There are a huge variety of philosophies regarding the subject of education and what are the best practices to further the development of children. One of the most famous educational philosophers in history is Rudolf Steiner who has written extensively on the subject of child development. He is the pioneer of ‘Waldorf Education’ which is an educational philosophy that looks to focus on educating children to be very well-rounded and imaginative when it comes to approaching tasks in their lives as well as in their schooling. He believed that this style of education was the best way to teach children how to navigate through life with success and will have a lifelong ability to learn new skills at any age thanks to their imagination.
What are the core philosophies?
The main thrust of the educational premise is that children are taught according to Steiner’s three principle stages of child development. These main stages are:
- Pre-School – Up to the age of 6/7
- Elementary – Age 6/7 up to age 14
- Secondary – Age 14 up
Each stage includes very different learning experiences for children which are designed to best work alongside their physical and emotional development. This means that what they are being taught is done in the most effective way possible and will therefore have the best impact.
Waldorf pre-schools work by immersing their children in educational experiences and encourage a huge amount of ‘experiential education’. This means that they are allowed to learn by imagination and example and not through a rigid teaching structure. These schools follow routines which contain a lot of free play, artistic expression and practical tasks which are designed to make the children think or question what the best course of action to take is, helping their brain to develop cognitive reasoning skills. They also often include outside periods of free time in order to promote this type of creativity and love of getting outside and experimenting with learning new skills. It is at this age where many children will use a ‘Waldorf Doll’ which is synonymous with the educational philosophies espoused by Steiner. The Dolls are usually made by hand, something which there are many resources, such as eBook,where you are able to learn how to make them; and often use all-natural materials to give them a great plaything for the children.
The transition into formal learning is always a tricky one and Waldorf learning suggests that it should depend on increased independence of their character, memory and temperament which all allow for a harmonious transition away from the Waldorf Dolls and into the classroom. Before this point students won’t have any formal education in writing or reading as they won’t be sufficiently mature enough to fully appreciate the teachings. Steiner believed that teaching children in academic disciplines too young would be counterproductive for their development. Waldorf schools however don’t simply focus on basic academic disciplines and instead largely engage their students through cultivating their emotional intelligence and their imagination. This allows the students to invest more of their passion into the learning and therefore become more engaged in both the traditional subjects as well as the more creative ones.
By the time students reach the age of 14 they are thought to be mature enough to move into the secondary stage of education. At this point it begins to focus far more on traditional academic subjects and teaching students with very specialised teachers for every discipline. The curriculum is altered from the broadly creative aspects of the early education and to more focused, rigorous subjects designed to give the students a far more intellectual understand of the many areas of life. They are taught to cultivate intellect, judgement and ethical opinions which are based in the information of what you are being taught. Along with this, students are encouraged to continue with their development using the principles of conceptual judgement and their capacity for reasoning which have been developed through the earlier stages of their education. Giving the children the ability to learn their own thinking and judgement is the most valuable principle of secondary education, allowing children to progress into adult life with acute senses of perception and rational thinking.
Assessment and Curriculum
Mostly students are assessed by reports on their academic progression from the beginning of their elementary education. There is also a lot of reporting through qualitative description, especially during the earlier stages where aspects of their personality such as their playing with the Waldorf Doll and interacting with other students. There are few formal examinations taken throughout the education and letter grades aren’t given until the children reach the age of around 15. Instead the assessment mainly aligns with the principles of creativity and judgement which are taught throughout the education that children receive.
The curriculum of a Waldorf school is primarily designed to motivate the children of all ages to want to learn and be more creative with what they are studying. They offer a very wide-ranging curriculum which covers a huge variety of subjects. The formal subjects are introduced using many activities in order to try and make them as interesting and engaging as possible for children looking to move through into secondary education. Earlier on there is little formal curriculum and the teaching mostly focusing on using the dolls famous from the Waldorf system and teaching them to interact with other children.