Developed by Rudolf Steiner in Germany in 1919, the Waldorf method is a humanistic art and nature-based educational philosophy that stresses social skills, creativity, spirituality and hands-on work. Waldorf schools are pretty exclusive and expensive – there are about 200 Waldorf schools in the U.S. and roughly 1,000 in the world (about one-tenth of the number of Montessori schools). A key distinction between Waldorf and Montessori is that Waldorf emphasizes a greater breadth of topics while Montessori is focused on a self-driven philosophy of learning (freedom within limits).
Walk through a Waldorf school and you will find a curious blend of crafts, abacuses, knitting needles, and outdoor gardens. What you won’t find are computers or technology. They are viewed as detrimental to the early learning process – children are encouraged to solve math and language problems using a pen and a paper. Ironically, many Silicon Valley employees send their children to Waldorf schools and an article by The Atlantic noted that Waldorf graduates score “well above the national average” on their SATs.
Waldorf’s curriculum classifies three stages in child development. The pre-school years are devoted to creative play and hands-on activities, such as drawing and knitting. In elementary school, the emphasis shifts to artistic expression, social interaction, grammar, math facts, and analytical capabilities. Secondary school stresses critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. A strong emphasis is placed throughout on the learning of early civilizations and on the spiritual aspects of life.
Here are a few interesting ways to adopt Waldorf concepts in your home.
- Reduce Your Use of Technology. Computers are being used more and more in classrooms, and children are being introduced to them at an earlier age. To make it worse, the “gamification” of education (a space invader game that incorporates math facts, for example) is merging entertainment with learning. Most of the research states that such methods detract from learning – electronics at a young age have an adverse effect on concentration and memory.
Try and set boundaries on the usage of computers and video games use in your home. It is preferable to reserve use for specific assignments during the week and recreational use on the weekend only. There is no better learning experience than a great problem that is solved using a pen and paper, or a great book that your child reads during their uninterrupted, unhurried time. Not convinced? Try talking to your child after they have just played extensively on a tablet or computer. Observe the degradation in their attitude and vocabulary. Compare that to their attitude after reading a wonderful book.
- Broaden the Scope of your Curriculum. With the extra time gained from disconnecting technology, you can devote more time to authentic learning experiences. Be different. Go beyond your school’s curriculum or the “next new thing”. Explore ancient civilizations, world religions, perspective drawings, knitting, gardening or archery. Spend more time observing nature in your backyard or visit a museum.
- Adjust your Sequence and Pace of Topics. According to one teacher, “All students are capable of solving quadratic equations, but not necessarily at the same age.” Waldorf pays close attention to sequence of education. Language arts may begin with playtime, then singing songs, then basic letter sounds, then grammar, then reading, then writing. Take a look at your child’s curriculum and critically assess if all topics are correctly staged. While grade levels and school curricula offer general guidelines, make room to adjust the agenda for your child’s needs. Don’t worry about “keeping up with the Joneses”.
While Waldorf is much broader in scope, these three approaches can help you implement the best ideas in your own home. Many of our society, art, language and emotional intelligence worksheets are Waldorf inspired. Give them a try and write to us about your experiences!