Waldorf education

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Waldorf (Steiner) education is a humanistic approach to pedagogy based on the educational philosophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy.

Steiner described child development as taking place in three distinct stages. These stages are reflected in the schools' approach to early childhood education, which focuses on practical, hands-on activities and creative play; to elementary education, which focuses on developing artistic expression and social capacities; and to secondary education, which focuses on developing critical reasoning and empathic understanding. The education emphasizes the role of imagination in learning and values the integration of intellectual, practical, and artistic activities across the curriculum.

The overarching goal of Waldorf education is to develop free, morally responsible, and integrated individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence. Teachers in Waldorf schools emphasize formative (qualitative) over summative (quantitative) assessment. Individual teachers and schools have a great deal of autonomy in determining curriculum content, teaching methodology and governance.

Waldorf education has become a worldwide independent alternative education movement.[1][2] The first Waldorf school opened in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. At present there are over a thousand independent Waldorf schools,[3] about 2,000 kindergartens[4] and 646 centers for special education,[5] located in 60 countries. There are also a number of Waldorf-based public schools,[6] charter schools, academies, and homeschooling[7] environments.

In Europe, Waldorf pedagogy has become a well-recognized theory of education that has influenced public schooling. Many European Waldorf schools receive state funding. Public funding of Waldorf schools in English-speaking countries has been controversial. On the one hand, the methods have won praise for their holistic approach.[8][9][10] On the other hand, critics have questioned the role of religious and spiritual content in or underlying the curriculum[11][12][13] and racial prejudice they identify in the works of Steiner, though not in the schools themselves.[14][10] Though tests have shown Waldorf students to be better motivated to study science and achieving superior scientific understanding compared to equivalent state school students,[15][16] [17] critics have questioned whether the science curriculum includes pseudoscience and/or promotes homeopathy.

Origins and history[edit]

For more details on this topic, see History of Waldorf schools.
Rudolf Steiner

As a young man, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education,[18]:381 was a private tutor and a lecturer on history for the Berlin Arbeiterbildungsschule,[19] an educational initiative for working class adults.[20] Soon thereafter, he began to articulate his ideas on education in public lectures,[21] culminating in a 1907 essay on The Education of the Child. His conception of education was influenced by the Herbartian pedagogy prominent in Europe during the late nineteenth century,[19]:1362, 1390ff[22] though Steiner criticized Herbart for not sufficiently recognizing the importance of educating the will and feelings as well as the intellect.[23]

The first school based upon Steiner's ideas was opened in 1919 in response to a request by Emil Molt, the owner and managing director of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company in Stuttgart, Germany, to serve the children of employees of the factory. This is the source of the name Waldorf, which is now trademarked in some countries in association with the method. The Stuttgart school grew rapidly and soon the majority of pupils were from families not connected directly with the company.[24] The school was the first comprehensive school in Germany, serving children from all social classes, abilities, and interests.[25][26] By Steiner's design, Waldorf schools have been co-educational from the start.[27]

Because of the legal requirements of German schools at the time, Steiner's early German schools had to deviate from his ideal in order to be acceptable; however this achieved one of Steiner's more important objectives – allowing students to be able to transfer between Waldorf and conventional schools by choice.[18]:393

Michael Hall - Rudolf Steiner School at Forest Row

By 1930, schools had opened in many other locations including Hamburg, The Hague, Basel, Budapest, Lisbon, Oslo, Vienna, Zurich, and Berlin.[28] Waldorf education became more widely known in Britain in 1922 through lectures Steiner gave on education at a conference at Oxford University.[4] The first school in England, now Michael Hall school, was founded in 1925; the first in the USA, the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, in 1928. By the late 1930s, numerous schools inspired by the original school or its pedagogical principles had been founded in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Hungary, the USA, and the UK. Political interference from the Nazi regime limited and ultimately closed most Waldorf schools in Europe, with the exception of the British and some Dutch schools. The affected schools were reopened after the Second World War,[29][30] though those in Soviet-dominated areas were closed again a few years later by Communist regimes.[31]

In North America, the number of Waldorf schools increased from nine in the US[32] and one in Canada[33] in 1967 to over 150 in the US[3][11] and over 20 in Canada[34] today. There are currently 33 Steiner schools in the United Kingdom and four in the Republic of Ireland.[35]

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Waldorf schools began to proliferate in Central and Eastern Europe. Most recently, many schools have opened in Asia, especially in China.[36][37] There are currently over 1,000 independent Waldorf schools worldwide.[3]

Recognized independent Waldorf schools by continent
Continent Schools Countries
Africa 22 5
Asia 58 12
Europe 692 34
North America 150 3
Oceania 52 2
South America 67 6
Growth of Waldorf schools
Growth in the number of accredited Waldorf schools in the world from 1919 to 2014[38]

