What's Different About Waldorf Education?

posted by Baker Galloway

The New York Times sparked national media coverage with its front page story on why Silicon Valley parents are turning to Waldorf education. The film linked below picks up where that story left off. "Preparing for Life" takes viewers inside the Waldorf School of the Peninsula where the focus is on developing the capacities for creativity, resilience, innovative thinking, and social and emotional intelligence over rote learning.

This is the second post in a series on different educational models. A school's vision for the purpose of education will inform the structure of the learning model, and every decision large or small that teachers and administrators make on a day-to-day basis. The scope of these decisions will include design of the school itself; and so it's critical that we as architects understand the educational paradigm of our school clients if we are to effectively deliver facilities that support their purposes. 

Distinctives of Waldorf Education:

Brief: Goal is to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives.

  • in early years of schooling there's an emphasis on creative play over academics.
  • in elementary school years, each class will have a "main lesson" teacher who stays with the class for several consecutive years. 
  • traditional "frills" classes like art, music, gardening, and foreign languages are central curriculum.
  • no textbooks in early and elementary years. Rather, children build their own workbooks, recording their experiences and what they've learned. 
  • Non-competitive environment. No grades given in elementary school. Rather the teacher writes a detailed evaluation of the child at the end of each school year. 
  • The use of electronic media, particularly television, by young children is strongly discouraged.


Notable Waldorf Alumni Working in the Arts:

I've also heard anecdotally that Waldorfians (as their known) place a emphasis on memorization of poetry, which would certainly assist the artists pictured above in their memorization of long scripts, lyrics and music for performances. 

What is unique about Waldorf education? 

The best overall statement on what is unique about Waldorf education is to be found in the stated goals of the schooling: "to produce individuals who are able, in and of themselves, to impart meaning to their lives".

The aim of Waldorf schooling is to educate the whole child, "head, heart and hands". The curriculum is as broad as time will allow, and balances academics subjects with artistic and practical activities.

Waldorf teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine love of learning within each child. By freely using arts and activities in the service of teaching academics, an internal motivation to learn is developed in the students, doing away with the need for competitive testing and grading.


For more on the history of Waldorf schools, read this article on the AWSNA website. Or for more in this series:

» Why Do We Send Our Children to School?

» What's Different About Montessori Education

» What's Different About Classical Education?