Unique Aspects of Waldorf Education
Drama, Eurythmy, painting, music, drawing, handwork and woodwork are integrated into the entire academic curriculum, including mathematics and the sciences. The Waldorf method of education through the arts awakens imagination and creative powers, bringing vitality and wholeness to learning.
Textbooks are not generally used in the elementary grades. Instead, children create their own Lesson Books for each subject presented, recording and illustrating the substance of the lessons. These books, often artistic and beautiful, are an important way in which art is integrated into every subject.
Spanish is taught as a foreign language beginning in first grade. Spanish celebrations and festivals are also included, giving children familiarity with other cultures.
The sciences are taught experientially. The teacher sets up an experiment and calls upon the children to observe carefully, ponder and discuss. Students are allowed to discover for themselves the conclusion –the law, formula, etc. Through this process, rigorous independent thinking and sound judgment are developed.
An extraordinary humanities curriculum, which begins in first grade with fairy tales and folk tales from all over the world, takes the children through the full sweep of cultural heritage. By living into these cultures through their legends and literature, the children gain flexibility and an appreciation for the diversity of mankind. By the close of eighth grade, students have journeyed from Greece and Rome to medieval history, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Exploration, up to modern times.
The morning lesson begins each day. The two hour lesson - algebra, Greek history, botany, acoustics, etc. - is taught for a three or four week block, then allowed to rest. It is then woven back into the curriculum later, providing a concentrated, in-depth experience, giving children time to “digest” what has been learned.
Music permeates and harmonizes life in a Waldorf school through a curriculum designed to develop the innate musicality in every child. Beginning in the first grade, children practice daily to sing together and learn to play a simple wooden flute, moving on to more advanced instruments in subsequent grades. Music is taught in Waldorf schools not only for its own sake and the joy it engenders, but also because it brings a strong and humanizing force into the student’s life, strengthening the will and capacities for the future.
Practical work and handwork are an integral part of the curriculum from kindergarten through eighth grade. All children learn to knit in first grade and crochet in second, creating many functional and colorful projects. Learning to knit and crochet in the early grades develops fine motor skills and facilitates lively thinking and enhanced intellectual thinking. Practical work also fosters coordination, patience, perseverance and imagination. Activities such as woodwork, house building, gardening, weaving and sewing are included in the elementary curriculum to give the children an understanding of how things come into being and respect for the creations of others.
Movement classes are a part of Waldorf curriculum, as well. We find that the children are able to retain what they’ve learned even better when their entire body is engaged, and not just the intellect. As with other subjects, movement is taught in blocks. Examples include eurythmy, spatial dynamics, circus arts and games. Eurythmy is a movement most common in Waldorf schools that is often described as imparting shape to sound. Performances are typically done with piano accompaniment or to recited prose.
Adapted from: An Introduction to Waldorf Education, by Rudolf Steiner College, Fair Oaks, CA. Modified to reflect Swallowtail Waldorf School and Farm, specifically.