One of the unique aspects of Waldorf Education is that teachers stay with classes or groups of children over a period of years. The benefit of this model is that it provides stability and a sense of security for students. In Grades 1-8 the class teacher will typically stay with his or her class for all or most of those eight years. In some school systems, middle school students are separated from the rest of the student population. Middle school can be a very challenging developmental period for young people and some studies are showing that students in the middle school grades benefit from being in a safe a familiar environment. Read more here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Head, Heart and Hands: Teaching the Whole Child
In recent years there has been a push to introduce academics into Kindergarten and pre-Kindergarten. This is a trend that has alarmed developmental psychologists and educators because it is not grounded in an understanding of child development and how children learn. The young child, before the age of six, learns by doing and by imitation. They are not developmentally ready for didactic instruction and using their memory for abstract learning. Calling on these faculties before they are ready to be called upon can be damaging to children’s development and blunt their natural love of learning if they are forced into abstract learning at too young an age. Before the age of six children should be exercising and preparing their capacities through imaginative play, socialization, and imitation. Through play, children learn to interact with their peers and to engage in developmentally appropriate problem solving. The songs and games of the early childhood classroom lay the groundwork for the development of reading and writing in the grades. Through imitation of activities that are necessary in the life of the classroom such as baking bread for snack time, or raking leaves in the play yard children learn skills without the need for didactic, abstract instruction. Young children take joy in all of these activities. Read more about the importance of developmentally appropriate early childhood education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
We learn through making mistakes, missteps and failures. A supportive educational environment provides a safe place for students to make mistakes and learn from them. For example, all of our students participate in fine arts and courses that we call practical arts such as woodworking or handwork (where students learn to knit and sew amongst other skills). In all artistic endeavors, students are faced with artistic or technical problems or challenges that they need to overcome. Often the process of completing a project in any of these disciplines will involved mistakes that result in a new problem or challenge that the student will have to address. This is the nature of working with visual or practical arts and it exercises the students ability to try, make mistakes, adjust, and move on. In academic work, our teachers strive to create an environment and culture in the classroom where students can make mistakes as part of normal learning process, instead of feeling shame. One of our parents remarked that when they visited one of our classrooms as a prospective parent they observed a math class and students were asked to share their answers to a problem and he was impressed with how many students eagerly offered to share their answers—there was no sense of fear about potentially being wrong. We also don’t give letter grades until high school. We believe that this helps to foster a love of learning for learning’s sake in our students and helps them to learn to see making mistakes not as an end but as part of a process of learning. Read more about the value of making mistakes in learning from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Kimberton Waldorf School is blessed with a beautiful organic school garden, and to be surrounded by an organic and biodynamic dairy farm and CSA. Through direct experience and courses and through the environment of stewardship that is created by these activities that surround and imbue our school our students develop a deep appreciation for the earth and what it takes to grow good, healthful food. Our youngest children often take walks to the school garden or to the farm to see the work that is being done there. In 3rd grade our students study farming and have a “farm week” when they spend an overnight and get up early to help the farmers milk the cows. In 3rd grade our students also being having gardening classes which will continue into high school. They learn how to plant and harvest vegetables, to prune fruit trees, and to preserve foods. They will even eat some of the fruits of their labors in our organic hot lunch program which we call Food For Thought. Apples from our apple trees are made into applesauce. Vegetables go into our salads or soups. Why is this important for students? We believe that it is important for young people to understand what is involved in growing healthful food and to understand what stewardship for the earth means. In the future, they will be the people making decisions about food stewardship and food production and those decision need to be grounded in experience. In addition, the students are have an enriching experience in nature which has many benefits for their own health and development. Read more here about the benefits of farming in education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
The benefits for children’s learning and development from spending time outdoors has been well researched over recent years. At KWS, helping our students to develop an appreciation for the natural world has always been one of our key values, and outdoor education has been a long standing component of our curriculum and program. Children in our Early Childhood program spend a good part of their day outdoors engaged in creative play and exploration of nature. In grades 1-8 our students are able to have experiential nature study by spending time in our woods and along our creeks, learning how to grow good healthful food in our organic school garden and learning about farming on our organic dairy farm. They also have two outdoor recess periods per day on our green campus. When it snows, they get to sled on “Shouting Hill” which is adjacent to one of our outdoor recess areas. Many of our grades classes start taking camping trips and will often take a weeklong trip with one of the outdoor education guiding companies that we partner with. In high school the experiential study of the life sciences are often supplemented with trips to locations like Hermit Island on the coast of Maine to study marine biology, or backpacking on trails in the Appalachians in connection with geology. In addition to the health giving benefits of being in nature, these experiences help our students develop a love