A Waldorf education is an option that favors child-centric programming for kids that goes well into intermediate and middle school. The first one was founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner in Austria as a way to help the families of cigarette factory workers during the recovery from the first world war. It would become a radically different way to teach basic comprehension skills, and this approach is still radically unique compared to most national teaching systems that are implemented today.
Steiner held the belief that every person, no matter what their age happened to be, had an ability to improve themselves. He felt that the potential to change the world and an individual’s spiritual growth should be recognized in the classroom environment. That’s why he created a place where children could use their imagination while still applying hands-on, practical work to promote the learning process.
The typical Waldorf education uses dance, writing, visual arts, music, and myth to introduce lessons. Religious images are common, as are classic fairy tales and folk stories. All faiths are included in this process. There are currently 1,000 schools practicing this curriculum around the world, with 150 of them in North America. California is one of the most popular locations for this option, with 26 active programs as of 2018.
List of the Pros of a Waldorf Education
1. A Waldorf education takes a slower approach to the learning process.
It can be disruptive for some families when they walk into a Waldorf school for the first time. There is an abundance of arts and crafts found in the classroom, a slower, traditional pace to the learning process, and a lack of technology. You’ll still find the traditional chalkboard in these schools instead of whiteboards and other advanced options. There are musical instruments to play in each class and more outdoor opportunities to enjoy other than recess.
2. Children get to focus on their creative side in a Waldorf school.
If your child wants to explore writing or acting, then a Waldorf school would encourage that pursuit by encouraging them to compose a play. There are numerous chances for students to sew, knit, or paint as part of the overall curriculum. If you want to learn about mythology or history, then you’ll be doing so through the images or objects that get created in this environment.
Children still learning essential reading and writing basics at a Waldorf school including fractions, geometry, and phonics. Instead of using computers or methods of memorization, students are encourages to get muddy, play in the rain, and use creative arts like woodworking to learn the basics.
3. Kids get to disconnect from the connected world in a Waldorf school.
When you step into a Waldorf classroom, you will discover that the early grades are entirely free of modern electronics. The kids won’t be using tablets, computers, calculators, or even CDs in the early grades. Their goal is to teach through a journal of daily lessons instead of using textbooks. You’ll find that there is artwork everywhere because ink sketches, pastels, paints, and more are part of the lesson plan. The goal is for the students to learn by using their curiosity and senses through interaction with natural elements, which means some classrooms don’t even have furniture.
4. You will usually get the same teacher for several years.
Waldorf schools do not believe in the idea that a teacher should get one class per grade year. The approach focuses on the relationship that each instructor builds with their students and their family. It is a tradition that these schools call, “looping.” If you enroll a student in the first grade at one of these institutions, then you could have your child with the same teacher for up to eight years. By bonding teachers and students in healthy ways, there are fewer issues with classroom abuse, bullying behavior, and miscommunication.
“You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are,” Steiner once said. “The time has come to realize that supersensible knowledge has now to arise from the materialistic grave.
5. Children are treated as individuals.
When you start attending a Waldorf school, you will immediately notice that your child is treated as an individual instead of as a commodity. The curriculum they receive is specifically tailored to meet their own style and pace of learning. Competition is discouraged because each student is free to learn at the pace which suits them. Instead of collaborating in football or soccer, your kids will be collaborating through group art, theater projects, and other unique assignments that are not always found in the public school system.
“Feelings are for the soul as what food is for the body,” was Steiner’s observation about knowing higher worlds.
6. Kids wait until their later years to learn reading and math.
If your child thrives with reading and math, then a Waldorf school will encourage their development at any age. When kids don’t seem interested in these subjects, then your teacher is not going to press the issue. Brain development occurs at different rates for each child, so the idea of this educational process is to introduce letters, symbols, and numbers at an early age through stories so they seem like less of an abstract item to them. When the learning skills catch up with their development, then the essential subjects are presented to each student in a way that promotes their long-term achievement.
7. You don’t need to ditch your technology to embrace a Waldorf education.
Some parents believe that they must eliminate technology from their lifestyle and home to let their kids benefit from a Waldorf education. That idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of the executives and leadership team members in Silicon Valley send their children to these schools as a way to learn about the world without the influences of technology. Although you will need to limit the use of your child’s tech while at home, even signing an agreement to limit technology use, you’re not being asked to become Amish.
