The elementary years are the time for educating the “feeling intelligence.” It is only after the physiological changes at puberty, which mark the virtual completion of the second great developmental phase that imaginative learning undergoes a metamorphosis to emerge as the rational, abstract power of the intellect.
Throughout the glorious turbulence of adolescence, the personality celebrates its independence and seeks to explore the world once again in a new way. Within, the young person—the human being to whom the years of education have been directed—is quietly maturing. Eventually, the individual will emerge.
In Steiner’s view, this essential being is neither the product of inheritance nor of the environment; it is a manifestation of the spirit. The ground on which it walks and into which it sinks its roots is the intelligence that has ripened out of the matrix of will and feeling into clear, experienced thought. In traditional wisdom, it is this being who “comes of age” around age 21 and is then ready to take up the real task of education—self-education—which distinguishes the adult from the adolescent.
In the Classroom
How is this developmental theory reflected in Waldorf classrooms? The school day begins with a long, uninterrupted lesson. One subject is the focus—the class deals with it in-depth each morning for several weeks at a time. This long main lesson—which may well run for two hours— allows the teacher to develop a wide variety of activities around the subject at hand. In the younger grades lively rhythmic activities get the circulation going and bring children together as a group; they recite poems connected with the main lesson, practice tongue twisters to limber up speech, and work with concentration exercises using body movements. After the day’s lesson, which includes review of earlier learning, students record what they learned in their notebooks.
Following recess, teachers present shorter “run-through” lessons with a strongly recitational character. Foreign languages are customarily taught from 1st grade on, and these lend themselves well to these later morning periods.
Afternoons are devoted to lessons in which the whole child is active—eurhythmy—artistically guided movement to music and speech—handwork, art, or gym, for example. Thus the day has a rhythm that helps overcome fatigue and enhances balanced learning.
WHAT IS WALDORF?
Lakeside follows the Waldorf educational philosophy - a developmental, holistic approach to working with children developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919. Below is an article written in 1991 by Henry Barnes (then chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America and the President of Rudolf Steiner Educational and Farming Association, Inc.) that best describes the essence and philosophy of this approach to education:
LEARNING THAT GROWS WITH THE LEARNER:
AN INTRODUCTION TO WALDORF EDUCATION
BY HENRY BARNES
When children relate what they learn to their own experience, they are interested and alive, and what they learn becomes their own. Waldorf schools are designed to foster this kind of learning.
There are more than 1,000 Waldorf schools in 60 countries. No two are identical; each is administratively independent. Nevertheless, a visitor would recognize many characteristics common to them all.
Waldorf education has its roots in the spiritual-scientific research of the Austrian scientist and thinker Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). According to Steiner’s philosophy, man is a threefold being of spirit, soul, and body whose capacities unfold in three developmental stages on the path to adulthood: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence.
Infants and young children are entirely given over to their physical surroundings; they absorb the world primarily through their senses and respond in the most active mode of knowing: imitation. Imitation is the power to identify oneself with one’s immediate environment through one’s active will. Everything—anger, love, joy, hate, intelligence, stupidity—speaks to the infant through the tone of voice, the physical touch, bodily gesture, light, darkness, color, harmony, and disharmony. These influences are absorbed by the still-malleable physical organism and affect the body for a lifetime.
Those concerned with the young child—parents, caregivers, nursery and kindergarten teachers—have a responsibility to create an environment that is worthy of the child’s unquestioning imitation. The environment should offer the child plenty of opportunity for meaningful imitation and for creative play. This supports the child in the central activity of these early years: the development of the physical organism. Drawing the child’s energies away from this fundamental task to meet premature intellectual demands robs the child of the health and vitality he or she will need for later life. In the end, it weakens the very powers of judgment and practical intelligence the teacher wants to encourage.
When children are ready to leave kindergarten and enter 1st grade, they are eager to explore the whole world of experience for the second time. Before, they identified with it and initiated it; now, at a more conscious level, they are ready to know it again, by means of the imagination— that extraordinary power of human cognition that allows us to “see” a picture, “hear” a story, and “divine” meanings within appearances.
During the elementary school years, the educator’s task is to transform all that the child needs to know about the world into the language of the imagination—a language that is as accurate and as responsible to reality as intellectual analysis is in the adult. The wealth of an earlier, less intellectual age—folk tales, legends, and mythologies, which speak truth in parables and pictures—becomes the teacher’s inexhaustible treasure house. When seen through the lens of the imagination, nature, the world of numbers, mathematics, geometrical form, and the practical work of the world are food and drink to the soul of the child. The four arithmetical operations can, for instance, be introduced as characters in a drama to be acted out with temperamental gusto by 1st graders. Whatever speaks to the imagination and is truly felt stirs and activates the feelings and is remembered and learned.
Class teachers continue with a class from one year to the next—ideally, right through elementary school. With rare exceptions these teachers lead the main lesson at the beginning of each day. Other teachers handle special subjects, but the class teachers provide the continuity so often lacking in our disjointed world today. The class teacher and the children get to know each other very well and it is this teacher who becomes the school’s closest link with the parents of that class. When problems arise, the strong child/teacher/parent bond helps all involved work things through instead of handing the problem on to someone else.
