Over the centuries, education has been continuously evolving, and new theories and philosophies have emerged as a result. Waldorf education is one of the most prominent developments that emerged early at the start of the 20th century, when Rudolf Steiner founded the first-ever Waldorf school in 1919.
Waldorf education follows a child-centered philosophy that focuses on holistic development and education, with its primary focus being enrichment of the mind, body, and soul
What is Waldorf Education?
Waldorf education is an instructional, child-centered program that applies a progressive philosophy that goes against the traditional and most commonly followed subject-centered ideology of education.
It aims to develop the child holistically, applying what is known as the holistic point of view. Employing this holistic approach means that the learning process in Waldorf education is designed to develop all three aspects of the child – the head, heart, and hands. Learning in the Waldorf educational structure is geared towards the improvement of the thinking, feeling, and doing processes among its learners.
This educational process is known for its incorporation of the arts into its curriculum. Art being integrated into all academic disciplines is supposed to enhance and enrich learning. Waldorf education believes in helping learners discover more of themselves. This individualistic approach is aimed at helping children achieve their full capacities and potential.
In addition to having art as a vital part of Waldorf education, it also introduced a very unique strategy in the teaching and learning process known as eurythmy. It is known as the art of visible speech and music. It is similar to music translated into movement, and it is considered a useful method in Waldorf education.
The History of Waldorf Education
The roots of Waldorf education can be traced back to the research efforts of the founder himself, Rudolf Steiner. His idea is centered on the human being having a spirit, soul, and body. He theorized that education should be focused on developing these three aspects of the human being and not just on cultivating the mind.
Looking back into the history of education, during the time Waldorf education was started, the more traditional dogma was mainly centered on developing the mind through reading, writing, and arithmetic. This type of educational view was based on a subject-centered philosophy. Conversely, Waldorf education was anchored in a child-centered viewpoint.
The establishment of the first Waldorf school in 1919 marked the beginning of Waldorf Education. The first Waldorf school flourished instantly and had twelve founding teachers who were trained by Steiner. The simultaneous learning of teachers and students during these times was a genuine manifestation of Waldorf education.
Though bearing different names, 34 other Waldorf schools had been opened by the beginning of the Second World War in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Sweden, Holland, Norway, England, and even the United States. At present, Waldorf education is embraced and implemented by more than 1,000 schools across the globe.
The Theory Behind Waldorf Education
Waldorf education follows the developmental theory of education, which means students learn appropriate knowledge, skills, and values at different stages. In this educational approach, the stages include early childhood, which is from birth to 7 years old, middle childhood, which covers ages seven to fourteen, and adolescence, which includes ages 15 to 21.
Another aspect of Waldorf schooling is the philosophy that education should be holistic. This leads to what is known as the individualistic approach, where the cognitive, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children are all given emphasis and consideration.
This educational method also employs the theory of active learning. This means that the teaching and learning process is student-centered, hence the use of learning-by-doing. Activities are designed to let the students have meaningful experiences, allowing them to develop inherent motivation toward learning.
Waldorf Educational System
The Waldorf educational system is anchored within the developmental approach to education. This is applied in the classrooms resulting in educational programs and endeavors that are intended to achieve the goals of each developmental stage.
Early childhood is focused on developing the hands through doing. This is the stage where the senses are developed and learning transpires through imitation. As such, a sensory-rich environment is provided to children. In addition, social relationships are also nurtured at this stage.
The next phase, middle childhood, is centered on the development of the heart through imagination. Lessons are projected to stir the emotions and feelings of the learners. Activities are leading to moral development and self-awareness of the learners.
The final phase is the adolescent stage. It is the point where the mind is honed through world discernment. Learners are expected to inculcate the capability to truthfully make sound judgments of the world around them. They are anticipated to be accountable for their learning. This is towards the vision that children gain a complete sense of who they are and become worthy members of society in the future.
Curriculum Under Waldorf Education
One of the key philosophies of Waldorf education is the integration of art and nature in the curricular programs concentrating on its fundamental connection to humanity. Waldorf education is envisioned to help children have a better appreciation of life expressed through arts, music, and imagination.
The Waldorf education curriculum incorporates arts and nature in all aspects of the curriculum, where even the learning environment is designed to be one with nature. Creativity and artistry among children are highly motivated and encouraged as they are believed essential to achieving their maximum potential.
There are daily activities such as drawing, painting, and even sculpting. In addition, music is integrated through singing, playing of musical instruments, and as well as eurythmy which entails the harmonious body movement to the rhythm of spoken poetry. These are all supposed to develop the mind, the body, and the soul.
Finally, Waldorf education requires teachers to employ the traditions of progressive education. This means that the child-centered philosophy is carried out throughout the entire teaching and learning process. Teachers need to provide individualized attention to children as they are direct participants and contributors in the development of each.
Teachers are responsible for the acquisition of intrinsic passion for learning among students. By principle, teachers help children to gain the intrinsic motivation to grow and be competent in their academic achievements and evaluations. Children are invigorated to be versatile and innovative, with high moral and ethical standards.
Pros and Cons of Waldorf Education
One of the strong points of Waldorf education is being child-centered. With this, children are provided the maximum learning experiences to discover themselves thus allowing the development of their full potential. Children can also learn at their own pace as part of the developmental principles.
In addition, Waldorf education highly promotes creativity through the integration of arts into the curriculum. This encourages innovation among the children as they go through the experiential learning process developing their capacities.
Furthermore, children are directed towards self-directedness and self-discovery. With an emphasis to develop intrinsic motivation and discovering themselves, children are assisted to achieve self-actualization.
On the contrary, the key feature of having arts combined into the curriculum brings controversy, especially with the coming of educational technology into the picture. Since arts, nature, and imagination are emphasized more than the concepts of technology, children are encouraged to go back to nature, exploring and learning through the world around them.
The lack of exposure to technology also leaves them behind, especially since 21st-century education requires a lot of technology-related skills. In addition, some of the educational practices can lead to impediments when it comes to the children’s adaptability to world standards since they are not used to standardized tests.
Waldorf Education vs Montessori vs Public Schools
In terms of the curriculum, Waldorf education helps children develop a love for lifelong learning through the use of diverse means that incorporate art, music & craftsmanship. Montessori education on the other hand encourages engagement in self-disciplined learning focusing on real-life goals. Public schools on the other hand promote accountability of learning. The curriculum is centered on measurable academic achievements in reading, writing, and mathematics.
When it comes to the learning resources, in Waldorf education, materials mostly come from nature as part of the natural world and are children-crafted. The Montessori on the contrary uses multisensory and utilizes distinctively planned sensory resources for diverse subjects. As for public schools, all learning materials are given by the state for definite academic objectives.
Waldorf education is based on the premise that children have unique personalities and gifts. As such, it focuses on bringing out the best in each child through holistic education, fostering creativity through the arts and nature, and encouraging experiential learning.
Just like any other system, Waldorf education also has its disadvantages. One of the major setbacks is the limitation of the application of technology. While all educational systems are moving forward to the demands of 21st-century learning, technology included, Waldorf education lags.
Waldorf education revolves around understanding human development to cultivate the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual capacities of children. Waldorf education envisions children to be confident of their own chosen tracks and later be of service to the larger community through their heads, hands, and hearts.