Frequently asked questions
click on a question below to view answer
Does Waldorf education prepare children for the "real" world and, if so, how does it do it?
“It is easy to fall into the error of believing that education must make our children fit into society. Although we are certainly influenced by what the world brings us, the fact is that the world is shaped by people, not people by the world. However, that shaping of the world is possible in a healthy way only if the shapers are themselves in possession of their full nature as human beings.
Education in our materialistic, Western society focuses on the intellectual aspect of the human being and has chosen largely to ignore the several other parts that are essential to our well-being. These include our life of feeling (emotions, aesthetics, and social sensitivity), our willpower (the ability to get things done), and our moral nature (being clear about right and wrong). Without having these developed, we are incomplete – a fact that may become obvious in our later years, when a feeling of emptiness begins to set in. That is why in a Waldorf school, the practical and artistic subjects play as important a role as the full spectrum of traditional academic subjects that the school offers. The practical and artistic are essential in achieving a preparation for life in the “real” world.
Waldorf education recognizes and honours the full range of human potentialities. It addresses the whole child by striving to awaken and ennoble all the latent capacities. The children learn to read, write, and do math; they study history, geography, and the sciences. In addition, all children learn to sing, play a musical instrument, draw, paint, model clay, carve and work with wood, speak clearly and act in a play, think independently, and work harmoniously and respectfully with others. The development of these various capacities is interrelated. For example, both boys and girls learn to knit in grade one. Acquiring this basic and enjoyable human skill helps them develop a manual dexterity, which after puberty will be transformed into an ability to think clearly and to “knit” their thoughts into a coherent whole.
Preparation for life includes the development of the well-rounded person. Waldorf education has as its ideal a person who is knowledgeable about the world and human history and culture, who has many varied practical and artistic abilities, who feels a deep reverence for and communion with the natural world, and who can act with initiative and in freedom in the face of economic and political pressures.
There are many Waldorf graduates of all ages who embody this ideal and who are perhaps the best proof of the efficacy of the education.”
– From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price; originally printed in Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
Are Waldorf schools art schools?
Waldorf schools are not art schools. The curriculum offers a classical education in all academic disciplines and fully integrates the arts into its teaching methodology. Why? Because research continues to show that the inclusion of the arts in academia increases aptitude and creative thinking in areas such as math and science, and that the arts have a positive effect on emotional development.
Why the focus on play during the early years of childhood?
Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, answers this question as well as any Waldorf teacher could:
“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less slowly. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet voiced teacher suggest that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in flower pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”
“It could be argued that active play is so central to child development that it should be included in the very definition of childhood.” – American Academy of Pediatrics
Why do Waldorf schools teach reading so late?
“There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the “tiredness toward reading” that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood. Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes in fact from the child. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.
If reading is not pushed, a healthy child will pick it up quite quickly and easily. Some Waldorf parents become anxious if their child is slow to learn to read. Eventually these same parents are overjoyed at seeing their child pick up a book and not put it down and become from that moment a voracious reader. Each child has his or her own optimal time for “taking off.” Feelings of anxiety and inferiority may develop in a child who is not reading as well as her peers. Often this anxiety is picked up from parents concerned about the child’s progress. It is important that parents should deal with their own and their child’s apprehensions.”
– From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price; originally printed in Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
Why does the teacher stay with one class for anything from one to eight years?
Learning is served by continuity, emotional security and a steady authority figure. To maximize this, Rudolf Steiner recommended that one teacher should stay with a specific group of children through Primary and Middle School.
What happens if the teacher does not get along with a child?
“Problems between teachers and children, and between teachers and parents, can and do arise. When this happens, the College of Teachers studies the situation, involves the teacher and parents (and, if appropriate, the child) and tries to resolve the conflict. However, a Waldorf class is more like a family. If a mother in a family does not get along with her son during a certain time, she does not consider resigning or replacing him with another child. Rather, she looks at the situation and sees what can be done to improve the relationship. In other words, the adult assumes responsibility and tries to change. This same approach is expected of the Waldorf teacher in a difficult situation. In almost every case she must ask herself: How can I change so that the relationship becomes more positive? One cannot expect this of the child. With the goodwill and active support of the parents, the teacher concerned can make the necessary changes and restore the relationship to a healthy and productive state.”
