What is Waldorf Anyway?

Posted 3/28/2013

Hello Families,

  If you are receiving this Sweet Songs Newsletter, for some reason you have been drawn to Waldorf Education. But what exactly is Waldorf? Why do all Waldorf Early Childhood Classrooms look alike? Why do the teachers always sing and wear a color of the day? What is this all about anyway? Well, I am merely in childhood myself with understanding this very complex way of teaching/being. I will, however, attempt to give a very broad brushstroke of Waldorf in Early Childhood. 

  Waldorf Education is incredibly vast. It takes into account the whole child, not just the physical body with a brain to fill but the emotional and soul life as well. The key aspects of a Waldorf Kindergarten is activities rich in nature, a setting worthy of imitation and imaginative creative play. It is not about getting the information in and making it stick. It is an inner process of how to support and love this child so the natural learning curiosity remains intact, engaged and strengthened. As a result, they will go out into the world with a true passion for discovery and learning.

  I will never forget the first time entering a Waldorf Kindergarten, the beauty, the true thoughtfulness of the space was tangible. As soon as I saw the cloth napkins on the drying line, I knew I found a wonderful school for my children and a community for our family. In contrast, I remember visiting my niece's classroom. I hadn't been in a public elementary school since I was young and I was struck at how much stuff was crammed into the space. There were hundreds of books spilling off the bookshelf. There were plastic bins stacked to the ceiling. Every single inch of wall space was covered. There were even things hanging from the ceiling dancing at eye level. With 25 children, it was distracting to say the least. For me, as a grown woman, I had a hard time being in the space. I cannot imagine expecting a child to pay attention, sit still and learn. We wonder why Attention Deficient Disorder is on the rise...

  In a Waldorf Classroom, the eye can rest upon natural things. The light is ample yet diffused. The toys are simple, allowing the child to organically create the play, not the toy directing the child "Push the red square." Even the simple act of painting the classroom has a whole technique called Lazure. A layering process which gives the room depth and creates a truer expression of color, modeling our natural world. For each stage of development, a color is chosen that supports the child's needs. For Early Childhood, it is soft pink/peach which reflects and assists the dreamy consciousness of the small child.

  Not only is there great preparation to the space, the teacher has a tremendous responsibility. In 'The Education of the Child' Rudolf Steiner, the innovator of Waldorf Education, wrote: "What the adult does, feels, and thinks are all imitated by the child under seven years. So complete attention to the task in hand, with a care, love and joy in the doing, actually helps in the formation of the child's physical body." A lofty goal, I know. The Waldorf Teacher is specifically trained, not only in regards to the children and classroom but their inner soul life as well. The teacher is always striving to be better; for themselves, the children and the larger community. It truly is a way of life.

  Waldorf Education and Anthroposphy (the philosophy behind Waldorf) is a journey not a destination. A lifetime practice for sure. Since becoming a part of the Waldorf Community 13 years ago, I am still struck by its utter richness in understanding all things big and small. We all need a bit more of this thoughtfulness and care in our daily life, don't you agree? So I hope this gave you a bit more understanding and a desire to find out more. 

Here is a great resource, AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools of North America):  http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/

With Love,

Kelly Waters