What is the main point of Waldorf education?

When the first Waldorf school was founded in 1919, Steiner viewed it as an antidote to the dry “head” learning that was then common in schools. A child, he said, must be educated not only through the intellect, but also through feelings, imagination, and the body. Steiner infused his curriculum with artistic work, music, movement, and storytelling. He further insisted that a teacher’s job was not simply to impart information and facts, but to inspire students’ strength and will to pursue their own destinies in life. Waldorf teachers hold the development of a child’s character to be as important as anything else in the curriculum.

The Waldorf curriculum is based on Steiner’s insights into the developmental needs of children at every age, insights that are borne out by educational researchers such as Gesell, Piaget, Gardner, and others. Steiner held that there are three main stages of childhood: 0–7 years, during which a person learns primarily through doing; 7–14 years, during which a person learns primarily through feeling; and 14 –21 years, during which a person learns primarily through thinking. He believed that young children learn through play rather than by intellect, while older students (in adolescence) are best met by addressing their capacity for critical thinking, and so on.

The goal of Waldorf schooling is to graduate balanced individuals, who are able to think for themselves, and posses both the desire to serve others and the courage to take action for the common good in a divided world.

Are you a religious school?

Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and unaffiliated with any particular religion. We do, however, honor the religious and cultural traditions of many faiths. The celebration of festivals, whether school-wide or within a given class, is a centerpiece of the Waldorf curriculum.

The Waldorf humanities curriculum encompasses world cultures and faiths. A key goal is to develop students’ respect for the many religious and cultural traditions that comprise human history and contemporary society. While not “religious,” it can be said that Waldorf education does have a spiritual component, in that students are viewed as intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual in nature.

Why do elementary teachers stay with a class for 8 years?

The practice of a teacher and students staying together from year to year is called “looping” and, in general, students in Waldorf schools stay with the same teacher from first through eighth grade. Rudolf Steiner believed that in order for children to grow into self-confident, authoritative adults, they must be exposed in childhood to the loving guidance of a respected authority, in this case the class teacher.

Waldorf first graders typically view their teacher as an all-knowing presence. Eighth graders view that same teacher as a mentor. In all cases, students learn that their class teacher will stick with them through thick and thin. The class teacher greets the students in the morning, teaches the first two-hour lesson block of the day, supervises transitions and lunch, and takes charge of students’ academic, moral, and social development.

Waldorf teachers are expected to be authorities on their subject matter, as well as storytellers, musicians, artists, and actors. Most of them take summer courses that prepare them to teach the next grade’s curriculum in September. Waldorf teachers, as all good teachers, strive to continually develop their capacities to bring a strong education to their students.

Another benefit of Waldorf’s “looping” system is that it eliminates the “ramp-up” time at the start of each school year, during which students and teachers at other schools spend weeks getting to know each other. Waldorf teachers know their students well enough to keep them academically challenged at a level that is appropriate to each child, from the first week in September through the final week in June. This is considered a benefit of Waldorf schools that they have maintained for nearly 100 years.

What if there is a mismatch between student and teacher?

This sometimes happens. There are many different personalities in the world, and some get along more easily than others. Yet Waldorf teachers are extraordinarily motivated to find a way to work with children whom they initially may find challenging. Like a parent, they can’t just “put up with” a child for one year and then pass him or her on to another teacher the following September. This is true of the parent-teacher relationship, too. Remarkable things happen when everyone understands that this is a multi-year commitment. Waldorf class teachers meditate on each of their students every night, and parents are often surprised to find that a teacher understands their child deeply. Parents are encouraged to communicate regularly with their child’s teacher, not only during Parent-Teacher conferences but anytime they have questions or concerns. Parents receive written student assessments in essay form from their children’s teachers and appreciate the many opportunities they have to communicate with their child’s teacher.

How large are your classes?

Class size varies by grade. Our youngest nursery classes enroll 10 children, our older nursery has no more than 14 children per day, our kindergartens each have 16 to 18 students, and our elementary classes may be as large as 22.

Early childhood classes have one head teacher and one assistant in each room.

Other schools are trying to reduce class sizes. Why do you intentionally strive for elementary class sizes of over 20? 

