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Waldorf Approach

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Rudolf Steiner (1861 - 1925) is probably best known as the developer of what is known as a "Waldorf" education and its related philosophy, anthroposophy. He established the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart Germany after World War I for the children of Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory workers. There are currently over 700 Waldorf schools in more than 50 different countries.

Steiner was an early proponent of a "holistic" education in which the physical, emotional, and cognitive needs of children are addressed. He believed individuals move through three distinct developmental stages on their way to maturity: early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescence. The Waldorf curriculum is designed to nurture the whole child while taking advantage of each developmental stage's learning strengths. Waldorf adherents believe that children can be damaged if they are hurried through childhood and encouraged toward intellectual development before they are maturationally equipped for such pursuits.

Through an arts-based, multi-sensory curriculum, Waldorf educators attempt to address each individual child's developmental level, gifts, talents, temperament, and learning style. Competition and grades are not emphasized. The arts, practical skills, movement activities, and academics are integrated throughout the curriculum. Each is considered equally essential to healthy human growth and development.

During the early childhood stage (ages birth through seven), computer-usage, television, and pressure to learn to read or master academic skills are avoided. The main emphasis is to provide activities in which the child explores the environment through physical, creative, and sensory activities. At this level the curriculum emphasizes a rich, oral language environment; free play; fantasy; imitation; poetry; finger-plays; puppet shows; singing and rhythm activities; movement games; celebrations of festivals; arts and crafts activities; cooking and baking; gardening; cleaning; sewing; finger-knitting; construction activities; nature studies; etc.

In the middle childhood stage (ages seven to fourteen), the child is encouraged to learn through his/her imaginative and artistic faculties. Academics are taught through creative, artistic, imaginative activities. Cooperation is highly valued and students are not evaluated by a traditional grading system. Textbooks, flashcards, and worksheets are avoided. Typically students record their learning experience in lesson books.

At the adolescent stage, (ages fourteen through twenty-one), the Waldorf curriculum emphasizes the development of intellectual and conceptualization abilities. It is believed that students at this stage are developmentally ready for such academic endeavors. The student is encouraged to develop a sense of responsibility for the world and a sensitivity to self and others. Textbooks are likely to be used only as supplements to regular lessons. The Waldorf teacher provides experiential lessons, hands-on experiments, primary sources for literature and history, etc. The adolescent is purposefully exposed to a wide variety of experiences and encouraged to explore various interests, capacities, and life circumstances in preparation for adulthood.