– From Five Frequently Asked Questions by Colin Price; originally printed in Renewal Magazine, Spring/Summer 2003
How can a Waldorf class teacher teach all the subjects through the eight years of elementary schooling?
“The class teacher is not the only teacher the children experience. Each day, specialty subject teachers teach the children eurythmy, handcrafts, a foreign language, instrumental music, and so on. Additional support is offered in the 7th and 8th grades as academic demands become more rigorous.
The class teacher is, however, responsible for the two-hour “main lesson” every morning and usually also for one or two lessons later in the day. In the main lesson, she brings all the main academic subjects to the children, including language arts, the sciences, history, and mathematics, as well as painting, music, clay modeling, and so on. The teacher does in fact deal with a wide range of subjects, and thus the question is a valid one.
A common misconception in our time is that education is merely the transfer of information. From the Waldorf point of view, true education also involves the awakening of capacities-the ability to think clearly and critically, to empathetically experience and understand phenomena in the world, to distinguish what is beautiful, good, and true. The class teacher walks a path of discovery with the children and guides them into an understanding of the world of meaning, rather than the world of cause and effect.
Waldorf class teachers work very hard to master the content of the various subjects that they teach. But the teacher’s ultimate success lies in his ability to work with those inner faculties that are still “in the bud,” so that they can grow, develop, and open up in a beautiful, balanced, and wholesome way. Through this approach to teaching, the children will be truly prepared for the real world. They are provided then with the tools to productively shape that world out of a free human spirit.”
What kind of training do Waldorf teachers have?
Waldorf teachers have a university degree, a post-graduate certificate of education and a 2-year certificate in Waldorf education. All Waldorf teachers are required to undergo ongoing training and mandatory biennial appraisals.
How is Waldorf education different from Montessori education?
These two educational approaches seem very similar, in that they are deeply child oriented. The underlying philosophies are, however, very different.
- Read about it in the article titled: Montessori and Steiner: A Pattern of Reverse Symmetries, by Dee Joy Coulter in the folder About Waldorf Education, in our Resource Library.
Why are festivals celebrated?
Each school term ends with a whole school celebration of a seasonal festival. Seasonal festivals serve to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature and of the cosmos. The festivals may have originated in various cultures, yet have been adapted over time. Celebrating is an art. There is joy in the anticipation, the preparation, the celebration itself and the memories. Festivals also provide regular events where the school community can gather and interact.
Why no uniform?
While uniforms are intended as an expression of unity, they also become an expression of conformity. Waldorf education encourages individual self-expression, but is clear that branded clothing, fashion labels, and clothing with symbols and cartoon characters are not expressions of individuality, but conforming to the status quo.
Why no testing and exams until Class 7?
“There is this story about a King and his trusted, though somewhat dull steward. One day the King, having to leave his palace and venture on a journey of several months’ duration, asked his steward to look after his beloved rose garden. Unfamiliar with flowers and their care, the steward asked what his most essential task would be.
Above all things, replied the King, be sure that the rosebush roots receive enough water.
Much to the King’s great surprise, he returned some months later to a rose garden in which not one living plant remained.
My instructions could not have been simpler! he cried to the shamefaced steward, What have you done?
Exactly as you commanded, was the steward’s response. Every day we pulled up the rosebushes and examined their roots. If the roots were dry we watered them well and returned the plants to the soil.
As the King knew well, there are other ways to determine if the roots are receiving sufficient water! Wilting leaves, desiccated buds or withering flowers would all have been adequate indicators that water was needed. And, above all, using these indicators would eliminate the need to destroy the plant in order to understand it.
Educators active in the Waldorf school movement are convinced that most contemporary methods of assessment of children take the Pull Up The Roots approach. With the zeal of the steward, they undermine the very abilities that they seek to evaluate.
The Waldorf method of evaluation might be characterised as the Look At The Leaves approach. To facilitate this indirect and qualitative assessment method, a variety of assessment instruments and methods are used. Eschewing the graded quiz or the standardised test as the only objective methods, teachers work with a portfolio style approach that includes the child’s drawings, paintings, knitting, facility of movement, musical skills, oral expressiveness, etc. as factors that are no less important than the more easily determined powers of cognition and verbal memory.
