What Is the Waldorf Method?

In an age where its commonplace to observe children casually swiping the screen of a smartphone or iPad, the thought of kids attending a school where computers are forbidden may seem odd.

That's precisely what many parents want, however. According to a New York Times article, some senior executives employed by the likes of Apple and eBay send their children to such schools — also known as Waldorf-methods schools.

From customized textbooks created by students to the heavy use of arts throughout students curriculum, the Waldorf method emphasizes the need to nurture children on all learning levels: emotional, mental, and spiritual. If you're skeptical about public and private schooling that focuses strongly on test preparation and academic performance rather than self-development and creativity, then it may be worthwhile to look into a Waldorf-methods school for your child's K–12 education.

The Waldorf Method: A Brief Overview

In 1919, Austrian architect, philosopher, and social reformer Rudolf Steiner founded the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Germany. Today, there are more than 1,000 Waldorf schools and more than 2,000 Waldorf early childhood programs across 160 countries. Although most Waldorf schools are in Europe, approximately 160 schools are located in the U.S. — and steadily growing in number.

A quick summary by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) states, Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child the heart and the hands, as well as the head. Because the Waldorf method stresses a curriculum that takes into account the developmental stages of children, it is often compared to the Montessori approach to education.

How Waldorf Education Is Unique

Student-teacher relationship. One of the most obvious differences between an independent Waldorf school or Waldorf-inspired charter school versus regular public and private schools is the relationship between the teacher and student. Waldorf students are generally taught by the same teacher from first through eighth grade. By staying with the same group of students through their most formative years, teachers can more easily identify students strengths and focus on building up weaker areas according to Waldorf proponents.

Integration of arts, crafts, and foreign languages. Besides creating their own textbooks, children are taught basic subjects such as arithmetic, biology and reading through dance, dramatic acting, drawing, music, painting, and other creative activities. Handwork and woodworking classes complement daily lessons and are used to deeply immerse students in the academic subjects taught in the curriculum.

For example, a Waldorf teacher may use knitting to help elementary-aged children learn coordination, math skills, and problem-solving. Or students may learn fractions by cutting up food in quarters, halves, and sixteenths. Rather than utilizing standard textbooks or computers, Waldorf-methods schools subscribe to the pedagogy of teaching students through physical activity, as well as creative, hands-on instruction.

Age-appropriate education. While a child may be ready to read at age four or five, their body and nervous system may not be. At least, this is the reasoning behind the Waldorf system of teaching. Waldorf educators believe a child's schooling should be based on the three essential phases of child development: imitation (infancy and toddlerhood); imagination (age 7 through pre-teens); and truth, discrimination, and judgment (adolescence). As children move through these years, the Waldorf-methods teacher adjusts her classroom approach to best address the way students learn at each developmental stage.

Finding the Perfect Fit

It all comes down to the type of learning environment that fits your child's personality best. While Waldorf advocates claim that the strong relationship with teachers and creative lessons plans are highly valuable in preparing children for high school and beyond, critics say the absence of technology in the classroom shortchanges students education.

Waldorf schools also delay instruction in reading, writing, and math until around age seven. Preschool and kindergarten classrooms instead focus learning around domestic and practical activities such as baking, free play, and gardening. If you're adamant about your child learning how to read and write their letters by first grade, then a Waldorf-style education may not be right for you. And though financial assistance is available, tuition at Waldorf schools can cost anywhere from $17,000 to as much as $24,000 annually.

Regardless of whether you're leaning toward enrollment in a regular public or private school, or view the Waldorf experience as invaluable to your child's development, placing your child in a learning environment that will help them succeed is by far the most important factor when deciding on their education.

Sources:

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America; Waldorf Education: An Introduction

Edutopia; Waldorf-Inspired Public Schools Are on the Rise

The New York Times; A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute

Pacific University; Waldorf Teaching

The Washington Times; The Waldorf Method