The heart of the Waldorf approach is the conviction that education is an art. Its goal is to present life to the children in such a way that they are filled with wonder and enthusiasm. This demands that the presentation of subject matter, be it math, history, or physics, must be alive and speak to the child's experience. To truly educate a child, the HEART and WILL must be reached as well as the MIND. The intention is not merely to instruct, but to inspire and motivate each child's creative forces from within; to lead the child to a balanced development of clear and precise thought, a rich and healthy emotional life, and a developed power of will which allows worthy application of his or her thoughts and feelings to practical challenges in the world.
Children pass through three basic stages of cognitive development and the Waldorf curriculum is designed to engage the abilities of the growing child during each of these stages. In the preschool this is accomplished through guided creative play; in the elementary school through the imaginative and artistic presentation of material by the class teacher; and in high school through challenging the student's awakening capacity for independent thought. Thus, the uniqueness of the Waldorf approach lies not so much in what the children are taught (they pursue a rigorous classical curriculum) but in how and when.
We are cautious about introducing abstract intellectual concepts too soon, aiming instead to bring the intellectual faculty to full flower in a deliberately gradual way. We believe that many dilemmas of the modern world are the direct result of intellectual knowledge that has outstripped our capacities for empathy, morality, and creativity in solving problems. Waldorf education is designed to help children develop strengths for a lifetime.
The Waldorf philosophy recognizes a basic need in children up to the age of fourteen or so for genuine authority, rooted in love and respect by the child for the teacher, and in respect by the teacher for the child. This need for authority leads to one of the most distinctive features of Waldorf education, the Class Teacher. In the elementary school years, the class teacher ideally advances with the students from first through eighth grades, and the children grow in confidence and security as their teacher's knowledge of them grows. The class teacher presents the main academic subjects, coordinates with the special subject teachers, and provides the link between home and school.
The class teacher is able to bring continuity to the curriculum. Through intimate knowledge of the group of children, the class teacher is also able to select, emphasize, and draw upon those aspects of a discipline that best address the needs and interests of the class.
The need for independence awakens in children of high school age as naturally as did the need for authority in the elementary years. In the high school the class teacher's role is then assumed by subject teachers, whose authority rests on knowledge, skill, and experience in special fields.
The students in grades one through twelve begin every day with another distinctive feature of Waldorf education--the Main Lesson. This is a long, uninterrupted morning lesson, which is taught by the class teacher in the elementary school and by the subject teachers in the high school. There are eight to ten main lesson subjects or blocks, of approximately one month's duration, in the academic year. During each main lesson block, a major academic subject is presented and studied intensively.
This system allows time for the students to penetrate the subject with unusual depth and to complete a significant piece of work. In addition to the presentation of the subject for the day and the review and discussion that go with it, ample time is set aside to enliven the subject with poetry, expository writing, painting, drawing, or drama. After one topic has been fully explored, a new main lesson block is introduced. As the students progress through the school, main lesson subjects are taken up again and again at more complex levels of study.
A good part of the main lesson is devoted to students' individual work--the Main Lesson Book. These books record, in writing and drawing, the path of the students' experience with a particular subject.Each student thus creates his or her own textbook for every subject and works on it at home, amplifying, condensing, restating, transcribing--actions that encourage and reinforce the learning process. There is room for pictures, colorful margins, illuminated letters. Good penmanship is worth working for because the child wants the book to be beautiful--a creation as well as a record. The artist in the child is touched, and the creative energies become a powerful impetus for all further study.
The main lesson in elementary school is followed by an outdoor recess after which there are two 40-minute classes in subjects such as Spanish or English and math skills, which require regular repetition. After lunch the children devote themselves to fine and practical arts, gardening, handwork, movement, and sports. What is being studied in the main lesson is often integrated into the curriculum of special subjects. Thus, the rhythm of the day starts with the work that requires intellectual focus, and ends with the more physical activities that engage the body and hands. In structuring the year, class teachers will order the main lessons so that the subjects unfold in a varied and orderly sequence. In the high school, main lesson is followed by three subject classes in the morning. The afternoon periods include practical and fine arts and physical education as well laboratory classes related to science main lessons.
In a Waldorf school the arts are an integral part of the curriculum. All students learn to paint and draw, beginning in kindergarten. Sculpture also begins in kindergarten with the modeling of figures out of colored beeswax and progresses to working with clay in the elementary school, stone and metal in high school. All the children sing, play the recorder, learn to read music, and in third year begin stringed instruments. Each year, every grade presents a play that relates to its academic program.
The practical arts--handcrafts and woodwork--balance and complement the students' academic and artistic work. By learning to knit, crochet, sew and work with wood and clay, students develop manual dexterity, patience, coordination, skill, appreciation for natural materials, a feeling for color, form, and design, and a personal sense of achievement.
Each art follows a sequence of development from year to year and all of them supplement and reinforce the main lesson curriculum. Artistic activity is woven into the entire fabric of each subjectand is used to teach all subjects.
A school fulfills its function to the extent that its teaching is transformed into creative capacities for life. Waldorf graduates find that their learning has become a part of them, a resource upon which to draw, a guide to full and responsive living. Because of our rich curriculum and innovative teaching methods, our students develop a love of learning, a depth of understanding, and a distinctive individuality. Learning includes the acquisition of skills, abilities, and information; but learning also becomes a lifetime voyage of discovery.