The Ascending Spiral of Knowledge
The curriculum at a Waldorf school can be seen as an ascending spiral: the long lessons that begin each day; the concentrated blocks of study that focus on one subject for several weeks. Physics, for example, is introduced in the 6th grade and continued each year as a main lesson block until graduation.
As the students mature, they engage themselves at new levels of experience with each subject. It is as though, each year, they come to a window on the ascending spiral that looks out into the world through the lens of a particular subject. Through the main-lesson spiral curriculum, teachers lay the ground from a gradual vertical integration that deepens and widens each subject experience and, at the same time, keeps it moving with the other aspects of knowledge. All students participate in all basic subjects regardless of their special aptitudes. The purpose of studying a subject is not to make a student into a professional mathematician, historian, or biologist, but to awaken and educate capacities that every human being needs. Naturally, one student is more gifted in math and another in science or history, but the mathematician needs the humanities, and the historian needs math and science. The choice of a vocation is left to the free decision of the adult, but one’s early education should give one a palette of experience from which to choose the particular colors that one’s interests, capacities, and life circumstances allow. In a Waldorf high school, older students pursue special projects and elective subjects and activities, but, nevertheless, the goal remains: each subject studied should contribute to the development of a well-balanced individual.
If the ascending spiral of the curriculum offers a “vertical integration” from year to year, an equally important “horizontal integration enables students to engage the full range of their faculties at every stage of development. The arts and practical skills play an essential part in the educational process throughout the grades. They are not considered luxuries, but fundamental to human growth and development.
The Arts and Practical Skills
Waldorf teachers believe that the human being in not just a brain, but also a being with heart and limbs—a being of will and feeling, as well as of intellect. To ensure that education does not produce one-sided individuals, crippled in emotional health and volition, these less-conscious aspects of our human nature must constantly be exercised, nourished, and guided. Here the arts and practical skills make their essential contribution, educating not only heart and hand but, in very real ways, the brain as well.
The 6th grader who, as part of the class study of Roman history, has acted Cassius or Calpurnia, or even Caesar himself, has not only absorbed Shakespeare’s immortal language but has learned courage, presence of mind, and what it means to work as a member of a team for a goal greater than the sum of its parts. The 9th grader who has learned to handle red-hot iron at the forge, or the senior who caps years of modeling exercises by sculpting a full human figure have, in addition to a specific skill, gained self-discipline and the knowledge of artistic form.
Students who have worked throughout their education with color and form; with tone, drama, and speech; with eurhythmy as an art of bodily movement; with clay, wood, fiber, metal, charcoal and ink, (and, ideally, with soil and plant in a school gardening program), have not only worked creatively to activate, clarify, and strengthen their emotions, but have carried thought and feeling down into the practical exercise of the will.
When the Waldorf curriculum is carried through successfully, the whole human being—head, heart, and hands—has truly been educated.
Copyright 2002 EBSCO Publishing
“These early years are all about the task of turning the soil of childhood
and enriching it through active work and play. It is a time when the first
seeds of learning are warmed in a protective and loving environment.”
~ Jack Petrash, Understanding Waldorf Education:
Teaching from the Inside Out
If you’d like more information about Waldorf education, check out the resources on the Lakeside website and in our lending library, or visit www.whywaldorfworks.com. Because Waldorf education is best understood by experiencing it first-hand, we invite you to attend our observation days, festivals, and parent evenings. If you are interested in observing an older elementary school or high school classroom, our AWSNA mentoring/sponsor school, the Lake Champlain Waldorf School, has regular observation days at their main campus in Shelburne and high school campus in Charlotte. You can contact them at 802-985-2827 ext 12 to be put on their mailing list, or watch for information in our weekly Lakeside updates.
For more information on Waldorf education and frequently asked questions, visit the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America at: www.whywaldorfworks.org.
Rudolf Steiner College is one of America’s leading Waldorf teacher education colleges. It is also a center for anthroposophical studies. Visit the site at:
For electronic editions of Steiner’s books, lectures, articles, and other writings or transcriptions visit:
International electronic-mail discussion group on Waldorf education at:
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood:
Alliance for Childhood:
IN THE NEWS
A national spotlight shone on the Waldorf School of the Peninsula (located in Silicon Valley) after a front-page article in the October 22, 2011 Sunday New York Times explored an apparent contradiction in Silicon Valley, the heart of new technology: why were so many high-tech executives sending their children to a school that eschews the use of computers from kindergarten through grade school? Interest in the story ran high and was quickly picked up across the country as CBS (local and national), NBC, and CNN all ran features on this school.
This perceived paradox struck a chord with the American public growing increasingly more dissatisfied with the current paradigm in education. It illustrates that people are hungry for an alternative to the status quo where content is increasingly brought through computers rather than teachers, academic learning is being pushed down to younger and younger children, and the focus in the classroom is “teaching to the test.”
Since October 2011, Waldorf School of the Peninsula (WSP) has been featured in more than 30 newspaper stories around the world. In addition to news coverage, representatives from WSP were invited and served as panelists for both the 2012 Google Big Tent conference at the Google Mountain View headquarters and the New York Times “Schools for Tomorrow” conference in NYC.
WALDORF PARENT BLOGS
http://theparentingpassageway.com/ “The Parenting Passageway” as it is intended to help support and encourage parents in peaceful parenting