Waldorf Schools: A Nontraditional Way of Learning

A few weeks ago, I created a post about the Montessori teaching method and its benefits/drawbacks in the classroom (shameless plug: you can read it here).  In that post, I mentioned how my world essentially tilted off its axis when I realized there was a form of schooling that I had no idea existed until earlier this year.  Well, guess what, folks: there’s another form of schooling I had no idea existed until about 4 hours ago (cue existential crisis part 2).  As you may have already guessed by the title, this form of schooling is typically referred to as the Waldorf school education.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

For those of you who, like me, were not aware of the Waldorf schooling method until today, this Youtube video gives a very succinct run-down of what it is and where it came from:

Interesting, right?  In case you’re interested in learning more about the basic curriculum taught at these schools, I found a fantastic overview on the website of Chapel Hill’s Emerson Waldorf School:

MAIN LESSONS:  History, language arts, science, and math are taught in lesson blocks of three to five weeks during the morning hours in all grades; the children, throughout the curriculum, create original lesson books.

Special subjects also taught are…

HANDWORK: Knitting, crochet, sewing, cross-stitch, basic weaving, and woodworking.

MUSIC: Singing, pentatonic flute, recorder, string instruments, wind, brass, and percussion instruments.

FOREIGN LANGUAGES : Spanish and German.

ART: Watercolor painting, form drawing, beeswax and clay modeling, perspective drawing.

MOVEMENT: Eurythmy and group games.  Starting in Middle School the students are invited to join our teams of soccer, cross country, basketball, and ultimate frisbee.

Students are taught Spanish and German concurrently until 5th grade; once a child enters 7th grade, the primary language focus is Spanish.  High school students are taught courses like Sustainability and Renaissance alongside Calculus, Biochemistry, and Thermodynamics.  Lower school students (1st through 8th grade) utilize an experiential and hands-on approach to explore literature and mathematics.  Another huge component of the Waldorf dducation is Eurythmy, a performance art movement originated by the pedagogy’s founder, Rudolf Steiner.

As you may remember from the video, the Waldorf education is very much married to nature and natural elements.  Students observe nature to supplement their classroom learning from preschool to twelfth grade.  Chapel Hill’s Emerson Waldorf School, for example, boasts a twenty acre farm for children to explore and stimulate their intellectual curiosities.

Waldorf schools typically have a pretty strict no technology policy.  That’s right: no computers, no iPads, no Smart Boards.  Just old school, pen-and-paper learning.  How’s that for innovative learning?  In a culture where education technology sits at the precipice of innovation and scholastic achievement, learning about a modern pedagogy that eschews technology comes as a big surprise to me.

Well, it looks like the no technology policy has not made a negative impact on these schools’ success.  In fact, the rise of Waldorf schools internationally over the past four decades has been meteoric.

The schooling method has garnered national attention for its ardent supporters – some of the world’s most successful figures.  Articles like the one published in the New York Times have revealed that the children of eBay’s Chief Technology Officer (and a slew of other bigwigs at tech companies like Yahoo, Apple, Google, and Hewlett-Packard) are students at Waldorf schools.

How does this education method fare for the college bound student?  Waldorf schools, as you may have gathered from the overview video, are not huge proponents of standardized testing.  In an educational landscape that largely favors students who learn the “standardized testing game,” Waldorf’s focus on project based learning and personal growth rather than test scores is particularly jarring to a public school student like me.

If these students are not taught to the test like I would argue many public school students are, how would they fare when they’re required to take one?  I would argue that the critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary to succeed in this type of environment equips students with the tools necessary to conquer the tests inescapable for those wanting to pursue higher education, such as the SAT and the ACT.

Have you ever heard of the Waldorf education?  What are your opinions on it?  Is it too nontraditional?  I’m looking forward to reading your responses!

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4 Responses to Waldorf Schools: A Nontraditional Way of Learning

  1. liznels says:

    Thank you for this post! Like you, I have never heard of this type of schooling until now. I think this is a really interesting curriculum that seems to do more experiential learning and practical skills. I know you asked how these students do in college and I am very curious as to how they do to. I can see them being more practically prepared for life, but also see how this may limit their skills in a modern world. Do you have any information on this?



  2. We hope to make it a mainstream preference by parents


  3. Pingback: Waldorf Schools: A Nontraditional Way of Learning – Shining Spiral

  4. Pingback: Waldorf Schools: A Nontraditional Way of Learning | Shining Spiral Ahmedabad

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