Creative Free Play, Art and Movement rather than Formal Academics
Waldorf Education applies many developmentally ingenious approaches to educating the young child. Formal academics, per say, are not part of our curriculum, yet, through the developmentally appropriate means of creative free play, art and movement there is a good deal of cultivation of pre-academic skills. Although formal reading and writing instruction is not part of our world, literacy readiness begins in kindergarten in many ways. Nor is the number line formally introduced - but exposure to numbers and their qualities through rhythmic games and nature exploration increases the scope of the child's growing interest in mathematics. In Kindergarten we tune into the mathematics of the universe by recognizing rhythms in the world around us.
Education for the Head, Heart, and Hands
Waldorf Education has a curriculum for its students that reflects a pattern of evolution that is apparent in both the evolution of humanity and in the development of the human being. For the sake of the developmentally appropriate introduction of information to the young child many traditional forms of academic instruction are held back for an older age at a Waldorf School. The three stages of development in childhood are birth to seven years of age, seven to fourteen years of age, and finally fourteen to twenty-one years of age. Waldorf Education for the birth to seven stage concentrates on learning through activity (Hands), seven to fourteen through the feelings (Heart), and fourteen to twenty-one through thinking (Head).
Teaching in Concrete rather than Abstract Contexts
Waldorf's primary indication for working with children from birth to seven years of age is for all their learning experiences to be offered in a concrete context. For example, one can teach a child to tie their shoes by having them practice on a board with a shoe painted on it and laces attached to it or one can have the child wear shoes with shoe laces rather than velcro, and have them learn to tie their actual shoes because it is skill they truly need to become more independent in their world. The board may allow the child to learn the skill faster, but the Waldorf approach prefers a truer rather than a faster learning experience for the young child. The natural world has enough lessons ready to be learned without us needing to rush out and create abstract lessons to occupy our children's precious childhoods. If you frequently instruct a young child in abstract contexts they form a natural inclination for disconnection from reality and can grow up without the ability to discern the difference. This can lead to psychological imbalances later in life. The current popular phenomenon of people living vicariously through celebrities and reality T.V shows is an example of its effect. People today are not intrinsically aware of how disconnected they are from themselves or from their immediate surroundings. This is a very serious situation, especially when the world is facing such critical challenges. The situations are not handled responsibly because we have such a natural tendency to disconnect from reality. It happens within our subconscious. The example of how we teach a child to tie their shoes may seem petty compared to the challenges of the world, but it is in these ways that we must work with the young child. Whether it be learning to tie a real shoe or going to school on a farm where we eat out of the garden- we must stay true to reality with the young child. This is the sure foundation to carry them into their future.
Waldorf practices prudent discretion when it comes to introducing academics to its students. Just as humanity took its time on the earth before it developed the written word and mathematics our children need time to be in the world before they start writing and reading about the world. In line with the importance of concrete learning experiences it is questionable whether instructing a young child to work with abstract symbols, such as the alphabet and written numbers, before they have traveled along the same developmental pattern as their human ancestors is what is best for their whole being. In a Waldorf School language arts is not just reading and writing - it is the art of communication and human expression. Teaching a child to read and write before they have a strong relationship to oral and verbal communication is putting the cart before the horse. In the first grade letters are introduced to the children through a re-creation of the evolutionary pattern of language development. The letters are gradually introduced just as our alphabets were gradually developed out of hyroglyphics. All this concrete educational experience results in the introduction of new material taking more time which is why the young Waldorf student is on a slightly different academic timeline than the average American child, but we are willing to stand up for this difference and we do not feel that the ends justify the means when it comes to educating children. President Bush's No Child Left Behind policy directly opposes the Waldorf approach - getting good scores on standardized tests to make your country politically or economically competitive at the expense of your child's real experience of learning in love and freedom is entirely destructive to the cultural health of our society. It is within the cultural sector of society that steps in human evolution are made. We must take education back from the political and economic sectors of society and strive for cultural renewal in our schools.