forefront role of teachers as facilitators of early development in children.
His belief was that the curriculum comes from a child. A teacher should comprehend early child development and provide age-appropriate content and conditions (materials such as space, schedule etc.) to nourish healthy growth. So it’s very important to know a child before educating them.
A Waldorf School
The first thing you may notice while entering a Waldorf school is that the walls are usually painted in lively colors and are decorated with student artwork. Student activity is so prominently displayed everywhere. It is more home like setting that is familiar, classroom is orderly, uncluttered and with a lot of open areas to play.
The teachers are enthusiastic and are interested in the students as individuals. Their main intention as they work with children is to develop the subject matter with the help of an image, rhyme, drawing, poetry, painting, movement, music, dancing, drama and many more artistic or creative activities. So for a student music, dance, theatre, writing, literature are not only subjects which are heard, learned and examined but these are experienced thus, helping them develop a joyful lifelong learning.
Elements of Waldorf Approach
The main elements of Waldorf early childhood education system is:
A warm, comfortable and loving environment, where activities happen in a rhythmic way and which is secure and protective.
The initial activities are household activities which a child can easily imitate, for example, cooking, baking, cleaning, painting and gardening.
The imagination powers of a child are nurtured by carefully selecting stories that encourage free and pretend plays. These free/pretend plays help a child to experience, learn and understand various aspects of life.
Waldorf program uses toys that are made up of natural and child friendly materials like cotton, wood, wool, beads, shells, paper, stones and other natural objects which the children have collected themselves.
Activities that encourage eye-hand coordination as well as, sensory integration are provided in a natural, creative and loving environment.
Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education
Rudolf Steiner has shared on a number of occasions, the experiences that are essential for the healthy development of a child. These are:
Love and Emotional Warmth: These two elements create the basis for the child’s healthy development. These qualities should be there between a teacher and child, among the teachers/caregiver of the school and in the child’s behavior towards their peers.
Environment that Nourishes the Senses: The most important task of a preschool teacher is to create a proper physical environment around the children. It not only relates to the materials involved but everything that occurs in their environment and perceived by their senses since, in early childhood everything a child sees, hears and touches has an effect. A teacher should set a rhythmic schedule, in which the same thing happens at the same time on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. By doing this, a child develops a sense of security and confidence. Also, any change in activity of the day should have a comfortable smooth transition.
Artistic and Creative Experiences: The teacher offers opportunities for artistic experiences like singing, music, gestures, movements through rhymes and language and creative speech with the help of stories, poetry, puppet shows etc. Kids model with beeswax, watercolors, clay etc.
Imitation of meaningful adult activity: Children learn more through imitation rather than instruction. The teacher initiates work adjusted to the needs of the child starting with the household work like cooking, baking, gardening, cleaning, caring for materials around etc. While doing this, the teacher creates an atmosphere of freedom in which the individuality of each child can be active and apart from imitating, they also experience their inner attitude.
Free and imaginative play: Little children learn through play. The main task for the teacher is to create an environment (physical surroundings, play materials, social interactions, thoughts and imaginations of adults around) that supports the possibility of healthy play and learning.
Protection of the forces of childhood: A child’s consciousness must be allowed to thrive in the early childhood years which means that an adult be it teacher or parent, should refrain as much as possible from verbal instruction. Instead model your behavior, gestures and actions for the child to imitate.
Gratitude and Respect: An atmosphere of gratitude and respect should develop naturally in a child by witnessing their adults. Greeting adults, saying ‘Thank you’ should be a reflex in their lives which will become the basis for dedication, loyalty, commitment, admiration in their growing years.
Joy, Humor and Happiness: The teacher’s sincerity about work should be balanced with humor and happiness in the classroom. There should be light moments when both teacher and children have a hearty laugh. This in builds a joy of learning in among children and helps them understand the lighter side of every situation.
Tips for Parents
Waldorf system does not include any electronic media like computers or videos and does not involve any academics, which means there is no homework or exams or handouts or even desks. Children spend a lot of time doing outdoor activities and formal reading skills are only introduced in the first grade. Above all, this approach teaches a child how to think and not what to think. It develops them as all round individuals with a natural curiosity and love of learning.