The Waldorf Philosophy
The beginnings of the Waldorf early childhood movement stemmed from the desire to change the educational methods used in Germany following World War I. A group of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory in Stuttgart wanted a better method of teaching for their children than the harsh methods of Prussian pedagogy that had been used. They asked Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist and philosopher, to design a teaching method where teachers would teach out of love and respect for their students.1
The first Waldorf school opened in 1919, however, it took several years of urging the schools to open a kindergarten for young children before the idea was finally implemented. The first official Waldorf kindergarten was opened in 1926, nearly 18 months after Steiner’s death. His work was championed by Elisabeth Grunelius, who trained under Steiner, and later by Klara Hatterman, who along with Elisabeth, continued the work as pioneers of the movement.2
Environment is Everything
The Waldorf classroom is designed to be a home-like environment that is warm, beautiful, and loving and where things are done in a predictable, rhythmic manner. A clean, orderly, and quiet setting is essential.3 The classroom walls are usually brightly painted with rich colored fabrics at the windows. The classroom furniture is sturdily built with wood, and the playthings are open-ended materials made from natural materials, such as wood, stones, ropes, cloth, and other loose parts.4
Because children respond to rhythm and order in their lives, each day at the Waldorf kindergarten has a routine that is followed with predictable play times, story times, singing, and games. Each day of the week also has specific activities that follow a routine, such as specific days for painting, crafts, baking, gardening, and so on. Seasonal activities are incorporated as well to give the children a sense of connection to the natural world.5
Steiner taught that children learn mostly by imitation. He felt the loving interaction and calm manner of the teacher was of utmost importance that would have long-reaching effects in the children’s lives. As teachers treated playthings with care, children would develop a respect for materials things. Being aware of their actions’ influence on young children, teachers consciously strive to project a happy, respectful attitude at all times.6
Imaginative, free play is an important element to the Waldorf philosophy. Fantasy play, where children engage in make-believe roles, helps children interpret the world around them and experience life more deeply. This pretend play is aided by the open-ended materials in the classroom that can be used in whatever way the children can imagine.7
The children are given opportunities for creative expression in artistic activities, such as singing, music, rhythmic games, drawing, painting, and puppet shows. They also learn to appreciate adult activities, such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and gardening, and develop a sense of purpose, focus, and care in imitating adult’s actions.8
A prevailing atmosphere of gratitude, reverence, and wonder is fostered to instill these qualities in the children by their observation. As they see these attitudes demonstrated in their teachers, children develop these same qualities that serve them well throughout their lives. Joy, humor, and happiness are also an important part of their every day experience that instills a healthy environment for the children.9
As the need to return to the play-based curriculum is being recognized by more educators in recent years, the Waldorf movement has expanded worldwide to more than 1200 kindergartens, home and center-based child care, parent-child groups, and family centers.10 There are also Waldorf schools that continue their principles through high school. Students who have been taught in Waldorf schools have been found to have greater creativity and problem-solving skills as well as a better sense of themselves and the world around them.11
- 1. Schwartz, Eugene. “Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education: The Kindergarten Years.” knol. < http://knol.google.com/k/anthroposophy-and-waldorf-education-the-kindergarten-years > 13 April 2011.
- 2. Howard, Susan. “The First Waldorf Kindergarten. The Beginnings of Our Waldorf Early Childhood Movement.” International Association for Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education. < http://www.iaswece.org/waldorf_education/articles_and_resources/The_First_Waldorf_Kindergarten.aspx > 14 April 2011.
- 3. Howard, Susan. “What is Waldorf Early Childhood Education?” International Association for Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education. < http://www.iaswece.org/waldorf_education/what_is.aspx > 13 April 2011.
- 4. Trostli, Roberto. “The Waldorf Kindergarten: The World of the Young Child.” Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America. < http://www.waldorfearlychildhood.org/articles.asp?id=3 > 13 April 2011.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Op. cit., Howard, Susan. “What is Waldorf Early Childhood Education?”
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Op. cit., Howard, Susan. “The First Waldorf Kindergarten. The Beginnings of our Waldorf Early Childhood Movement.”
- 11. Almon, Joan. “Educating for Creative Thinking: The Waldorf Approach.” Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America. < http://www.waldorfearlychildhood.org/article.asp?id=8 > 13 April 2011.