The Value of Waldorf Education

Why Waldorf?

On first impression, Waldorf can seem old-fashioned or just “different,” in a high-pressure culture that stresses academic achievement at the expense of a more rounded and healthy sense of well-being. Our no-pressure approach belies the fact that our students receive an incredibly comprehensive education and training in some of the most valuable and progressive skills a person needs to succeed, like visual and divergent thinking, and social-emotional intelligence. We help our students develop a new way of looking at things, and an ability to think beyond the boxes that defined the previous century. Our children’s future will require more than book-smarts; it will call for creativity, courage, and care. These “21st century skills” are the essential human qualities that Waldorf has nurtured for the past 100 years because their value is timeless. We don’t follow trends, we make them. We are “different” for a reason.

We use a developmental approach

We use a developmental approach

Neuroscience has now described what educators already observed, that development comes in phases and different capacities come online at different times. Waldorf education is about targeting the moment of ripeness throughout the child’s education — supporting your child’s healthy self-concept, and setting a positive attitude toward school and learning for the rest of their life.

We learn to read in 1st grade

We learn to read in 1st grade

Our slow approach works. The top school systems in the world teach reading after Kindergarten because around age 7 is when a child’s brain becomes ready for the abstract idea of a letter. With our developmental approach, Waldorf students love to read and are reading at higher levels than their peers in mainstream education by 3rd grade. Learning simply comes more easily and is more enjoyable when you are ready.

We use our hands (and body) to learn

We use our hands (and body) to learn

Like Maria Montessori after him, Rudolf Steiner recognized that young children learn through their hands, through doing and experiencing. Waldorf students sing, move, paint and take in concepts in a variety of ways. In our classes, children aren’t just thinking about a concept, they’re living it. What they learn is wired into their neural net at every level. It’s not just an intellectual experience. It’s embodied learning.

We build memory capacity

We build memory capacity

The mind has an immense capacity for memory, but our modern conveniences mean many of us don’t exercise that muscle. At EBWS, students build their capacity for holding information and ideas through recitation of classic poems, verses and stories, giving them an edge for later learning and social skills.

Intentionality

Intentionality

From the morning verse that children use to set their intention for the day to the color of the walls, Waldorf education is filled with intention. Academic focus is in the morning when children are at their most alert. Main lessons are purposely two hours long so that children can concentrate on learning and more can be accomplished each day. Special subjects are intentionally coordinated with the main lesson block so that the learning is reinforced all day long in movement, handwork, and foreign language…. For everything we do, there is a reason.

No tests in early grades

No tests in early grades

Testing is overwhelming mainstream education even though research proves that testing simply adds pressure and decreases joy in learning and inner motivation. In the early years at EBWS, we don’t test children. Our  teachers know their students and know what they need to work on. Testing isn’t necessary for that purpose, so we don’t do it. In the middle grades, we introduce testing to prepare children for entering high schools where testing prevails.

Authentic Assessment

Authentic Assessment

At EBWS children are encouraged with the specific feedback they need to improve — no matter where they are in their learning. If they are weak in a topic, they get the guidance to understand. If they are strong in a topic, they get the help to advance to the next level. Authentic Assessment measures both process and product and so feedback is comprehensive and truly helps children grow in all ways. Each child is full of potential and this feeds a justified self-confidence in his/her ability to always improve. Education Scholar Alfie Kohn writes more about this topic here.

We think in pictures

We think in pictures

Visual thinking has been credited by creative people from Michelangelo to Einstein. Our students build their visual thinking capacity starting in early childhood and the grades when they form mental pictures based on the stories their teachers tell. In the upper grades, students draw pictures, diagrams and explanatory models of what they are learning in their main lesson books. Visual picturing skills support creativity and imaginations that will allow your child to find creative solutions to whatever issues they face.

