Blending science with spirituality
Waldorf education (sometimes called Steiner education) is an educational philosophy based on the teachings of the early 20th century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Steiner's theory of child development is founded in anthroposophy, a "spiritual science" that considers the development of a child to be the incarnation of the child's immortal soul and spirit into a single living organism. There are nearly 1,000 independent schools around that world that practice Waldorf education, as well as countless home schooling environments.
While the foundation created by Steiner is still the basis of Waldorf education today, the philosophy has been extended by research and debate since his death in 1925. Practitioners of the Waldorf method typically still divide a child's education into the three stages put forth by Steiner.
The Three Stages
In the first stage, from birth to around age seven, the child learns primarily through imitation. During this time, it's important for the child to have a wealth of experiences in nature and to see the goodness of the world. The child should be encouraged to help parents with work around the home. In the next stage, from age seven to puberty, the child learns from methods that impart feeling, such as storytelling and artistic creativity. Fairy tales, and their inherent archetypes, can have a strong positive influence on a child's developing mind. The final stage, when the child is roughly high school age, emphasizes learning through independent thinking and a quest for intellectual understanding and, ultimately, truth.
Some of the other tenets of the Waldorf method include:
- Activity first. Children learn by doing before understanding. For example, writing is learned before reading.
- Integration. All subjects are considered to be part of a single, holistic knowledge base. Arts and sciences are not differentiated.
- Morality. Truth, goodness and beauty are emphasized to the children. This is accomplished not by lecturing children, but simply by surrounding them with items and ideas that possess these qualities.
- No electronic media. Televisions, video games and computers have no place in a Waldorf classroom, as they're thought to stifle learning and creativity (particularly for young children).