Monday, November 17, 2008

A Little About Waldorf

Today I will be posting about Waldorf Education. The differences in the method when applied to preschool-aged children and school-age (7-18) children is quite remarkable, so I will be talking about the two age groups separately. This information is taken from Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching From The Inside Out and Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children From Birth To Seven.

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf method, however did feel that all children need to be engaged in three distinct ways: head, heart and hands. Through multi-faceted, multi-sensory learning experiences, children develop three distinct capacities - for thinking, for feeling, and for intentional activity. So all teaching throughout childhood is done is a way to engage children in three different ways.

Rhythms are also an important component of the Waldorf method, although rhythms can also be incorporated in the home environment as well. Rhythms give children a sense of security. In schools, there is built into the schedule "breathing in" and "breathing out" times to maintain a balance for the children of active and thinking times. Rhythm is also a great aid to discipline. If children feel secure in knowing what is coming next, they are more willing to "go with the flow." Rhythms at home can include routines for waking up and preparing for the day, bedtime routines, and marking changing seasons through activities. For example, in the autumn, you can pick apples and bake apple pies. Celebrating festivals at home also builds memories for your children. When they see you preparing for a certain holiday, children are filled with thoughts of the celebration from last year. These holiday celebrations give them confidence that these special times come around every year.

In early childhood, from birth until age 7, the young child is primarily active. It is through activity that the young child is most easily engaged and most easily taught.

In the Waldorf preschool the students enter a room that looks more like a home than a classroom - part kitchen, part playroom. The lighting is subdued, the curtains and walls a delicate color and the furniture simple and natural. Most toys and play structures are wood, and carpeting encourages children to find a place on the floor to play.

In the Waldorf approach, early academic instruction is absent. The children are placed in a learning environment that provides many natural opportunities for leaning. If children learn to count or to memorize a song or poem, it is out of their out impetus and occurs naturally when they are developmentally ready and not through direct instruction.

Play is a key component of the Waldorf early childhood program because it promotes well-rounded, three-dimensional development. Play develops emotional maturity through social interaction. Another benefit of play is the development of thoughtfulness and attention. The third beneficial aspect of play is activity. And when children are out of doors, nature can provide the toys - bark, acorns, leaves, flowers.

Work is also an important component of early childhood programs. The children participate in activities such as baking, cleaning and washing. Participation in work enables the children to learn important skills early on that are necessary for life. They learn to do their fair share and help others.

In addition to all the benefits of work to children, there is one factor that is a crucial aspect of the work done. Meaningful and purposeful activity done in the presence of young children also provides them with actions to imitate, an irrepressible urge in young children. It is through imitation that young children learn most of the time. Rudolf Steiner brings the importance of imitation into focus: "Two magic words - imitation and example - indicate how children enter into a relationship with their environment."

Grade School
Needless to say, the urge to be active does not disappear when a child enters first grade. Rather activity recedes in importance over time and is gradually supplanted by a growing inwardness during the grade school years.

For grade school, the day begins with an extended lesson, called the "main lesson". Students study main lesson subjects intensively for three or four weeks, and then new subjects are taken up. In the middle part of the day, classes that engage feelings - painting, singing, foreign language, as well as traditional subjects are done. The afternoon is a time when lessons require more activity, such as crafts, art and p.e. are schedule.

Children are introduced to letters in 1st grade through stories interweaving the spoken word with visual illustrations. Letters fill the room with sound, and will be painted large with fantasy before being drawn small. The letters are carefully drawn and written, accompanied by related words, and recorded in blank books. By allotting time for this work and by saving this work in bound books, the children are receiving the message that what they do is of great importance.

Teaching Through Art
Drawing, singing, painting and poetry have their regular place in the educational program. The teaching of any subject, from science to history, can be enlivened and enhanced by incorporating art into the instruction.

The Roles of Stories
A story, particularly a told story, engages children completely. It stills them outwardly and activates them inwardly, filling their imaginations with pictures depicted in the telling of a tale. Fundamental mathematical processes are introduced through tales about gnomes. Science teaching is also enhanced through stories.

The Role of Music
According to Norman Weinberger, a professor of psychobiology, wrote that "music has the ability to facilitate language acquisition, reading readiness and general intellectual development, to foster positive attitudes, to lower truancy, to enhance creativity, to promote social development, personality adjustment, and self worth. In Waldorf schools, there are music specialists who offer singing and instrumental classes (everyone plays a musical instrument), as well as the classroom teachers who incorporate music into all areas of the curriculum.

The Role of Handwork
Girls and boys take woodwork and learn to knit and sew.

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