Shortly after giving birth to my first daughter, I became obsessed with Waldorf education. I purchased beautiful wooden baby toys from Etsy, and read all about Rudolf Steiner, the scientist and artist that founded the Waldorf education method in the early 20th century. While I never did enroll my children in a Waldorf school, I have always admired their focus on nature, art, and storytelling.
Megan Gruner, a teacher at Trillium Waldorf School in Guelph, Ontario, says Waldorf focuses on human-centered education. "The Waldorf curriculum follows the path of the development of human consciousness," she says. Students learn developmentally appropriate concepts; for example, in first grade, the child learns about fairy tales, while in eighth grade, students learn about World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.
Waldorf's Seven Year Cycles
The Waldorf approach looks at human development in seven-year cycles. The first cycle, birth to seven years, is considered the phase where the most physical development occurs. Gruner says that there is a heavy emphasis on creating a nurturing and safe space for young children to develop in these early years. Many Waldorf schools offer parent and child programs that nurture the young child's curiosity through simple songs, rhymes, and gentle exposure to the natural world.
Once a child is four, they're ready to enroll in kindergarten—which is very different from the kindergarten program at public schools. "During those kindergarten years, the model is the home," says Gruner. "Children are sensory beings, so the environment is intentionally simple and natural—wood, silk, wool, lavender scents, low lighting, light water-colored walls." She says that the environment models that of a home, with simple rhythms and routines that encourage exploration and comforting and familiar stories and routines.
There's also no rush to enter the first grade—Gruner says typically, a child is seven when they enter Grade 1 in Waldorf school. She says it's not a race to become an early reader or writer and that the school focuses on nurturing the child and supporting their growth rather than teaching academics in these foundational early years.
The Importance of Storytelling
Storytelling is an integral part of Waldorf education. Many different types of stories are used, from fairytales, mythology, and biographies. "Mathematics is taught through the story of the man who invented algebra [Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi], and how he came to some of the realizations," says Gruner.
In addition to storytelling, the natural world, music, art, and movement are all important components of Waldorf education—and are used when introducing and developing academics. Gruner stresses that Waldorf schools are highly academic while still focusing on these artistic components.
Parents interested in choosing a Waldorf school are encouraged to search our nearby schools that follow the methods. The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) offers a directory of schools registered with the association; however, other schools may use a Waldorf approach and aren't associated with an official governing body.
"We really want the children to fall in love with the world and feel moved to protect it."
For parents of young children, a parent and child program is an excellent way to be introduced to the principles of Waldorf education. The opportunity to engage with teachers, ask questions, and understand the environment is a perfect way to decide whether Waldorf is the right choice for your family.
Gruner discovered Waldorf education through her own children. "I went to the parent and child program with them, and then I enrolled her in Kindergarten." From there, Gruner became so involved that she decided to become a teacher herself. She says she fell in love with the beauty of a positive and beautiful educational environment. "It's an education based on real love for humanity. It's positive and beautiful. We really want the children to fall in love with the world and feel moved to protect it."
Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based out of Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including Scary Mommy, The Penny Hoarder, and The Globe & Mail.
Brianna's budget-savvy ways has attracted media attention, and led to newspaper coverage in The Globe & Mail and The Guelph Mercury. In April 2016 Brianna will be featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less, alongside co-writer Brooke Burke. You can find Brianna's website at Brianna Bell Writes.