Waldorf еducation

Educational theory: anthroposophical basis, developmental approach, four temperaments, assessment. Anthroposophy's role in Waldorf education. Relationship with mainstream education, reading and literacy, religion, immunization and student health.

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Waldorf education


student education anthroposophical

Waldorf education (also known as Steiner education) is a humanistic approach to pedagogy based on the educational philosophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. The first Waldorf school was founded in 1919 to serve the children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Waldorf education is now practiced in over 1,025 independent Waldorf schools,[1] 2,000 kindergartens[2] and 530 centers for special education,[3] located in 60 countries. There are also Waldorf-based public (state) schools,[4] charter schools, and homeschooling[5] environments [1].

The educational philosophy's overarching goals are intended to provide young people the basis upon which to develop into free, morally responsible, and integrated individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence.

1. Origins and history

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education,[2] began to articulate his ideas on education in public lectures, culminating in a 1907 essay on The Education of the Child which included his first comprehensive description of the three major phases of childhood. The first school based upon these principles was opened in 1919 in response to a request by Emil Molt, the owner and managing director of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company in Stuttgart, Germany, to serve the children of employees of the factory. This is the source of the name Waldorf, which is now trademarked for use in association with the educational method. The Stuttgart school grew rapidly and soon the school became the first comprehensive school in Germany, serving children from all social classes, abilities and interests. Schools began to open in other locations, including Hamburg, The Hague, and Basel. Waldorf education became more widely known and by 1938 schools inspired by the original school or its pedagogical principles had been founded in the USA, UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria and Hungary. Though political interference from the Nazi regime limited and ultimately closed most Waldorf schools in Europe, the affected schools were reopened after the Second World War.[2] The growth in school numbers through our days is shown on the fig.1.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Waldorf schools began to proliferate in Central and Eastern Europe. Most recently, many schools are opening in Asia, especially in China. There are currently over 1,000 independent Waldorf Schools worldwide.

Figure 1. Graph showing the growth in the number of Waldorf schools Размещено на http://www.allbest.ru/

Размещено на http://www.allbest.ru/

in the world from 1919-2012

2. Educational Theory

Anthroposophical basis

Rudolf Steiner's ideas on education grew out of his simultaneously emerging views on individual development.[3] These are part of his larger spiritual philosophy, Anthroposophy, which regards the human being as composed of body, soul, and spirit.

Steiner's educational ideas closely follow modern "common sense" educational theory since Comenius and Pestalozzi.[3] While anthroposophy underpins Waldorf schools' organisation, curriculum design and pedagogical approach (and frequently, the design of the buildings, as well as pupil and teacher health and diet), it is explicitly not taught within the school curriculum.[4]

Figure 2. Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy

The curriculum of Waldorf teacher education programs includes both pedagogical texts and other anthroposophical works by Steiner. As in a Waldorf school, teacher training colleges and institutes attempt to develop the academic, practical and artistic capacities of their students. For example, art, music, poetry, and handwork are integrated into the adult educational curriculum and students are expected to produce not only essays, workbooks and lesson plans but drawings, paintings, theatrical performances and other output that demonstrates their ability to work across all areas of the curriculum.

Developmental Approach

The structure of the education follows Steiner's theories of child development, which divides childhood into three developmental stages, each with its own learning requirements.[5] These stages, each of which lasts approximately seven years, are broadly similar to those described by Piaget.[2] Waldorf pedagogical theory describes these stages as follows:

During the first developmental stage (under 7 years old), children primarily learn through empathy, and their desire to engage with the world is therefore stimulated by participating in a range of practical activities. The educator's task is to present worthwhile models of action. Educational scholar Heiner Ullrich sums up the motto for Waldorf early years education as: The world is good. [2]

In the second stage, between ages 7-14, children primarily learn through materials appealing to their feelings and imagination. Story-telling and artistic work are used to convey and depict academic content so that students will connect more deeply with the subject matter they encounter. The educator's task is to present a role model children will naturally want to follow, gaining authority through fostering rapport. Ullrich sums up the instructional motto for the elementary years as: The world is beautiful.[2]

In the third developmental stage (14 and up), children primarily learn through their own thinking and judgment. They are asked to understand abstract material and are expected to have sufficient foundation and maturity to form conclusions using their own judgment. Ullrich sums up the instructional motto for the secondary school years as: The world is true.[2]

Steiner also described sub-stages of these larger developmental steps.

