Frequently Asked Questions About Waldorf Education

Does Waldorf education prepare children for the "real world," and if so, how?

A Waldorf education is one of the fullest educational experiences a child can have as a preparation for all that he or she will face in the world. The "real world" includes many aspects that standard educational modalities have ignored. Today, our conventional notion of education has come to focus mainly on the intellectual aspect of the human being, and has chosen largely to ignore the development of other important facets that are essential to our well-being. These include our life of feeling (emotions, aesthetics, and social sensitivity), our will power (the ability to get things done) and our moral nature (being clear about right and wrong). Without having these aspects developed, we are incomplete - a fact that may become obvious in our later years, when a feeling of emptiness begins to set in. That is why in a Waldorf school, the practical and artistic subjects play as important a role as the full spectrum of traditional academic subjects that the school offers.

Waldorf Education addresses the whole child by offering a wide variety of opportunities, educating the head, the heart and the hands, and helping students understand in depth, the real world in which they live. Such an education steeps a student in an experience of that which is truly "real." This is an essential capacity considering how much of our life experience is increasingly made virtual. It is achieved through the curriculum itself and the way in which it is taught. The children learn to read, write, and work with numbers. They study history, geography and the sciences as well as two foreign languages. In addition, all children learn to sing, play a musical instrument, draw, paint, model clay, carve and work with wood, speak clearly and act in a play, think independently and work harmoniously and respectfully with others.

Preparation for life includes the development of the well-rounded person. Waldorf Education has as its ideal a person who is knowledgeable about the human history and culture, who has many varied practical and artistic abilities, who feels a deep reverence for and communion with the natural world, and who can act with initiative and in freedom in the face of social pressures.

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What is the Waldorf approach to reading?

In Waldorf Education, the oral tradition holds sway throughout the years. In addition to reinforcing the human element in education, this approach also hones listening skills, stretches attention spans and elevates interest. Beginning in the Kindergarten, Waldorf educators approach reading in a holistic way, building layer upon layer toward language acquisition. This starts with nursery rhymes, songs and stories that the children participate in actively. Letters and sounds are not taught in a Waldorf kindergarten, rather they are experienced.

In the first grade, students explore the alphabet letter by letter in the same way that ancient peoples evolved their alphabetic symbols out of pictographs. Writing comes out of the students' artistic drawings, and reading evolves as a natural, and often comparatively effortless, stage in the mastery of linguistic communications. In this way, reading follows the acquisition of a firm grounding in writing. New layers of language acquisition are added in the second grade, as phonics and sight words are worked with more directly. This approach allows our language to grow and live in the students in a meaningful way, rather than an abstract one. The children first read from the blackboard, and later they read what they themselves have written with great care in their own main lesson books. Most children will be proficient readers by the end of third grade. Some will come to it right away in first grade or earlier, others need the gift of time to grow into it with steady work and practice. Students are carefully observed year by year to ensure that language-based learning challenges are appropriately diagnosed and addressed.

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What is the role of the class teacher?

The class teacher provides continuity and a sense of authority for the students in a class. In the elementary school, the broadening of the child's horizons beyond home and family are part of the educational process. The class becomes a type of "family" as well, with its authority figure - the class teacher- in a role analogous to a parent. Ideally, the same continuity should apply in the "class family" as in the biological family. This is the time for establishing one's sense of security in life, and stable relationships are crucial. Thus, Waldorf schools do not support the concept of changing the child's teacher on an annual basis. Often, one teacher will take a class all the way from first through eighth grade. In some cases, the child's class teacher may change in the course of the elementary school. The needs of each class are evaluated annually by the faculty.

The class teacher is responsible for teaching the main lesson curriculum blocks and for carrying the social and community life of the class. Parent evenings are offered by the class teacher at least four times per year to discuss the year's progress, social issues and child development in light of Waldorf Education. In addition to the class teacher, the students develop relationships with a host of specialist teachers throughout the elementary school years.

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Who is Rudolf Steiner and what is Anthroposophy? (include history of school impulse)

Anthroposophy means "the wisdom of man." (Anthropos - man, and Sophia - wisdom). Rudolf Steiner, an early twentieth century philosopher, scientist and visionary, developed Anthroposophy as a spiritual science. This is the method by which he attained insights into the nature and history of man and the cosmos. He held in highest value the development of precise, awake and objective observations. By this means, he penetrated beyond the realm of matter, into the realm of spirit. With such capacities, Rudolf Steiner made unprecedented contributions to many fields of endeavor. Out of Anthroposophy came Waldorf Education, Biodynamic Agriculture, Eurythmy, Anthroposophical Medicine, Camp Hill Communities for the Handicapped, Communities for the Elderly, Painting Therapy, Music Therapy, Weleda Pharmacy, Architectural innovations and numerous other endeavors that are thriving in the world today.

