Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do class teachers prepare to teach all eight years of elementary school?
A: Beginning in first grade, students have not only a class teacher, but also specialist teachers in foreign language, physical education, handwork, fine and practical arts and music. The class teacher is responsible for the main academic content in the two-hour main lesson. A Waldorf teacher must be highly qualified, with specialized Waldorf training. In addition, class teachers may attend yearly conferences during summer months with master teachers who help them to prepare curriculum for the next school year.
One must also keep in mind that a successful Waldorf teacher is not only presenting academic knowledge to the students, but is also actively seeking to awaken capacities in the children: to think clearly and critically, to develop empathy and understanding of the world. Waldorf teachers are trained to teach children to see cause and effect and perceive meaning in all things so that they will be able to participate meaningfully in shaping their world as free human beings.
Q: At what point do children learn to read?
A: Learning to read is a process with many contributory facets, and Waldorf education undertakes reading instruction in almost the opposite way that it is introduced in most schools across the nation. Indeed, the foundation for reading instruction is laid in the pre-k and kindergarten.
Waldorf education approaches reading instruction so that it is synchronous with the development of children. Reading is much more than recognizing sound/symbol relationships. For true reading to occur, there must be a corresponding inner activity that takes place as the child decodes words; that is, the child must form an inner picture of what he or she is reading so that comprehension develops. The rich life of the imagination is most potent in a child during pre-k, kindergarten and early elementary years and is present at the same time that the child’s sense for the sound and rhythm of language is at its peak.
To capture these capacities at the time that they are most present in the child is the rationale for a foundation of reading that begins first with spoken language. The rich language of fairy tales, the pictorial imagery of songs and poems and the desire of the young child to listen to stories, repeat rhymes and sing songs all become the basis for a language arts curriculum through which a child may come to love “the word.” Imagine how much more complex and imaginative are the stories to which a child may be introduced if they are orally presented rather than through the simplistic language of a reader. Imagine how much a child’s vocabulary can develop from listening to the content that the teacher brings. Imagine also how much more sophisticated a child’s understanding of the world can become through hearing the rich and complex language in the teacher’s presentations and stories.
For all of these reasons, Waldorf students will be given a strong foundation in comprehension, vocabulary and the sounds and meanings of their native tongue. Then students will be introduced to writing and spelling the letters and words that are part of their stories. And, as a final step, the students will read from their own texts, describing the stories that they have heard. In this way, students have the proper time to develop all of the skills that are part of the complex skill of reading at the time when it is most appropriate for them to do so. When reading is approached in this way, children become voracious readers who love and understand what they choose to read.
Q: How is technology used in a Waldorf School?
A: Computers are incredible tools that save adults enormous amounts of work and time. Computers are not, however, the most desirable or effective medium for educating children in the elementary school. The primary reason that Waldorf schools do not use computers is our resolve that young children make contact with real people and real environments in order to build a base of real experience. Language skills, for instance, depend upon a responsive human being who listens, responds, and communicates feelings as well as content.
Children who use word processing technology are missing the lessons of will and purpose involved in writing out a lesson with their own hand, as well as the spatial sense and aesthetic judgment that are part of the practice of handwriting. Knowing about frogs means smelling the pond, feeling the slipperiness of the frog’s skin, listening to the frog’s call, and watching the patience of the frog catching his supper. The real world is much more complex and whole than the virtual world of the computer.
Young children who use a computer to write a paper only too quickly depend on down-loading the ideas and thoughts of others and forego the time and effort involved in being original. And for the younger child, sitting in front of a computer, rather than moving and acting in the real world, denies the child of the very activity that “hardwires” his own brain and ultimately assists in the thinking process. The debate over computer technology in the elementary classroom continues amongst educators across the nation, but the reality is that students do not suffer deficits from not having computer instruction, but develop important capacities of imagination, thought and will-power by not depending upon computers to do their work at this developmental age.
