Waldorf education was started by a man named Rudolf Steiner. The schools were started in a Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Germany for the children of the employees. Steiner's philosophy was to educate the whole child meaning mind, body, and spirit. It is referred to as holistic education.
Steiner believed that children have three different learning styles at different points in their lives. From ages zero to one child learn through experience and by doing traditional life activities. They should be learning through empathy and imagination. The next stage is between seven and twelve and the child needs to learn through routine or "rhythm" and art. The last stage is from puberty to young adulthood. This stage is all about citizenship and ethics. This is when students really dive in deep with academics and the philosophy takes a more academic approach.
The Waldorf style of learning is often looked down on for holding off on reading and language until the student is seven. Now, this literacy encompasses more than just reading words on paper. Literacy, in Steiner's eyes, is not just reading and writing but brings finding meaning and purpose in art, dance, and music. There is also a study from the University of Chicago that says forcing children to learn to read before they are developmentally ready can be detrimental to their academic journey. Forcing a child to learn something their brain is not capable of yet, developmentally, will label that child as a failure, they will feel frustrated and discouraged. The solution to this is to wait until the child is ready.
The Waldorf education also brings whimsy to the child's learning experience. Children are told stories instead of just reading them. There is a huge emphasis on imagination and storytelling. Children, from a young age, are encouraged to play pretend, use their imagination, and listen to fairytales. Unlike in Montessori where children are discouraged from hearing or watching make-believe things before the age of six. (1) Waldorf education brings light and love and imagination to a child's life and I believe those are some of the most important things to facilitate a happy and healthy childhood.
Another aspect of Waldorf education is celebration. They celebrate many different holidays including the older ones such as winter and summer solstice. I think this is an amazing way for children to learn about the different cycles and feel connected to our earth. It is so important for me to raise my children to be conscious of their environment and to love everything that the earth gives us. There is so much about the earth that we are not taught in school like foraging and grounding that I think is so necessary.
I think that Waldorf's philosophy does an excellent job of putting emphasis on academics but not making them the end all be all of a successful life. I am really excited to share my journey with you as we continue homeschooling and implementing Waldorf-style education in our daily lives.