Waldorf education is a social education, and our students are taught to work in groups from early childhood on. They do their math problems together, they take nature walks together, they paint together, they do science experiments together, they act in plays together–even to the point of learning all of each others’ lines. Invaluable yet hard-to-measure lessons are learned: Because everybody does everything, students come to celebrate and appreciate each other’s strengths in different areas. Teachers often look to the students who are ahead in one area to assist those who need extra help. Students are taught to support each other and share what they have learned.

In a class of 20 or so, there is a healthy mix of personalities, and students must learn to resolve conflicts with those unlike themselves. Variety of temperament plays a decisive role in the makeup of a healthy Waldorf class. Classes that are too small in size may be dominated by a few children. In a larger class, on the other hand, every child has the opportunity to learn how to function respectfully within a group — a skill that Rudolf Steiner thought was essential to creating change in society.

Because a Waldorf class teacher stays with a class from year to year, he or she comes to know each student extremely well. It can be easier, then, for a Waldorf teacher to work with a class of 22 than it might be for a teacher in another school who typically has the same students for only one year.

Why do you wait until second grade to begin formal instruction in reading?

This idea has been repeated many times but we see all the play, movement and other “pre-reading skills” as laying a strong foundation for reading. The Waldorf approach goes against the current tide of teaching subjects such as reading at increasingly younger ages. In the March/April 2004 issue of Mothering magazine, Rahima Baldwin Dancy wrote:

This trend in public education began in the late 1950s, following the shock of the first Russian spacecraft, and has pushed the first-grade curriculum down into kindergarten and even into preschools. This has not led to improved learning, however; test scores at all levels have been falling ever since. In contrast to early academics, Waldorf preschool and kindergarten teachers recognize that reading must be grounded in a rich field of oral learning and meaning, and thus they carefully lay the foundations for early literacy through storytelling, singing, and movement games. If abstract processes such as reading are not crammed into young minds but are taught when the child’s brain is developmentally ready, at around the age of seven, failure and boredom are minimized.”

Rudolf Steiner believed that before the age of seven years, a child’s time was best spent in developing the physical body in a healthy way. Children who are encouraged to be active, playful, and creative in early childhood usually turn out to be the most enthusiastic learners during the elementary years. Waldorf early childhood teachers concentrate on developing the children’sphysical coordination (which affects the development of neural pathways in the brain), listening skills (which later improve their facility with the written word), ability to relate socially in a group (which is critical to success in any endeavor), finger dexterity (which helps the child to think more nimbly), and initiative. Because Waldorf kindergartners create their own games and fantasy play scenarios, they grow accustomed to making things happen rather than waiting for something or somebody else to entertain them. There are no books in a Waldorf kindergarten classroom, but there are plenty of stories–both oral and dramatic.

In the elementary grades, children are taught to write before they learn to read. (This instruction actually begins in the nursery classrooms, where children learn the proper way to hold a paintbrush. This is the same way they will later learn to hold a crayon, a pencil, and a fountain pen.) The letters of the alphabet are introduced in Grade One, initially in picture form. In conjunction with a story told by the teacher (“The Fisherman’s Wife,” for instance) the children may draw or sculpt a fish that later becomes the letter F. Or a snake that becomes the letter S. Or a king that becomes the letter K. This, of course, is the way written letters evolved in ancient times. Later, the children begin to write down the stories told by their teacher (by copying the words from a chalkboard), and subsequently are amazed to discover that they can read what they have written.

Of course, there are some children who seem to pick up reading skills before the age of six or seven, with no apparent help from anyone. We don’t discourage this, but we try always to be sure that a child is growing in a balanced way in all areas–physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially — and not becoming a specialist in any one area too soon.

How are Waldorf students assessed?

Families receive a detailed and thorough written assessment of their child’s progress in every subject area at the end of the year with shortened reports during the year.

All elementary students keep a main lesson books of writings and drawings — essentially self-created textbooks of the work that has been covered during the academic year. These books can be reviewed by parents at regular parent evenings or during parent/teacher conferences. The books are sent home in June, as a permanent record of what the child has accomplished in that school year.

What is your policy on electronic media?

It is well documented that media exposure in early childhood causes developmental damage to the brain and central nervous system. Both the National Association of Pediatrics and the National Association for the Education of Young Children have established guidelines for media exposure which are very similar to ours.

At The Waldorf School, we have found that mass media works against the healthy development of sound thinking and weakens a child’s ability to deal with reality. Students accustomed to passively receiving impressions have difficulty making the inner effort necessary to sustain an imaginative train of thought or to follow a complicated mathematical process. Even so-called educational television programs have an intellectual bias that can permanently color a child’s reaction to a subject.

