Waldorf Education: A comprehensive guide for parents
Waldorf education is similar to other progressive styles of education - but there are a few differences you should know before enrolling your child, parents.
Like parenting styles, there are many education “styles” too, to choose from. One learning system you might want to know more about is Waldorf Education, which focuses on the holistic education of a child. In this article, we introduce this pedagogy to you, as well as discuss Waldorf Education pros and cons, and more.
What is Waldorf education?
Before discussing Waldorf education pros and cons, here’s a bit of history first.
Waldorf schools were founded by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian educator. Steiner designed his own educational system as he was against the traditional German educational system at the start of the 20th century.
Back then, the German education system revolved around teachers and prioritised teaching students reading, writing, maths, German history, and religion. Furthermore, only a few students were exclusively granted further education after Volksschule, or 8-year elementary school.
Steiner firmly disagreed with this method of teaching. Instead, he wanted to create an educational system that could nurture a child on a holistic level.
Steiner purposely steered clear of focussing on intellect only. He built his school taking into account the acceptance of all children, co-education between boys and girls, and to last for 12 years.
In addition, he also suggested for teachers to remain the highest authority in schools. This practice has continued since the first Waldorf school opened in 1919.
Waldorf schools offers age-appropriate education that is based on experiential learning. It is also coupled with meticulous attention to academic quality and is designed based on human development to provide a growing child what they need.
Unlike traditional education, Waldorf schools combine all forms of subjects from preschool level to High school, to better the student’s learning experience. Ultimately, Waldorf education seeks to nurture an attitude of lifelong learning in all students, thereby giving them the ability to mature and master their unique abilities.
In Waldorf schools, art subjects such as music, dance and writing aren’t memorised and evaluated by testing.
Rather, they are experienced, helping Waldorf students develop their intellect, emotional intelligence, physical and spiritual qualities so that they grow up to become helpful, confident adults that are able to navigate through the world.
Waldorf teachers are committed to instill a burning passion for each student. By doing so, external rewards – such as academic rankings from competitive exams and testing- aren’t needed. Instead, the reward is better inspired learning and and individual drive to learn more.
Waldorf education also instills independence in each individual while being open to everyone. It sustains liberty in education while also acting on administration on its own in all Waldorf schools.
Characteristics of Waldorf education
Different Waldorf schools may offer different teaching programmes based on location, local culture, group size, student age-range and their own unique teaching methods. Still, all Waldorf schools fundamentally share the following characteristics:
In terms of educational structure
- A committed and continued loving attention in embracing every student
- Opportunities for students to play on their own. Uncomplicated play material is provided and is the critical activity for young children.
- Experiential learning, which gives kids the freedom to internalise and comprehend their experiences.
- An understanding that young kids understand new things in three ways: mimicking others, stimulating a variety of senses and moving. Young kids instinctively want to investigate the surrounding physical and social environment on their own. Waldorf school environments provide structure, security, the opportunity to act despite risks, and confront challenges.
- Prioritising realistic rather than virtual experience, which helps the child have a healthy understanding of and connection to the world.
- Regular routines throughout each day, week and year. A regular rhythm provides a sense of security and teaches students how everything in life is connected. Of course, seasonal events and festivals are also celebrated according to local culture.
- Waldorf teachers put a heavy emphasis on creating a collaborative community built on healthy relationships between parents, teachers and students.
In terms of educational subjects
- Provision of art-themed recreation like playing music, painting, and telling stories, which allows the child to develop their imaginative and creative capabilities.
- Practical skills such as how to cook, bake, tend to a garden, handwork and other domestic actions, which offer the space to unleash and develop hidden potential. This form of education emphasises on how life carries on, and not on learning objectives.
Waldorf education pros and cons: The benefits of Waldorf Education
The benefits of Waldorf education have been clearly established among the Waldorf education pros and cons. Professors who have educated Waldorf students in a variety of subjects and institutions have stated that Waldorf students are different as they:
- are able to make connections between information. Waldorf graduates can absorb information well, rather than rote memorisation of facts
- adopt flexibility, creativity in their approach and aren’t hesitant to take intellectual risks;
- become leaders who uphold strong moral standards. Waldorf graduates are proactive and keen to realise their goals.
In addition to the holistic academic program Waldorf schools provide, it also has these seven benefits in early childhood education.
1. Putting a heavy emphasis on speaking and listening early on
Waldorf schools emphasise speaking and listening while the child is under seven years old. The kindergarten curriculum is centred around stories like folktales or fairy tales that are read aloud. Teacher are ‘storytellers’ .
Waldorf teachers are also very meticulous, ensuring that they speak clearly and enunciate properly. After all, immersing oneself into literature is the foundation of becoming literate. Becoming familiar with speaking and listening will also support the child when they learn writing and spelling later on.
2. Continuous repetition to aid brain development
The same stories are told again at regular times within the span of several weeks. This way, children are able to remember the stories and songs covered in class as second nature.
Modern research on the brain has verified that repeating action supports a child’s brain while it’s developing. The massive amount of links between neural pathways in the brain are enhanced via repetitive experience.
