“Your Children are not your children. They are the sonsand daughters of life’s longing for itself. They comethrough you, but not from you, And though they are withyou – yet they belong not to you. You may house theirbodies but not their souls. For their souls dwell in thehouse of tomorrow. Which you cannot visit. Not even inyour dreams. You may strive to be like them, But seek notto make them like you. – Khalil Gibran
“Accept the children with reverence, educate them with love, send them forth in freedom.” So said Rudolf Steiner, the Founder of Waldorf Education. And indeed, his vision for schooling the whole child, and not just the mind, still stands today, 80 years after the first Waldorf school opened in Stuttgart, Germany.
Many speak highly of the Waldorf philosophy; but many others don’t really know what it is. Rudolf Steiner’s views on child development led him to create a system that was designed to teach at the most appropriate level for a child’s developmental stage. Rudolf Steiner believed in educating the mind and the soul. There is a stronger focus on the arts, such as music, drama, sewing, and painting; these skills are as essential to a complete life experience as academic subjects.
Waldorf schools have programs for students from preschool through to graduation, and focus on balancing the academic with the arts. For example, each day might begin with a math class, followed by learning music or a foreign language. These latter examples are referred to as classes that stimulate the “heart” faculty of the child (as opposed to the head). Academics and the arts often complement each other; for instance, studying a certain period of history might involve not only reading about the events, but also writing then performing a play based on the era.
In the early years of schooling (first grade especially), teachers are the main source of learning, not textbooks. Steiner believed that younger children learn primarily through imitation, and watching and working with a teacher therefore better facilitates developing appropriate skills. In later years (high school), Waldorf schools
share common traits with public ones; students are taught by specialists in each subject, and take courses that will lead to college acceptance, etc. However, Waldorf schools also foster a hunger for and love of learning: students are exposed to the philosophies of people such as Socrates, and learn about the positive impact a person can have on human history. The arts continue to play an important role, and even if students don’t show
special talent in a field, they are still encouraged to create, whether through playing a musical instrument or weaving a shawl. Students discover that they have the ability to learn new skills, even in areas that might seem difficult to master.
Waldorf schools also do not focus on competition with others; grades and competitive sports are de-emphasized, for example. The philosophy of this school seems to not only embrace lifelong learning, but also to embrace the sense that all this learning is done for oneself; Steiner’s vision of educating the “whole” child is indeed a reality at these schools.