Media exposure is particularly detrimental in a Waldorf school because it prevents the student from fully developing the creative thinking capacities that are central to our educational goals. We would like our students to view the world through their own eyes, rather than through the lens of someone else’s camera. By delaying a child’s exposure to mass electronic media until the student’s will and feeling life have reached a certain level of maturity, we hope to encourage an enlightened, inquiry-based relationship to technology.

We ask, therefore, that before fifth grade, electronic media be eliminated from the child’s life. After fifth grade, this exposure should be kept to a minimum (and not allowed on school days). With older children, it is important to review movies beforehand and discuss the content afterwards. We sincerely wish to support your family’s efforts in this regard. Eliminating television from a child’s life may seem like a radical step at first, but families who do it say that it significantly improves the child’s attitude at home as well as at school.

Does every child take art, movement, handwork, music, and foreign language?

Yes.

At the Corvallis Waldorf School, art is not a separate class, but an integral part of the day’s lessons. Students in every grade are expected to illustrate their books and papers with free-hand drawings. Students in an anatomy class, for instance, may be asked to make life-size charcoal drawings of a human skull while students in a geometry class may make origami-like sculptures out of paper. All students do watercolor painting once a week and attend handwork class twice a week.

Music instruction begins in first grade with singing and simple flute playing. By third grade, all students are playing recorder and continue to do so through eighth grade. In fourth grade, students begin formal twice-a-week instruction with instrumental music teachers. They begin with a string instrument (either violin, viola, or cello).

Woodworking classes commence in fifth grade and culminate in eighth grade with the making of small furniture.

The study of Spanish starts in the Early Childhood classes. Instruction is almost exclusively oral until fourth grade. By eighth grade, students are expected to be able to write short papers in both languages. Those with no previous experience in Spanish are given catch-up tutoring outside of class.

What is your music curriculum like?

Music is the thread that weaves the academic day together. Nursery and kindergarten children sing with their teachers at circle time and during most transition periods. Nearly all teachers play musical instruments of one kind or another. In first through eighth grades, children receive instruction on the recorder, and in fourth grade they also learn to play violin, viola, or cello.

All students in fifth grade and above participate in a chorus and there are multiple opportunities for performance at school festivals and assemblies.

What is the difference between Waldorf education and Montessori education?

These two educational philosophies actually started with a similar goal: to design a curriculum that was developmentally appropriate to the child and that addressed the child’s need to learn in a tactile as well as an intellectual way. Maria Montessori did her early work with street children in Italy who “lived” too much in their bodies and not enough in their heads. Rudolf Steiner’s work began with children in Germany who “lived” too much in their heads and not enough in their limbs.

A fundamental difference between these two forms of schooling has to do with the role of the teacher. Montessori teachers act primarily as facilitators, intervening only when a child requests help with an independent learning activity that has been selected by the student. In a Waldorf classroom, on the other hand, the teacher is an authority who leads the class in a variety of teacher-directed activities. This means that Waldorf children participate in activities such as singing or acting or math games or juggling that they may not have chosen to do on their own. Balance, rather than specialization, is encouraged.

In the social realm, Montessori students are taught not to interrupt their peers while they are working, but are encouraged to help younger children complete a task with which they are unfamiliar. Waldorf education, on the other hand, puts particular emphasis on the development of the young child within a group. Barbara Shell, a teacher who worked in public, Montessori, and Waldorf schools, put it this way:

“Waldorf teachers orchestrate this [social] development by modeling good social behavior with their children, by getting the children to join together in movement activities, by introducing songs and games that develop group consciousness, and by helping children learn to work through disagreements.”

Another distinction between Waldorf and Montessori preschool programs involves the role of fantasy play. According to Ms. Shell:

“In Montessori, there is a feeling that because young children have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy, fantasy should be postponed until the child is firmly grounded in reality. The tasks and activities the children do are reality-oriented … In Montessori, each manipulative material has a step-by-step procedure for being used and is focused toward a specific learning concept. Example: Math counting rods are not to be transformed into castle walls. In Waldorf, we feel that it is essential to realize the value of toys to help children to re-enact experiences from life as they actually happen. The less finished and the more suggestive a toy may be, the greater its educational value … Toys in the Waldorf kindergarten may be rounds of wood cut from birch logs, seashells, lengths of colored silk or cotton for costuming or house building, soft cloth dolls with a minimum of detail in faces or clothing, allowing for open-ended imaginative play.”