Educational theory and practice[edit]

Anthroposophical basis[edit]

Further information: Anthroposophy

Rudolf Steiner's ideas on education grew out of his simultaneously emerging views on individual development.[21] These are part of his larger spiritual philosophy, Anthroposophy, which has a range of beliefs, including that the human being consists of body, soul, and spirit and in the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible and accessible spiritual world. "Teachers are tasked with helping each child's soul and spirit grow in accordance with"[39] this belief that each is a reincarnating individual, descending from and destined to return to a spiritual world.[40]

While anthroposophy underpins the curriculum design, pedagogical approach, organizational structure, and architecture of Waldorf schools (and frequently pupil and teacher health and diet), it is explicitly not taught within the school curriculum and pupils have little awareness of it.[17]:6[41][42]

Developmental Approach[edit]

The structure of Waldorf education follows Steiner's theories of child development, which divide childhood into three developmental stages,[18] and describes differentiated learning strategies appropriate to each stage.[14][43] These stages, each of which lasts approximately seven years, are broadly similar to those described by Piaget.[18]:402[44] (Steiner also described sub-stages of these broader stages.[45])

The stated purpose of this approach is to awaken the "physical, behavioral, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual" aspects of each individual.[17] This is intended to foster creative as well as analytic thinking.[17]:28 A 2005 overview of research studies suggested that Waldorf schools successfully develop "creative, social and other capabilities important in the holistic growth of the person," but that more research is needed to confirm the generally small-scale studies conducted to date.[17]:39

Steiner's educational ideas closely follow modern "common sense" educational theory since Comenius and Pestalozzi.[21]

Pre-school and kindergarten: birth to age 6/7[edit]

Waldorf pedagogical theory considers that during the first years of life children learn best by being immersed in an environment they can learn from through unselfconscious imitation of practical activities. The early childhood curriculum therefore centers on experiential education, allowing children to learn by example, and opportunities for imaginative play.[46][47][48][49] The overall goal of the curriculum is to "imbue the child with a sense that the world is good."[50]

The schedule of Waldorf preschools is based around a regular daily routine intended to emphasize rhythms inherent to daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal cycles.[51] Periods of outdoor recess are also usually included.[50]:125

Nature table
An autumn nature table at a Waldorf school in Australia 

The classroom itself is intended to resemble a home, and generally teachers attempt to include as many simple and natural materials as possible.[45] The tools and toys that are employed in a lesson plan's general activities are also usually sourced from simple, natural materials that are easily enhanced by a child's imagination.

Pre-school and kindergarten programs generally include seasonal festivals drawn from a variety of traditions, with attention placed on the traditions brought forth from the community.[52] Waldorf schools in the Western Hemisphere have traditionally celebrated Christian festivals,[53] though many North American schools also include Jewish festivals.[54]

Waldorf kindergarten and lower grades generally discourage pupils' use of electronic media such as television and computers.[48] Educational scholars Philip and Glenys Woods say this is done "not from an anti-technology bias but because its use at a younger age is understood to be out of harmony with children's developmental needs."[55]

Transition to formal academic learning[edit]

Waldorf pedagogues consider that readiness for formal learning depends upon an increased independence of character, temperament, habits, and memory, one of the markers of which is the loss of the baby teeth.[21][18]:389 Formal instruction in reading, writing, and other academic disciplines are therefore not introduced until students enter the elementary school, when pupils are around seven years of age. [56] Steiner believed that engaging young children in abstract intellectual activity too early would adversely affect their growth and development.[18]:389

Elementary education: age 6/7 to 14[edit]

Waldorf elementary school classroom

Waldorf elementary schools (ages 7–14) emphasize cultivating children's emotional life and imagination. In order that students can connect more deeply with the subject matter, academic instruction is presented through artistic work that includes story-telling, visual arts, drama, movement, vocal and instrumental music, and crafts.[57][58][8] The core curriculum includes language arts, mythology, history, geography, geology, algebra, geometry, mineralogy, biology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and nutrition.[50] The school day generally begins with a one-and-a-half to two-hour, cognitively oriented academic lesson that focuses on a single theme over the course of about a month's time.[50]:145 This typically begins with introductory activities that may include singing, instrumental music, and recitations of poetry, generally including a verse written by Steiner for the start of a school day.[53]

Elementary school educators' stated task is to present a role model children will naturally want to follow, gaining authority through fostering rapport, rather than instituting authoritarian diplomacy. The declared goal of this second stage is to "imbue children with a sense that the world is beautiful."[50] There is little reliance on standardized textbooks.[21]

