What is Waldorf Education?

I am so excited to be contributing a little slice of Waldorf for you! Let’s start with an overall broad stroke of what Waldorf is and then I will breakdown the best ways to bring Waldorf into your early childhood setting within your family culture.

What is Waldorf education—and who is Rudolf Steiner?

The Waldorf method of education (sometimes called Steiner education) is about 100 years old.

The method began in Germany when a manufacturer approached Rudolf Steiner to create a school for his factory workers. The result was a method that is based on child development and, at its core, healing humanity.

Rudolf Steiner pioneered many things from education to farming and gardening and into the spiritual realm. Steiner’s methods focus on educating the whole child—the head, the heart, and their hands. The method does that in ways that keep education alive and centered on what children need and when they need it, rather than bringing content their brains aren’t ready for.

How is Steiner’s work different from others’? 

Steiner’s work is development focused. He knew that children were not sponges that simple soak up information—instead they are vessels, already whole and waiting for the proper time to draw forth what already lives inside. Our task is to provide the right content at the right time.

“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.” 

Rudolf Steiner, Human Values in Education

This is truly my favorite part of Waldorf Education! I love understanding my children and bringing them exactly what they need, when they need it. 

Waldorf might look really different from the kinds of education you are used to. In a Waldorf kindergarten, we aren’t focusing on recognizing letters or memorizing sounds or even on writing the child’s name. We are focusing on understanding their environment, giving them a love of nature and their family, enjoying age-appropriate literature, and learning about the world in a way that instills love for all that are in it.

What can you do to create this type of learning environment in your home for early childhood?

Don’t be in a hurry—let your child unfold. They have the rest of their lives to learn their letters. Let yourself off the hook and instead spend time reading to them, exploring your neighborhood, and standing in nature.

Here are some simple ways to incorporate Waldorf Education into your homeschool:
  • Honor the seasons. Children learn by doing. In addition to your favorite holidays, honor the seasons so your child can learn not just “what does it mean to be autumn?” But “what does it mean to be autumn here, where I live?”
  • Connect them to the earth. Get outside! Run in the park, go on hikes, explore the tide pools, listen to the birds.
  • Keep a good family rhythm. Children thrive when they know what to expect. They fight less when parents are on their game and not scrambling. You drive the family boat—let your children know where it is headed!
  • SLEEP! Along with rhythm, children need sleep. Good sleep habits are formed in early childhood. 
  • Move your bodies! In a Waldorf school setting, at least one-third of the school day would include some sort of movement. Moving the body helps the mind grow and learn, and it also primes the body for periods of stillness and being present. 
  • Sing! Language not only comes from hearing others, but it comes from being part of a continuous song. Singing together in circle time and through transitions in your day brings reverence and levity into your life.
  • Create regularly. Most children love art. The more we can bring them to art as a means of learning, the easier our job will be as they grow. Art enlivens the soul and awakens the capacities for learning.
What about the slightly older child? If your child is in grade one this year, there are some things to keep in mind…
  • You are not behind! Not only that, your child will not be behind by taking time to enjoy life.
  • Learning to read is only part of grade one. Remember that learning to read is a bit like potty training—it is ongoing for a few years. In fact, I bet even you have sounded out a crazy long word just recently! See? We are all still learning. 
  • Remember, it isn’t a race. Take your time, and they will learn. Consider the Waldorf approach of teaching through stories.
  • Get in plenty of playtime! Remember, they have the rest of their lives to learn the constellations and the capitol of Iowa. Right now, focus on what those pretty purple flowers are on your morning walk. Keep learning organically.

Of course, this is just a taste of Waldorf Education. Waldorf is so vast and can’t possibly be explained in a few checklists, but hopefully you get a sense for how this gentle method can give your child a beautiful beginning. In short, breathe deep—you are right where you need to be and don’t need to hurry! Your children will be grown and gone before you know it, so take your time.

“Receive the children in reverence, educate them in love and send them forth in freedom.”

Rudolf Steiner
Melisa Nielsen, Waldorf Curriculum Writer + Coach
Melisa Nielsen, Waldorf Curriculum Writer + Coach

Melisa has been coaching families in the Waldorf method for more than fifteen years, helping parents with children ages 3 to 10 learn to be in control without being controlling so they can recapture their time and rebuild their relationship with their kids! She has five children. Three are grown, but she lives with her youngest children, her husband, and two super sweet hedgehogs in Arizona. 

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