Waldorf 101 – What is Waldorf education all about6 min read
Lately, there’s been a lot of debate and discussion about education and learning. How more people have started pursuing unconventional careers and have started drifting away from the traditional academically driven vocations. A lot of people have credited the failing education system which only focuses on route learning, mindlessly mugging up information and competitive tests which don’t necessarily examine one’s knowledge. Conventional teaching methods aren’t really inclusive and do not cater to all kinds of people with different strong areas and subjects. Even the people who are good at STEM subjects, have limited options such as researchers, professors, engineers, architects and so on. Therefore, owing to innumerable and unavoidable factors, new techniques or even refining the old methods have begun and people are moving towards a better, healthier and more vigorous curriculum that takes into account one’s skills, interests and aptitude as a whole.
Waldorf education, also known as Steiner education, is an educational approach presented by Rudolf Steiner with the purpose of developing and thereby, integrating a child’s intellectual, artistic, literary and practical skillset in order for more holistic and individual growth. Waldorf’s curriculum mainly focuses on a child’s imagination and fantasy, promulgating a qualitative strategy of learning. On the other hand, quantitative strategy is minimized while standard learning and systemized tests take place regularly, being restricted to what is required by the post secondary education. The first Waldorf school was established in 1919, in Stuttgart, Germany and now more than a century later, it has become the largest self-reliant student movement across the world, with more than 1200 students in 75 countries. It is largely popular in the United States, Germany and the Netherlands along with other countries. The growing dissatisfaction among parents and students’ ever increasing dependence on technology has led to a change in mainstream education. With the aim of engaging and captivating kids, this system requires the participation of head, heart and hands- thinking, feeling and doing.
Waldorf pedagogy has threefold aspects-
- Birth to age 7 (early childhood)
- Age 7 to age 14 (middle childhood)
- Age 14 to age 21 (adolescence and young adult)
1. Birth to age 7
For children under 7, there is no specific form of education that is prescribed. More emphasis is placed on their sensory activities and play based learning. Their teaching and mentoring are based on imitation, they are exposed to the natural environment and are told stories and legends, taught to sing or paint even and made to understand the importance of festivals and traditions. These activities teach them the significance of art, culture, social relationships and nurture them into more confident, responsible and socially driven individuals.
2. Age 7 to age 14
This is a very crucial age that contributes to the formation of a kid’s academic career as well as their whole life. At this stage the curriculum is broadened, delving into mythological sagas, fables, historical accounts, biographies among others. They are guided towards a more pragmatic approach, doing everything on their own, having hands-on- experience and creating things. The first graders are usually handled with utmost care and precision since it’s their first time and gradually pushed towards a more academic rich learning environment. For instance- students are taught to write the letters copying them and when perfected move towards words in the main textbook. This is followed by reading, wherein they are made to read their own text to better their understanding. This not only instills certainty and faith in themselves but also boosts their morale and paves way for a more aware and accountable individual.
3. Age 14 to age 21
Students of this age are characterized by more self governance and individualism than seen before. Soft skills such as, fair judgment, teamwork, negotiation, critical thinking, outspokenness and being vocal about their opinions and thoughts about the world, is inculcated in them. The primary focus is on the rigorous academic and intellectual content but never neglecting the artistic side. One can say, it’s very similar to Liberal Arts where all the subjects are given equal attention and not disregarded. Science, Commerce and Humanities are all interwoven and thus, given equal importance if not more. Students are expected to study all of it in order to become capable of understanding and choosing what they want to take up in the future as a profession. There is an impeccable balance between academics and co-curricular activities. Each morning through grades 1-12, the class starts with a 2 hour study session wherein main students are introduced and made well versed with the main subjects. These classes run for 3-6 weeks usually. For instance- 3rd graders have a main lesson on Farming and similarly, 5th graders and 8th graders have a lesson in Botany and Chemistry respectively. The children also get additional hours for performing arts, literature and foreign languages.
In the context of 1st graders, they generally have a teacher for 8 years who becomes an integral part of their life, instructing and guiding them through thick and thin and always being there for them. They become the primary support system and important authority figure. This is because, in this way, it becomes easier for the kids to adapt, understand and become comfortable in the environment.
Benefits of Waldorf Education
The essential factor of Waldorf learning is the prominence practical approach and trying-out-something on your is given. Whenever possible, children are made to experience the learning process first which is then followed by theoretical knowledge. For example, when toddlers and preschoolers learn numbers say, 5 the teachers start talking about all the things that entail 5 like, Starfish, fingers or feet. In addition to this, there are a few textbooks in elementary school and very few in high school. The notion behind is simple, to let the students pave their own path and learn through experiments, class discussions, lectures, graphics, stories and descriptions. The students are then required to make their own notebook containing such information and even the teachers don’t consult books or notes when teaching in the classroom. This helps the students to concentrate and focus on the class rather than being distracted and absent-minded or bunking the lectures and treating them lightly.
Zero tolerance for computerized mechanisms
The use of electronic mediums like television, smartphones and laptops is also discouraged especially in younger students. This aids the kids in forming their own ideas, thoughts and imagination instead of being swayed by others’ misjudgments or incorrect information on the internet.
Not the usual compulsion of fitting in, one can stand out and still have a sense of belonging and feel like a part
Waldorf education takes away the pressure of fitting into one box from children. They gradually explore and find what they like about themselves and can literally choose from a ton of diverse professions since they are well-versed in almost everything or at least have knowledge of the concerned field. Therefore, they have multiple boxes at their disposal and can pick whichever they want. Sky’s the limit for them legitimately.
Integrating the natural world
Waldorf education lays stress on feeling more connected as an individual and as a community. It encourages students to go out and play, unlike, conventional school system where the students are expected to study and be academically brilliant while sports can take the back seat. The young and impressionable minds are fostered with love, support and compassion, and a drive to change the world for the better.