Waldorf elementary education allows for individual variations in the pace of learning, based upon the expectation that a child will grasp a concept or achieve a skill when he or she is ready.[29] Cooperation takes priority over competition.[59] This approach also extends to physical education; competitive team sports are introduced in upper grades.[48]

Class teacher[edit]

Waldorf schools follow a cohort instructional model. In the elementary years, each group of students has a core teacher for academic subjects who is meant to guide and stimulate pupils by exercising creative, loving authority, providing consistently supportive models of personal development both through personal example and through stories of "spiritual 'role models' from culture and history which may have an effect on the children's fantasy and imaginations through their symbolism and allegory."[50]

Introduction of the alphabet in first grade
Letter G as goose
Letter G as goose 
Letter B as butterfly 
Letter B as butterfly
Letter K as King 

The class teacher is normally expected to teach this group of children for several years – a practice known as "looping". Beginning from first grade, additional teachers teach subjects such as music, crafts, movement, and two foreign languages from complementary language families[18] (in English-speaking countries often German and either Spanish or French), all of which are central to the curriculum throughout the elementary school years.

Looping has both advantages in the long-term relationships thus established and disadvantages in the challenge to teachers, who face a new curriculum each year.[48] While emphasizing the value of the class teacher as a personal mentor for students, especially in the early years, Ullrich documented problems with the continuation of the class teacher role into the middle school years (grades 7 and 8, ages 12–14). Noting that there is a danger of any authority figure limiting students enthusiasm for inquiry and assertion of autonomy, he emphasized the need for teachers to encourage independent thought and explanatory discussion in these years, and cited approvingly a number of schools where the class teacher accompanies the class for six years, after which specialist teachers play a significantly greater role.[50]:222

Four temperaments[edit]

Steiner considered children's cognitive, emotional and behavioral development to be interlinked.[60] When students in a Waldorf school are grouped, it is generally not by a singular focus on their academic abilities.[17]:89 Instead Steiner adapted the idea of the classic four temperaments – melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric – for pedagogical use in the elementary years.[61] Steiner indicated that teaching should be differentiated to accommodate the different needs that these psychophysical types[62] represent. For example, "cholerics are risk takers, phlegmatics take things calmly, melancholics are sensitive or introverted, and sanguines take things lightly."[17]:18 Today Waldorf teachers may work with the notion of temperaments to differentiate their instruction. Seating arrangements and class activities may be planned taking into account the temperaments of the students[63] but this is often not readily apparent to observers.[64] Steiner also believed that teachers must consider their own temperament and be prepared to work with it positively in the classroom,[9] that temperament is emergent in children,[29] and that most people express a combination of temperaments rather than a pure single type.[61]

Secondary education: ages 14 and up[edit]

In most Waldorf schools, pupils enter secondary education when they are about fourteen years old. Secondary education is provided by specialist teachers for each subject. The education focuses much more strongly on academic subjects, though students normally continue to take courses in art, music, and crafts.[50] The curriculum is structured to foster pupils' intellectual understanding, independent judgment, and ethical ideals such as social responsibility, aiming to meet the developing capacity for abstract thought and conceptual judgment.[45][46]

Student work from a projective geometry block in a Waldorf high school
Growth measure and vortices
Growth measure and vortices 
Ellipse constructed of tangent lines
Ellipse constructed of tangent lines 
Projection of a circle onto an oblique plane
Projection of a circle onto an oblique plane 

In the third developmental stage (14 years old and up), children in Waldorf programs are supposed to learn through their own thinking and judgment.[65] Students are asked to understand abstract material and expected to have sufficient foundation and maturity to form conclusions using their own judgment.[18]:391 The intention of the third stage is to "imbue children with a sense that the world is true."[50]

The overarching goals are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, morally responsible[17][66] and integrated individuals,[8][67][68] with the aim of helping young people "go out into the world as free, independent and creative beings".[69]


The schools primarily assess students through reports on individual academic progress and personal development. The emphasis is on characterization through qualitative description. Pupils' progress is primarily evaluated through portfolio work in academic blocks and discussion of pupils in teacher conferences. Standardized tests are rare, with the exception of examinations necessary for college entry taken during the secondary school years.[50]:150,186 Letter grades are generally not given until students enter high school at 14–15 years,[70] as the educational emphasis is on children's holistic development, not solely their academic progress.[50] Pupils are not normally asked to repeat years of elementary or secondary education.


For more details on this topic, see Curriculum of the Waldorf schools.

