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What is Waldorf education?

With its emphasis on storytelling, imagination and nature, could Waldorf be right for your little one?

By Brianna Bell
What is Waldorf education?

Source: Getty Images

Choosing the right kind of education for your child can feel like a big decision—and there are a lot of options to choose from. If fostering a love for outdoor environments and storytelling alongside strong academics sounds good, Waldorf could be the right educational environment for your child.

Waldorf education was developed by Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolph Steiner at the beginning of the 18th century. His educational philosophy focused on a holistic, human-centred approach, developing intellectual, artistic and practical skills with imagination and creativity.

Waldorf's seven-year cycles

The Waldorf approach looks at human development in seven-year cycles. The first cycle, from birth to seven years, is considered the phase where the most physical development occurs.

Megan Gruner, a teacher at Trillium Waldorf School in Guelph, Ontario, says that there is a heavy emphasis on creating a nurturing and safe space for young children to develop in these early years. Many Waldorf schools offer parent and child programs that nurture young children's curiosity through simple songs, rhymes, and gentle exposure to the natural world.

teacher sitting with kids reading a story Source: Getty Images

Kindergarten education 

Once a child is four, they're ready to enroll in kindergarten—which is very different from the kindergarten program at public schools. "During those kindergarten years, the model is the home," says Gruner. "Children are sensory beings, so the environment is intentionally simple and natural—wood, silk, wool, lavender scents, low lighting, light water-colored walls."

She says that the environment models that of a home, with simple rhythms and routines that encourage exploration and comforting and familiar stories and routines.

There's also no rush to enter the first grade—Gruner says typically, a child is seven when they enter Grade 1 in Waldorf school. She says it's not a race to become an early reader or writer and that the school focuses on nurturing the child and supporting their growth rather than teaching academics in these foundational early years.

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Teacher sitting with group of kids Source: Getty Images

The importance of storytelling

Storytelling is an integral part of Waldorf education. Many different types of stories are used, including fairytales, mythology, and biographies. For instance, Gruner says that mathematics is taught through the story of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, the man who invented algebra.

The natural world, music, art, and movement are also important components of Waldorf education—and are used when introducing and developing academics. Gruner stresses that Waldorf schools are highly academic while still focusing on these artistic components.

Parents interested in choosing a Waldorf school are encouraged to search for nearby schools that follow the methods. The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) offers a directory of schools registered with the association; however, other schools may use a Waldorf approach and aren't associated with an official governing body.

For parents of young children, a parent-and-child program is an excellent introduction to the principles of Waldorf education. The opportunity to engage with teachers, ask questions, and understand the environment is a perfect way to decide whether Waldorf is the right choice for your family.

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Gruner discovered Waldorf education through her own children. "I went to the parent and child program with them, and then I enrolled her in Kindergarten." From there, Gruner became so involved that she decided to become a teacher herself.

She says she fell in love with the positive educational environment. "It's an education based on real love for humanity. It's positive and beautiful. We really want the children to fall in love with the world and feel moved to protect it."

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Author:

Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based out of Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including Scary Mommy, The Penny Hoarder, and The Globe & Mail. 

Brianna's budget-savvy ways has attracted media attention, and led to newspaper coverage in The Globe & Mail and The Guelph Mercury. In April 2016 Brianna will be featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less, alongside co-writer Brooke Burke. You can find Brianna's website at Brianna Bell Writes.

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