Pedagogy in Waldorf Education

Steiner developed a 3-stage pedagogical model of child development that views a child's physical, emotional, and cognitive development as expressions of the process of incarnation of an immortal soul and spirit in its gradual embodiment in the human body which will be its temporal earthly vehicle. Childhood thus includes but three of the many seven-year cycles of development that Steiner believed define human biography.


Pre-school and kindergarten: birth to age 6 or 7

According to Steiner, the child at this early stage learns through imitation and example, so in Waldorf it is considered best to surround him with the goodness of the world and caring, practically active adults to emulate. The curriculum attempts to awaken the child's will and initiative; the teacher has the responsibility for providing an environment that stimulates imitation. In Waldorf, such an environment is believed to support the physical and spiritual growth of the child. Formal learning is absent, and experiences of the written language are consciously avoided. Oral language development is addressed through circle games (songs, poems and games in movement), daily story time (normally recited from memory) and the range of practical activities.

Waldorf kindergartens ask that children be sheltered from the media to the extent that this is possible.


Elementary education: age 6 or 7 to puberty

In Waldorf schools, elementary education generally begins when the child is nearing or already seven years of age; this is up to one year older than the entrance age for most schools in English-speaking countries. The curriculum includes two foreign languages from age 6/7 - though not every Waldorf school achieves this - and an unusual emphasis on arts and crafts (weekly subjects include: crafts and handwork, painting and drawing, singing and instrumental music, eurythmy).

Waldorf schools generally (and sometimes unfortunately) strive to have one teacher accompany a class throughout the elementary school years (6-8 years). This teacher is responsible for teaching the main academic lessons and may have responsibilities for some of the artistic and/or practical lessons; specialist teachers generally teach the latter, however. Academic instruction is integrated with arts, craft, music and movement.

Throughout the elementary years, an imaginative approach is encouraged; new material is introduced through stories and images rather than abstractly, and the children create their own "textbooks", known as main lesson books. The day begins with subject block courses known as the main lesson, a one-and-a-half to two hour lesson devoted to a single academic subject over the course of about a month. The main lesson (and thus the school day) generally starts with the children singing, playing instruments, reciting poetry, practicing mental mathematics, and doing movement exercises.


Science education in the early years

Until the child is 9-10, nature stories and experiences in nature are the only "science education". A third grade (9-10 year olds) block introduces the human being, animal, plant and mineral world in their interrelationship on a farm. Only after this are biology, botany and mineralogy introduced as separate subjects in successive years. Many Waldorf schools introduce a "building" block at this time which generally involves the students in building a structure of some kind. Most Waldorf schools follow Steiner's recommendation of introducing at this age each animal as a one-sided development of the unspecialized human being, and the plant world in relationship to the earth's varied climatic zones and soil.


Middle school years (12-14)

In the middle school years, when the child is twelve to fourteen years old, many schools employ specialist teachers for academic subjects including mathematics, science, and literature. These are seen as transitional years when the pupils still need the support of a central teacher, but also the in-depth education possible only through teachers with special competencies in these subjects. The approach to teaching these years is changing in some schools, including shortening the class teacher cycle from the traditional eight years to six-seven years.


Secondary education: after puberty

In most Waldorf schools, pupils enter secondary education (high school (USA) or upper school (UK)) in 9th grade/year nine, when they are about fourteen years old. The education is now wholly carried by specialist teachers. Though the education now focuses much more strongly on academic subjects, students normally continue to take courses in art, music, and crafts. Academic subjects are treated in parallel: three to five-week subject block courses (main lessons) explore the historical evolution, philosophical significance, and social consequences of special themes in depth while track classes focus more on traditional content. Pupils create their own textbook ("main lesson book") in the block classes, depending strongly upon oral learning, while the track classes generally use conventional textbooks.

The education aims to cultivate a combination of highly analytic thinking with idealism in this phase. While the elementary education focuses on the child's experience of the teacher as an authority, the child is now helped to begin a guided, but independent, search for truth. As stated in Education for Adolescents (1922), "The capacity for forming judgments is blossoming at this time and should be directed toward world-interrelationships in every field." In Waldorf, idealism is central to these years, and the education directs pupils to motivating impulses that can stimulate their enthusiasm.