The developmental approach used in the Waldorf schools is designed to awaken - and ideally balance - the "physical, behavioral, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual" aspects of the developing person,[6] developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component.[6] A 2005 overview of research studies concluded that research results suggest that Waldorf schools successfully develop "creative, social and other capabilities important in the holistic growth of the person," but that more research is needed to confirm the generally small scale studies conducted to date.[6]

Four temperaments

Steiner considered children's cognitive, emotional and behavioral development to be interlinked. When students in a Waldorf school are grouped, it is generally not by a singular focus on their academic abilities. Instead Steiner adapted the idea of the classic four temperaments - melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric - for pedagogical use in the elementary years. Steiner indicated that teaching should be differentiated to accommodate the different needs that these psychophysical types[3]represent. For example, "cholerics are risk takers, plegmatics take things calmly, melancholics are sensitive or introverted, and sanguines take things lightly or flippantly."[6] Today Waldorf teachers may work with the notion of temperaments to differentiate their instruction. Seating charts and class activities may be planned around the temperaments of the students but this is often not readily apparent to observers. Steiner also believed that teachers must consider their own temperament and be prepared to work with it positively in the classroom, that temperament is emergent in children, and that most people will reveal a combination of temperaments rather than a pure single type.


The schools primarily assess students through reports on individual academic progress and personal development. The emphasis is on characterization through qualitative description. Pupils' progress is primarily evaluated through portfolio work in academic blocks and discussion of pupils in teacher conferences. Standardized tests are rare, with the exception of examinations necessary for college entry taken during the secondary school years.[3] Letter grades are generally not given until students enter high school at 14-15 years. Pupils are not normally asked to repeat years of education,[1] as the educational emphasis is on children's holistic development, not solely their academic progress.[3]

3. Educational Practice

Pre-school and kindergarten: birth to age 6/7

The Waldorf approach to early childhood education is largely experiential and sensory-based. The emphasis is on providing worthwhile practical activities for children to imitate, allowing them to learn through example. The schedule is oriented around an "organic" and well-ordered daily routine that emphasizes rhythmic experience of the day, week, month, and seasons.[3] Extensive time is given for guided free play in a classroom environment that is homelike, includes natural materials, and provides examples of productive work in which children can take part. Outdoor play periods are also generally included in the school day, providing children with experiences of nature, weather and the seasons of the year.[3]

Oral language is developed with songs, poems, movement games and daily stories - typically a fairytale is recited by the teacher, often by heart.[1] Aids to development via play generally consist of simple materials drawn from natural sources that can be transformed imaginatively to fit a wide variety of purposes. Waldorf dolls are intentionally made simple in order to allow playing children to employ and strengthen their imagination and creativity.

Waldorf early childhood education emphasizes the importance of children experiencing the rhythms of the year and seasons, including seasonal festivals drawn from a variety of traditions. Waldorf schools usually celebrate Michaelmas and Martinmas in the autumn, Christmas in winter, Easter and May Day in the spring, and St. John's Day in summer.

Waldorf schools generally discourage kindergarten and lower grade pupils against media influences such as television and computers.[1] Educational scholars Philip and Glenys Woods say this is done "not from an anti-technology bias but because its use at a younger age is understood to be out of harmony with children's developmental needs." In the younger years, focus is placed on the importance of physical activity and development.[1] Steiner believed that people use their entire body in order to learn and that engaging young children in abstract, intellectual activity too early would adversely affect their growth and development. He believed that the result of such early intellectual instruction would manifest itself later in life in the form of disease. [2] The lexical and sub-lexical aspects of learning to read are not taught in Waldorf kindergartens and are instead taught by the first grade teacher when pupils are around seven years of age.

