The Holistic Approach of the Waldorf Education Model

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Students playing at Journey School, a high-performing Waldorf education charter school in California

Waldorf education aims to foster intellectually free, but morally responsible individuals who, with a high degree of social awareness and creative competencies, can make a difference in the world around them.

Rudolf Steiner founded the first Waldorf school in 1919 to educate the children of factory workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany. Steiner’s school sought to educate all children, regardless of their social status or talent. This pioneer of social justice in education thus developed the principles behind what today is known as the Waldorf education model.

Many Waldorf schools grow organic farms and help students learn where their food comes from. The emphasis on nature means children spend more time playing outside and experiencing natural stimuli. Waldorf schools avoid technology in the early years and typically only bring in computers and other forms of technology after students master fundamental, time-honored ways of learning and discovering new information.

Like most models, students learn math, literature, history, and science, but also receive a rich education in the arts and hands-on skills. Many Waldorf teachers inspire students to learn through painting, knitting, weaving, and sculpting with wax. All students learn music, often beginning with the flute, followed by string instruments.

Teachers encourage students to observe and describe scientific concepts in their own words before learning about them in a textbook. Storytelling and experimentation replace textbooks, homework, and testing as the main method of instruction. Teachers slowly introduce tests and grading to older students to prepare them for college and entrance exams.

Student art work from Journey School, a high-performing Waldorf education charter school in California

To foster personal development and empathy, Waldorf schools set aside competition and grading in favor of assessing students by their individual growth and character. Teachers also follow students across grades to deepen the connection they have with their students.

While the model may not be the best fit for all students, many parents are finding this holistic style of education refreshing. If you’d like to learn more about how this model works in practice, read our next blog post on Journey School, a high-performing Waldorf education charter school in California.


Jamison White is the manager of data & research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


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February 8, 2019 - 09:33am
Jamison White

One of the most remarkable features of the Waldorf model is that, despite not relying on testing for student evaluation, the 40 or so Public Waldorf charter schools perform remarkably well on state evaluations. That's not to say there is a causal relationship there, but it is certainly worth further investigation.

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