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What is Waldorf education?

The need for imagination, a sense of truth, a feeling of responsibility, these are the three forces which are the very nerves of pedagogy.

– Rudolf Steiner

Waldorf education is a unique and distinctive educational approach practiced in the largest group of independent, non-denominational private schools in the world.

Overview

Waldorf schools offer a broad and balanced curriculum that is artistically structured to respond to the developmental needs of the children.

Waldorf education recognises 3 broad stages of child development: 0 to 7 years, 7 to 14 years, and 14 to young adulthood. In educational terms this covers the kindergarten period of 3 to 6 years, the primary school period from 6 to 14 years, and the high school from 14 to 19 years. Each of these stages is marked by significant and specific developments in physical, psychological, and spiritual maturation.

Steiner teachers aim to develop the “head, heart and hand” in a balanced way. They strive to achieve this goal through working on an in-depth understanding of human development.

There is a strong emphasis on creativity. In addition, a high value is placed on play in the early years, imagination in the primary school and critical thinking at secondary level. Diversity among children is embraced in an atmosphere of trust and reverence of the individual, the community, and the earth.

Rudolf Steiner

The educational movement was founded by Rudolf Steiner (1861 to 1925). Born in Austria, Steiner was formally trained as a scientist, but he also studied philosophy. He developed a theory of knowledge based upon the spiritual nature of thinking. His life was devoted to building up a complete science of the spirit to which he gave the name Anthroposophy, which literally means “human wisdom.” His range of interests was considerable – from the introduction of biodynamic farming, medicine, social science, to architecture and education.

How it began

In the chaotic circumstances of post-World War I Germany, Rudolf Steiner had been giving lectures on his ideas for a societal transformation in the direction of independence of the economic, governmental and cultural realms, known as Social Threefolding, to the workers of various factories. On April 23, 1919, he held such a lecture for the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany; in this lecture he mentioned the need for a new kind of comprehensive school. On the following day, the workers approached Herbert Hahn, one of Steiner’s close co-workers, and asked him whether their children could be given such a school. Independently of this request, the owner and managing director of the factory, Emil Molt, announced his decision to set up such a school for his factory workers’ children to the company’s Board of Directors and asked Steiner to be the school’s pedagogical consultant. The name Waldorf thus comes from the factory which hosted the first school.

This first Waldorf school started in September of the same year. Since then, the Waldorf movement has spread to over 70 countries, including China, Taiwan, Japan, India, and Vietnam in Asia. There are over 1,600 Waldorf kindergartens and 1,000 Waldorf grade schools at present.

Core values

While each school is self-sufficient and self-governing, all Waldorf schools around the world do share a common set of core values. They are outlined by the Steiner Waldorf Schools’ Fellowship as follow:

  • Respect for the integrity (unique essence, or spirit) of each individual and of the world in general
  • Interest in and Positive approach towards the potential for development in young people in particular and humanity in general
  • Recognition of the central importance of lifelong learning 
  • Commitment to the core task of educating children in the light of the above
  • Encourage, enable and value the contribution of individuals, groups and communities to the improvement of our common heritage