Waldorf Education is a holistic approach to education that was developed by the late Dr Rudolf Steiner at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, who wished to create a form of education which would help pupils achieve clarity of thought, sensitivity of feeling and strength of will. The first Waldorf school was founded for the children of the Waldorf–Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart in 1919 and now there are some 800 schools and over 2000 Early Years settings in over 60 countries serving children from birth to 18 years of age.
The education takes account of the needs of the whole child, including his/her soul qualities, and believes that children’s learning flourishes in a calm, familiar and unhurried environment that recognises the delicacy of the child’s developing senses. Young children need to experience the relevance of their world before they separate themselves from it and begin to analyse it in a detached way.
Our highest endeavour as educators and parents, must be to develop free human beings who of themselves are able to give purpose and direction to their lives.
The Waldorf approach is based on an understanding of the relevance of the different phases of child development and strives to support each of these stages:
- Birth to 7: development of the will
- Age 7-14: development of the emotions
- Age 14-21: development of the intellect
It sets out to develop creativity, initiative, social responsibility and moral awareness in the child rather than merely filling the child with facts.
Formal learning of the three R’s does not feature in the Waldorf Early Years curriculum in the belief that a child will learn these skills more effectively when he/she has had plenty of time and opportunity to develop socially, emotionally and physically first in an enabling and harmonious environment.
Our experience has shown that learning comes easily and joyfully when it is offered when a child is developmentally ready.
The foundation skills in literacy and numeracy are laid through an environment focusing on hands-on activity and play and where language and communication are acquired through a rich oral tradition.
The Waldorf curriculum is non-denominational and respects the individual beliefs of families. Children of all ethnic or religious backgrounds are welcome to our kindergarten. The teachers and their assistants lead by example and provide an environment which respects individual differences.
The education is based on the notion that everything which surrounds the child, both visible and invisible, has an impact on the child. Very careful consideration is given to the impact of everything in the kindergarten environment to ensure that it is gentle to the eye, ear and all the senses of the young child. The physical space is designed to be home-like and as free from exterior distraction as possible.
There are no ‘hard’ corners, no strong colours and all the furniture and toys are made of natural materials and are deliberately crafted to be relatively undefined to allow maximum scope for imaginative use as props in children’s play. They include wooden blocks and logs, natural plain cloth, shells and hand-made dolls. Equipment includes grain mills, woodwork tools and other simple manual tools, water colours, broad brushes, beeswax crayons, sheep’s fleece and sewing materials. We also have simple musical instruments and a quiet book corner with carefully chosen picture books.
Young children find their own learning situations in play. Studies demonstrate that good players show more empathy towards others and good social skills and are less aggressive; are able to see things from the perspective of the other and show less signs of fear, sadness and fatigue.
In the kindergarten the children are given opportunity for child-led free play (both inside and outside), play arising out of the child’s own observation of life, where they have the opportunity to integrate socially and use their imagination and fantasy to recreate and work out situations which they have seen or experienced.
One of the teachers’ roles is to respect the wisdom of childhood and the child’s unique mode of experiencing and learning through play as the first step towards affirming the sense of self. The teachers will facilitate and observe the play, but only interfere when absolutely necessary.
Toys and equipment are as simple and unfinished as possible to stimulate the imagination of the child and to enable the children to use the material provided in many different ways.
Rhythm and repetition are crucial. Regular patterns of activities create routine and foster a sense of security and self-confidence and help the child to know what to expect. Working with rhythm helps children to live with change, to find their place in the world, and to begin to understand the past, present and future. It provides a very real foundation for the understanding of time – what has gone before and what will follow – and helps children to relate to the natural and the human world.
Children’s memories are strengthened by recurring experiences and daily, weekly and yearly events in kindergarten (such as festivals and celebrations) are remembered and often eagerly anticipated a second time around. Repetition also helps to support good habits.
In kindergarten, children are encouraged to appreciate the natural world in order to help them value its gifts and understand its processes as well as the patterns of the seasons. The beauty of nature, plants, insects and animals is brought to the children with awe and wonder. Children are encouraged to look after the kindergarten equipment, sanding and oiling wooden toys, mending things that break or washing cloths and doll’s clothes.
Waldorf education sees artistic activity and the development of the imagination as integral to learning. As with play, drawing and painting activities are facilitated, but not directed by the teachers and the children are left to express themselves freely. Certain types of drawings are typical of specific stages in a child’s development and the children’s artwork therefore provides the teachers with valuable insights into each child’s physical and inner progression.
A healthy relationship between parents and teachers is crucial in order to support the wellbeing of the child. The teachers work in close partnership with parents, forming a bridge for the child between home and school from the earliest years.
The teachers maintain a continuous dialogue with the parents through various means, including short conversations at pick-up time, communication books, individual meetings as well as parents’ evenings and home visits.
Parents share kindergarten life at festivals and contribute in small ways, for example by helping with cleaning, laundry, repairs and fundraising activities.
A Waldorf kindergarten aims to provide a home-like environment which facilitates the transition for the child from home to a more formal school environment. It sees itself as a community of children, teachers, families and friends rather than just a school. The mixed age group in kindergarten mirrors family life.