Pre-school and kindergarten programs generally include seasonal festivals drawn from a variety of traditions, with attention placed on the traditions brought forth from the community. Waldorf schools in the Western Hemisphere have traditionally celebrated Christian festivals.[1]

Transition to formal academic learning

Waldorf pedagogical theory considers that during the first seven years of life, children learn best by being immersed in an environment they can learn from through unselfconscious imitation. In the second-seven year period, the child is ready for formal learning. The transition has a number of markers, one of which is the loss of the baby teeth,[3] which Steiner believed came about concurrently with a growing independence of character, temperament, habits, and memory.[2]

Elementary education: age 6/7 to 14

During the elementary school years (age 7-14), the approach emphasizes cultivating children's emotional life and imagination. The unusually broad core curriculum, which includes language arts, history, mythology, general knowledge, geography, geology, algebra, geometry, mineralogy, biology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and nutrition, "among others"[3] is introduced imaginatively through stories and creative presentations. Academic instruction is integrated with a multi-disciplinary artistic curriculum that includes visual arts, drama, artistic movement (eurythmy), vocal and instrumental music, and crafts.[7]

There is little reliance on standardized textbooks.[3] The school day generally starts with a one-and-a-half to two-hour, cognitively-oriented academic lesson that focuses on a single theme over the course of about a month's time.[3] This typically begins with an introduction that may include singing, instrumental music, and recitations of poetry, generally including a verse written by Steiner for the start of a school day.[7]

In the elementary years, each class has a core teacher for academic subjects who is meant to guide and stimulate pupils by exercising creative, loving authority, providing consistently supportive models of personal development both through personal example and through stories of "spiritual 'role models' from culture and history which may have an effect on the children's fantasy and imaginations through their symbolism and allegory."[3]

In a Waldorf school, the class teacher is normally expected to teach a group of children for several years - a practice known as "looping". Although the practice of "looping" has increased in both public and private schools, it is still considered an innovative approach to instructional design. Looping has both advantages in the long-term relationships thus established and disadvantages in the challenge to teachers, who face a new curriculum each year. Beginning from first grade, additional teachers teach subjects such as music, crafts, movement, and two foreign languages from complementary language families[2] (in English-speaking countries often German and either Spanish or French), all of which are central to the curriculum throughout the elementary school years.

While emphasizing the value of the class teacher as a personal mentor for students, especially in the early years, Ullrich documented problems with the continuation of the class teacher role into the middle school years (grades 7 and 8, ages 12-14). Noting that there is a danger of any authority figure limiting students enthusiasm for inquiry and assertion of autonomy, he emphasized the need for teachers to encourage independent thought and explanatory discussion in these years, and cited approvingly a number of schools where the class teacher accompanies the class for six years, after which specialist teachers play a significantly greater role.[3]

Waldorf elementary education allows for individual variations in the pace of learning, based upon the expectation that a child will grasp a concept or achieve a skill when he or she is ready. Cooperation takes priority over competition. This approach also extends to physical education; competitive team sports are introduced in upper grades.

Secondary education: age 14 and up

In most Waldorf schools, pupils enter secondary education when they are about fourteen years old. Secondary education is provided by specialist teachers for each subject. The education focuses much more strongly on academic subjects, though students normally continue to take courses in art, music, and crafts.[3] The curriculum is structured to foster pupils' intellectual understanding, independent judgment, and ethical ideals such as social responsibility, aiming to meet the developing capacity for abstract thought and conceptual judgment.

The overarching goals are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, morally responsible[6] and integrated individuals,[7] with the aim of helping young people "go out into the world as free, independent and creative beings".[7]

Spiral Curriculum

Though most Waldorf schools are autonomous institutions not required to follow a prescribed curriculum, there are widely agreed guidelines for the Waldorf curriculum, supported by the schools' common principles.

