Waldorf (or Steiner) education is an offshoot of anthroposophy, a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was an early 20th Century Austrian philosopher who was involved in the founding of the first Waldorf School, in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919.

The Foundations of Waldorf Education

There are a number of factors that underlie Waldorf education, including the following:

  • The Waldorf approach is interdisciplinary.
  • A Waldorf education is holistic, covering the mental, physical and spiritual needs of the child.
  • There is a strong emphasis on the child as an individual, which strongly influences decisions of method and curriculum.
  • The belief that a child's imagination is a guiding principle for implementing educational specifics.
  • Limitation of early age access to technology, including television, computers and cell phones.
  • Interaction with the natural environment as a point of emphasis.

Waldorf Education Curriculum

The Waldorf education approach restricts a child's access to traditional academic subject matter until the rough equivalent of second or third grade age, when they are considered developmentally ready to learn the information. Emphasis is instead placed on exposure to the arts and storytelling for young children. Even when academic subjects become part of the mix, a variety of art disciplines are always part of the curriculum.

Waldorf Education Methodology

In a class setting, early year activities are typically carried out under a teacher's direct supervision. When more traditional academic subjects are added to the curriculum, they are ordinarily taught in a manner that is similar to typical schools, with students seated at desks or tables and the teacher leading the lessons.

Comparing Waldorf and Montessori Philosophies and Methods

The Waldorf philosophy is often compared with the somewhat better-known Montessori approach to early childhood education. There are plenty of similarities, but key differences exist as well.

Waldorf and Montessori similarities include:

  • An emphasis on the individual student, in terms of curriculum and pace of education and instilling a sense of individualism.
  • A holistic approach to education.
  • A focus on the arts and the use of art as a critical part of the educational process.
  • A concern about the role of technology as a distraction, particularly in early childhood development.
  • Formal grades are disdained by both approaches as a method of assessment.

Differences between the two methods include:

  • Introduction of traditional academic subjects: the Montessori method introduces math, reading and other such subject matter much earlier than Waldorf adherents, though neither method calls for a force feeding.
  • While the Waldorf approach keeps students of the same age together, the Montessori method mixes together students in age groups of three or four adjoining years (e.g. 3-6, 6-12, etc.).
  • The Montessori method calls for students to decide for themselves what subjects to follow at any one time with teacher guidance as needed, as opposed to the somewhat more traditional approach of the Waldorf method.

Applying the Waldorf Approach to Home Life

Some aspects of Waldorf education can be enhanced by adapting certain Waldorf principles to a child's home life. These include:

  • Restricting access to television, personal computers and cell phones.
  • Providing/Increasing exposure to visual and performing arts through easy access to different kinds of music and visual arts (via books and field trips).
  • Encouraging frequent and direct exposure to nature via regular outings to forests, gardens, parks, preserves, and the like.
  • Encouraging your child to use his/her imagination. Storytelling, dress up games and open expression through painting and drawing are all good ways to stimulate the use of imagination.

This article provides a series of suggestions for incorporating Montessori concepts into home life.