What is Waldorf-Steiner Education?

There are many different educational philosophies throughout the world; some of the most child-centred educational philosophies have their origins in the theories of child development specialists and psychologists who believe that young children learn best through play and self-discovery. Among the most well-known of these philosophies are the Froebel Method, the Montessori Method, the Reggio Emilia Method and the Waldorf-Steiner Method.

In this post I am going to give an introduction to the Waldorf-Steiner Method.  It was created by Rudolf Steiner and in 1919 the first free Waldorf school in Stuttgart was opened by Emil Molt, of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory – hence the name Waldorf-Steiner Method.

The school became the model for the Waldorf movement, leading to the building and development of over 1,600 Waldorf Kindergartens and 994 independent Waldorf or Rudolf Steiner schools worldwide.

Steiner’s method was modelled strongly on the work of Jean Piaget, who believed that young children learn best through play and that childhood is divided into three stages.

the natural environment is important in Waldorf Steiner


The Waldorf -Steiner curriculum is broad and comprehensive, structured to respond to the three developmental phases of childhood: from birth to approximately 6 or 7 years, from 7 to 14 years and from 14 to 18 years. Rudolf Steiner stressed to teachers that the best way to provide meaningful support for the child is to comprehend these phases fully and to bring “age appropriate” content to the children that nourishes healthy growth.  Traditionally a Waldorf Education does not use textbooks. The children make their own based on their experiences.

In the United States in particular, where there is a strong tradition of home-schooling, the Waldorf- Steiner education method is considered by some to be particularly adaptable for home-schooling the independent, hands-on learner, the child on the autism spectrum, a child with ADD / ADHD or the child who is frustrated with the traditional school system.

A Waldorf-Steiner education strives to recognize and value each child as an individual, with unique talents and needs, and is designed to meet his or her needs while passing through distinct developmental stages. It teaches the whole child: head, heart, and hands. It fosters imagination and fantasy because children learn through imitation and play.


Key Features of the Waldorf-Steiner Method

  •  Children need to learn through all senses: All lessons are designed to appeal to the “head, hands and heart” meaning that it is important to educate the whole child. Steiner believed that people actually have twelve senses, the traditional five plus thought, language, balance, movement, warmth, life and individuality.
  • Imagination is at the heart of learning: Waldorf classrooms include a great deal of storytelling, fantasy, make-believe play, art, drama and crafts. One of the toys in a Waldorf classroom is an old-fashioned, faceless doll. It is believed that this stimulates creative thinking and imagination in children.
  • Life-skills are imperative to a complete education: Children in Waldorf classrooms are taught things like wood carving, sewing, gardening, and sculpting. They are offered opportunities to take up things like learning a musical instrument or knitting. These things give children a sense of achievement and allow them to learn more complex skills later in life.
  • A lifelong love for learning can be achieved through the arts: This serves to create a sense of wonder about different subjects. Curriculum such as maths can be examined through graphic-arts projects, and a multi-disciplinary approach is desirable.

In addition to these key features, the Waldorf-Steiner approach believes that children need to be surrounded by beauty in an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere. The classroom is a home-like setting filled with natural materials where children have periods of guided free-play, which focuses on their developmental needs.

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