This collection has been created to shed light and answer questions surrounding different types of schooling and education. We are not trying to compare, but rather educate you on the differences. Each family will need to make their own decision regarding what works best for their child and family. There are no “right” answers. It is an individual decision that needs to be made based on your student’s individual needs, learning style, abilities, and resources.
Our goal of this Education Options collection is to allow you to dive a little deeper into the possibilities and opportunities around you!
Recently I did a Q & A with Susquehanna Waldorf School. They are a private local school that offers a unique way of teaching through music and the arts. While they might not be local to you, I hope that you find their information informative, and that you will consider checking out your own Waldorf school around you!
I have had the pleasure of partnering with this school for another project, and I can tell you that my experience has been all positive! I encourage you to check them out if you live in Lancaster County.
Q: What is your education philosophy?
Founded in the early 20th century, Waldorf Education is based on the insights, teachings and principles of education outlined by the world renowned artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. The principles of Waldorf Education evolve from an understanding of human development that addresses the needs of the growing child.
Waldorf schools offer a developmentally appropriate, experiential, and academically rigorous approach to education. They integrate the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade to enhance and enrich learning. Waldorf Education aims to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.
Q: What are some similarities and differences in comparison to traditional schooling?
Waldorf Schools are similar to traditional/ mainstream schools in that the curriculum offers a classical education in all academic disciplines. Students engage in traditional academic subjects, such as Math, Science, History and Literature. What’s more, they learn not one, but two, foreign languages beginning in first grade (Mandarin and Spanish). An emphasis on strong and healthy social connections in a structured environment will feel similar to traditional schools.
Some noticeable differences would be the lack of technology in the classrooms, the relationship with the class teacher, and the arts are fully integrated into every subject and teaching modality.
Computers and digital technology are not part of the early grades curriculum, although mechanical technology and the practical arts are incorporated at all levels. There are no screens, iPads, laptops or white boards in any of the classrooms at SWS. In 8th grade, computers are introduced for keyboarding and as a tool for research, but only after students study coding and/ or biographies of early innovators in computer technology and perhaps after disassembling and reassembling a laptop! The question of why and how lives in everything we do.
Additionally, the class teacher stays with a class for many years, sometimes from 1st to 8th grade. This allows the teacher to truly understand how a child learns and interacts with the world, to get to know them as a developing human being. It also establishes a significant level of trust between the student and the teacher (and parents). Class teachers do not teach Subject (Language, Woodworking, Music, etc.) classes, so children do interact with several teachers each day.
The arts enrich every aspect of learning at a Waldorf School. Instead of using pre-printed text books, the children create their own books as records of their learning. They compose AND illustrate their lessons each day. Research continues to show that the inclusion of the arts in academia increases aptitude and creative thinking in areas such as math and science, and has a positive effect on emotional development as well. Teaching to the whole child, developing all of their capacities, is integral to the education.
Lastly, Waldorf places high value in art, critical thinking and creativity and does not pursue academic instruction before the age of seven. An Early Childhood student is gaining the foundations for academic work- language skills (annunciation and pronunciation through songs and poems), fine and gross motor skills (through painting, finger knitting, chopping vegetables for snack and movement in general) and an appreciation for math and science through building, climbing, setting the table and skipping. Their imaginative minds are nurtured through story-telling, puppet plays and free play. When they enter the rich academic world of First Grade, their minds and bodies are prepared to eagerly and happily jump in.
Q: How does this form of education benefit the students?
When art and music are tied into Math and Science, when stories are used to teach the characteristics of the letters and the math processes, the children are emotionally connected in a deeper way to their learning. This connection allows the lessons to stay with them longer.
Through experiential learning, Waldorf education is evolving the children’s creative and complex thinking. SWS strives to develop a child’s academic, emotional, physical and spiritual capacities.
Professors who have taught Waldorf students across many academic disciplines and across a wide range of campuses—from State Universities to Ivy League—note that Waldorf graduates have the ability to integrate thinking; to assimilate information as opposed to memorizing isolated facts; to be flexible, creative and willing to take intellectual risks; and are leaders with high ethical and moral standards who take initiative and are passionate to reach their goals. Waldorf graduates are highly sought after in higher education.
Q: What does a day in the life of one of your students look like?
An Early Childhood student (mixed-age Kindergarten) spends a good part of the morning engaged in free play. This time helps to build their motor skills, their social capabilities and their imaginations. Each classroom has a kitchen in which the children can help to prepare their healthy snack. Circle time includes stories that are told by memory so that a child can create their own imagery, song and movement. There is plenty of outdoor time each day, and a great reverence for nature is fostered. One class walks to the Susquehanna River each day to start their morning. The premise that “the world is good” and “we are kind and conscientious” is modeled and nurtured every day.
A Grades student begins their day with movement as well. The early grades begin with Circle time where they may practice their times tables while passing bean bags or trace the shape of an S as they recite a poem about a slithering snake in the grass as they learn their letters. The older grades may go outside to practice throwing the javelin and discus as part of their study of Ancient Greece and the Olympics or go on a bike ride and collect samples of leaf and plant species as part of their Botany studies. Then the bulk of the morning is spent in Main Lesson- a period of about an hour and a half dedicated to the academic block they’re focused in (Math, Science, Literature, etc.). There are no tests until the 5th grade. A small class size allows for teachers to assess a student’s progress in other ways.
After snack and recess, the students attend Subject classes. This includes two languages (Mandarin and Spanish for Grades 1-4 and Mandarin and Latin for Grades 5-8), Music, Fiber Arts/ Handwork (each child learns to knit in 1st grade), Woodworking, Eurythmy, Orchestra (each child begins a string instrument beginning in 3rd grade), Chorus, Games, and more. After lunch and another recess, the early grades will finish the day with lighter activities: Painting, Reading, Nature Walk, etc. and the older grades (Grade 4 and up) will have an additional Subject class or two as well as Clubs. Each student finishes the day by helping with the classroom chores before dismissal.
Their classrooms use lamps and natural lighting, rather than overhead lights, and have soft paint colors on the walls. A child removes their shoes and puts on slippers or soft shoes (through Grade 3). There are nature tables, class pets, plants and pianos/ musical instruments in any given classroom. The goal is to create an atmosphere where the child is relaxed, and when they are relaxed they can take on learning in a stronger way.
Q: How can families find more information about this style of learning?
The best way to truly experience the Waldorf approach is to visit. We happily offer personal tours that accommodate any schedule, and Open Houses are available throughout the year. You can check out this website for additional Waldorf education in general – www.waldorfeducation.org, or check out our school’s website for more information – www.susquehannawaldorf.org
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