Why Waldorf-inspired Education Creates Great Scientists

ChildDAndilionOne of the many reasons we decided to base Earthschooling on Waldorf-inspired principles was because of the strong science base Waldorf-inspired education provides.

When I share this thought with parents and teachers the first questions they ask is (something like), “How can Waldorf-inspired education create great scientists? And what do you mean – strong science base? Waldorf schools do not have a computer in every first grade classroom, and they completely leave the T (technology) out of the STEM* curriculum!”

However, in looking at the scientific method that we formally teach our students in eighth grade we can see how their Waldorf-inspired education has supported them even since they were toddlers.

The scientific method is something that has been around for more than a thousand years. It was described in a book written by Avicenna in 1023 and has been around in other forms before his time.  It is an established method of exploring a scientific idea and recording the results. The basic steps are:

  1. Observation of a phenomenon & asking a question
  2. Constructing a hypothesis to explain the phenomenon
  3. Using the hypothesis to make predictions
  4. Testing & analyzing the hypothesis

So how is this reflected in Waldorf-inspired education?

  1. Observation of a Phenomenon: This usually comes from asking questions, taking walks in nature and getting involved, hands-on in the world around you. This step can also involve wanting to know more about your observation and then doing reading about it or background research. Using Waldorf-inspired methods of education your students have already been participating in this part of the process since they were toddlers through nature walks, playing with toys made of natural materials, playing with toys from nature, watercolor painting, playing with silk scarves and more. Without the mask of electronics or artificial colors and materials they have been given numerous opportunities to observe natural materials and nature and how they work in thousands of different ways. To give one specific example – by the time a Waldorf student reaches 4th grade they will have experienced numerous properties of wood through hundreds of nature walks, climbing, playing with wooden toys, using wooden bowls and utensils, creating crafts and handwork projects from wood and even sitting on wood . In the public school system, especially in larger cities, I have met numerous students who have had little contact with wood (or trees and many natural materials) since they were a child. Even the ones that do have what is considered “contact with nature” do not have the immersion experience that Waldorf-inspired students do.
  2. Construction of a Hypothesis: Scientists must not only be able to observe the natural world and ask questions about it but they must also be able to construct a hypothesis from these observations and questions. Waldorf-inspired students are asked to do this on a daily basis. Without being using worksheets or formula-driven education they are asked to experience stories, history, science, math and other subjects and they become accustomed to being led into a hypothesis, drawing their own conclusions and discussing these conclusions as a normal part of their educational experience.
  3. Making Predictions: The hypothesis in a scientific statement should be a limited statement regarding cause and effect in a specific situation. However, one question also leads to more so it is natural to continue to ask questions even once the first theory is “proven” or tested. A scientist must also ask “what does it mean if this hypothesis is true or untrue? How will that apply to other areas of life?”. Waldorf-inspired education, once again, excels in teaching children these skills. One example is in the area of history. Waldorf students are not taught history from a text of “historical facts”. They are asked to experience history through a number of activities and experiences that relate history to their modern day lives. Through this experience they naturally become skilled at making relationships in education. There are many other examples we could list as well, but that would make this BLOG post fifty pages long!
  4. Testing the Hypothesis: This means that you must be able to analyze data and draw a conclusion and communicate your results. Waldorf-inspired students are already familiar with this process. Rudolf Steiner advocated a three-day cycle with Main Lesson Blocks. This methodical aspect of Waldorf education is actually the perfect introduction to the skills a scientist needs to follow through with data collection and analysis. Following a three-day cycle with a lesson teaches students the value in thinking about a lesson, taking time to imagine an idea, exploring an idea, the beneficial effects of sleeping on an idea, how to expand on an idea, how to explore an idea in more depth, connecting with an idea on a deeper level, and the difference between learning a topic and knowing it. Waldorf students naturally grow into the patience it takes to complete this step. This skill does not need to be learned later. It has already been taught as they were growing.

*STEM is a set of new science standards currently popular with the public school system as seen here at STEM Coalition. Through my work with the state school system correlating curriculum with state standards I have been able to match Waldorf curriculum requirements with STEM standards in every category except technology when submitting curriculum reviews for each grade. However, it is important to note that the technology requirements the state has for each grade are usually common skills or experiences each child has just by living in modern society. So, unless your child is living in the woods in a cabin without electricity they are most likely still experiencing most of the technology skills set forth in the STEM standard curriculum.

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