Waldorf schools are based upon a deeply developmental philosophy and understanding of the nature of children and how they naturally grow and learn. Waldorf schools seek to educate the whole child, integrating rigorous academics with emotional, social and spiritual growth and physical skills.
The arts--fine arts, handwork, music, theater--are integrated at all levels as are collaborative games, movement and Eurythmy, an expressive movement art. Self-expression, self-discipline and the wholeness of life are themes woven into every lesson. Waldorf education is dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning within each child, cultivating creativity and the capacity for critical thought.
Our education honors the natural world and the role of humanity in relationship to it. We approach the world around with reverence, whether in keeping with our curriculum or with regard to our rich festival life, where the seasons of the year are acknowledged in relationship to natural cycles of expansion and contraction, of inner and outer forces within the human being.
Learning in a Waldorf school is a noncompetitive activity. Instead, we foster the child's inner will forces to strive always to offer one's personal best. All children learn all things: Reading, Writing, Mathematics, History, Geography, Physiology, Botany, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Fine Arts, Music, Handwork, Eurythmy, Games & Movement, Theater, etc. Testing and grades are not used to motivate study. Rather, it is relevant and experiential curriculum that inspires the will to learn. Each child's progress is carefully monitored, and teachers meet regularly with parents and write a detailed evaluation of each child at the end of each school year.
WIWS students create all their own lesson books, in every subject. Rather than working from pre-printed texts and workbooks, our students create their own textbooks. The content is delivered through story, group discussion, guided practical experiences, reading, play and drama. The main lesson of the day for all students also includes group movement work that fosters centering, alignment and focus, strengthens social skills and awareness and overall body coordination and integration.
In the upper grades, students also learn through phenomenological observation, experimentation, demonstration and presentation. Students in the upper grades create their own written work: stories, poetry and prose, as well as reading fiction and non-fiction associated with the curriculum. Our students are continually creating and observing artistic work, both guided by the teacher and on their own.
While computers may be used at home to support research in Middle School, we encourage direct inquiry, observation and experience of all subject matters. Computers and other electronic media are not used in our classrooms. Instead, our students are experiencing their curriculum immediately through action, observation, contemplation and embodied response. It is our experience that children readily learn computer skills when they are useful in the High School years as they synthesize and analyze increasingly conceptual data.
The use of electronic media, particularly television, by young children is discouraged in Waldorf schools. We want the imagination of the child to be strong and free and not encapsulated or prescribed by dominant media themes and images. For example, when a Kindergarten teacher tells a story to the circle of children about a princess in a far-away land, we want the child to be free to conjure an image of a princess from their world, their imagination, not pre-ordained by Walt Disney.
First, our education is a fully embodied, experiential education. Children learn as much as possible through direct personal experience and interaction with people, materials, subjects and ideas. The abstractions of conceptual thought are introduced later in the grades, when the child is truly ready. In Early Childhood, for example, learning happens through story, song, imitation and play, building the healthy inner foundations for later academic work.
In the grades, students make their own "textbooks' (called Main Lesson books) for every topic of study. Every subject is learned through direct engagement with the subject matter, allowing the student to delve broadly and deeply, cultivating the spirit of inquiry within. For example, in their Middle School science studies students first become familiar with the concepts and tools of an impending experiment. They hypothesize potential outcomes of the experiment, then set it up, proceed, document, then ponder the outcomes, discerning what worked and what didn't in accordance with their original hypotheses--all of which is then documented in their Main Lesson Books through drawing and writing.
Second, our education is arts-integrated. All students will sing, work with wet-on-wet watercolor, knit, crochet, draw, play strings and, later, woodwinds instruments. They will learn to recite epic poetry and work together to perform a play every year beginning in First Grade. They will ultimately work with clay, learn charcoal and perspective drawing, replicate Renaissance portraiture, carve simple objects out of wood, pour metal in an Iron-Age forge they will first build together, perform in instrumental and vocal ensemble, and learn to move complicated geometrical forms together in space in the uniquely Waldorf "harmonious movement" form known as Eurythmy. In all things and at all grade levels, the arts support the students' delving into the academic subjects being explored and vice-versa. In this way, all areas of cognitive faculties are stimulated and nurtured, helping to create the well-balanced human being.
Third, our education is entirely, intentionally developmental in nature and means.Throughout the grades, Waldorf students will essentially study everything; they will look out into the world and into history to experience what it means to be human. They will glean much information about civilizations, philosophies, cultures, innovations. However, ours in not an information-based curriculum. Instead, it is a developmental curriculum. Eras and epochs of human development through the ages are brought to the student at precisely the moment in their development when that civilization or culture manifests a state of human consciousness evidenced in the individual at that state of growth. There is always a deep and intentional connection between the individual and society, in all its manifestations, brought in such a way that it lives in the student in a meaningful and accessible way.
