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Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to Waldorf Education

What follows are points and quotations from an introduction by Rudolf Steiner himself on Waldorf Education - a pedagogy based on his educational philosophy. The schooling integrates practical, artistic, and conceptual elements, and emphasises the role of the imagination in learning. The goal is to provide young people with the basis on which to develop into free, moral, and integrated individuals.

There are now about 1000 independent Waldorf schools and 1400 independent Waldorf kindergartens in about sixty countries throughout the world, making up one of the world's largest independent educational systems. Waldorf methods have also been adopted by numerous educators teaching in other schools, both state and private.

Three main stages postulated by Steiner, form the basis of what is taught and how:

  1. Early childhood learning is largely experiential, imitative and sensory-based. The education emphasises learning through practical activities.
  2. Elementary school years (age 7-14), learning is regarded as artistic and imaginative. In these years, the approach emphasizes developing children's "feeling life" and artistic expression.
  3. During adolescence, to meet the developing capacity for abstract thought and conceptual judgment the emphasis is on developing intellectual understanding and ethical thinking, including taking social responsibility.

Steiner launched these stages much earlier than the Swiss Jean Piaget, who described similar stages some decades later.

As for the proof of the pudding, a 2008 report by the Cambridge-based Primary Review found that Steiner/Waldorf schools achieved superior academic results compared to English state schools. [Wikipedia]

And now for words by Dr Steiner from a lecture given in 1919, translated as An Introduction to Waldorf Education (1985):


Begin from educational principles that have their roots in the requirements of modern life. Children must be educated and instructed in such a way that their lives fulfil demands [many] can support.

Idealism must work in the spirit of [the school's] curriculum and methodology; but it must be an idealism that has the power to awaken in young, growing human beings the forces and faculties they will need in later life to be equipped for work in modern society and to obtain for themselves an adequate living.

The pedagogy and instructional methodology will be able to fulfill this requirement only through a genuine knowledge of the developing human being . . . The soundness of this idea is unquestionable . . . one develops the insights that awaken the energetic impulses of will and feeling [all based on] a living understanding of the whole human being.

The pedagogical ideals and curriculum will assume a form that arises out of this knowledge of the human being and of actual life.

The primary school is entrusted with the child at a period of its life when the soul is undergoing a very important transformation. From birth to about the sixth or seventh year, the human being naturally gives himself up to everything immediately surrounding him in the human environment, and thus, through the imitative instinct, gives form to his own nascent powers. From this period on, the child's soul becomes open to take in consciously what the educator and teacher gives, which affects the child as a result of the teacher's natural authority. The authority is taken for granted by the child from a dim feeling that in the teacher there is something that should exist in himself, too. [One is to take into] account . . . this metamorphosis of the urge to imitate into an ability to assimilate . . . This kind of sense . . . must shape the curriculum; it must live in the spirit uniting teacher and pupil. . . . Whatever the teacher does should be sufficiently alive [and] it awakens the pupil's living interest empathetically. Such empathy is more valuable than individual work.

[There is also a] change that [takes] place around the end of the ninth year. At this time, the sense of self assumes a form that awakens in the child a relationship to nature and to the world about him such that one can now talk to him more about the connections between things and processes themselves . . . Facts of this kind in a human being's development ought to be most carefully observed by the educator . . . [For] one then gives such added vigor to the growth of the whole person that it remains a source of strength throughout life.

The first school years are properly spent on teaching the child to write and read [but] teaching must be done in a manner that permits the essential character of this phase of development to be served. If . . . the child learns in a manner that calls upon its whole being, he or she develops all around. . . . Let writing grow out of drawing . . . Beginning with an activity that, being artistic, draws out the whole human being, one should [foster] the attention.

Much is to be gained for the intellect from this early artistic education of the child, [so] allow art its proper place in the primary school education. The arts of music, painting and sculpting will be given a proper place in the scheme of instruction . . . Discover how great a power resides in an artistic manner of instruction for the development of will and feeling.