As the above criteria must make clear, the Waldorf assessment method is time and labour intensive in nature. The final written, annual evaluations are only the final step in a process that goes on ceaselessly throughout the school year.” – Eugene Schwartz
That being said, it should be noted that in-depth, individual observational reports are issued by the class teacher at the end of each year in Primary School. In the Middle and High Schools, students complete tests to assess their comprehension and progress. Teachers from the Federation of Waldorf Schools in Southern Africa perform class assessments up to Class 7 at Michael Mount on an annual basis. Detailed academic reports are issued twice annually from Class 8 onwards. Matric students write the exams set by the Independent Examinations Board (IEB).
How does the school deal with children of different academic levels or inclinations?
Waldorf educators hesitate to categorize children in terms such as “slow” or “gifted”. A 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. The class is a community in which the contributions from everyone are recognised. The giftedness of any particular child is to be developed even further through sharing. A gifted child will stay with their age group and be encouraged to participate fully in the advancement of the group; the social ideal is to develop awareness that each individual has something to give and has much to receive.
Why is exposure to electronic media discouraged for the young child?
The reasons for this have as much to do with the physical effects of the medium on the developing child, as with the often-questionable content of much of the programming. Television as well as videos, dvd’s, recorded music and electronic games have a very powerful effect on children and it is very important that children’s exposure to them is limited, carefully considered and monitored. It can take several days for the effects of a single video to wear off. If children are watching every day, the effects never wear off at all; many children now speak in ‘cartoon’ voices, make ‘sound effects’ to accompany their jerky movements (kicking, punching) and compulsively repeat lines from videos they have seen over and over again. This is now seen as ‘normal’ childish behaviour, but it comes from the above mentioned media, not from the children themselves. In Waldorf schools, the teaching relies very much on the children taking in the content of a lesson, going home and sleeping and then coming back the next day to recall and work with it. During the night, the lesson will have been digested, together with the mental pictures made by the children themselves, and they are able to relate to and understand it better than they could the previous day. If children are watching TV, or using any of the other electronic devices mentioned, after school or especially just before bed or in the morning, the strong images and noises overwhelm the subtle pictures they have formed within themselves with their own imagination and shut them out, so that the children, when you say ‘princess’, or ‘frog’ will only be able to picture Disney’s Sleeping Beauty or Kermit from Sesame Street; the opportunity to use their own imagination is denied. Young children need real human beings to imitate in order to develop in a healthy way, and if they are exposed to these distorted pictures, sounds and actions on a daily basis they will imitate them instead, while their senses gradually become numbed to subtle human qualities.
- Read the section titled The Media and Learning for the Young Child (pages 19 – 27) in the Excerpts from Sharifa Oppenheimer’s book Heaven on Earth.
Why are computers introduced at such a late stage?
Though the school cannot dictate what parents expose their children to at home, Primary school students are discouraged from using any form of technology, even at home. Students in Middle school are introduced to computers in controlled environments. Students in High school are encouraged to use technology as a tool for learning.
Some food for thought from a June 2016 article in The Guardian, titled Could Steiner schools have a point on children, tablets and tech? (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/14/steiner-schools-children-tablets-tech )
A recent study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that students barred from using laptops or digital devices in lectures and seminars did better in exams than those allowed to use computers and access the internet. And research last year from theLondon School of Economics found schools that banned pupils from carrying mobile phones showed a sustained improvement in exam results, with the biggest advances coming from struggling students.
A Cambridge University study found that spending an extra hour a day of TV, internet or gaming time in year 10 saw a fall in GCSE results equivalent to two grades overall. Its co-author, Esther van Sluijs, says reducing screen time could have important benefits and adds that “limiting the amount of time spent in front of screens and introducing children to a variety of activities is likely to have the most beneficial long-term impacts on a child’s health”.
Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said recently: “The reality is that technology is doing more harm than good in our schools today.” A report by the OECD in 2015 found that countries that had invested heavily in technology had shown no signs of improvement in reading, maths or science.
Older Waldorf students quickly master computer technology and many graduates have successful careers in the computer and IT industries, without being disadvantaged by their lack of exposure to technology in early childhood.
Are Waldorf schools religious?
While Michael Mount is run on Christian principles, Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational. They educate children from a broad spectrum of traditions and, in the course of educating students, seek to bring about awareness of all the world’s cultures and religions. While not religious, Waldorf education stems from an acknowledgement of the spiritual dimension of the human being and of all of life.