Though most Waldorf schools are autonomous institutions not required to follow a prescribed curriculum, there are widely agreed upon guidelines for the Waldorf curriculum, supported by the schools' common principles.[55] The schools offer a wide curriculum "governed by close observation and recording of what content motivates children at different ages" and including within it, for example, the British National Curriculum.[41]

The main academic subjects are introduced through up to two-hour morning lesson blocks that last for several weeks.[17]:18 These lesson blocks are horizontally integrated at each grade level in that the topic of the block will be infused into many of the activities of the classroom and vertically integrated in that each subject will be revisited over the course of the education with increasing complexity as students develop their skills, reasoning capacities and individual sense of self. This has been described as a spiral curriculum.[71]

The Waldorf curriculum has always incorporated multiple intelligences.[72]

Over the twelve-year curriculum, students learn a variety of fine and practical arts. Elementary students paint, draw, sculpt, knit, weave, and crochet.[73] Older students build on these experiences and learn new skills such as pattern-making and sewing, wood and stone carving, metal work, book-binding,[74] and doll or puppet making. Fine art instruction includes form drawing, sketching, sculpting, perspective drawing and other techniques. Younger students begin their instrumental music instruction with pentatonic flutes, lyres and diatonic recorders and advance to string instruments.[75] An additional instrument (such as woodwind, brass or percussion) may be added in the adolescent years. Vocal music instruction begins with poetry and simple songs taught by the classroom teacher, advancing to formal choral music instruction as the student grows older.

There are a few subjects largely unique to the Waldorf schools. Foremost among these is eurythmy, a movement art usually accompanying spoken texts or music which includes elements of role play and dance and is designed to provide individuals and classes with a "sense of integration and harmony".[59] Although found in other educational contexts, cooking,[76] farming,[77] and environmental and outdoor education[78] have long been incorporated into the Waldorf curriculum. Other differences include: non-competitive games and free play in the younger years as opposed to athletics instruction; instruction in two foreign languages beginning after kindergarten; and a phenomenological approach to science[79] whereby students observe and depict scientific concepts in their own words and drawings[80] rather than encountering the ideas first through a textbook.

Information technology[edit]

The media center at the Shearwater Steiner School in Australia

Waldorf schools view computer technology as being first useful to children in the early teen years, after they have mastered "fundamental, time-honoured ways of discovering information and learning, such as practical experiments and books".[81] A number of prominent figures from the technology sector have chosen Waldorf education for their children for this reason, citing approvingly the increased engagement that arises through human contact with teachers and peers, while Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, questioned whether the schools are missing other opportunities to engage students through technology use.[82]

In the United Kingdom, Waldorf schools are granted an exemption by the Department for Education (DfE) from the requirement to teach ICT as part of Foundation Stage education (ages 3–5). Education researchers John Siraj-Blatchford and David Whitebread wrote that "there is much to admire in Steiner education and, on balance, our view would be that it is to the credit of the [DfE] that Steiner schools have been recently exempted from the requirement to teach ICT..."[83] In particular, they note that "what is hugely valuable in the Steiner position, of course, is the emphasis on the simplicity of resources and on encouraging children's use of their imagination." They consider the preference on the part of Waldorf educators for "natural, non-manufactured materials" to be "a reaction against the dehumanizing aspects of nineteenth-century industrialization" rather than a "reasoned assessment of twenty-first century children's needs."[83] Siraj-Blatchford and Whitebread's overall perspective emphasizes how the educational value of any new technology must be considered in terms of the opportunities and experiences afforded to children. For this reason, they argue that Waldorf educators' emphasis on simple resources and children's own imaginations is actually "not incompatible with the use of ICT [Information and Communication Technology]." [83]

Waldorf schools have been very popular with parents working in the technology sector, including those from some of the most advanced technology firms. In one Silicon Valley school, "three-quarters of the students have parents with a strong high-tech connection."[84][85] A number of technologically-oriented parents from the school expressed their conviction that younger students do not need the exposure to computers and technology, but benefit from creative aspects of the education; one Google executive was quoted as saying "'I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school.".[84][85][86][87][88][89]

Teacher education[edit]

As in a Waldorf school, teacher training colleges and institutes strive to develop the academic, practical and artistic capacities of their students. For example, students training to be elementary school educators are expected to produce not only essays, workbooks and lesson plans but drawings, paintings, and theatrical performances. These assessments are intended to demonstrate their ability to work across all areas of the curriculum.[90] The curriculum of Waldorf teacher education programs includes both pedagogical texts and other anthroposophical works by Steiner.[91]

Social engagement[edit]

Waldorf teacher training center in Witten, Germany

Waldorf schools seek to cultivate pupils' sense of social responsibility.[45][92][93][94] and studies suggest that this is successful.[17]:4[21]:190 A comparison of Waldorf and state schools in Australia found that Waldorf pupils "more frequently expressed interest and engagement in social and moral questions and showed more positive attitudes."[95] A study by Jennifer Gidley of pupils drawn from the Waldorf schools of three Australian cities found that "students demonstrated a strong sense of activism and self-confidence and felt empowered to create their own preferred futures".[96] Reports from small-scale studies suggest that there are lower levels of harassment and bullying in Waldorf schools.[17]:29

