Waldorf Education: Is it Right for You?

A few years ago I had never heard of Waldorf education. I eventually had my first introduction through the blogosphere–as many mama writers raved about Waldorf’s philosophies and values.

Perhaps you’re experienced in Waldorf methodology and practice–if so I hope you’ll share with us in the comments.

But maybe you’re familiar with Waldorf by name only. If that’s the case, get ready for a brief overview.

Waldorf education began in Germany in the early 1900’s. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, had written about three distinct phases of childhood development. He believed a healthy education should have these phases as its foundation.

Currently there are over 1,000 Waldorf schools worldwide, and many homeschooling families gain inspiration from Steiner’s ideas.

Waldorf educators seek to expose children to a wide variety of subjects and interests. There’s a determined effort to avoid gender stereotypes as well as a focus on setting the child up for success by introducing effective routines and habits. The goal is to provide a well-rounded education to aid the child’s development.

Three phases of childhood development provide the foundation to the Waldorf method.

1. Early Childhood (Birth – Age 7)

Photo by Celine

Children learn mostly through play during the early years of a Waldorf education. Play helps students develop a longer attention span as well as teaches children to work together, exposing them to appropriate socialization.

The Waldorf school of thought places a high priority on the importance of nature and the rhythm of the seasons. Children recognize and celebrate these through festivals, nature tables, poetry, and activities.

Simple, open-ended toys for this age encourage creative, imaginative play. Natural, home-like tools and materials allow children to learn practical skills.

2. Elementary Phase (Age 7 – 14)

This phase continues academic exposure without force, due to the belief that a child will master a concept or skill at his or her own pace. Few textbooks are used, instead stories and the arts make up a bulk of the instruction.

The performing and visual arts play a center role during this phase, allowing self-expression and imagination to develop more maturely. Cooperation, not competition, is the ideal value sought in relationships with others.

Photo by Yasuo Kida

3. Secondary Phase (Age 14 – 18)

Students dive more fully into academics during this developmental phase, though the arts continue to play an important educational role. Children are encouraged to become independent, creative thinkers.

There is also a high priority placed on social responsibility and ethics during the secondary years.

Waldorf educational principles offer depth and richness to families. If any of these ideas intrigue you, consider researching in more detail to discover if you’d like to implement them in your homeschool.

Further Reading:

If you’ve experimented with Waldorf education in your homeschool, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. Thanks for covering Waldorf in this series, Jamie! While we are not a 100% Waldorf family, there are many aspects of Waldorf that work for us …. and I can see how this has created a peaceful, gentle, and even beautiful way of learning – but also has touched our homelife in a beautiful way, as well :-)

    I would add to your list Carrie’s blog http://www.theparentingpassageway.com and also the beautiful blog at Serendipity (combines Waldorf with Charlotte Mason and some Montessori, too) http://ebeth.typepad.com/serendipity/ And just about any of the books from A Little Garden Flower :-)

    Best Wishes!
    .-= Kara’s last blog: It’s An Eco Date! Earth Friendly Days to Mark on Your Calendar =-.

  2. Shannon J says:

    My oldest son (now 13) tried a Waldorf home preschool when he was 3. Didn’t work for us. I was friends with folks at the school and I really liked it at first but then grew away from it. I didn’t like the patriarchal belief system inherent it (among other things). I’ve had very little connection to the Waldorf community for many years.

    That said, we have a Guatemalan high school student coming to live with us this fall and she’ll be going to our local Waldorf school. I do look forward to seeing the school and community again and I wonder what it will be like from a high school parent’s perspective.

  3. As a former teacher, I’m curious what this philosophy looks like from day to day. Is reading not introduced until seven? If a child shows no interest in a particular subject, is it still presented/taught?
    .-= Caroline Starr Rose’s last blog: Top 100 Children’s Books =-.

    • I’m far from an expert on Waldorf, but from what I understand the emphasis in the early years is on oral language–through poetry, stories, etc. The idea is to create a love of language before formal reading instruction begins.