3. Writing is made fun
It is only in primary one that children begin to learn the alphabet – but not through dull, black and white worksheets. Rather, the alphabet is taught in a creative pictorial method.
Every alphabetical letter is depicted as a picture portraying something from the stories they had to learn. For instance, kids may draw the letter “M” in the form of two mountains side by side.
Learning alphabets pictorially aids the child in understanding how the letters are related to the real world instead of immediately understanding the abstract forms. Pictorial alphabets provide a good stepping stone before the child learns about abstract concepts as an adult.
Once students have mastered the alphabet, they will copy text which the teachers have written in their lesson books.
Unlike dull, school-issued books, these lesson books are beautified by Waldorf students on their own. The initial few sentences and stories will stem from whatever the child experiences, and they first learn reading by understanding the text they’ve composed in their books.
A lesson might go like this: teachers note down a verse which the children are familiar with. After quickly identifying the sounds and words that make up the verse, kids will begin to ‘read’ the text as they record it within their lesson books.
4. Allows the child to learn reading skills without forcing them to
Waldorf education extends reading from Primary two till Primary three. That’s because reading doesn’t come instantly to every child. It requires additional skills which children learn at their own pace.
Waldorf education acknowledges that the most important aspect of teaching children to read is to give them time and support. By cultivating a positive relationship with talking and scribbling letters, coupled with the required skills and tools, Waldorf education allows a child to master reading on their own.
5. Providing books to enhance vocabulary
Children who are comfortable with reading will be provided with age-appropriate, quality literature to fuel their passion for reading.
6. Doesn’t risk forcing pupils to read books too early
It’s well known from research that forcing children to learn academics too early on has many negative consequences. Pressurising kids to read early usually damages their self-confidence and interest in reading up on books.
Instead, research has shown that early childhood schools should prioritise age-appropriate activities like playing, exploring and socializing. Kids shouldn’t have too much pressure, as evidenced from the Finnish education system, which starts kindergarten at age six, centers on play and socialization, doesn’t include reading or writing, and has a maximum of four hours for school hours.
7. Teaches kids pronunciation without Phonics
As we all know, English words are often not pronounced in the same way as they are spelled, and vice versa. It would take some time to fully learn such a language as it needs key skills that kids only learn later on.
Readers who are still beginners need two key skills:
- to decode words. That is, isolating sounds making up a word and then combining them together.
- word recognition. Kids need to identify words and link them to their unique pronunciation – which requires time to master.
The Waldorf method is unique in setting up the fundamental basics for reading during Kindergarten. As students aren’t pressurised to master reading and writing quickly, Waldorf students are able to pick up the pace naturally.
They eventually start reading according to or beyond government-set levels, with better comprehension.
Most significantly, kids who have mastered reading have a sustained passion for reading which carry on well as they enter adulthood.
Waldorf education pros and cons: The other things you should be aware about
When talking about Waldorf education pros and cons, there is one ‘con’ that usually comes to the forefront.
In addition to being an educator, Steiner was also a formulator of anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is a philosophy that stems from the idea that humans are able to communicate with spiritual worlds with their intelligence.
While Steiner hasn’t completely passed down his anthroposophy teachings to Waldorf schools, they can still be contaminated with them. That leads to a few issues, such as:
According to a guideline published by Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF), an organisation representing all Waldorf schools, it was mandatory for Waldorf schools to show that:
“an anthroposophical impulse lies at the heart of planning for the school”.
Anthroposophy’s beliefs are rooted from reincarnation. That could lead to a few odd rules, but some have more devastating consequences than others. For instance, Steiner believed that sicknesses affecting us today have a “source” in our previous lives. By handling these “source” problems, one could gain “reinforced power” and boosted “karma”.
Such beliefs inevitably conflict with vaccination. Waldorf schools don’t have strict regulations on vaccination.
Instead, parents are supposed to select their own jabs. Sadly, Waldorf school students aren’t likely to get vaccines, with a Health Protection Agency once citing it as “unvaccinated populations” for measles.
Issues with bullying
The Department for Education (DfE) once noted that people did complain about bullying in Waldorf Schools. While bullying isn’t a common problem, it can possibly happen due belief in anthroposophy.
In modern eyes, Steiner would have been accused of racism. He believed that different races of people had different types of lives, and that they should reside to a fixed geographical location.
Although the SWSF claims that none Steiner’s racist teachings “occur in his educational writings”, it could still taint certain Steiner schools.
For instance, during one diversity training day in a Waldorf school, four Caucasian teachers filled in all the boxes in identifying their ethnic background. The reason, apparently, was that they had ascended above the other races.
The above issues are the usual reasons for complaints against Waldorf schools. Much of Steiner’s findings also point out to racism being threaded through anthroposophy and the Waldorf educational method.
Other complaints also argue that anthroposophical beliefs aren’t taught, Waldorf students are remain unprotected. They are indirectly exposed to anthroposophical values and ideas of spirituality, which could also affect their upbringing.
If you’d like to find out where Waldorf education is offered in Singapore, please click this link.
Parents we hope that this article on Waldorf education pros and cons has benefitted you on choosing a good school for your little one. Read on more articles about non-traditional education, such as Progressive education or the Montessori method!