Waldorf schools build close learning communities, founded on the shared values of its members,[17]:17 in ways that can lead to transformative learning experiences that allow all participants, including parents, to become more aware of their own individual path,[17]:5,17,32,40[9]:238 but which at times also risk becoming exclusive.[21]:167, 207

Betty Reardon, a professor and peace researcher, suggests that Waldorf schools provide an example of schools that follow a philosophy based on peace and tolerance.[97]

Intercultural links in socially polarized communities[edit]

Waldorf schools have linked polarized communities in a variety of settings.

  • Under the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Waldorf school was one of the few schools in which children of both races attended the same classes, despite the ensuing loss of state aid. A Waldorf training college in Cape Town, the Novalis Institute, was referenced during UNESCO's Year of Tolerance for being an organization that was working towards reconciliation in South Africa.[97][98]
  • The first Waldorf school in West Africa was founded in Sierra Leone to educate boys and girls orphaned by the country's civil war.[99] The school building is a passive solar building designed by Mike Reynolds and built by the local community, including the students.[100]
  • In Israel, the Harduf Kibbutz Waldorf school includes both Jewish and Arab faculty and students and has extensive contact with the surrounding Arab communities.[101] It also runs an Arab-language Waldorf teacher training.[102] A joint Arab-Jewish Waldorf kindergarten was founded in Hilf (near Haifa) in 2005[103][104] while an Arabic language multi-cultural Druze/Christian/Muslim Waldorf school has operated in Shefa-'Amr since 2003.[105]
  • In Brazil, a Waldorf teacher, Ute Craemer, founded a community service organization providing childcare, vocational training and work, social services including health care, and Waldorf education to more than 1,000 residents of poverty-stricken areas (Favelas) of São Paulo.[106]
  • In Nepal, the Tashi Waldorf School in the outskirts of Kathmandu teaches mainly disadvantaged children from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.[107] It was founded in 1999 and is run by Nepalese staff. In addition, in the southwest Kathmandu Valley a foundation founded by Krishna Gurung provides underprivileged, disabled and poor adults with work on a biodynamic farm and provides a Waldorf school for their children.[108]
  • The T.E. Mathews Community School in Yuba County, California serves high-risk juvenile offenders, many of whom have learning disabilities. The school switched to Waldorf methods in the 1990s. A 1999 study of the school found that students had "improved attitudes toward learning, better social interaction and excellent academic progress."[109][110] This study identified the integration of the arts "into every curriculum unit and almost every classroom activity" as the most effective tool to help students overcome patterns of failure. The study also found significant improvements in reading and math scores, student participation, focus, openness and enthusiasm, as well as emotional stability, civility of interaction and tenacity.[110]

Waldorf education also has links with UNESCO. The Friends of Waldorf Education is an affiliated organization, the main purpose of which is to support, develop infrastructure, finance and provide advice to the Waldorf movement world-wide. In 2008, 24 Waldorf schools in 15 countries were members of the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network.[111]


Waldorf education is infused with spirituality throughout the curriculum,[59] and often describes a wide range of religious traditions without favoring any single tradition.[59] For Steiner, education was an activity which fosters the human being's connection to the divine and is thus inherently religious.[19]:1422,1430 However, one of Steiner's primary aims was to establish "a non-sectarian setting for children from all religious backgrounds."[8]:79 Steiner emphasized, for example, the value of literary and historical role models drawn from all traditions in developing children's fantasy and moral imaginations rather than sectarian religious instruction on ethical questions. Ullrich describes Steiner's view as follows: "The strongest impulses can come from religious tales because these may be envisioned through man's position within the world as a whole."[21]:78

Waldorf theories and practices are modified from their European and Christian roots to meet the historical and cultural traditions of the local community.[112] Examples of such adaptation include the Waldorf schools in Israel and Japan, which celebrate festivals of their particular spiritual heritage, and classes in the Milwaukee Urban Waldorf school, which have adopted traditions with African American and Native American heritages.[59] Such festivals, as well as assemblies generally, play an important role in Waldorf schools and are generally celebrated by showing students' work.