We look at things from many perspectives

We look at things from many perspectives

Waldorf teachers help children look at the world from multiple perspectives. Whether studying a plant in botany or a social issue in US history, children learn to look for different points of view and to refrain from drawing premature conclusions. Taking in multiple perspectives helps them understand the complex factors at work in the world and develop a systems-thinking approach to solving problems of all kinds. What’s more, when you can take the perspective of others, you build the social-emotional skills of empathy and caring that promote understanding and make the world a more harmonious place.

Children create their own textbooks

Children create their own textbooks

Children write descriptions and essays and draw illustrative pictures to reflect what they are learning. Research shows that the act of writing helps children better internalize and retain what they learn. And drawing what you learn supports visual thinking — the making of pictures and diagrams to explain ideas that are the centerpiece of advances today. These masterpieces of their own making become sources of individual pride and family treasures and highlight learning in a way no test or letter grade ever could.

Divergent AND convergent thinking

Divergent AND convergent thinking

Mainstream education today promotes convergent thinking almost exclusively. This is the is the ability to give the “correct” answer to standard questions, as exhibited by multiple-choice questions. Waldorf education uniquely cultivates the essential prerequisite to convergent thinking, which is divergent thinking — the ability to come up with multiple creative solutions to a problem. This is a skill that is desperately needed today and that Waldorf teaching methods uniquely support.

We are not anti-technology

We are not anti-technology

We are just for giving children what they need to learn and grow at each developmental stage. In early childhood: time playing and being active and having person-to-person interactions with loved ones. For grade school children, it means learning by doing, engaging in the tasks of life (i.e. chores) and being able to form their own mental pictures of books or stories. For middle schoolers, it means learning how to think, how to use technology to serve learning and how to be a good digital citizen. We’re not anti-technology. We just know that limiting media while our children are young is part of what makes our children remarkable.

The Gift of Learning

The British International Television Network (ITN) developed this overview that provides a great introduction to Waldorf Education.

IDEAS in the Media

On Learning:

“We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

– Sir Ken Robinson

Read more on ted.com.


On Visual Thinking:

“In essence, I used “visual thinking”—drawing pictures to solve a problem. And if you believe the visualization experts, a new language of pictures may be precisely what we need to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.”

– Clive Thompson

Read more in Wired 

On Drawing:

“Drawing Is the Fastest, Most Effective Way to Learn, According to New Research”

Read more in Inc.


On Technology:

“Minds need rest and work. But the iWorld fails to supply the child-mind with either of these basic needs.’

– David Gelernter, Professor of Computer Science at Yale

Read the whole article in the Wall Street Journal.

On Divergent Thinking:

“Waldorf schools are one of the few educational systems that teach divergent thinking. In the 21st century…divergent thinkers are our inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, and visionaries. Yet most schools still focus primarily on convergent thinking. Students today need to learn both convergent and divergent way of thinking to tackle the complex issues we face.”

Read more about divergent thinking.


On Multiple Intelligences:

“Since each human being has her own unique configuration of intelligences, we should take that into account when teaching, mentoring or nurturing.”

Read more about multiple intelligences.


On Technology in the Classroom:

“If you look at the best-performing education systems, such as those in East Asia, they’ve been very cautious about using technology in their classroom.”

Read more from the OECD on technology-free classrooms


Parent Perspectives on East Bay Waldorf School:

“We are not trying to raise a well-adjusted child, we are trying to raise a well-adjusted adult.” – C.L., EBWS Parent

“I value that East Bay Waldorf School provides an environment for the children to get to know who they are, their interests, develop their unique talents and gifts, and an environment in which the children are allowed to be themselves.” – EBWS Parent

“I love that at East Bay Waldorf, my child’s self-concept is so broad-based and positive. She is smart, yes, but she’s also artistic, moves beautifully, is funny, creative, helpful, and so on. She’s not getting boxed in by labels — ‘good at this,’ but ‘not at that.’ She and her classmates seem to be able to do everything and do it with seemingly no self-consciousness. It’s just what they do every day!” – J.D., EBWS Parent