The main academic subjects are introduced through blocks lasting for several weeks consisting of daily classes that begin the day and last up to two hours long.[6] These lesson blocks are horizontally integrated at each grade level in that the topic of the block will be infused into many of the activities of the classroom and vertically integrated in that each subject will be revisited over the course of the education with increasing complexity as students develop their skills, reasoning capacities and individual sense of self. This has been described as a spiral curriculum.

The Waldorf curriculum has always incorporated multiple intelligences.

There are a few subjects largely unique to the Waldorf schools. Foremost among these is Eurythmy, a movement art usually accompanying spoken texts or music which includes elements of role play and dance and is designed to provide individuals and classes with a "sense of integration and harmony".[5]

4. Governance

One of Waldorf education's central premises is that all educational and cultural institutions should be self-governing and should grant teachers a high degree of creative autonomy within the school;[3] this is based upon the conviction that a holistic approach to education aiming at the development of free individuals can only be successful when based on a school form that expresses these same principles. Most Waldorf schools are not directed by a principal or head teacher, but rather by a number of groups, including:

· The college of teachers, who decide on pedagogical issues, normally on the basis of consensus. This group is usually open to full-time teachers who have been with the school for a prescribed period of time. Each school is accordingly unique in its approach, as it may act solely on the basis of the decisions of the college of teachers to set policy or other actions pertaining to the school and its students.

· The board of trustees, who decide on governance issues, especially those relating to school finances and legal issues, including formulating strategic plans and central policies.

Parents are encouraged to take an active part in non-curricular aspects of school life. Waldorf schools have been found to create effective adult learning communities.[1]

5. Spiritual foundations

Anthroposophy's role in Waldorf education

Both historically and philosophically, Waldorf education grows out of anthroposophy's view of child development, which stands as the basis for the educational theory, methodology of teaching and curriculum. Waldorf pedagogic see that the teacher has "a sacred task in helping each child's soul and spirit grow".[6] Steiner's "extra-sensory anthropology" has been the source of criticisms of Waldorf education in Germany.[3]

While anthroposophy is not generally taught as a subject, the degree to which anthroposophy is described by the schools as the philosophical underpinning of Waldorf education typically varies from school to school. This has at times, led to parents objecting that the role of anthroposophy in the educational method had not been disclosed to them, prior to enrollment.

One study noted that many Waldorf teachers display an uncritical attitude toward anthroposophy and questioned the pedagogy's reliance on a single theory of child development.

Spirituality and religion

Throughout the curriculum, Waldorf education is implicitly infused with spirituality.[1] The curriculum includes a wide range of religious traditions without being oriented in favor of any single tradition.

In Germany, where religious classes are a mandatory school offering in some federal states (although never obligatory for individual students to take),[1] each religious confession provides its own teachers for the Waldorf schools' religion classes; the schools also offer an open religion class for those who have no confessional affiliation. Religion classes are universally absent from American Waldorf schools.

Celebrations and festivals

Festivals play an important role in Waldorf schools, which generally celebrate seasonal observances by showing work of students in the class. The faculty of each individual school decides which festivals and celebrations would best meet the needs and traditions of the students in their particular school. Waldorf theories and practices have been adapted by schools to the historical and cultural traditions of the surrounding communities, whereby there is wide variation to what extent educators detach from Waldorf education's traditionally European Christian orientation. Examples of such adaptation include the Waldorf schools in Israel and Japan, which celebrate festivals of their particular spiritual heritage, and classes in the Milwaukee Urban Waldorf school, which have adopted traditions with African American and Native American heritages.[1]