Religion classes are universally absent from American Waldorf schools.[113] They are a mandatory offering in some German federal states, whereby in Waldorf schools each religious denomination provides its own teachers for the classes, and a non-denominational religion class is also offered. In the United Kingdom, public Waldorf schools are not categorized as "Faith schools".[114]

Tom Stehlik places Waldorf education in a humanistic tradition, and contrasts it to "value-neutral" secular state schooling systems that he describes as lacking a philosophical basis.[9] Iddo Oberski considers that, though first established within a Western, Christian society, Waldorf education is essentially non-denominational in character.[42] Waldorf schools were historically "Christian based and theistically oriented",[58] but "are opening in different cultural settings and can adapt to "a truly pluralistic spirituality'".[17]:146


Independent schools[edit]

One of Waldorf education's central premises is that all educational and cultural institutions should be self-governing and should grant teachers a high degree of creative autonomy within the school;[21]:143[58] this is based upon the conviction that a holistic approach to education aiming at the development of free individuals can only be successful when based on a school form that expresses these same principles.[115] Most Waldorf schools are not directed by a principal or head teacher, but rather by a number of groups, including:

  • The college of teachers, who decide on pedagogical issues, normally on the basis of consensus. This group is usually open to full-time teachers who have been with the school for a prescribed period of time. Each school is accordingly unique in its approach, as it may act solely on the basis of the decisions of the college of teachers to set policy or other actions pertaining to the school and its students.[53]
  • The board of trustees, who decide on governance issues, especially those relating to school finances and legal issues, including formulating strategic plans and central policies.[116]

Parents are encouraged to take an active part in non-curricular aspects of school life.[59] Waldorf schools have been found to create effective adult learning communities.[117]

There are coordinating bodies for Waldorf education at both the national (e.g. the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America and the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship in the UK and Ireland) and international level (e.g. International Association for Waldorf Education and The European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE)). These organizations certify the use of the registered names "Waldorf" and "Steiner school" and offer accreditations, often in conjunction with regional independent school associations.[118]

State-funded schools[edit]

The first state-funded Steiner-Waldorf school in the United Kingdom, The Steiner Academy Hereford, opened in 2008. Since then, Steiner academies have opened in Frome, Exeter and Bristol as part of the government-funded free schools program.

Australia has so-called "Steiner streams" incorporated into existing state schools; in addition, independent Steiner-Waldorf schools receive partial government funding there. The majority of Steiner-Waldorf schools in New Zealand receive public funding. In Canada, some Waldorf schools are publicly funded.[citation needed]

United States[edit]

The first US Waldorf-inspired public school, the Yuba River Charter School in California, opened in 1994. The Waldorf public school movement is currently expanding rapidly; while in 2010, there were twelve Waldorf-inspired public schools in the United States,[119] by 2015 there were forty-two such schools.[120]

Most Waldorf-inspired schools in the United States are elementary schools established as either magnet or charter schools. The first Waldorf-inspired high school was launched in 2008 with assistance from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.[119] While these schools follow a similar developmental approach as the independent schools, Waldorf-inspired schools must demonstrate achievement on standardized tests in order to continue receiving public funding. Studies of standardized test scores suggest that students at Waldorf-inspired schools tend to score below their peers in the earliest grades and catch up[119] or surpass[91] their peers by middle school. One study found that students at Waldorf-inspired schools watch less television and spend more time engaging in creative activities or spending time with friends.[119]

Public Waldorf schools' need to demonstrate achievement through standardized test scores has encouraged increased use of textbooks and expanded instructional time for academic subjects.[119] In 1999, The Chicago Tribune reported that the 7th grade class of the first Waldorf-inspired school in California achieved the state’s top test scores in reading, language arts and mathematics.[91]

Legal challenge[edit]
Further information: PLANS

A legal challenge brought by PLANS between 1998 and 2012 alleged that California school districts' Waldorf-inspired schools violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article IX of the California Constitution. Courts dismissed the case on its merits in 2005, in 2007,[121] and in 2012. The final judgement stated that the plaintiff had failed to meet its burden of proof that anthroposophy was a religion, but also that the court was expressing no view as to whether anthroposophy could be considered a religion on the basis of a fuller or more complete record.[122] A spokeswoman for the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) in California, which currently includes three Waldorf-inspired schools,[123] said "the district certainly doesn't feel that there is any kind of religious instruction going on".[124]

United Kingdom[edit]

Between 2008 and 2013, four Steiner Academies have been accepted into the government’s free schools initiative and additional projects are being planned.

In November 2012, BBC News broadcast an item about accusations that the establishment of a state-funded Waldorf School in Frome was a misguided use of public money. The broadcast reported that concerns were being raised about Rudolf Steiner's beliefs, stating he "believed in reincarnation and said it was related to race, with black (schwarz) people being the least spiritually developed, and white (weiß) people the most."[125] A Guardian reporter who reviewed Steiner's ideas suggested that they read "more like the self-contradictory writing of a man wrestling with the ingrained prejudices of his era and trying, albeit not entirely successfully, to overcome them."[10] In 2007, the European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education (ECSWE) issued a statement, Waldorf schools against discrimination, which said in part, "Waldorf schools do not select, stratify or discriminate amongst their pupils, but consider all human beings to be free and equal in dignity and rights, independent of ethnicity, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, and political or other convictions. Anthroposophy, upon which Waldorf education is founded, stands firmly against all forms of racism and nationalism."[126]


Waldorf-inspired home schools typically obtain their program information through informal parent groups, online, or by purchasing a curriculum. Waldorf homeschooling groups are not affiliated with the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), which represents independent schools and it is unknown how many home schools use a Waldorf-inspired curriculum.

