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Home > Q and A
Common Questions and Answers about Waldorf Education

1. What is Waldorf Education?

2. Is the Calgary Waldorf School religious?

3. What is the curriculum like in the Calgary Waldorf School?

4. Does a Calgary Waldorf School education prepare children for the "real" world; and, if so, how does it do it?

5. Why does the Calgary Waldorf School teach reading later than the public system?

6. Would a child be at a disadvantage if he were transferred from a public school into the Calgary Waldorf School, or out of the Calgary Waldorf School into a public school?

7. What is the Calgary Waldorf School's Policy on Television?

8. What about computers and Waldorf Education?

9. How do Waldorf graduates do after graduation?

10. What is Eurythmy?

11. A Waldorf class teacher ideally stays with a group of children through the elementary school years. What if my child does not get along with the teacher?

12. How can a Waldorf class teacher teach all the subjects through the years of elementary schooling?

13. How does Waldorf compare to Montessori in early childhood education?

1. What is Waldorf Education?
Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education is based on a developmental approach that addresses the needs of the growing child and maturing adolescent. Calgary Waldorf School teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child: the heart and the hands, as well as the head. Founded in 1985, the Calgary Waldorf School is affiliated with more than 900 Waldorf schools as part of the largest independent school movement in the world.

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2. Is the Calgary Waldorf School religious?
The Calgary Waldorf School is non-sectarian and non-denominational. We educate all children, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The pedagogical method is comprehensive and seeks to develop recognition and understanding of all the world cultures and religions. Students develop a deep respect for the various cultures of the world through their experience in the classroom and in the celebration of seasonal festivals of the year. The families of our Waldorf community come from a broad spectrum of religious traditions and interest.

The Calgary Waldorf Schools is not affiliated with any church and espouses no particular religious doctrine but our pedagogy is based on a belief that there is a spiritual dimension to the human being and to all of life.

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3. What is the curriculum like in the Calgary Waldorf School?
Waldorf Education approaches all aspects of schooling in a unique and comprehensive way. The curriculum is designed to meet the various stages of child development. Our teachers are dedicated to creating a genuine inner enthusiasm for learning that is essential for educational success.

Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children learn primarily through imitation and imagination. The goal of the kindergarten is to develop a sense of wonder in the young child and reverence for all living things. This creates an eagerness for the academics that follow in the grades.

Kindergarten activities include:
  • storytelling, puppetry, creative play;
  • singing, eurythmy (movement);
  • games and finger plays;
  • painting, drawing and beeswax modeling;
  • baking and cooking, nature walks;
  • daily circle time and special festival and seasonal celebrations
Elementary and middle-school children learn through the guidance of a class teacher who stays with the class over a number of years. The curriculum includes:
  • English language arts based on world literature, myths, and legends
  • history that is chronological and inclusive of the world's great civilizations
  • science that surveys geography, astronomy, meteorology, physical and life sciences
  • mathematics that develops competence in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry
  • French and German languages, physical education
  • arts including music, painting, sculpture, drama, eurythmy, sketching
  • handwork such as knitting, weaving, and woodworking
The Calgary Waldorf Junior High School is dedicated to helping students develop their full potential as scholars, artists, athletes, and community members. The course of study includes:
  • a humanities curriculum that integrates history, literature, and knowledge of world cultures;
  • a science curriculum that includes physics, biology, chemistry, geology, and mathematics program;
  • an arts and crafts program including calligraphy, drawing, painting, sculpture
  • a performing arts program offering band, choir, eurythmy and drama;
  • a French and German language program; and a physical education program.
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4. Does a Calgary Waldorf School education prepare children for the "real" world; and, if so, how does it do it?
At the Calgary Waldorf School, we believe that a well-rounded education supports a child's development into a strong, intelligent, responsible and creative human being. A Calgary Waldorf School education focuses not only on intellectual development, but on our life of feeling (emotions, aesthetics, and social sensitivity), our willpower (the ability to get things done), and our moral nature (being clear about right and wrong). Focusing our program on the development of all these aspects of character ensures that we are providing an environment that supports the complete development of a child.

A Calgary Waldorf School Education recognizes and honors the full range of human potentialities. It addresses the whole child by striving to awaken and ennoble all the latent capacities. The children learn to read, write, and do math; they study history, geography, and the sciences. In addition, all children learn to sing, play a musical instrument, draw, paint, model clay, carve and work with wood, speak clearly and act in a play, think independently, and work harmoniously and respectfully with others. The development of these various capacities is interrelated. For example, both boys and girls learn to knit in grade one. Acquiring this basic and enjoyable human skill helps them develop a manual dexterity, which after puberty will be transformed into an ability to think clearly and to "knit" their thoughts into a coherent whole.