6. Reception

Relationship with mainstream education

A number of national, international and topic-based studies have been made of Waldorf education and its relationship with mainstream education. A UK Department for Education and Skills (DfES) report suggested that each type of school could learn from the other type's strengths: in particular, that state schools could benefit from Waldorf education's early introduction and approach to modern foreign languages; combination of block (class) and subject teaching for younger children; development of speaking and listening through an emphasis on oral work; good pacing of lessons through an emphasis on rhythm; emphasis on child development guiding the curriculum and examinations; approach to art and creativity; attention given to teachers' reflective activity and heightened awareness (in collective child study for example); and collegial structure of leadership and management, including collegial study. Aspects of mainstream practice which could inform good practice in Waldorf schools included: management skills and ways of improving organizational and administrative efficiency; classroom management; work with secondary-school age children; and assessment and record keeping.[6]

Professor of Education Elliot Eisner sees Waldorf education exemplifying embodied learning and fostering a more balanced educational approach than American public schools achieve. Professor of Comparative Education Hermann Rцhrs describes Waldorf education as embodying original pedagogical ideas and presenting exemplary organizational capabilities.[1]

Reading and literacy

In preliteracy research, the topic of best teaching practice is controversial. Some scholars favor a developmental approach in which formal instruction on reading begins around the age of 6 or 7 and others who argue for literacy instruction to occur in pre-school and kindergarten classrooms, assuming that other activities are taking place as well.[8]

In a discussion on academic kindergartens, professor of child developmen David Elkind has argued that since "there is no solid research demonstrating that early academic training is superior to (or worse than) the more traditional, hands-on model of early education" educators should defer to developmental approaches that provide young children with ample time and opportunity to explore the natural world on their own terms.[9] Elkind names Rudolf Steiner as one of the "giants of early-childhood development" and describes activities for young children in a Waldorf school as "social," "holistic," and "collaborative," as well as reflecting the principle that "early education must start with the child, not with the subject matter to be taught."[9] In response Grover Whitehurst, educational policy chair at the Brookings Institution, argues the opposite. In his view, the lack of solid research demonstrating the benefits of early academics merely reveals the urgent need for an evidence-based "science of early education." He laments that early education scholarship is "mired in philosophy, in broad theories of the nature of child development, and in practices that spring from appeals to authority," such as Elkind's praise for those "giants of early-childhood development" whose work reflects Jean Piaget's insights.[9]

Sebastian Suggate has also performed analysis of the PISA 2007 OECD data from 54 countries and found "no association between school entry age... and reading achievement at age 15".[8] He also cites a German study of 50 kindergartens that compared children who, at age 5, had spent a year either "academically focused", or "play-arts focused" -- in time the two groups became inseparable in reading skill. Suggate concludes that the effects of early reading are like "watering a garden before a rainstorm; the earlier watering is rendered undetectable by the rainstorm, the watering wastes precious water, and the watering detracts the gardener from other important preparatory groundwork."

In 2013, Waldorf kindergartens in the United Kingdom were granted an exemption from and modifications of a number of the government's Early Learning Goals, including the requirement that early childhood programs include a reading and writing curriculum. The exemption was granted on the basis that certain of these goals run counter to Waldorf early childhood education's established principles.[9]


There are many opinions on the relationship between Waldorf education and religion. In Freda Easton's view, Waldorf schools are "Christian based and theistically oriented", [1] but "are opening in different cultural settings and can adapt to 'a truly pluralistic spirituality'".[6] Tom Stehlik places Waldorf education in a humanistic tradition, and contrasts it to "value-neutral" secular state schooling systems that he describes as lacking a philosophical basis.[1] Iddo Oberski considers that, though first established within a Western, Christian society, Waldorf education is essentially non-denominational in character.[4] In the United Kingdom, public Waldorf schools are not categorized as "Faith schools".[1]

For Steiner, education was an activity which fosters the human being's connection to the divine and is thus inherently religious.[1] He emphasized the important effect spiritual role models drawn from culture and history have on children's fantasy and imaginations. Ullrich describes Steiner's view as follows: "The strongest impulses can come from religious tales because these may be envisioned through man's position within the world as a whole."[3]

The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) stated in a 1997 position paper that "Waldorf schools are independent schools that are designed to educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to bring recognition and understanding to any world culture or religion. The Waldorf School, founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner, is not part of any church."[1] Religion classes are universally absent from American Waldorf schools.[1]