and appreciation for the natural world and foster a sense of stewardship. Read more here about the importance of outdoor education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Our students at KWS have the benefit of learning a foreign language. We start teaching languages in 1st grade and our students in grades 1-6 learn two languages: Spanish and German. I grade 7 our students choose one of those languages to focus on through grade 12. We offer an international exchange program in high school were our students can study for a semester at a Waldorf school in a German or Spanish speaking country. Language study helps our students become more flexible in their thinking and it exposes them to other cultures, helping them to feel that they are a global citizen. Read more here about the importance of learning a second language from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Adolescents are in a special and unique place in their development. They are leaving childhood and on the verge on entering adulthood when they will engage with the world. With the burgeoning of critical and analytical thinking in high school and powerful emotions adolescents have strong ideals and need to feel that they can have an impact. In recent years social justice has become an important part of our national conversation and educators across the spectrum are looking at incorporating social justice in their school curriculum, and our high school teachers at Kimberton are doing the same through service projects, courses, and special events. Read more here about high school students and social advocacy from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Community Service is an important aspect of the education at KWS. We think it is important for our students to have experiences to give back to their local community and to learn the value of volunteering. Our older middle school students and high school students have a variety of opportunities for community service, including practicum weeks in high school, required community service hours in high school, and a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Day. Read here to learn more about the value of community service for students from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
An important feature of the education at Kimberton Waldorf School is our emphasis on experiential education. Experiential education has become a bit of a buzzword in the educational world, but at KWS we really live it. Our approach to academic subjects is to start with experience and then through discussion and questions, to help the students discover concepts. We teach them to think like a scientist, an historian, a mathematician. We also have built into our curriculum an incredibly rich experiential program that includes many hands on courses such as handwork, woodwork, metalwork, and gardening. In the our high school our students have practicum courses each year that get them outside of school and learning in the community around us. Our high schoolers also take week long class trips each year that are connected to particular academic subjects in the sciences and humanities. Read more here about experiential education in Waldorf schools from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Students at Kimberton Waldorf School are fortunate to experience and education that fosters their creativity through artistic coursework but also through an approach to academics that focuses on providing experiences and discussions for students so that they can discover concepts rather than being spoon-fed concepts. Both of these elements of Waldorf Education help our students to be independent thinkers and exercises their creative capacities. In a survey of CEOs of top US Corporations, creativity was considered the number one capacity needed for future leaders. Read more here about creativity and divergent thinking in education from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Kimberton Waldorf School is committed to promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our curriculum and our school. The Board of Trustees and our Governing Team have supported a Diversity Committee and our teachers have been working to address systemic racism in our curriculum. In on-going conversation in our faculty meetings and in our inservice meetings our faculty and staff have been discussing ways to incorporate more diversity and inclusion in our curriculum and teaching practices. Some of our faculty and staff have attended workshops and courses and have been sharing the fruits of what they learned. We are incorporating more diversity in our library collection. We have also formed reading groups on recent publications about strengthening anti-racism. This is ongoing, challenging, and important work for all schools including KWS. Read more here about DEI in Waldorf schools from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
At Kimberton Waldorf School students in grades 1-5 typically participate in a subject that is unique to Waldorf schools: Form Drawing. Form drawing can be described as freehand drawing of patterns (often repeating forms) that introduces form and movement to our students. The practice of form drawing helps the students integrate developmental reflexes, develops fine and gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and control of movement. Form drawing also lays the groundwork for the study of geometry and geometric drawing which is introduced in 6th grade. Learn more about form drawing in Waldorf schools here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Kimberton Waldorf School prides itself on being a strong and close-knit community. Our curriculum and our teachers help our students develop empathy and the ability to appreciate others, and to work together in teams. Learning to sing in a chorus, play a musical instrument in an ensemble, produce a play with classmates, work on a group project for a class assignment, or cook meals together on a class camping trip all help our students to develop these important social skills. Learn more about the role of empathy in education here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
At Kimberton Waldorf School the arts are integrated into the whole curriculum and often are part of the experiential approach to academic subjects as well. Research has shown that artistic activity develops important capacities such as problem-solving. Read more about the role of the arts in Waldorf Education here from the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America:
Waldorf schools take an unconventionally nurturing approach to learning, making them a unique approach to education. Initially, some viewed the schools as emphasizing play over learning, but now a growing number recognize that the Waldorf model supports educational and personal habits which often go overlooked and under-appreciated in traditional schooling.