Preparation for life includes the development of the well-rounded person. Waldorf Education has as its ideal a person who is knowledgeable about the world and human history and culture, who has many varied practical and artistic abilities, who feels a deep reverence for and communion with the natural world, and who can act with initiative and in freedom in the face of economic and political pressures.

There are many Waldorf graduates of all ages who embody this ideal and who are perhaps the best proof of the efficacy of the education.

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5. Why does the Calgary Waldorf School teach reading later than the public system?
There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read later in their development are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the "tiredness toward reading" that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood.

Some children will, out of themselves, want to learn to read at an early age. This interest can and should be met, as long as it comes in fact from the child. Human growth and development do not occur in a linear fashion. Early imposed formal instruction in reading can be a handicap in later years, when enthusiasm toward reading and learning may begin to falter.

If reading is not pushed, a healthy child will pick it up quickly and easily. Some Waldorf parents become anxious if their child is slow to learn to read. Eventually these same parents are overjoyed at seeing their child pick up a book and not put it down and become from that moment a voracious reader. Each child has his or her own optimal time for "taking off."

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6. Would a child be at a disadvantage if s/he were transferred from a public school into the Calgary Waldorf School, or out of the Calgary Waldorf School into a public school?
We have had great success in transitioning children from the public system to the Waldorf curriculum. Children who transfer to the Calgary Waldorf School in the first four grades are usually up to grade in reading, math, and basic academic skills. However, they may have much to learn in bodily coordination skills, posture, artistic and social activities, cursive handwriting, and listening skills. Listening well is particularly important since most of the curricular content is presented orally in the classroom by the teacher. The human relationship between the child and the teacher is the basis for healthy learning, for the acquiring of understanding and knowledge rather than just information. Children who are used to learning from computers and other electronic media will have to adjust.

Those children who enter the Calgary Waldorf School in the middle grades often bring much information about the world. This contribution is recognized and received with interest by the class. However, these children often have to unlearn some social habits, such as the tendency to experience learning as a competitive activity. They have to learn to approach the arts in a more objective way, not simply as a means for personal expression. In contrast, in their study of nature, history, and the world, they need to relate what they learn to their own life and being. The popular ideal of "objectivity" in learning is misguided when applied to elementary school children. At their stage of development, the subjective element is essential for healthy learning. Involvement in what is learned about the world makes the world truly meaningful to them.

Children who transfer out of the Calgary Waldorf School into a public school during the earlier grades probably have to upgrade their reading ability and to approach the science lessons differently. Science in a Waldorf school emphasizes the observation of natural phenomena rather than the formulation of abstract concepts and laws. On the other hand, the Waldorf transferees are usually well prepared for social studies, practical and artistic activities, and mathematics.

Children moving during the middle grades should experience no problems. In fact, in most cases, transferring students of this age-group find themselves ahead of their classmates. The departing Waldorf student takes into the new school a distinguishing individual strength, personal confidence, and love of learning.

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7. What is the Calgary Waldorf School's Policy on television?
A central aim of Waldorf Education is to stimulate the healthy development of the child's own imagination. The passivity inherent in watching television is increasingly recognized by educators and parents as counterproductive to the process of learning and growth in the young child. Waldorf education has long been in the forefront of the movement against excessive television viewing: we are pleased that other professionals now voice the same opinion.

Waldorf teachers are concerned that electronic media hampers the development of the child's imagination. They are concerned about the physical effects of the medium on the developing child as well as the content of much of the programming. The fast pace and fragmented sequences of television work against the cultivation of concentration and imagination. For preschool and young elementary school children, imaginative play, such as listening to stories, watching and creating puppet shows, dressing up, baking, etc. foster in the child an active participation in the world around him or her. Because the Waldorf School aims to develop creative, fully engaged individuals, we urge parents of young children, to resist the convenience of television, and to involve their children in meaningful activities. Parents of children in the Elementary and Junior High grades are asked to prohibit television during the school week and to limit their children's access at other times.

There is more and more research to substantiate these concerns. If your interested in learning more, please read: Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think and Failure To Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds For Better and Worse by Jane Healy; Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander; The Plug-In Drug by Marie Winn; and Evolution's End: Claiming The Potential of Our Intelligence by Joseph Chilton Pearce.

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8. What about computers and Waldorf Education?
Calgary Waldorf School teachers feel the appropriate age for computer use in the classroom and by students is in Junior High school. We feel it is more important for students to have the opportunity to interact with one another and with teachers in exploring the world of ideas, participating in the creative process, and developing their knowledge, skills, abilities, and inner qualities. Waldorf students have a love of learning, an ongoing curiosity, and interest in life. As older students, they quickly master computer technology, and graduates have successful careers in the computer industry. For additional reading, please see Fools Gold on the Alliance For Childhood's web site, www.allianceforchildhood.org

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9. How do Waldorf graduates do after graduation?
Waldorf students in North America have been accepted in and graduated from a broad spectrum of colleges and universities including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, Brown, and all of the top Canadian universities. Waldorf graduates reflect a wide diversity of professions and occupations including medicine, law, science, engineering, computer technology, the arts, social science, government, and teaching at all levels. top

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10. What is Eurythmy?
Eurythmy is the art of movement that attempts to make visible the tone and feeling of music and speech. Eurythmy helps to develop concentration, self-discipline, and a sense of beauty. This training of moving artistically with a group stimulates sensitivity to the other as well as individual mastery. Eurythmy lessons follow the themes of the curriculum, exploring rhyme, meter, story, and geometric forms.