8. It is safe to experiment in the classroom of a Waldorf school.
Kids who get into their middle school years often have quirky, weird things that they like to try out as they experiment with the world and who they want to be. Each student develops a nurturing relationship with their teacher, working to be as flexible as they offer a safe, loving environment. It is a safe place where kids are encouraged to experiment with their environment, who they are, and what they want to accomplish in life one day.
List of the Cons of a Waldorf Education
1. The use of electronic media is not permitted until the fifth grade.
If you enjoy using technology for learning as a family, then a Waldorf education might not be the best choice. Media tools are banned for students in this learning environment until the fifth grade. It isn’t until the sixth grade when some schools will allow children to watch limited movies and television. A cell phone might be permitted if it is kept for emergencies and not disruptive. The use of video games and the Internet is still strongly discouraged until students get into the high school grades.
2. This approach does not use the typical learning process for core essentials.
The American system of education sets specific benchmarks for learning progress that can be important to some parents and families. If you are more comfortable with the traditional approach to the core subjects like reading, writing, and mathematics, then attending a Waldorf school might not be the best option. It might seem like your child is falling behind on the basics during their first few years of education because there are more hands-on learning options then lessons that teach to a specific test.
3. Waldorf schools encourage self-discovery more than competition.
Children who are enrolled in a Waldorf school receive encouragement to go play outside and wander about through a process of self-discovery. If your child likes a lot of competition and team-based games, then this educational option might not be the best fit. The goal of being outside is to find out what you like as you get in touch with nature and the community around you. Even if it is cold and rainy outside, there are opportunities to learn from this environment instead of being stuck in a classroom for the entire day.
4. There is no guarantee that a child can catch up to their peers.
Most children who attend a Waldorf school will eventually catch up to their peers in the core subject materials. Once everyone reaches high school, the balance occurs even with technological understanding and familiarity. There are some students who do not go through this surge of results as they age because of the way they develop, so reaching the high school grades without some core competencies can set them back.
If you end up needing to move for some reason and there isn’t another Waldorf school near your new home, your child might find themselves held back a grade or two because of the emphasis on outdoor learning, imagination, and creativity instead of reading, writing, and mathematics during their early years.
5. Most Waldorf schools do not perform standardized testing.
The goal of standardized testing is to get a sense of the learning areas that students do well with and the places where they need some more attention. It is a challenge to help faltering students without an understanding of what they’ve learned up until that point. The early grades also use light testing in modern public and private schools to prepare students for high school and college, which is not something you will get to see when receiving a Waldorf education. Some children can find the transition away from their teacher to be uncomfortable as well, which makes it even more difficult to find success at the high school level.
6. There is still a religious emphasis to consider with a Waldorf school.
Although all children from any family background are welcome at a Waldorf school, it would be incorrect to say that there isn’t a religious bias to be found in the curriculum. Steiner often wrote about the concepts of Christianity, exploring how this faith had links to Buddhism throughout the generations. Although anthroposophy isn’t a specific teaching with this educational option, some families may be uncomfortable with the spiritual approach that the classroom encourages.
7. Parents must be highly involved with the child’s education.
If your work responsibilities keep you away from home for a good part of the day, then a Waldorf education might not be the best choice for your family. There are rarely administrators involved with these schools, which means you’re working with a collective of teachers instead. You must work with your child as they get to know their teacher, and some bonding experiences do not go as planned. There is an expectation for availability as well, which might not be an option in your situation.
8. All forms of media may be problematic with a Waldorf education.
When you sign a contract that says you’ll limit technology at home, some schools include literature in their definition. That means your child may be discouraged from reading books, magazines, and other written content. Although over 60% of alumni from these schools eventually graduate with an undergraduate degree, the entire process is teacher-reliant – assuming that you have access to a school in the first place.
Even when you look at California, all 26 schools are in San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and the Bay Area. When you add in the tuition costs to this disadvantage, you can be paying quite a bit to exclude essential information even if you’re not excluded from the overall process.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of a Waldorf Education
“If we do not believe within ourselves this deeply rooted feeling that there is something higher than ourselves,” said Steiner, “we shall never find the strength to evolve into something higher.”
Steiner believed that everyone should have the ability to impart direction and purpose to their lives. He believed that there was a sense of truth buried in the imagination that could eventually create a feeling of responsibility. Instead of forcing everyone to follow the same journey toward their future, his educational philosophy encouraged an individualized approach.
The pros and cons of a Waldorf education are essential to review because some students thrive in this environment and others do not. If you like the idea of play-based learning, outdoor adventures, and learning in a simpler environment, then this choice could be the right one for your family. When your preference is for competition and technology, younger children may not see as much success with this option.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.