Welcome to the sixth post in the Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Styles series! Click here to view the rest of the series.
The Waldorf educational philosophy is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who developed the spiritual concept of anthroposophy. The first school to be developed along anthroposophical principles was at the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory, therefore schools and the education method are called Steiner or Waldorf interchangeably.
The core of Steiner/Waldorf education is learning through doing. In support of that, Waldorf homeschooling includes plenty of art, craft, handwork, dancing, drama and general creation. If you love the arts and seek to foster a beautiful, calm and rhythmical home environment then Waldorf may be for you.
A developmental approach is followed in Waldorf education-
- Imitation – Up to age 6/7, the basis is learning from example, imitation, and imagination. Lots of outside time, art, craft and handwork, and practical activities such as cooking are included.
- Imagination – 6/7-14, more formal academic work begins, but all subjects are taught through the arts. Learning is facilitated through play, stories, nature, drama, handcrafts, music, and dance.
- Discrimination – 14+, a more academic approach is taken. It is believed that students are better suited now to dealing with abstract concepts and critical thought.
During the second stage, a main lesson (similar to a unit study) is studied each day for a few weeks, to provide children with an in-depth investigation of a topic.
The natural world is of central importance. Establishing a rhythm to the days and years is seen to help children feel secure. Celebrating festivals for the seasons, solstices and natural events helps to establish that rhythm. There is a focus on natural materials – wooden toys, beeswax crayons, and playsilks are popular. Moral and character development is supported by reading of mythology, biographies, fairy tales, thereby surrounding children in a positive, virtuous atmosphere.
Contrary to modern education, Waldorf uses no technology until high school. Steiner education believes a focus on a natural and social environment is best in the early years, and therefore the focus is on learning from people, the environment, and direct experience, not machines.
Formalised testing is minimal to non-existent. The parent is expected to know the child’s abilities by working with them and observing their work.
The Good Points
- The Waldorf method does arts, crafts and hands-on learning really well.
- It nurtures creativity, imagination, and a respect for nature.
- It’s cooperative, not competitive.
- It encourages participation in daily tasks, such as cooking and chores, from an early age
- The early focus on classical literature and mythology give children a strong academic base.
- It’s ideal for parents wanting to raise multilingual children – languages are introduced early.
- Emphasis on engaging student and developing individual potential rather than a one-size-fits-all approach
The Not-So-Good Points
- It’s not empirically based. Rudolf Steiner was the sole source of the ideas that Waldorf education revolves around. If you’re a person who likes evidence, some of the concepts will scream ‘woo!’ to you (clairvoyance, gnomes, constellation of soul forces etc.). However, the beauty of homeschooling is that you can take what you like and discard the rest.
- If you’re keen on an early introduction to technology, you’ll need to incorporate that yourself.
- If your child doesn’t fit the stages of academic development (eg. an early reader) you’ll need to change things around a bit.
- Cost. Waldorf requires quite a lot of ‘stuff’. Things like playsilks, beeswax crayons and Waldorf dolls can be very expensive. You can do it on a budget, or DIY, but be prepared to be envious of other people who have seemingly unlimited funds and gorgeous environments.
For Australians, a Waldorf curriculum is in the process of being written and submitted to ACARA – you can download the approved scope and sequence from Steiner Education Australia to assist with your application and planning. This curriculum enables the requirements of the National Curriculum to be met while retaining the Steiner philosophy and approach.
*Update – The Steiner curriculum has been approved. The HEA in Queensland are happy to accept it as a base for a homeschooling plan. Just make sure you include evidence of how you will tailor it to suit your child’s specific needs.
Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out – Jack Petrash
Christopherus Curriculum for homeschoolers – many great educational resources and guides
Golden Beetle Books – Alan and Susan Whitehead*
*To be honest, I found these books very difficult to read and understand. They jump around a lot, and there’s quite a lot of unnecessary filler. Regardless, they’re very comprehensive, and available in many libraries.
Also, take a look at my Steiner / Waldorf Homeschooling board on Pinterest to discover fantastic resources and crafty ideas to help you set up your own Steiner homeschool.