Frequently Asked Questions

What is Waldorf Education?
Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf Education is based on a developmental approach that addresses the needs of the growing child and maturing adolescent. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education in to an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head. For more information, please go to Waldorf Education: An Introduction.

Is Waldorf Similar to Montessori?
These two educational approaches began with a similar goal: to design a curriculum that was developmentally appropriate to the child and that addressed the child’s need to learn in a tactile as well as an intellectual way. The philosophies are otherwise very different.

Are Waldorf schools religious?
Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational. They educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive, and, as part of its task, seeks to bring about recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions. Waldorf schools are not part of any church. They espouse no particular religious doctrine but are based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life. Waldorf families come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions and interest.

Does Waldorf Education prepare children for the “real” world; and, if so, how does it do it?
It is easy to fall into the error of believing that education must make our children fit into society. Although we are certainly influenced by what the world brings us, the fact is that the world is shaped by people, not people by the world. However, that shaping of the world is possible in a healthy way only if the shapers are themselves in possession of their full nature as human beings.

Education in our materialistic, Western society focuses on the intellectual aspect of the human being and has chosen largely to ignore the several other parts that are essential to our well-being. These include our life of feeling (emotions, aesthetics, and social sensitivity), our willpower (the ability to get things done), and our moral nature (being clear about right and wrong). Without having these developed, we are incomplete—a fact that may become obvious in our later years, when a feeling of emptiness begins to set in. That is why in a Waldorf school, the practical and artistic subjects play as important a role as the full spectrum of traditional academic subjects that the school offers. The practical and artistic are essential in achieving a preparation for life in the “real” world.
Waldorf Education recognizes and honors the full range of human potentialities. It addresses the whole child by striving to awaken and ennoble all the latent capacities. The children learn to read, write, and do math; they study history, geography, and the sciences. In addition, all children learn to sing, play a musical instrument, draw, paint, model clay, carve and work with wood, speak clearly and act in a play, think independently, and work harmoniously and respectfully with others. The development of these various capacities is interrelated. For example, both boys and girls learn to knit in grade one. Acquiring this basic and enjoyable human skill helps them develop a manual dexterity, which after puberty will be transformed into an ability to think clearly and to “knit” their thoughts into a coherent whole.

Preparation for life includes the development of the well-rounded person. Waldorf Education has as its ideal a person who is knowledgeable about the world and human history and culture, who has many varied practical and artistic abilities, who feels a deep reverence for and communion with the natural world, and who can act with initiative and in freedom in the face of economic and political pressures.
There are many Waldorf graduates of all ages who embody this ideal and who are perhaps the best proof of the efficacy of the education.
From “Five Frequently Asked Questions” by Colin Price; originally printed in
Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003

Why do Waldorf schools teach reading so late?
There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the “tiredness toward reading” that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes in fact from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.

If reading is not pushed, a healthy child will pick it up quite quickly and easily. Some Waldorf parents become anxious if their child is slow to learn to read. Eventually these same parents are overjoyed at seeing their child pick up a book and not put it down and become from that moment a voracious reader. Each child has his or her own optimal time for “taking off.” Feelings of anxiety and inferiority may develop in a child who is not reading as well as her peers. Often this anxiety is picked up from parents concerned about the child’s progress. It is important that parents should deal with their own and their child’s apprehensions.

Human growth and development do not occur in a linear fashion, nor can they be measured. What lives, grows, and has its being in human life can only be grasped with that same human faculty that can grasp the invisible metamorphic laws of living nature.
From “Five Frequently Asked Questions” by Colin Price; originally printed in
Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003

Would a child be at a disadvantage if he were transferred from a public school into a Waldorf school, or out of a Waldorf school into a public school?
Children who transfer to a Waldorf school in the first four grades usually are up to grade in reading, math, and basic academic skills. However, they usually have much to learn in bodily coordination skills, posture, artistic and social activities, cursive handwriting, and listening skills. Listening well is particularly important since most of the curricular content is presented orally in the classroom by the teacher. The human relationship between the child and the teacher is the basis for healthy learning, for the acquiring of understanding and knowledge rather than just information. Children who are used to learning from computers and other electronic media will have to adjust.

Those children who enter a Waldorf school in the middle grades often bring much information about the world. This contribution should be recognized and received with interest by the class. However, these children often have to unlearn some social habits, such as the tendency to experience learning as a competitive activity. They have to learn to approach the arts in a more objective way, not simply as a means for personal expression. In contrast, in their study of nature, history, and the world, they need to relate what they learn to their own life and being. The popular ideal of “objectivity” in learning is misguided when applied to elementary school children. At their stage of development, the subjective element is essential for healthy learning. Involvement in what is learned about the world makes the world truly meaningful to them.

Children who transfer out of a Waldorf school into a public school during the earlier grades probably have to upgrade their reading ability and to approach the science lessons differently. Science in a Waldorf school emphasizes the observation of natural phenomena rather than the formulation of abstract concepts and laws. On the other hand, the Waldorf transferees are usually well prepared for social studies, practical and artistic activities, and mathematics. Children moving during the middle grades should experience no problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age group find themselves ahead of their classmates. The departing Waldorf student is likely to take along into the new school a distinguishing individual strength, personal confidence, and love of learning.