As Ms. Shell pointed out in her writings, both Waldorf and Montessori teachers recognize that a child longs for rhythm and order in the world. But they interpret this need in quite different ways. Montessori described the classroom as a place where children are free to move about at will and where the day is not divided between work periods and rest or play periods. Protection of the child’s choice is a key element of the Montessori method.

In contrast, Waldorf teachers see the child thriving in a rhythmical atmosphere created by the teacher that includes a balance of what we call “inbreathing” and “outbreathing” activities. In a Waldorf kindergarten, Ms. Shell said, “There are times for coming together and working as a whole group, and times for playing individually or with a few friends. There are times for directed activity like crafts or baking or painting and times for creative play-acting of a story through movement. There are times for doing finger games and times for watching a puppet show.” Students in a Waldorf classroom know what to count on from day to day and week to week.

A regular rhythm of age-appropriate activities is also employed in the elementary school. Each morning lesson has a three-step rhythm that includes recall of previously presented material, presentation of new material, and independent work. Similarly, each day and each week have a rhythm of more intensive and less intensive activities. A concentrated rehearsal of a Shakespeare play, for instance, may be followed by a 45-minute scrimmage on the basketball court.

Eventually these external rhythms are internalized by the child, so that he or she is able to take up and complete the more challenging tasks of later life with purpose and conviction.

How well do your students make the transition to a mainstream high school?

Nearly all do well after a period of adjustment. It takes a few months for them to adapt to the use of textbooks and the taking of standardized tests. On the other hand, they often find themselves ahead of their peers initially in the areas of history, natural sciences, creative writing, public speaking, visual arts, music, movement, and social skills. More important, they bring with them an unusual passion for learning; a respect for other people, cultures, and points of view; and a desire to make a meaningful difference in the world.

High school teachers from public and independent schools have told us that our graduates raise the intellectual bar in their classrooms, that they are naturally curious and respectful, and that they know how to use their many talents to advance the common goals of the group.

Do you have after-school programs?

We have an extended care program until 5:30 pm and a before school program to facilitate work schedules for our parents. A healthy snack is served and there is both indoor and outdoor play time. See Evergreen Extended Care for more information.

What athletic programs do you offer?

We believe that a child’s mental and social development are dependent on healthy physical activity. Our early childhood classes spend a significant amount of time outdoors — in all kinds of weather — gardening, digging, climbing on rocks, and walking in the woods. Elementary students have two recess periods per day in addition to two periods per week of Games or Gym class, which may include activities such as kickball, archery, basketball, juggling, tumbling, and group games of all kinds — from Capture the Flag to Sticks and Stones. We have a small gym, a soccer field, an outdoor basketball court and play yards available for student use. We have both boys and girls middle school basketball teams depending on interest.

In addition, our Fifth Graders participate is a Waldorf Olympics every year, in which students from six or seven Waldorf schools in the region compete for laurel wreaths in javelin, discus, long jump, wrestling, long run, and 50-yard dash. Awards are made for grace and form as well as strength and speed. This event, unique to Waldorf schools, was featured on NPR’s “Only A Game” in May 2004.

What financial aid is available?

We strive to make Waldorf education available to as many families as possible by keeping our tuition at a point where we can support our programs but also rely upon donations to cover the entire cost. Still, there are some for whom our tuition is out of reach. The school has limited financial aid available for families that need it. To apply, a family must fill out the Parents Financial Statement, which is then processed by a third party company called FACTS. Please check the sections on this website pertaining to Tuition Assistance for more details.

What role do parents have in your school?

While Waldorf schools are faculty-directed, they cannot function without the active support of the parents in the community. At our school, parents have the opportunity to sit on the Board of Trustees, serve on long-range planning committees, assist in classes, act as chaperons on field trips, organize annual events and festivals, plan educational workshops, teach in our Middle School Elective Program, coach basketball teams, build toys or stitch puppets for our kindergartens, complete small construction projects and donate their time and money in many other ways.

Most importantly, Waldorf parents support the work of the classroom teachers by creating a home life conducive to healthy growth. Parent evenings with the teachers and the other parents in a class help to create a caring network of support for each child and for the class as a whole. Friendships between Waldorf families often continue for decades after the children graduate.