For example, Fairy Tales are brought in the 1st Grade, as the child is just leaving Early Childhood and still lives in a world of wonder, imagination and a feeling of oneness. In 2nd Grade, stories of saints from various traditions are brought into being as exemplars of social virtues just as the child--in the throes of their nine-year change--are experiencing separateness and trying on new behaviors that can include the testing of social boundaries with their peers (and parents!). Later, in 5th grade, the students will land firmly in the Golden Age of Greek civilization with its emphasis on Truth and Beauty just as the child reaches a balanced point in their own maturation, reaching beyond childhood but not yet swept up in the strong currents of adolescence. Even later, should the student continue on in a Waldorf High School, they will begin their 9th grade year with a study of world revolutions, completely mirroring the inner state of the student who is asking, "Who am I? What is my part in the world? What can I do?"
The Waldorf approach to all subject areas, including the basics of reading and mathematics, are brought in this same deeply thoughtful, integrated way in keeping with the natural development stages of the human being.
In the grades, core subjects such as history, English language skills, science and mathematics are taught in Main Lesson blocks, which are two to three-hour sessions each morning five days a week, with each block lasting from three to five weeks. This allows the children to become thoroughly immersed in a subject and learn it in depth. In addition to regular breaks for snacks, lunch and outdoor play time, our students also have "Subject" classes with specialty teachers, including Spanish language studies, Movement & Games classes, Handwork (knitting, crocheting, sewing, etc) and Woodwork, Music including choir, strings and woodwinds ensemble throughout the remainder of the day.
In Early Childhood, children spend roughly half of their morning outside in play or in forest walks and half inside in imaginative play, story circle, helping with "chores" and sharing a wholesome snack at table. The young children are held in a world of joy and wonder, where play is their foundational work for later academic abstractions.
Waldorf education is intimately bound up with the oral tradition. As has been done for centuries, young children first start to learn through the stories and fairy tales they are told. In this way the children learn language and the use of imagination together. This important precursor to abstract symbol recognition creates a deep will for cognition and comprehension in the grades.
Overt reading instruction begins in the first grade. Children will hear stories, watch the teacher drawing letters, and learn to draw the letters themselves in the context of imagination and comprehensive inner activity. At every stage of letter, sound and word recognition, a deeper correlation is always being made within the experiential life of the child. Writing thus evolves out of the children's own work and art, and their ability to read likewise evolves as a natural aspect of their mastery of language. Oral communication continues to be important in the classroom and through dramatic presentations in all the grades, in addition to the continually expanding writing that comes in the 5th through 8th grades.
In our experience, Waldorf students who are brought into reading through experience first and abstraction later become stronger, healthier, more voracious readers with much higher levels of comprehension by middle school than their non-Waldorf counterparts. This continues to bear fruit through the rigours of a Waldorf high school, where students are deeply challenged to think deeply and critically, to synthesize, analyze complex data in preparation for life in college and beyond.
Our concerns regarding media use--especially for young children--have as much to do with the physical effects of the medium on the developing child as with the questionable content of much of the programming. Television and movies create an artificially passive relationship where children become disengaged from three-dimensional physical reality. Instead of operating in an environment where they can respond with all their faculties to sensory input, their visual and auditory attention is fixed to a narrow screen and a flickering electronic signal. Waldorf teachers believe that television and movies hampers the development of a child's full imagination. Further, the highly stimulating nature of television and movies attunes young children to be engaged only at this raised level of excitement. It interferes with the child's ability to be content simply being in nature or in the classroom without the ongoing level of excitement and stimulus that TV and movies produce with the result that the child then feels easily bored in life.
Waldorf teachers are not alone in encouraging the elimination of television and movies, especially for younger children. Many respected authorities on child development share this view. Some recent books on this subject include: Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Televisionby Jerry Mander, and The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn
We do recognize that today's children will need computer skills, and Waldorf high schools have them and teach children to use them. We have found that Waldorf students who know a foreign language and algebra by eighth grade are well prepared to master computer hardware and software quickly and easily at the high school level. For younger children, however, computer learning is a poor substitute for the kind of multi-sensory, multidimensional, truly interactive learning that takes place in all subjects at a Waldorf School. Material learned through computers arrives purely as information. It is not vital for the children as is knowledge gained through direct personal experience and integrated into their broader understanding of life and the world.