From “Five Frequently Asked Questions” by Colin Price; originally printed in
Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003

Why do Waldorf schools recommend the limiting of television, videos, and radio for young children?
A central aim of Waldorf Education is to stimulate the healthy development of the child’s own imagination. Waldorf teachers are concerned that electronic media hampers the development of the child’s imagination. They are concerned about the physical effects of the medium on the developing child as well as the content of much of the programming.
There is more and more research to substantiate these concerns. See:

Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don’t Think, by Jane Healy
Failure To Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds For Better and Worse, by Jane Healy
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander
The Plug-In Drug, by Marie Winn
Evolution’s End: Claiming The Potential of Our Intelligence, by Joseph Chilton Pearce

What is Eurythmy?
Eurythmy is the art of movement that attempts to make visible the tone and feeling of music and speech. Eurythmy helps to develop concentration, self-discipline, and a sense of beauty. This training of moving artistically with a group stimulates sensitivity to the other as well as individual mastery. Eurythmy lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms.

How can a Waldorf class teacher teach all the subjects through the all years of elementary schooling?
The class teacher is not the only teacher the children experience. Each day, specialty subject teachers teach the children eurythmy, handcrafts, a foreign language, instrumental music, and so on.

The class teacher is, however, responsible for the two-hour “main lesson” every morning and usually also for one or two lessons later in the day. In the main lesson, she brings all the main academic subjects to the children, including language arts, the sciences, history, and mathematics, as well as painting, music, clay modeling, and so on. The teacher does in fact deal with a wide range of subjects, and thus the question is a valid one.

A common misconception in our time is that education is merely the transfer of information. From the Waldorf point of view, true education also involves the awakening of capacities—the ability to think clearly and critically, to empathetically experience and understand phenomena in the world, to distinguish what is beautiful, good, and true. The class teacher walks a path of discovery with the children and guides them into an understanding of the world of meaning, rather than the world of cause and effect.

Waldorf class teachers work very hard to master the content of the various subjects that they teach. But the teacher’s ultimate success lies in his ability to work with those inner faculties that are still “in the bud,” so that they can grow, develop, and open up in a beautiful, balanced, and wholesome way. Through this approach to teaching, the children will be truly prepared for the real world. They are provided then with the tools to productively shape that world out of a free human spirit.
From “Five Frequently Asked Questions” by Colin Price; originally printed in
Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003

Is it true that Waldorf students are not taught to read until second grade?
No! Learning to read is an entire process with many contributory facets, and Waldorf Education undertakes reading instruction in almost the opposite way that it is introduced in most schools across the nation Indeed, the foundation for reading instruction is laid already in the kindergarten.

In the United States, the mainstream approach to reading has been to introduce decoding skills as the first step in the reading process. This entails memorizing the alphabet and its corresponding sounds through repetitive drills and then linking these sounds together to read simple words and sentences. This is the approach that is built into early readers. You probably remember: “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. Run, run, run.”, or some similar type of reading material when you were in school. Because the content of these early readers must be very simple to restrict words to those that can be easily sounded out, teachers are forced to wait until the middle and upper elementary years to work on more sophisticated texts. Then teachers must work hard to improve comprehension since the pupils at this age have already moved beyond the phase of where imaginative thinking is at its peak.
There is a second concern about teaching reading skills in this sequence. This approach is difficult for many young children because, in many cases, their eye muscles have not matured to the point where they can track properly on a page. Thus, a number of children will be labeled as slow or remedial readers simply because their eyes may not have matured as early as other children.

Waldorf Education approaches reading instruction from an almost opposite direction specifically so that instruction is synchronous with the development of children. Reading is much more than recognizing sound/symbol relationships. For true reading to occur, there must be a corresponding inner activity that takes place as the child decodes words: that is, the child must form an inner picture of what he or she is reading so that comprehension develops. The rich life of the imagination is most potent in a child during kindergarten and early elementary years and is present at the same time that the child’s sense for the sound and rhythm of language is at its peak.

To capture these capacities at the time that they are most present in the child is the rationale for a foundation of reading that begins first with spoken language. The rich language of fairy tales, the pictorial imagery of songs and poems and the desire of the young child to listen to stories and repeat rhymes and sing songs all become the basis for a language arts curriculum through which a child may come to love “the word”. Imagine how much more complex and imaginative are the stories to which a child may be introduced if they are orally presented rather than through the simplistic language of a reader. Imagine how much a child’s vocabulary can develop from listening to the content that the teacher brings. Imagine also how much more sophisticated a child’s understanding (comprehension) of the world can become through hearing the rich and complex language in the teacher’s presentations and stories.

For all of these reasons, Waldorf students will be given a strong foundation in comprehension, vocabulary and in the sounds and meanings of their native tongue. Then students will be introduced to writing and spelling the letters and words that are part of their stories. And, as a final step, the students will read from their own texts describing the stories that they have heard. In this way, students have the proper time to develop all of the skills that are part of the complex skill of reading at the time when it is most appropriate for them to do so. When reading is approached in this way, children become voracious readers who love and understand what they choose to read.