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What is Waldorf Education?

“Receive children in reverence; educate them in love; let them go forth in freedom.” – Rudolf Steiner.

The Waldorf education was founded by RUDOLF STEINER, 1861-1925.
Rudolf Steiner is particularly well known for his influence in creating a holistic understanding of children and their developmental stages. Schools and teacher training institutes based on his ideas can be found on every continent under the name of Waldorf or Steiner Education. Steiner also developed methods for organic agriculture, production of natural cosmetics, practices in holistic medicine, and systems for handling money that are socially and ecologically responsible.      

Every child is a unique individual

The predominant opinion in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century was that children were not separate, complete individuals. Rudolf Steiner, however, started from the premise that unique personality traits already exist in babies and infants, and that each child enters the world with an autonomous will to live and to learn.     

Encouraging the child’s will to live and learn

As a result of his spiritual investigations, Rudolf Steiner concluded that people return to earthly life repeatedly, with certain time intervals in between. He also realized that we bring with us something from our previous lives as well as our own individuality that stays with us throughout all of our lifetimes. Babies are not born as blank slates. He proceeded on the assumption that every person has an individual task on earth that calls us to be with the people around us at that particular time. There is a reason why we speak of people as having a calling.

We endeavor to shape our lives meaningfully for ourselves and others and to continue to develop according to our calling. We experience fulfillment and satisfaction by making positive changes in ourselves and our environment and by working towards the common good. Raising children in a supportive atmosphere that encourages them to unfold their full potential helps them become sufficiently self-conscious and to better find their calling.

The goals of parenting arises from the child’s individuality

Parents can help their child develop his individuality step by step by looking at the child himself. To do this, it is important to understand the phases of child development. It is important to know, for example, that talking develops from learning to walk and thinking then develops from talking. The way in which a child accomplishes these developmental steps, and the intensity with which he experiences them, are an expression of his individuality. It is important to trust the child and give him the time that he needs to unfold his potential.

Relationship building begins before birth

Rudolf Steiner taught that each person chooses her social environment, her parents, and the family into which she is born. Nothing is left to chance. Even before conception, the unborn child has a spiritual and emotional relationship with the people who will one day be her parents.

Limitless openness: every experience shapes and influences a child

The child commits himself to his parents’ care in full trust. A newborn baby is extraordinarily sensitive to what happens in his surroundings, not only to what can be seen and heard but also to the spiritual and emotional energies.

The current assumption in alternative medicine is that everything we experience is stored in every cell of our bodies. We take this idea more for granted now, but a hundred years ago, Rudolf Steiner first professed that through their limitless openness, children are affected on every level of their being by everything they experience. The quality of human social interactions around the child is especially influential. The atmosphere surrounding the child should, therefore, be as harmonious as possible, with joy and cheerfulness in everyday situations. This does not mean that children should be jollied along or entertained, but rather that the quality of human social interactions should match the quality of the child’s untroubled mind. Even very small children can tell the difference between artifice and what comes from real human joy.

Young children learn through example and imitation

In the first years of life, a child learns the most important and difficult things: walking, speaking, and thinking. Nobody can teach her this. In order to learn these things, a child needs to grow up among people who walk, talk, and think. She learns through imitating them. The parent should lovingly accompany the child, giving her honest and authentic support without interfering in her development. As the child grows older, her ability to imitate reveals itself in the small events of everyday life. She will treat others the way that she is treated herself or experiences other people being treated. She will encounter her world with the same love, respect, and care—or with the same impatience — that she observes in others. When playing with a doll, for example, children emulate what they have experienced themselves or have seen happening around them.

Children learn through exploration and experience

During approximately the first seven years, children do not learn through their intellect. They learn through their own exploration and through imitation. By perceiving everything in their surroundings with all their senses and by imitating adult conduct, values, and norms, they come to know the world profoundly and comprehensively. All these experiences, which permeate their senses and are holistically internalized, form the basis for intellectual knowledge later on.

Education as self-education

When one realizes how much a child learns through imitation, how much everything that happens around him influences him, it becomes clear why Rudolf Steiner placed so much value on the self-education of adults. Both children and parents are learning; development never stops. Like the child, the adult is also in a state of becoming. The child’s efforts to learn are tireless, and if the adult is to maintain authenticity and credibility, she must demand the same of herself.

The whole of anthroposophy, which was founded by Rudolf Steiner, can in this sense be seen as a path of self-education for the adult. Its aim is to awaken us to our humanity–body, soul, and spirit. Ultimately, the goal of anthroposophy is for people to unfold their unique potential, their strength and confidence required to shape their lives meaningfully.

Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about child development go far beyond early childhood. Waldorf schools aim to take into account both the individuality and developmental needs of older children and young adults. Waldorf education serves not only to convey knowledge but also supports healthy human development.

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