While government and commercial interests clamor about the importance of computers and the Internet for all children, there is a growing sentiment that information technology is not the hoped-for answer to our nation's education problems. A recent book, Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds for Better and Worse by Jane Healy examines this subject in detail. The Internet newsletter Net Future, edited by Steve Talbott, comments regularly about computers and education. There has also been a lot of press lately regarding parents working in technology and computer industries who are choosing Waldorf education for their children. (See this recent MSNBC report, "The Waldorf Way.")
over the world have celebrated rituals to mark the cycle of the seasons since ancient times, and Waldorf festivals echo these traditional events. Celebrating the seasonal festivals benefits the inner life of the child by reflecting the felt changes in the environment as summer turns to winter and back again.
The primary seasonal festivals celebrated in here at Whidbey Island Waldorf School are: Michaelmas, Dia de los Muertos, Advent/Christmas, Easter/Spring and MayFaire (early summer). Michaelmas (September 29) is known as the Festival of Courage, honoring Archangel Michael, as the conqueror of the dragon, the heavenly hero with his starry sword who gives strength to people. El Dia de los Muertos, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, honors our loved ones who have passed away. Through the building a an ofrenda (altar), and making offerings of food and wine and water, we look through the thinning of the veil between worlds to honor our ancestors. Christmas coincides with the Winter Solstice when the sun sends its least power to the earth, Christmas is a time when the soul withdraws into the innermost depths to experience the inner spiritual light. We typically offer an Advent Spiral festival for children and families. "Easter" stems from "Ostara," from pagan, or pre-Christian goddess symbols of rebirth, fertility and spring. The renewal of the human being is celebrated in conjunction with that of the earth. Such symbols as the hare and egg signify the return of life after winter's sleep. Finally, here at WIWS, we celebration MayFaire close to May first. Like our Easter/Spring celebration, MayFaire is an honoring of the rebirth of the world and the renewal of community.
Children of all religions and backgrounds attend Waldorf schools. Waldorf schools do not subscribe to or teach the beliefs of any particular religious denomination or sect, though the word "God" may be mentioned in verses and stories. Waldorf schools are spiritually-oriented in the sense of recognizing that all human beings have a spiritual dimension which is inseparable from other parts of our nature. This understanding is aimed at awakening the child's natural reverence for Nature and the beauty of life.
Various aspects of world religions may be discussed in the teaching of history at a Waldorf school because religion has played such a central role in the shaping of history and the evolution of human consciousness. All aspects of the human story provide rich source material for our curriculum, including religion, but religious instruction is the purview of our families and their chosen faith communities.
Simply put, eurythmy is a dance-like art form in which music and speech are expressed in bodily movement. "Eurythmy" comes from the Greek word for "harmonious movement," and can be thought as speech or song made visible. Eurythmy is part of the curriculum of most Waldorf schools. While it often puzzles parents, (especially those new to Waldorf education,) the children respond well to its simple rhythms and forms. Eurythmy enhances coordination and helps children strengthen and harmonize their body and their life forces. It also reinforces with students' social parameters, as they move increasingly complex geometries together to create a unified whole.
Parents play a significant role at a Waldorf school. Waldorf faculty, administration and parents are all committed to the common goal of providing the best possible education for the children. This partnership between the school and the parents requires involvement of the parents in all aspects of the school. It is expected that parents will understand this partnership and step up to fill the critical committees and positions that make a Waldorf education so special. Since a Waldorf education concerns a child's whole life, communication between parents and teachers is frequent and important. Parents and teachers meet for private conferences several times a year. Teachers expect parents to raise issues of concern at home which may affect the way their child responds in class. Most Waldorf schools offer adult enrichment opportunities for parents, such as lectures, festival studies, book studies, and classroom observation events (WIWS offers several annual Walks Through the Grades). These events are designed to offer a multiplicity of ways to deepen understanding of Waldorf education and encourage consistency in habits and themes between home and school life. Ultimately, active participation in the school by parents is beneficial for everyone and helps the school achieve its central goal of supporting, nurturing and education the child.
Rudolf Steiner, speaking in Oxford in 1922, defined three "Golden Rules" for teachers: "Receive the child in gratitude, educate the child with love, send the child forth in freedom." We recognize the importance of the teacher-student relationship and have high expectations of our faculty, both in terms of their training and professional experience and their capacity to hold the class of children with reverence. The question every day for a Waldorf teacher is, "Am I worthy of imitation?"
In general, Main Lesson Teachers have both a university degree and teaching certification from a recognized Waldorf teacher training college or institute. Typically, the course of study for Waldorf teachers is from two to three years and includes practice teaching under the supervision of experienced Waldorf teachers. Whidbey Island Waldorf School only hires fully Waldorf-trained teachers.
