What is Waldorf Education?

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Waldorf Education was

started by Rudolph Steiner in 1919. Steiner lived in twentieth century Austria and believed that children should be educated through the “heart, hands, and head”. He argued that there was too much focus on children’s intellectual development and he was interested in educating the “whole” child. For Steiner this meant understanding their developmental needs and creating an education system that met the needs of the child.

Main Lesson | Waldorf Education

Education within Waldorf schools are organized by relying on the Main Lesson blocks. Steiner believed that the first two hours of the day were the most important for children’s development. So the most important subjects are to take place within the first two hours of the day. This is known as the main lesson block. In the lower grades the main lesson blocks focus on Math and Language Arts. These blocks are between 4-6 weeks long.

The importance of sleep in Waldorf education

Steiner relies heavily on the role of sleep in education. He believed that children’s knowledge is deepened by having time to process what they learn and coming back to it later. He uses this concept in several ways. One way is through main lesson blocks. When the math block is being taught in main lesson then language arts is put to rest for a four to six week period. This has become controversial, even with modern day Waldorf teachers. A long time Waldorf Teacher, Janet Langley has written a book Roadmap To Literacy which challenges the idea of letting subjects sleep. Personally, I believe that this method challenges the very heart of Waldorf education and doesn’t give children the time that they need to absorb subjects in their sleep.

One of the main values of Waldorf education is their commitment to education more deeply. Depth is often reached by approaching things slowly and allowing for rest.

a boy sleeping, the importance of sleep in waldorf education


That being said, Langley’s book provides an overview of literacy within the Waldorf method that can be useful as many of the indications Steiner provides are more helpful to teaching and learning to read the German language which is completely phonetical.

Don’t worry if you are a little lost here. I will try and clarify what I am saying in a later post. The issues I am raising can only come up once you are in the throes of actually trying to teach your child to read English using the Waldorf method.

The second way that Steiner uses sleep as a pedagogical tool is something called the three day rhythm. Concepts are initially introduced through story on the first day, on the second day the children might get to experience them and on the final day the children record them in their main lesson book.

a boy playing, what is waldor education?

Other subjects in Waldorf Schools

Other subjects that children in Waldorf schools have the privilege of taking are:

Handwork – This begins in grade one and in some cases even kindergarten. In the lower grades this consists of finger knitting, learning to knit, learning to crochet and weaving. The logic here is the connections between the brain and the hands is solidified through handwork. For Steiner there is also the practical component of handwork which allows children to engage in meaningful work. In 2016 even the New York Times validated the value of knitting in helping brain function.

a girl doing eurythmy

What is Eurythmy?

Eurythmy – Eurythmy is a dance form that Steiner developed and is meant to tap into spirituality and to help develop the group dynamic amongst children. As a group exercise it requires children to focus on what their peers are doing in order to keep the rhythm and ensure the exercise works. It is really hard to explain what it is. This blog post might help provide a better explanation.

Painting – In the younger grades children learn watercolour painting, wet on wet painting. As they grow they move onto wet on dry painting and learning to draw. Because Steiner initially wanted the children to experience color and have color experiences. Again one of the best parts of Waldorf education is its experiential nature.

Music – is a core part of the Waldorf curriculum and parents are encouraged to sing to their children in the early years. In the early years the voice is one of the most important tools and how children should develop their musicality and later in grade one children learn to play the pentatonic flute; and as they go through the grades they learn other flutes and string instruments. Again, as with everything Steiner believed time was essential and the introduction of which instrument when is central to the development of the education of the child.

Useful Resources

In this article Andrea Lyman of the Association of Waldorf Music Education provides an overview of Music education in Waldorf and the other thing to note is that for the lower grades and in early childhood children’s music education should be delivered within the pentatonic scale.

Here is a video by Sarah who owns Bella Luna Toys, about how to get started in Watercolour Painting.

If you want a more in-depth course you can check out Brian Wolfe’s paid weekly art course here.

Even outschool offers a course.

To learn more about Waldorf Education check out this video Why Waldorf?

If you have younger children you need to check out the trailer to Kim Hunter’s documentary A Time To Play. Here she discusses how childhood is under siege by decreasing our children’s time to play. Personally, I believe that in the next 15 years there will be a back swing on the academization of childhood and that our grandchildren will once again experience the wonders of play.

Do you have any questions about Waldorf Education? I would love to address them here 🙂

A child playing freely in the outdoors, and example of waldorf education.

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  1. Pingback: Homeschool, Waldorf Schooling + Literacy - The Homeschooling Year

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