Educationalist Sandra Chistolini suggests that parents offer their children Waldorf-inspired homeschooling because "the frustration and boredom some children feel in school are eliminated and replaced with constant attention to the needs of childhood [and] connections between content and the real world."[127]


Evaluations of students progress[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Studies of Waldorf education.

Although studies about Waldorf education tend to be small-scale and vary in national context, a recent comprehensive review of the literature concluded there is evidence that Waldorf education encourages academic achievement as well as "creative, social and other capabilities important to the holistic growth of a person".[17]:39 For example, the 2009 PISA study found that, compared to state school students, European Waldorf students are significantly more capable in the sciences.[15] A smaller 2003 study of science education in American Waldorf schools found the scientific reasoning of Waldorf school pupils to be superior to that of non-Waldorf students, with the greatest gains in the later years of schooling.[17]:29 A 2007 German study found that an above-average number of Waldorf students become teachers, doctors, engineers, scholars of the humanities, and scientists.[128]

In comparison to state school pupils, European Waldorf students were found to be significantly more enthusiastic about learning, to report having more fun and being less bored in school, and to view their school environments as pleasant and supportive places where they are able to discover their personal academic strengths.[15] Twice as many Waldorf students as state school pupils report having good relationships with teachers; they also report significantly fewer ailments such as headaches, stomach aches, and disrupted sleep.[15]

A 1996 study of British and German third- through sixth-grade children found that Waldorf students averaged higher scores on the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking Ability than state-school students[129] A study of artistic ability in British private and state schools found that Waldorf students achieved more accurate, detailed, and imaginative drawings than the comparison group.[130] A study by Jennifer Gidley found that Waldorf students were able to develop richer and more detailed images and had more positive views of the future.[131]

Educational scholars[edit]

In 2000, educational scholar Heiner Ullrich wrote that intensive study of Steiner's pedagogy had been in progress in educational circles in Germany since about 1990 and that positions were "highly controversial: they range from enthusiastic support to destructive criticism."[21] In 2008, the same scholar wrote that Waldorf schools have "not stirred comparable discussion or controversy....those interested in the Waldorf School today...generally tend to view this school form first and foremost as a representative of internationally recognized models of applied classic reform pedagogy"[50]:140–141 and that critics tend to focus on what they see as Steiner's "occult neo-mythology of education" and to fear the risks of indoctrination in a worldview school, but lose an "unprejudiced view of the varied practice of the Steiner schools."[21] Ullrich himself considers that the schools successfully foster dedication, openness, and a love for other human beings, for nature, and for the inanimate world.[50]:179

Professor of Education Bruce Uhrmacher considers Steiner's view on education worthy of investigation for those seeking to improve public schooling, saying the approach serves as a reminder that "holistic education is rooted in a cosmology that posits a fundamental unity to the universe and as such ought to take into account interconnections among the purpose of schooling, the nature of the growing child, and the relationships between the human being and the universe at large", and that a curriculum need not be technocratic, but may equally well be arts-based.[18]:382, 401

David Elkind names Rudolf Steiner as one of the "giants of early-childhood development" and describes activities for young children in a Waldorf school as "social," "holistic," and "collaborative," as well as reflecting the principle that "early education must start with the child, not with the subject matter to be taught."[132]

Thomas Nielsen, an assistant professor at the University of Canberra's Education Department, considers the imaginative teaching approaches used in Waldorf education (drama, exploration, storytelling, routine, arts, discussion and empathy) to be effective stimulators of spiritual-aesthetic, intellectual and physical development and recommends these to mainstream educators.[8] Andreas Schleicher, international coordinator of the PISA studies, commented on the "high degree of congruence between what the world demands of people, and what Waldorf schools develop in their pupils", placing a high value on creatively and productively applying knowledge to new realms. This enables "deep learning" that goes beyond studying for the next test.[128] Deborah Meier, principal of Mission Hill School and MacArthur grant recipient, whilst having some "quibbles" about the Waldorf schools, stated: "The adults I know who have come out of Waldorf schools are extraordinary people. That education leaves a strong mark of thoroughness, carefulness, and thoughtfulness."[133]

Professor of Comparative Education Hermann Röhrs describes Waldorf education as embodying original pedagogical ideas and presenting exemplary organizational capabilities.[134]

Robert Peterkin, Director of the Urban Superintendents Program at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and former Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools during a period when Milwaukee funded a public Waldorf school, considers Waldorf education a "healing education" whose underlying principles are appropriate for educating all children.[135]

Waldorf education has also been studied as an example of educational neuroscience ideas in practice.[136]

Relationship with mainstream education[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Studies of Waldorf education.

