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We Choose D: All of The Above. A Series on Alternative Educational Theory. This week: Waldorf Practice.

Next up in our series is : Waldorf Education photocredit

Waldorf Educational Theory really interests me, and I love so many things about it, and yet, there are things I also disagree with. As always, learning provides the opportunity to glean what knowledge you can, and run with it. Now...onto the summary!

It is also known as Steiner or Steiner-Waldorf education after the founder Rudolph Steiner. The term "Waldorf" actually comes from the first school, in 1919, built to represent Steiner's principles on educating children. It was for the employees' children of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette company in Stuttgart, Germany. The name "Waldorf" has now become the trademark to represent Steiner's alternative educational practice.
Waldorf education really seeks a holistic approach to education, involving practical, artistic, and conceptual learning in one big educational ball. I feel it is best known (and mostly stereotyped for) it's use of creativity and imagination development.
This can mean any number of things. When I first heard the term "Waldorf", I immediately thought of little children playing fairies and gnomes in a toad-stool house somewhere in the woods, where they would be decked out in organic wool-knitted clothing and Birkenstock. (Like I said, there so many things I love...!)
To a degree, this very well could be a Waldorf free-play that a child is doing, but the reasons they have behind their views on everything from media to clothing are thoughtful and, I believe, fruitful for their purpose.
Waldorf education really stresses imagination and free-play, and this is best found outdoors! Waldorf children will always be found outside, no matter the season, because there is much to learn about nature, and much to be celebrated, in every season! They celebrate seasons with festivals and seasonal activities. When they are inside, they are playing with natural materials from (yes!) wool, to actual wooden-stump blocks(see picture below). Rock crayons would be chosen over crayola 64 packs. They are following household 'rhythms' like washing dishes or sweeping. And of course, they are very involved in art and drama!
Birth-6/7yr.
During this time, most learning comes by learning and imitation, (similar to Montessori) where there are plenty of natural materials to play with, like a Waldorf doll (love these Bamboletta's) that is very un-commerical. They are usually given to the child with represented features (red haired doll for a red-haired child, etc.) and can be dressed in homemade clothing to the child's preference. They also are involved in productive work like the washing.

Elementary Age
During this time, more academic structure is provided, where the children will learn another language, but still very creative including visual arts, music, drama, crafts, etc. to continue the expansion of the imagination.

Secondary Education
Around early teenage years, the academics take a more defined presence, yet students are still highly encouraged to continue on with their artistic endeavors.
Resources:
I recently reviewed Heaven on Earth, a book written by a Waldorf educator, which I really liked and it was the jumping off point for me to keep reading more about it. I highly recommend it, and you can read my review HERE.
Read more on Rudolph Steiner on the wikipedia page about Waldorf Education.
For ideas about how to incorporate some Waldorf practices and/or items into your home, visit one of the many Flickr sites devoted to just that to get your creative burst!
A Waldorf inspired blog, Uncommon Grace.
A magazine I have wanted to & now recently subscribe to, Living Crafts magazine, has a Waldorf-slant.

Pros:
  • Waldorf teachers are cited as being very committed to their pupils!
  • This educational theory believes in cooperation over competition, which, in this over-sported country, I view as a very good thing.
  • Waldorf education is also known for creating effective adult/parenting learning communities
  • Slow-paced & love nature. Need I say more?

Cons:

  • too much emphasis on New-Age themes for me, including the spiritual philosophy of Anthroposophy, karma, reincarnation, and magic. This is the BIG deterrent from me being sold on the Waldorf idea.
  • they are also very expensive

My Viewpoint:

Although I love using natural materials when playing, follow the daily household rhythms to include children to be productive, and am very encouraged that an educational theory involves creativity so much, I am mostly very turned off by the Waldorf "magical" slant. Since I am a Christian, I believe it is important to educate children on all things, and sift our Christian themes through them. For example, I don't have any problem with telling my kids a fairy tale, as long as there is an explanation, (fact or fiction?) and how it relates to Christ being centered in our life. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the seasons, as long as we realize it was our Creator who made them, and they have a specific purpose for His glory.

However, I will admit, the fact that they discourage media until a proper age (pre/teen) even down to their clothing (should be free-flowing, without commercial representation on them because it becomes a distraction, and comfortable for the child) is very appealing to me. I believe we, as Americans, are so busy, the stress of constant combined noise/visuals only bothers our senses more and so to cut that out is a welcome breath of fresh air. Like I have said before, we glean what we can and we move on. See our family playing the Waldorf way here and here!

What do you think?

***

Disclaimer:
As always, I am a firm believer in "Mamma knows best", just to say whatever works for your family is the best option for you and your children. This post is only to show what I've come across, am interested & passionate about, and what we thinking of maybe, 'planning' to do.... doing what we feel is right for each individual child in the child's season of life.

Comments

Chandelle said…
My partner is a Waldorf grades teacher and our kids attend the same school (for free, thank goodness!). You've done a terrific summary here of the method.

I just wanted to comment on your reference to the "magical" quality of Waldorf philosophy. As basically an atheist (though I like Buddhist philosophy and I attend Meeting with the Quakers), this bothers me, as well. It's this issue that I tend to debate with my partner, though he's certainly not a "true believer" himself.

You might be interested to know, however, that Steiner was a Christian mystic and most of the philosophy is basically Christian, although from a Jungian archetype position rather than a literal interpretation.

Though I can see it from your point of view, it's the Christian focus that bothers me as an atheist. For example, during a recent Michaelmas festival, there was a prayer to God and also angels in the play. That made me pretty uncomfortable. I do not like feeling that religion is being promoted to my kids. So coming from the other side of things, I share your discomfort. But I used to be Mormon, and I never felt at that time that it challenged my beliefs. The teachings themselves (of anthroposophy) never seem to be dictatorial or dogmatic. It's a philosophy, not a religion.

Anyway, I just thought I'd point out that, though it's certainly sprinkled with some unconventional ideas like karma, the foundation is actually Christ-centric. Also, even more importantly, it's not essential that the teachers uphold anthroposophy and the philosophy itself is NEVER discussed with the children or taught in any way.

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