Racism controversy

In 2007, the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE) issued a statement, Waldorf schools against discrimination, which said in part, "Waldorf schools do not select, stratify or discriminate amongst their pupils, but consider all human beings to be free and equal in dignity and rights, independent of ethnicity, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, and political or other convictions. Anthroposophy, upon which Waldorf education is founded, stands firmly against all forms of racism and nationalism."[1]

In 1997, the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) published a position paper stating that "Waldorf schools are independent schools committed to developing the human potential of each child to its fullest. Admission to the schools is open to everyone, without regard to race, sex, creed, religion, national origin, or ethnicity....It is a fundamental goal of our education to bring students to an understanding and experience of the common humanity of all the world's peoples, transcending the stereotypes, prejudices, and divisive barriers of classification by sex, race and nationality. We most emphatically reject racism in all its forms, and embrace the principles of common humanity expressed by the founder of Waldorf education, Rudolf Steiner."[1]

Immunization and Student Health

Concerns have been raised about the extent of vaccination in Waldorf schools. The Australian has reported concerns among parents that Australian Waldorf schools have discouraged immunization,[109] and in the United Kingdom the Health Protection Agency categorizes Waldorf schools as "unvaccinated community".[1]

In 2012 John Thomas, a law professor, suggested that Waldorf education's emphasis on individual rights is inconsistent with society's use of vaccination to escape from disease, agreeing that the Waldorf school system "[boasts] a 'strong cultural anti-immunization preference among thought-leaders' in its community". Thomas cited vaccination rates of 23% at a Waldorf school in the San Francisco Bay area, compared to 97% in the surrounding county. He stated that children may "emerge from their school to infect infants, immunocompromised adults, and people whose vaccinations didn't take or have waned, with potentially fatal diseases."[1]

In 2001 the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE) issued a Statement on the Question of Vaccination which stated "It has come to our attention that uncorroborated statements have appeared purporting opposition to childhood immunisation as the official or tacit policy of Steiner Waldorf School Associations and the institutions they represent. We wish to state unequivocally that opposition to immunisation per se, or resistance to national strategies for childhood immunisation in general, forms no part of our specific educational objectives." The statement goes on to say that "families provide the proper context for such decisions" and "schools themselves are not, nor should they attempt to become, determiners of decisions regarding these matters."[1]


Waldorf education is the largest independent alternative education movement in the world. In central Europe, the Waldorf approach has achieved general acceptance as a model of alternative education. Waldorf education and Waldorf teacher training are funded through the state in many European countries. Public funding of Waldorf schools in the United States and the United Kingdom has been controversial.

There are many opinions on Waldorf education, but we can say that the educational philosophy provide young people the basis upon which to develop into free, morally responsible, and integrated individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence.


1. “Waldorf education” on http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/

Waldorf_education (available on December 2014)

2. Uhrmacher, P. Bruce (Winter, 1995). "Uncommon Schooling: A Historical Look at Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf Education".Curriculum Inquiry 25 (4): 381-406.

3. Ullrich, Heiner (1994). "Rudolf Steiner". Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education 24 (3-4)

4. Oberski, Iddo (February 2011). "Rudolf Steiner's philosophy of freedom as a basis for spiritual education?". International Journal of Children's Spirituality 16 (1): 14.

5. Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. (1 December 2006). The Best Schools: How Human Development Research Should Inform Educational Practice. ASCD. p. 53.

6. Woods, Philip; Martin Ashley, Glenys Woods (2005). Steiner Schools in England. UK Department for Education and Skills. 

7. Easton, F. (1997). "Educating the whole child, "head, heart, and hands": Learning from the Waldorf experience". Theory into Practice 36 (2): 87-94.

8. Van Kleeck, A.; Schuele, C. M. (2010). "Historical Perspectives on Literacy in Early Childhood". American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 19 (4)

9. Elkind, David (2001). "Much Too Early". Education Next. http://educationnext.org/much-too-early/.

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