Waldorf Education

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

– William Butler Yeats

Our children will inherit a rapidly changing and surprising world. The best preparation we can give them is to provide a multi-dimensional schooling that develops the full range of their human potential. This is Waldorf Education.

To contribute fully in tomorrow’s world our children will need to be dynamic, resilient individuals who never stop learning. To be both successful and self-fulfilled they will need the following attributes:

  • Creative thinking permeated with imagination, flexibility, and focus
  • Emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-esteem
  • Physical vitality, stamina, and perseverance
  • Spiritual depth borne out of an abiding appreciation and responsibility for nature, for work, and for their fellow human beings

All children come into the world with these attributes as potential within them. The whole focus of Waldorf Education is to awaken these capacities and draw them forth within the framework of a sound academic school experience.

The entire academic program, including the teaching of math and science, is purposefully integrated with art, movement, and music. These rich curricular experiences enhance the schoolwork, insuring that the students are always engaged in three essential ways: actively, emotionally, and thoughtfully. This comprehensive, three-dimensional focus helps to develop the mastery of skills and the essential capacities that children need for their future.

Physical Vitality

Our children will be the leaders of tomorrow. They need an education that preserves and strengthens precious assets like their youthful energy and vitality. In the Harvard Business School publication, Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas point out that one of the most significant characteristics of influential leaders is their ability to maintain youthfulness in old age. Active, resilient, creative individuals who are able to reinvent themselves continually, become leaders and mentors who never stop learning and growing. Developing lifelong learners is a goal of Waldorf Education.

A school should not squander the vitality of young children before the long race of life is run. Students should be actively engaged in hands-on, experiential learning. This active participation supports healthy physical development – indeed, promotes health on many levels. Pallor, nervousness, and lethargy are noticeably absent in a Waldorf School where learning is a joyful, adventurous undertaking.

Emotional Intelligence

“What can we change to help our children fare better in life? What factors are at play, for example, when people of high IQ flounder and those of modest IQ do surprisingly well. The difference quite often lies in the abilities called emotional intelligence, and these skills can be taught.”

– Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence

The Waldorf way of teaching is consciously designed to foster emotional intelligence. Through a program that is rich in both affective and cognitive experiences, all Waldorf students acquire the ability to express themselves through painting, drama, music, crafts, movement, and writing. All lessons are reinforced through the learning community that is established around each class where one teacher, one group of children, and their parents remain together for eight or more years. But most of all emotional health comes from an education that fosters self-esteem by recognizing that each child brings gifts above and beyond the ones that can be measured on an exam. By developing emotional intelligence and fostering lasting self-esteem, Waldorf Education prepares children for their most important tests, the ones they face after they leave school.

Creative Thinking

In addition to physical vitality and stamina, in addition to emotional health and resilience, our young people need a creative intelligence that will enable them to be successful problem solvers. Original thinking, permeated with flexibility and imagination, will help individuals face the challenges of the future and imagine the important questions that have yet to be asked.

In order to meet the demands of our complex and problematic world, our children need clear, focused thinking supported by good habits of mind. The book, Habits of Mind, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, relates a series of attributes that describe what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems that are seemingly unsolvable. These attributes, such as: Persisting, Managing Impulsivity, Listening with Understanding and Empathy, Thinking Flexibly, Gathering Data Through All Senses, and Responding with Wonderment and Awe, are woven into the Waldorf approach to education.

A commitment to the physical, emotional, academic, and spiritual well being of each child is the core of the Waldorf philosophy. This commitment is realized through an educational program that engages students actively in hands-on learning, connects them emotionally and meaningfully with their subjects, their teachers and their fellow students, and thoughtfully fosters attentiveness and receptivity. By promoting this healthy, well-rounded development, Waldorf Schools encourage children to flourish in school and find success and fulfillment in life.

By Jack Petrash
Nova Institute

Further Reading:

Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out
by Jack Petrash, Gryphon House Inc.

What is Waldorf Education? 3 Lectures by Rudolf Steiner
Steiner Books

Waldorf 100

The first Waldorf school was founded in Stuttgart in 1919 – “the Waldorf school” will be 100 years young in 2019! Today there are over 1,100 Waldorf (or Waldorf-inspired) schools and more than 2,000 Waldorf kindergartens in 80 countries. And there are more and more. We are taking the anniversary as an opportunity to further develop the Waldorf School in a contemporary manner and to raise awareness of its global dimension. With many projects on all continents. Be curious and be part of it: 100 years are only the beginning.

“We seek to unravel the mystery of each child in our care and to learn, little by little, how best to help that chid develop in a healthy manner and to acquire the skills, capacities, and knowledge needed to live well in the world.”

Merwin Lewis
Pedagogical Chairperson
London Waldorf School