Not so well known as the Montessori education philosophy, Waldorf is an alternative education system which focuses on the holistic development of children. As stated in their mission Waldorf schools integrate artistic, practical and intellectual content in their curriculum and focus on social skills and spiritual values. Waldorf education first began in 1919 in Germany inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy.
Steiner believed that children learned best when they were encouraged to use their imagination. He argued that education had to take into account physical, behavioural, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual aspects of children. This holistic approach characterises the development of children. Some research found that children in Steiner schools are more eager to learn new things, have more fun in school and have a more optimistic view of the future. Some say that children from Waldorf schools are more organised and have a greater imagination. The schools have also been criticized for focusing on weaker students and overlooking the needs of more talented students.
To sum up his philosophy, Steiner wrote: ‘Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able, of themselves, to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility – these three forces are the very nerve of education’.
Waldorf education has a few key principles to learn from. I choose to translate them to students because of my background:
– University isn’t meant to be a race: Steiner once said ‘Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The students themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the students themselves’.
Students do not all develop in the same way, nor do they develop at the same rhythm. Waldorf education teaches us to be attentive to the needs of each individual and to stop expecting our students to be what they’re not.
– Become a storyteller: Einstein once said ‘If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales’. Waldorf education shares this view.
Stories help students to connect, they teach them new words, and they take them to places they’ve never been. Waldorf education emphasizes the importance of telling stories rather than reading stories. Storytelling builds imagination.
– Connect with nature every day: People thrive on physical activity. Playing outside also spurs their creativity. Connecting with nature means teaching our students to be more attentive to the world around them. It means teaching them to take the time to smell the air and observe the different things and people in their environment. Nature also has a calming effect on children.
– Teach your students to play: the simplest toys foster the greatest creativity. Steiner emphasized the need for play that should provide sensory experiences. Simple toys and games that are open-ended, spark creativity because you can then use your imagination to create other objects or games.
– Establish routines: Rituals and routines give students a sense of security and provide them with roots. Establishing routines can simplify learning and make learning a more fulfilling experience.
The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility – these three forces are the very nerve of education, Steiner said: I fully agree.