Rudolf Steiner lectured and wrote extensively on the tapestry of historical cultures and religions that have contributed to mankind's evolving consciousness. Central to his work, was the deed of Christ, through what he frequently referred to as the Mystery of Golgotha. Anthroposophy widens the view of Christ's existence into one that embraces and belongs to all of mankind. In this esoteric and non-sectarian view of Christianity, Rudolf Steiner points us to what is universally human and what is essential and important in all religious impulses.

Shortly after World War I, Rudolf Steiner was asked to create a school for the children of the workers at the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory in Stuttgart, Germany. He created a form of education that drew from his spirit and wisdom-filled picture of the developing human being, based on insights arising out of Anthroposophy. In 1919, the first Waldorf School opened its doors. Waldorf schools are now thriving in 36 countries all over the world and on every continent. It is the fastest growing, non-sectarian private school movement in the world.

Connected deeply to all that he contributed, Rudolf Steiner outlined a path of inner development. This path leads striving human beings toward their own inner transformation. In Waldorf Education, children receive the fruits of the teachers' spiritual striving, yet are never proselytized.

The festival life of The Clover Hill School centers around the Christian calendar. We strive to add depth, meaning and understanding to our festivals, so that they offer a universal experience of the seasons and the rhythms of the year. Families of all faiths and religious backgrounds are welcome in Waldorf schools.

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What is the Waldorf school view on homework, examinations and grades?

Assigned homework becomes relevant and useful for a child at about third or fourth grade. Waldorf teachers believe that whatever is assigned for outside completion must be worthy of the student's time and something in which he or she may take pride. They also acknowledge that there is value, for the child's health and well-being, in doing non-academic activities after school is out. In the third and fourth grades homework assignments may include the completion of illustrations in main lesson books, occasional math practice sheets and weekly spelling lists. In the upper grades of the elementary school, homework assignments may include the completion of illustrations and diagrams for main lesson books as well as regular math practice sets, writing assignments and vocabulary/spelling lists. Starting in third grade, once a students takes up a string instrument, nightly practice is expected and considered part of a homework rhythm. Nightly reading is also incorporated into the home life of a student. In the upper grades, regular quizzes in math, foreign language, spelling and vocabulary are given at the teachers' discretion to challenge the students and assess their progress.

While quizzes and homework are always corrected and reviewed for mistakes, grades are not used for assessment in the elementary school. Class teachers and special subject teachers keep ongoing records and notes of students' progress and are constantly assessing their work. Standardized test are administered in jurisdictions where it is a state requirement. Twice a year, parents receive comprehensive written reports on their child's progress in school. This, coupled with regular parent/teacher conferences, comprises the basis for student assessments.

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What do Waldorf school students typically do after completing their Waldorf education?

A recent study in the U.S. showed that 78% of Waldorf graduates entered college immediately after high school, and an additional 10% were admitted to college, but deferred their enrollment for a variety of reasons. This means that nearly 90% of Waldorf graduates go to college. When asked where Waldorf graduates go to college, an experienced Waldorf consultant named Abraham Enten responded, "The simple answer is, everywhere. They go to schools from Amherst to Yale and from The University of Maine to the University of California at San Diego. They go to local community colleges and to elite Ivy League universities. The top students go wherever they want, and the ones who struggle go wherever they can. Some go to design school or to schools that concentrate on music or the visual/performance arts. Some even go to West Point. The California graduates are accepted at every campus of the university system and the students in other states attend public universities in their areas."

Abraham Enten's article on the subject in its entirety can be found at:

One of the most important gifts of a Waldorf education in the life of an adolescent or adult, is the knowledge that he or she has the capacities to enter any line of work or any field of discipline. The well-rounded and exhaustive scope of the curriculum instills in the graduates the sense of confidence that comes with being an original thinker with artistic sensibilities and skillful hands.

The results of a study profiling the lives of Waldorf graduates can be found at:

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There were three major studies done recently that dealt with the disappearance of childhood in America. If there is any one thing that the Waldorf system does, it nurtures, protects and develops beautifully the intelligence of the true child.
- Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of Magical Child and The Crack in the Cosmic Egg