      Waldorf seeks to develop the whole child, so my understanding is that many subjects are presented and the child is encouraged to take an interest.

      Others may be able to speak to this more thoroughly.
      .-= Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s last blog: Should I Homeschool Or Not? — Part One =-.

  4. I love the emphasis you described for younger children on the seasons and rhythms of the day…as well as the imaginative wonder it all seems to hold and the relational aspects of learning. I would be curious to hear what this looks like day to day as well. I am always impressed by the simplicity and peacefulness I encounter with families who teach and learn this way. Thanks for this article!
    .-= Kristen’s last blog: What Wild Beast Has Taken Over My Calendar? =-.

  5. Every homeschool looks different, of course, but here are a few blogs that I like to read that sometimes share what their daily lessons look like:

    http://naturenest.wordpress.com/
    http://waldorfjourney.typepad.com/a_journey_through_waldorf/
    http://syrendell.blogspot.com/
    .-= Kara’s last blog: It’s An Eco Date! Earth Friendly Days to Mark on Your Calendar =-.

  6. we tried Waldorf last year, and part of this year. My boys totally LOVED the stories…they still remember every single one from lst year! They also loved the arts…found some real talent in painting, clay and hand work. My problem,though, was it seemed to deal only with the “old world” nothing about our world and lives now. I missed teaching about the continents, the presidents, present day heros, etc. So now I added some Montessori, and my own ideas. Am I wrong with my assumption…has anyone gone past 2nd or third grade with Waldorf and found more?

    • We use Oak Meadow, and, yes, there is a shift after 2nd grade. The school’s materials explain that their Waldorf approach diverges from a traditional scope and sequence most dramtically from k-3. I have found that to be true. Oak Meadow’s materials do a wonderful job at easing children into more difficult material, and, IMO, encourage critical thinking in a way that I’ve not found elsewhere. We use Sonlight’s read- alouds in addition. It is a great combination. Oak Meadow is gentle enough that there is still plenty of room for child and interest led learning, as well.
      erin’s latest post: Week’s End- March 17, 2012

  7. My oldest is just 5, but we have been Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers for over a year now. We use the Enki kindergarten curriculum materials for our weekly story, for our monthly nature poem (to memorize) and our seasonal songs. Enki is Waldorf-inspired, but not strict Waldorf, as it has Montessori flavor in the math and is founded on current science of child development rather than Waldorf tradition. I’ve learned a lot and incorporated a lot of Waldorf wisdom into our lives, as reflected in: daily outdoor play, slowing down, involving the kids in meal prep and cleaning, oral storytelling, LOTS of creative, open-ended art and more family traditions.
    .-= Rachel’s last blog: Sweet Spring Piecing =-.

  8. Very interesting Jamie. I have never read a summary, however short of Waldorf theories. I follow many waldorf mama blogs but have never had it explained in brief to me, so thanks.

    So funny, we might be considered Waldorf according to these guidelines but we don’t focus as much on the performing and visual arts. Our focus is nature and outdoors to develop self expression and imagination. We still take part in these type of activities but don’t seek out performance arts for our children to be involved in. If they had interest I’m sure we would. We’re fairly creative around here and love visual arts.

    Anyway, nice summary.

    • If you’re looking for a summary of Waldorf education, I recently did an interview in which I tried my best to present Waldorf early childhood education “in a nutshell,” as I’m often asked to do. It’s not an easy task, since there are many, many aspects to Waldorf education!

      I am a trained Waldorf teacher with many years of experience, and also spent a few years homeschooling my children using Waldorf methods. You can read the interview, “Waldorf Education: In a Nutshell” here: http://blog.bellalunatoys.com/2010/in-a-nutshell-interview-with-sarah-baldwin.html

  9. I had experience teaching Montessori while in college and my children now attend a fabulous Montessori 3-6 classroom. So I am fairly familiar with the Montessori philosophy and practices. We do not have any Waldorf schools around here. I often hear Montessori and Waldorf linked as similar. Does anyone know of any sources that would explain how they are alike and different?