This is a very common concern among parents when they first hear about the Class Teacher practice of teachers advancing with their students through the grades. In practice however, difficulties of this type are rare given the sort of people who are motivated to become Waldorf teachers and the kind of training they receive. Understanding the child's needs and temperament is an essential part of the teacher's role. Waldorf teachers work hard at getting to know their students individually and doing what it takes to help them learn and thrive. When conflicts arise--as they do in any human community or institution--WIWS has structure in place with which to address the issue, including care groups for families as part of our Social Inclusion practice, a seasoned Professional Development team that coaches teachers and helps support conflict resolution, and a Listening Council that will midwife any conflict to resolution, all part of our commitment to working toward the greatest possible health in the fabric of our community and at the heart of our work.
Waldorf schools hesitate to categorize children, particularly in terms such as "slow" or "gifted". A given child's weaknesses in one area, whether cognitive, emotional or physical, will usually be balanced by strengths in another area. It is the teacher's job to try to bring the child's whole being into balance. A child having difficulty with the material might be given extra help by the teacher or by parents. Tutoring might also be arranged. Correspondingly, a child who picks up the material quickly might be given harder problems to work on, or might be asked to help a classmate who is progressing more slowly.
It must also be recognized that Waldorf education is, by its very nature, healing. We also offer the tradition of "The Extra Lesson," a remedial approach used to support students with challenges that allows for a deeper addressing of what lies at the core of challenges--for example a difficulty with reading that stems from a problem of eyes not able to properly track in tandem on the page. Through comprehensive assessment of the child's physical, social, emotional and academic state the Extra Lesson remedial work supports the child's work in a deeper way than simply tutoring, as it addresses fundamental developmental sources for any particular child's learning challenges.
Every enrollment application is considered individually and carefully evaluated with regards to the child and the class as a whole. The reviewing teacher must consider whether s/he has the resources to adequately serve each potential student. It may be that any particular Waldorf school will have neither the staff nor special resources to adequately meet the needs of students with severe difficulties. However, any given school may accept a child with any range of challenges if the faculty believes the child will do well at the school with proper supports in place.
Generally the transition to public schools does not prove problematic. The Waldorf student has been supported in striving always to bring forth their best self to any situation. The most common transition--from a Waldorf eighth grade to a traditional high school--usually takes place without significant difficulties, and in fact many of our parents report their children being quite advanced in their classes in both Grade 9 and Grade 10. Many of our students who move on to South Whidbey public high school enter into a "Running Start" program whereby they complete the first two years of high school and then move directly into a college for further classes and credits.
A group of graduating students will also usually apply to the Seattle Waldorf HS. Our students have been very successful gaining entry into SWHS each year. SWHS is an increasingly difficult school to get into - receiving triple the number of applications than places.
Transitions in the lower grades, particularly between the first and fourth grades, can sometimes be more challenging because of the differences in curricula and the pace of learning. A 2nd grade student from a traditional school may well read "better" than a Waldorf-schooled second grader. However, by Fifth Grade, the Waldorf student will usually be ahead, in both basic skills and comprehension. Alternately, because of the embodied and organic approach to mathematics, it is not unusual for a Waldorf student to have greater numeric facility than their non-Waldorf peers at an earlier age.
To the best of our knowledge, no controlled studies have been done in this country on these questions, but anecdotal evidence collected from various sources suggests that Waldorf graduates tend to score exceptionally well on standardized examinations such as the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. Waldorf graduates have been accepted at and have graduated from some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States and overall college entrance (94%) and graduation rates (88%) are much higher in the Waldorf-schooled population than than in other student demographics (69% entrance, 58% graduated with degree).
The term "anthroposophy' comes from the Greek "anthropos-sophia" or "human wisdom". Steiner believed that people are at essence spiritual beings. Many of his ideas came from his personal research, using scientific methods, into the spiritual realm. Through study and practiced observation the student of anthroposophy awakens his or her own inner nature to the spiritual realities of outer Nature and the cosmos. The awareness of those relationships brings deep personal gratification and a greater reverence for all of life.
Steiner and his followers have applied this knowledge in various practical and cultural ways in communities around the world. Waldorf education is but one example. Steiner's methods in curative education for mentally and emotionally handicapped adults and children have been particularly successful with people who have this difficult destiny. Bio-dynamic farming and gardening greatly expand the range of techniques available to organic agriculture. Anthroposophic medicine and pharmacy, although less widely known in the U.S., are subjects of growing interest.
It should be stressed that while Anthroposophy forms the theoretical basis underlying the teaching methods used in Waldorf schools, it is never brought directly into the classroom or taught to the students.