Of prime importance for the cultivation of the child's feeling-life is that the child develops its relationship to the world in a way such as that which develops when we incline toward fantasy [in part] in fairy-tale fashion.

Arithmetic can be used to cultivate the faculty of memory. [Abstain from committing] the educational blunder of teaching with visual aids what should be taught as a memory exercise.

Later in life [we may] revive within our soul something that we acquired simply through memory when younger . . . [in part through] the teacher's lively way of giving it. If the teacher engages his or her whole being in teaching, then he may safely bring the child things for which the full understanding will come when joyfully remembered in later life. . . . The flame enkindled in the child from the living fire of the teacher in matters that still lie, in a way, beyond his “understanding,” remains an active, awakening force throughout the child's life.

If, at the end of the ninth year, one begins to choose descriptions of natural history from the plant and animal world, treating them in a way that the natural forms and processes lead to an understanding of the human form and the phenomena of human life, then one can help release the forces that at this age are struggling to be born out of the depths of human nature.

Around the twelfth year, another turning point in the child's development occurs. He becomes ripe for the development of the faculties that lead him in a wholesome way to the comprehension of things that must be considered without any reference to the human being: the mineral kingdom, the physical world, meteorological phenomena, and so on.

The . . . principles of education and instructions are [to be] allowed to proceed, as described, from the inner development of the human being . . . We can join with what others before us, from similar inner human capacities, have embodied in the evolution of the civilised world. [All of it] will require a body of teachers who do not shut themselves up in an educational routine with strictly professional interests, but rather take an active interest in the whole range of life. Such a body of teachers will discover how to awaken in the upcoming generation a sense of the inner, spiritual substance of life and also an understanding of life's practicalities. If instruction is carried on this way, the young human being at the age of fourteen or fifteen will not lack comprehension of important things in agriculture and industry, commerce and travel, which help to make up the collective life of mankind. He will have acquired a knowledge of things and a practical skill that will enable him to feel at home in the life which receives him into its stream.

The Waldorf School . . . must be built on educational principles and methods of the kind here described. It will then be able to give the kind of education that allows the pupil's body to develop healthily and according to its needs, because the soul (of which this body is the expression) is allowed to grow in a way consistent with the forces of its development.


Rudolf Steiner Education, Waldorf Education, Literature  

Barnes, Henry. Waldorf Education - An Introduction. Minneapolois, MN: Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA).

Howard, Susan, ed. 2004. The Developing Child: The First Seven Years. Spring Valley, NY: Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America.

Ross, Rachel C. 2008. Adventures in Parenting: A Support Guide for Parents. Ghent, NY: The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA).

Steiner, Rudolf. 1985. An Introduction to Waldorf Education. (from GA 24) 1919. Tr. E. Bowen-Wedgwood; Rev. tr. Frederick Amrine. Great Barrington, MA: The Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1995. The Kingdom of Childhood. Seven Lectures and Answers to Questions. Given in Torquay, August 12–20, 1924. Rev. tr. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1996a. The Child's Changing Consciousness as the Basis of Pedagogical Practice. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1996b. Education for Adolescents. Eight Lectures Given to the Teachers of the Stuttgart Waldorf School, June 12–19, 1921. Tr. Carl Hoffmann. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1996c. The Education of the Child and Early Lectures on Education. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1996d. The Foundations of Human Experience. Tr. Robert F. Lathe and Nancy Parsons Whittaker. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1997. The Essentials of Education. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 1997b. The Roots of Education. Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 2001. The Renewal of Education. Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 2003. Soul Economy: Body, Soul, and Spirit in Waldorf Education. Lectures presented in Dornach, Switzerland December 23, 1921 - January 5, 1922. Rev. ed. Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press.

Steiner, Rudolf. 2004. Human Values in Education. Great Barrington, MA: Anthroposophic Press.

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