Nature and science in the Waldorf School

Waldorf schools' very distinctive phases of education show themselves clearly in the treatment of nature and the natural sciences. In the pre-school, kindergarten and first elementary years, rich, direct experiences of nature are encouraged. Children play outside in all weathers, preferably in gardens that show the seasons through the changing plant (and sometimes animal) life. Inside the classroom, natural materials are preferred for the room, its furnishings and all toys: these include wood, stone, clay (e.g. pottery), wool, cotton, silk, and linen. The emphasis is on working with the materials of nature through planting and harvesting, craft work and creative play. The commonly used dolls are also made of natural materials and have simple expressions and allow natural postures. The beings of nature are personified and even anthropomorphized as active agents. The first years are thus years of ‘nature experience’.

At about nine years of age, children begin to become more conscious of their separation from their environment. From this age, nature is studied in an imaginative (rather than analytical) way, and still in relationship to the human being – but no longer anthropomorphized. The curriculum includes blocks on farming (aged 10), Man and animal (aged 11), Plant and Earth (aged 12) and geology (aged 13). A feeling connection to nature is aimed for, out of which a sense of stewardship can grow.

By twelve, children are entering a newly rational phase (cf. Piaget’s Theory of cognitive development). An experimental approach to science is introduced, beginning with simple but systematic sensory explorations of phenomena of acoustics, light, mechanics and chemistry and progressing through ever more advanced physics, chemistry, biological and ecological studies:

11-12 years: Mineralogy, acoustics, optics, heat, natural magnetism and electricity.

12-13 years: Nutrition and hygiene, mechanics, acoustics, heat, optics, electricity and magnetism, chemistry.

13-14 years: Anatomy, hydrostatics and simple hydrodynamics, simple organic chemistry of starches, sugars and fats.

At the secondary school level (fourteen years of age and up), Waldorf schools tend to emphasize the historical origins, cultural background, and philosophical roots and consequences of scientific discoveries. By the end of their secondary school education, students are expected to have a grasp of modern science equivalent to that achieved in other schools.

In particular, the following subjects are recommended:

14-15 years: Acoustics and thermodynamics, earth science, organic chemistry

15-16 years: Mechanics, mineralogy, anatomy and physiology, mechanics, acid-base reactions.

16-17 years: Cell biology and embryology, botany, atomic theory, electromagnetism and radiation, the periodic table, advanced chemistry

17-18 years: Zoology, optics, physiological chemistry