  10. Hi, I am a mom of seven children, ages 1-13.
    I have been homeschooling my children from my first child, almost eight years!!! Four years ago I shifted to a Waldorf approach. At first, I was entrigued by the beauty of this style of this education, the gorgeous handiwork and the unbelievable art work .I was also drawn to the rhythm, the rhythm in the home and the connection to the rhythm of the seasons. I have been drawn deeper and deeper into Anthroposophy, the foundational philosophy of Waldorf education over these four years and I have found great spiritual fulfillment for myself and my family.

    At first, it was hard to get a clear perspective on what the lessons to teach should be, I couldn’t help but to be swayed by my linear upbringing. After some more reading and meditation, I started to see what Steiner was doing with this educational approach. Everything came from spirit. Each child is viewed as a spiritual being and what is taught, is what their spirit needs. Now I know this might sound a little out there, and believe me, I am a very factual person….a poli sci major in college; but I used my children as a test group, and I was blown away by the results I saw. For each age Rudolph Steiner selected just the right stories that appealed to their inner beings. I shifted slowly away from my workbook approach to this more creative approach and although I am still striving to get better at it, the benefits at this moment are too many to count.

    I want to mention that it was a hard mental process to go through, to let go of the importance our society stresses on the facts. In having seven children, and a clear perspective up until age 13, I see that we will all get to the same education point by the high school years. Waldorf education is very deceptive in the sense that one would think it is “backwards”. Steiner believed that our educational approach should mirror our evolution as human beings. In essence, we need the basics like handiwork and farming to build upon to form a solid foundation of who we are. Steiner believed that factual information at the early ages negatively affected our souls and hindered the growth of our bodily organs. This was a concept I had to meditate on, but I finally came to accept. I saw how straight facts affected my children, the fatigue that they produced, not to mention how they would forget those facts if I stopped reinforcing them. I saw they benefited more by learning in this multisensory ,creative ,soul- touching way.

    Through my reading, I also learned of the importance of inner work. Rudolph Steiner believed that the teacher should learn the material before the child being taught and really be able to integrate that into their souls, so that when it came time to the lessons, the teacher wouldn’t need any books to teach from. I can’t tell you how much this exercise has benefited me!!! Also part of a teacher’s inner work is clear meditition on each child. I have learned of the four temperments that Steiner used (their origin was Ancient Greece I believe), and I have used them to help me help my children. I find they are a tool that is immensly helpful in any interpersonal relations.

    I find that I could go on and on, I am so in love with this approach. I will only mention a few more ways in which this method has benefited my family.

    Our handwriting has improved dramatically with the use of blank paper and regular copywork. It has also improved with the use of form drawing.

    Our artwork is quite impressive. With the use of block crayons, the children have been introduced to drawing form instead of perceiving with lines. This method has given my oldest daughter an amazing revelation. A was always unsure of her drawing. We went back and did block crayons, which are intended for the younger grades. She was able to understand dimension in a way she didn’t before. Now her confidence in her work is not preventing her from holding back her artistic expression.

    While we did some handiwork before, now we have a more wholesome approach. We make regular time to undertake projects and we always see them through to completion. We select age appropriate work and we work with as many natural materials as possible. My oldest has become an avid knitter. She knits any animal you can imagine…All children have something they do best and love to do. My 5 year old loves to sew animals cut out from felt, especially horses.

    The importance of rhythm has really been key to our life. Now, with 7 children, I did have rhythm before, and quite a good one of chores and more logistical stuff. Now our rhythm has an artistic flow to it. We pay more attention to what we eat, we make sure to pay attention to the little details, like how to set a beautiful table, and how important it is to have a clear, simple, and beautiful space. This may sound like obvious stuff, but Waldorf education and Anthroposophy have given me the tools to make it enjoyable and easy. It has allowed me to integrate it into our life.