What is eurythmy?
Eurythmy is a dance-like art form, developed by Rudolf Steiner. It seeks to make visible the tone and feeling of speech and sound, by matching movement to each letter, note or number. Eurythmy enhances concentration, coordination, sensitivity to sound and music, and spatial sensitivity – particularly in relation to others in the group. Eurythmy is part of the curriculum of all Waldorf schools. It follows the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms.
How do children fare when they transfer to or from Waldorf schools?
“Children who transfer to a Waldorf school in the first four grades usually are up to grade in reading, math, and basic academic skills. However, they usually have much to learn in bodily coordination skills, posture, artistic and social activities, cursive handwriting, and listening skills. Listening well is particularly important since most of the curricular content is presented orally in the classroom by the teacher. The human relationship between the child and the teacher is the basis for healthy learning, for the acquiring of understanding and knowledge rather than just information. Children who are used to learning from computers and other electronic media will have to adjust.
Those children who enter a Waldorf school in the middle grades often bring much information about the world. This contribution should be recognized and received with interest by the class. However, these children often have to unlearn some social habits, such as the tendency to experience learning as a competitive activity. They have to learn to approach the arts in a more objective way, not simply as a means for personal expression. In contrast, in their study of nature, history, and the world, they need to relate what they learn to their own life and being. The popular ideal of “objectivity” in learning is misguided when applied to elementary school children. At their stage of development, the subjective element is essential for healthy learning. Involvement in what is learned about the world makes the world truly meaningful to them.
Children who transfer out of a Waldorf school into a public school during the earlier grades probably have to upgrade their reading ability and to approach the science lessons differently. Science in a Waldorf school emphasizes the observation of natural phenomena rather than the formulation of abstract concepts and laws. On the other hand, the Waldorf transferees are usually well prepared for social studies, practical and artistic activities, and mathematics. Children moving during the middle grades should experience no problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age group find themselves ahead of their classmates. The departing Waldorf student is likely to take along into the new school a distinguishing individual strength, personal confidence, and love of learning.”
How do Waldorf students compare and fare at university and in the real world?
A 2003 evaluation by education scholars David Jelinek and Li-Ling Sun compared a group of American Waldorf school students to American public school students on three different test variables. Two tests measured verbal and non-verbal logical reasoning and the third was an international Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMMS) test. The TIMMS test covered scientific understanding of magnetism. The researchers found that Waldorf school students scored higher than both the public school students (and the national average) on the TIMMS test while scoring the same as the public school students on the logical reasoning tests. However, when the logical reasoning tests measured students’ understanding of part-to-whole relations, the Waldorf students also outperformed the public school students.
According to a 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study of European students, Waldorf pupils’ ability in science was “far above average” in the data set used.
A 2007 German study found that an above-average number of Waldorf students become teachers, doctors, engineers, scholars of the humanities, and scientists.
Sources: Fanny Jiménez, “Wissenschaftler loben Waldorfschulen” Die Welt, 27 September 2012; Østergaard, Edvin; Dahlin, Bo; Hugo, Aksel (1 September 2008). “Doing phenomenology in science education: a research review”. Studies in Science Education 44 (2): 93–121.
According to a 2005 study of North American Waldorf graduates:
- 94% attended college or university
- 47% chose humanities or arts as a major
- 42% chose sciences or math as a major
- 89% are highly satisfied in choice of occupation
- 91% are active in lifelong education
- 92% placed a high value on critical thinking
- 90% highly values tolerance of other viewpoints
Why is Michael Mount so expensive?
Tuition costs at Michael Mount are comparable to other independent schools in the same geographic area.
What is anthroposophy?
Every Waldorf school, although independent and part of its local community, shares an approach to education underscored by Rudolf Steiner’s ‘image of man’: a deep understanding of the human being in body, soul and spirit. Steiner wrote and spoke about it in several hundred books and lectures during his lifetime. He called this knowledge “Anthroposophy” – literally ‘wisdom of the human being’. It speaks to the deepest questions of humanity and describes and characterises the different stages of human development that can be observed in the journey through childhood and adulthood.
While anthroposophy forms the basis of the curriculum, the philosophy is not taught to students.
- The best way to understand Anthroposophy is to read Steiner’s own words in context for yourself. Go to Anthroposophy in the Resource Library.