A UK DfES report suggested that Waldorf and state schools could learn from each others' strengths: in particular, that state schools could benefit from Waldorf education's early introduction and approach to modern foreign languages; combination of block (class) and subject teaching for younger children; development of speaking and listening through an emphasis on oral work; good pacing of lessons through an emphasis on rhythm; emphasis on child development guiding the curriculum and examinations; approach to art and creativity; attention given to teachers’ reflective activity and heightened awareness (in collective child study for example); and collegial structure of leadership and management, including collegial study. Aspects of mainstream practice which could inform good practice in Waldorf schools included: management skills and ways of improving organizational and administrative efficiency; classroom management; work with secondary-school age children; and assessment and record keeping.[17]

Professor of Education Elliot Eisner sees Waldorf education exemplifying embodied learning and fostering a more balanced educational approach than American public schools achieve.[137] Ernest Boyer, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching commended the significant role the arts play throughout Waldorf education as a model for other schools to follow.[138] Waldorf schools have been described as establishing "genuine community" and contrasted to mainstream schools, which have been described as "residential areas partitioned by bureaucratic authorities for educational purposes,"[139]

American state and private schools are drawing on Waldorf education – "less in whole than in part" – in expanding numbers.[140] Many elements of Waldorf pedagogy have been used in all Finnish schools for many years.[128]

Science instruction[edit]

Geometric growth of the nautilus shell - student work

A US study on grade school science education comparing Waldorf school students and public school students' verbal, non-verbal logical, and mathematical-scientific reasoning found that Waldorf school students scored higher than both the public school students and the national average on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study test while scoring the same as the public school students on the logical reasoning tests.[141] The Waldorf students also outperformed the public school students on understanding of part-to-whole relations. The authors of the study noted the Waldorf students' enthusiasm for science, but viewed the science curriculum as "somewhat old-fashioned and out of date, as well as including some doubtful scientific material."[141] Educational researchers Phillip and Glenys Woods, who reviewed this study, criticized the authors' implication of an "unresolved conflict": that it is possible for supposedly inaccurate science to lead to demonstrably better scientific understanding.[142]

In early 2015, Waldorf schools throughout the United States made nationwide news as a result of having some of the highest rates of vaccine exemptions of any schools in their respective states.[143][144][145][146]

There have been criticisms of the science education in the Steiner Academies. In September 2012, an editorial in the Times Educational Supplement reported that the British Humanist Association had issued a press release raising concerns about a curriculum reference book being used for state-funded Steiner schools. The editorial reported that the curriculum book "says the model of the heart as a pump is unable to explain 'the sensitivity of the heart to emotions' and promotes homeopathy". The book was also quoted as saying "Darwinism is 'rooted in reductionist thinking and Victorian ethics'". Richy Thompson, education officer of the British Humanist Association stated, "how can pupils receive a vigorous science education under these circumstances? It is gravely concerning that these schools provide alternative medicines such as homeopathy, thus legitimising belief in cures which do not work." Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine, was quoted as saying that Waldorf schools "seem to have an anti-science agenda which is detrimental to progress... the [UK] government makes a grave mistake allowing pseudoscience and anti-science in our education."[147] A United Kingdom Department for Education spokeswoman responded by saying "no state school is allowed to teach homeopathy as scientific fact. We have rigorous criteria for approving free schools. Applicants must demonstrate that they will provide a broad and balanced curriculum."



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Further reading[edit]

  • Clouder, Christopher (ed.). Education: An Introductory Reader. Sophia Books, 2004 (a collection of relevant works by Steiner on education).
  • Lyons, Suzanne. Toward a holistic approach to earth science education unpublished Master's thesis, University of California Sacramento, 2010.
  • Steiner, Rudolf. "The Education of the Child, and early Lectures on Education" in Foundations of Waldorf Education, Anthroposophic Press, 1996 (includes Steiner's first descriptions of child development, originally published as a small booklet).
  • Steiner, Rudolf. The Foundations of Human Experience (also known as The Study of Man). Anthroposophic Press, 1996 (these fundamental lectures on education were given to the teachers just before the opening of the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart in 1919).

Note: All of Steiner's lectures on Waldorf education are available in PDF form at this research site

External links[edit]