Following from a philosophy that attends to the development of human behavior, Waldorf schools help students learn and grow through uniting mind and body. Fashioned by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, the Waldorf education is one that focuses on the individual student’s strengths rather than catering to a large group and assuming that all students learn in the same way.
Teachers are the main source of strength in Waldorf schools. With a heavy focus on the importance of hands-on experience for their students, rather than standardized testing, Waldorf teachers help their students to explore curricula through diverse activities, with plenty of room to customize lesson plans. The fluidity of this approach provides extensive engagement that leads to lifelong connections with the material taught, the teachers involved and the bigger questions at the heart of each subject.
According to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), Waldorf schools are highly attuned to the quest to establish each child’s own level of academic excellence. The International Conference on Education of the United Nations Educational and Scientific Cultural Organization endorses the Waldorf method, saying it “places the development of the individual child in the focal point, convinced that the healthy individual is a prerequisite for a healthy society.”
With this mindset, Waldorf schools and educators encourage their pupils to truly thrive in a healthy environment where their opinions and differences are respected rather than stifled or rejected.
A distinction of Waldorf teachers is their passion for individuality and commitment to nurturing individual student’s mind. This philosophy also deems the relationship between Waldorf teachers and their students very much akin to that between mentors and mentees, so that involvement extends beyond the classroom.
Jeff Moore, a past Waldorf educator at the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz, NY, stuck with his small class through the foundational year of first grade all the way until eighth grade graduation. “When somebody asked me what Waldorf education was like, part of me always wanted to respond, ‘it’s a lot like that salad of the same name: full of fruits, nuts and flakes,'” Moore jokes when asked about his experience. Since he taught the class all of the primary subjects (with the exception of foreign languages), he fostered a connection with his students that paved the way for lifelong mentorship and mutual respect. “One of the great strengths of Waldorf education is, I feel, its use of story to communicate the lesson,” Moore says. He adds, “this is most evident in the earlier years of the pedagogy, when Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Aesop’s fables and a variety of legends and mythologies from around the world become a vehicle for presenting ideas and concepts in a living way.”
Moore says his experience at Mountain Laurel is one that cannot be described briefly. The school was powerful for him and for his class due to the depths of creativity: “it requires a good deal of creative flexibility on the teacher’s part, but the result is seen in the smiles and even the slack-jawed, sometimes awestruck faces of the children during the lesson. The material resonates on deep levels. I would need several pages to begin to do justice to my experience at the school.”
The effect of such educators as Moore leaves a significant mark on the future education and life choices on students. Remy Baglieri, a Mountain Laurel graduate in 2008 and a former student of Moore’s, has only positive and appreciative things to say about Moore and her Waldorf education. “Many people I know have told me they don’t remember their elementary school teacher. Luckily, I don’t think myself (or anyone) could forget Jeff Moore as an educator,” Baglieri says. “In a Waldorf environment, learning is expected to come naturally, and each pupil is given their own time to digest all of the knowledge. Mr. Moore knew this and followed a lesson plan, but would also interweave his love of art, stories and personal experiences in every school day. He made learning — dare I say it — enjoyable. He guided us in our own understanding on what it means to learn, grow and become thoughtful human beings. I don’t know a man that could raise 12 kids for 8 years, but I’m extremely grateful that Jeff stuck it out for that long. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if he hadn’t,” she adds.
Although the Waldorf approach to education has expanded to great lengths, especially in Europe, there are some who question the seemingly test-less teaching approach. Because Steiner’s philosophy incorporates the most profound understanding of human development, it can be difficult for conventional thinkers to accept the ways in which Waldorf directs students away from the standardized testing train that consumes much of K-12 education. However, according to the AWSNA, a staggering 94 percent of Waldorf graduates attend college, 89 percent expresses great satisfaction with career choices, and 90 percent place high value on the importance of tolerance of other viewpoints.
With bright, capable students and teachers wholly committed to both what occurs in the classroom and after, the Waldorf model flourishes. The immense quality of thinking and roundedness that comes from a Waldorf education is vital to today’s society.