    In closing, there are many many resources I could recommend:
    http://www.alittlegardenflower.com , http://www.millennialchild.com, http://www.waldorflibrary.org, http://www.waldorfbooks.com, http://www.whywaldorfworks.org
    My favorite Waldorf books are: The Kingdom of Childhood by Rudolph Steiner, Rhythms of Learning by Roberto Trostli, Storytelling With Children by Nancy Mellon, and School as a Journey by Torin Finser.

  11. Thank you for the helpful summary!
    .-= Laura @ Getting There’s last blog: Just enjoying a warm spring day. =-.

  12. Zohn…THANK YOU SO MUCH for your info!!!!! You cannot believe how incrediably helpful your comments have been to me! I feel like I understand now….my boys LOVE the stories and art and handwork…they thrive on it! I feel like I dont have to worry so much about “the facts” of the here and now…you say it all comes together when they are older? Wow, what a relief and wonderful insight. I think if I go back to all this our daily tantrum,etc will melt away. Not gone forever,,,heaven knows my boys and their difficult paths they must lead, but Waldorf does “speak” to them in their souls…this and basically living outdoors. My weekend is looking more peaceful already!!!! YIPPEE!!!

    • I didn’t mean to be misleading….Waldorf homeschooling is different than unschooling. There is lesson planning, but it is quite different than using workbooks. A child does learn what their soul is capable of handling. Second graders work with the four processes (multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction taught together), language arts taught through Aesops Fables, time and money, the multiplication tables, form drawing, the recorder, and knitting. There are many excellent resources out there. If you don’t already know about Melissa Nielson of a Little Garden Flower, check out her radio show on lesson planning (www.alittlegardenflower.com) . Presently she is speaking on school planning for the upcoming year. I have found her immensly helpful.
      I also like Eric Fairman’s grade overviews for grades 1-8.
      Z

  13. Another tremendous resource for anyone exploring homeschooling using Waldorf methods is Christopherus Homeschool Resources. http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/home.html

    During the years that I homeschooled my two boys, I looked at various Waldorf homeschool curricula. Some were BEAUTIFUL and true to Waldorf, but didn’t address the realities of the daily life of a homeschooling mother. Others appeared to be to be watered-down with a Waldorf “flavor,” but as a trained and experienced Waldorf teacher, I knew that they were not really true to the philosophy and practice of Waldorf education.

    Then I discovered Christopherus, which was created by Donna Simmons, a Waldorf graduate, trained teacher and homeschooling mother of two boys. She knows what it’s like to juggle the laundry while dealing with a sick baby, getting dinner on the table and so on, while attempting to educate her children.

    When I started using her excellent curriculum guides, I was impressed by her deep understanding of Waldorf education and how practical and do-able her guides are.
    Rather than just advocating a “Waldorf-school-at-home” approach, Donna finds ways to make real life — chores and practical activities — part of the homeschool experience. In the years since, she has expanded her curriculum offerings greatly and now offers complete curriculum guides through Grade Four (and working on adding each subsequent grade).

    After two-and-a-half years of homeschooling, we returned to our local Waldorf school (I as a kindergarten teacher, and my boys as 4th and 8th graders), but based on our wonderful experience (and, boy, do I often miss our homeschooling days!), I have continued to sing the praises of Christopherus and recommended their resources to many homeschoolers over the years.

  14. I want to add that Waldorf Education is academically rigorous. It has a very rich basis in history and geography along with math and science. To me, the method of Waldorf Education actually really does come into its whole fullness starting around the fifth grade with ancient history…those biographies really make it all come to life!
    There are many more resources for Waldorf homeschooling than there used to be, and I think a holistic Waldorf education is powerful for all children learning to live in this very technologically-advanced society in which are children really are going to have to be creative problem-solvers.
    .-= Carrie’s last blog: Changing Our Parenting Language =-.

  15. How did I not see this post until today?! I’ve been wanting to explore Waldorf as a homeschool option, but didn’t know where to start.
    Kiasa’s latest post: Educational Insights

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