Waldorf teachers do not believe computers are always inappropriate. They simply believe they are not effective educational tools for young children. In a Waldorf high school you will find students actually building their own computers, thereby developing a more thorough knowledge of computers and technology than most children who grew up with them from the beginning.
Q: What is Anthroposophy? Is it taught to the students?
A: Anthroposophy is the name Rudolf Steiner gave to his theories about the evolution of human consciousness, drawn from a multiplicity of disciplines including anthropology, philosophy, psychology, science and various religions, particularly Christianity. The philosophical tenets and pedagogical perspective of child development in Anthroposophy underlie the core foundation of Waldorf education.
While many Waldorf teachers are anthroposophists, Waldorf teachers do not teach anthroposophy in the classroom or related school settings. In a school where independent, creative thought is so highly valued, teachers are careful not to push their own philosophies onto students. Steiner himself wrote, “We must never be tempted to implement sectarian ideas. We must not chain children’s minds to finished concepts, but give them concepts capable of further growth and expansion.”
Q: What about standardized tests?
A: Standardized testing is not truly an accurate, or complete reflection of a student’s wisdom, knowledge, mental flexibility, or ability to learn, and thus, our curriculum does not focus on, nor require our students to study standardized test taking preparation. We have found that colleges and universities are more interested in the whole student and what s/he has to offer their academic programs and the quality of their campus life. Waldorf education provides students with diverse, rich, and challenging post-high school options including attending colleges, universities, and educational institutes for continued studies in the academic and professional fields that they choose to explore.
Q: Waldorf and Montessori: How do they compare?
A: Similarities -The Waldorf and Montessori movements are both holistic, child centered approaches to learning. Both movements began in similar times as an answer to a very rigid educational system.
Both educational systems are developmentally appropriate for children and stress a learning environment that is aesthetically pleasing. Both systems are designed to awaken the senses of the young child, and both incorporate moral development in their curriculum.
Differences: The Montessori teacher has an intended sequential curriculum plan and the child is introduced to academic concepts at an earlier age leaving not as much room for imaginative play and social interaction among peers. Waldorf allows more space for the child to be present and the teacher to continually adapt to the individual rather than be restricted to the material. A Waldorf school becomes more of a life model rather than a training in academics; helping to lay the foundation and establish a strong foundation of person (mind, body and soul).
Practical arts are a curriculum subjects in Montessori along with language, math, etc. however, rather than segmenting the curriculum and separating material and work, Waldorf interweaves these curriculum pieces into the child’s daily experiences. Rather than being concerned about making proper sounds or counting specific numbers, Waldorf teachers are more concerned about children developing resilience, adaptability, compassion, strong will, authenticity, determination and a comfort and confidence within themselves.
There are many other ways that Waldorf and Montessori are similar and many other ways that they differ. A visit to a Montessori and a Waldorf classroom is an excellent way to determine which philosophy will best meet your child’s needs.
Q: What about Waldorf Festivals?
A: Waldorf festivals are celebratory and focus on signifigant markers of seasonal change or signifigant values and virtues central to human development.Festivals are a vital part of our school life and the curriculum incorporates thematic subject matter in lesson plans and class activities with the rich history and traditions demonstrated in our festivals.The festival motifs are introduced in the classroom through storytelling, song, drama, movement, and decoration. Some of our festivals specifically focus on particular grade(s) while most are celebrated by the entire community in school-wide assemblies, student performances and entertaining fairs. It is the communal nature of the festivals that connect parents, faculty, staff, and alumni to the students for meaningful celebration and bonding of community ties. Learn more about Prairie Hill’s festivals here.
FIND OUT EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION
- What makes Waldorf different?
- Find many interesting articles.
- Discover a global perspective of Waldorf.
- Get answers to your basic questions about Waldorf education.
- Gain a deeper understanding behind our educational philosophy.
- Why does Waldorf Work?
FIND OUT EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT WALDORF EDUCATION at the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America’s (AWSNA) website: Waldorf Education.