What is Waldorf education?

In this blog, we sat down with Lindsay Gegenberg, a qualified Waldorf educator at the Zaya Early Learning Center in Dubai (the only Waldorf school in Dubai), to ask her about this alternative method of teaching children.
What is the philosophy behind Waldorf education?
Hands, Heart, Head.
The children take on a lesson through their hands with a practical art or rhythmical work, and a story that is told verbally. The lesson imprints itself upon their hearts, and once they have it in their hearts they can then commit it to their intellect. Through their intellect they can then expand upon the lesson given. A lesson is given greater depth and meaning when it is met on these three levels (Hands, heart, head).
How is it different from mainstream education?
Waldorf kindergartens are play based while main stream kindergartens are starting children in reading, writing and maths. Main stream education usually focusses on teaching the intellect. Sometimes you will get a really great teacher who will bring a practical art to go along with a lesson, but too often the whole child is not met. Waldorf education immerses the child in age appropriate, academic lessons that are brought to the children through many forms of art. Drawing, painting, songs and rhythmical work, story telling, plays, music, practical arts like handwork and woodwork aim teach the whole child as opposed to just their intellect. Assessments of the children are made through child observation as well so their teacher has a well rounded picture of the child when they write the end of year reports. Also, one teacher will carry the class from 1st grade to 8th grade. This allows the teacher to know exactly what your child needs and when and how to give it to them. The teacher and the children form a beautiful bond forged in education and love.
Is Waldorf similar to Montessori?
Waldorf and Montessori only shake hands at learning by doing, and that is it.
Why do Waldorf schools suggest limiting media?
A child’s pictorial imagination is extremely vivid up until the age of nine. Teachers tell stories to the children in order to get them to form the pictures in their brain. This supports a child’s cognitive function. In fact, the early childhood and early grades curriculum in a Waldorf school serves to support cognitive formation and function within the child. This is why play is so very important and that the kindergarten years are play based as opposed to getting the young children to learn to read like mainstream.
When a child is given media, they are being spoon fed images to stories which doesn’t serve their pictorial imagination at all. Also, what goes in must come out. Whatever your child is watching will come out in their play. They will be playing to the script of what they have seen as opposed to having their play come within themselves. Their imaginations become over shadowed by a movie or tv show.
Why are kids, in Waldorf schools, not taught to read and write until the age of 6?
Waldorf teaches children to read when they are 6-7 years old or in 1st grade. This is because it is the age appropriate time for a child to be able to take on something like reading. Around the child’s 7th year, they experience a developmental shift where memorization and abstract concepts like mental math and blending sounds into words are easier to grasp. Doing these things earlier could make learning frustrating for a child as their minds are not ready to do it just yet.
Festivals and ceremonies are a beautiful way for human beings to connect with each other and tap into these beautiful things that brought people together years ago. Like links in a chain we can connect ourselves to the ways of the past and bring rich traditions to life for the children to love and cherish. Students at Waldorf schools learn about and celebrate seasonal festivals as a way to connect with nature and the changing of the seasons. Celebrating festivals which have been around since ancient times help children learn about these traditions and stay connected with the roots of humanity.
I send my child to a Waldorf school because I want her to experience the festivals and ceremonies with the hope that she feels a connection to nature and the humans of the past. I want her to feel immersed in her lessons and that her whole self is met when she learns something like place value, or house building, or history, or geology. I want her to have that connection to a teacher and a class as she moves through the grades and knows that no matter what, her teacher will be there for her. I want her to feel connected to herself and I want her to have a calm sense of confidence when she leaves Waldorf and enters the world. That is why I want my child to go to a Waldorf school.
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