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11. A Waldorf class teacher ideally stays with a group of children through the elementary school years. What if my child does not get along with the teacher?
This question often arises because of a parent's experience of public school education. In most public schools, a teacher works with a class for one, maybe two years. It is difficult for teacher and child to develop the deep human relationship that is the basis for healthy learning if change is frequent.

If a teacher has a class for several years, the teacher and the children come to know and understand each other in a deep way. The children, feeling secure in a long-term relationship, are better able to learn. The interaction of teacher and parents also can become more deep and meaningful over time, and they can cooperate in helping the child.

Serious problems between teachers and children, and between teachers and parents, do arise. When this happens, the faculty studies the situation, involves the teacher and parents' and, if appropriate, the child's and tries to resolve the conflict. If the differences are irreconcilable, the parents might be asked to withdraw the child, or the teacher might be replaced.

In reality, these measures very rarely need to be taken. A Waldorf class is something like a family. If a mother in a family does not get along with her son during a certain time, she does not consider resigning or replacing him with another child. Rather, she looks at the situation and sees what can be done to improve the relationship. In other words, the adult assumes responsibility and tries to change. This same approach is expected of the Waldorf teacher in a difficult situation. In almost every case she must ask herself: "How can I change so that the relationship becomes more positive?" One cannot expect this of the child. With the goodwill and active support of parents, the teacher concerned can make the necessary changes and restore the relationship to a healthy and productive state.top

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12. How can a Waldorf class teacher teach all the subjects through the years of elementary schooling?
The class teacher is not the only teacher the children experience. Each day, specialty subject teachers teach the children eurythmy, handcrafts, French and German languages, music, and so on.

The class teacher is, however, responsible for the two-hour "main lesson" every morning and usually also for one or two lessons later in the day. In the main lesson, he brings all the main academic subjects to the children, including language arts, the sciences, history, and mathematics, as well as painting, music, clay modeling, and so on. The teacher does in fact deal with a wide range of subjects, and thus the question is a valid one.

A common misconception in our time is that education is merely the transfer of information. From the Waldorf point of view, true education also involves the awakening of capacities: the ability to think clearly and critically, to empathetically experience and understand phenomena in the world, to distinguish what is beautiful, good, and true. The class teacher walks a path of discovery with the children and guides them into an understanding of the world of meaning, rather than the world of cause and effect.

Waldorf class teachers work very hard to master the content of the various subjects that they teach. But the teacher's ultimate success lies in his ability to work with those inner faculties that are still "in the bud," so that they can grow, develop, and open up in a beautiful, balanced, and wholesome way.

Through this approach to teaching, the children will be truly prepared for the real world. They are provided then with the tools to productively shape that world out of a free human spirit.top

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13. How does Waldorf compare to Montessori in early childhood education?
(summarized from an article written by Barbara Shell)

Waldorf education provides a very different approach from Montessori. In both philosophies the young child is viewed with great respect and reverence, but they differ in five distinct areas:
(1) play and fantasy,
(2) toys,
(3) social development,
(4) structure and order
(5) intellectualism of early childhood.

Play and Fantasy
In Waldorf philosophy, play is viewed as the work of the young child and the magic of fantasy, so alive in the young child, is an integral part of how the teacher works with the child. The teacher incorporates storytelling and fantasy into the curriculum in order to connect learnings with the child's development.

In Montessori there is a feeling that because young children have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy, fantasy should be postponed until the child is firmly grounded in reality. The tasks and activities the children do are reality-oriented.

According to Joseph Chilton Pearce, in his book Magical Child: Filling in the conceptual gap with imaginary material, ignoring all dissimilarities is the essence of child play. The great rule is; play on the surface and the work takes place beneath. The child's mind plays on the basic conceptual brain set without altering it. Play reality, like adult reality is neither world nor mind-brain, it is the world plus mind-brain. The child's intelligence becomes invested in his imagined transformation of self and world. And these are singularly compelling. His awareness locks into fantasy; reality becomes that play. For the child, the time is always now; the place, here; the action, me. He has no capacity to entertain adult notions of fantasy world and real world. He knows only one world, and that is the very real one in which and with which he plays. His is not playing at life. Play is life.

As Piaget expressed it: (For the child) play cannot be opposed to reality, because in both cases belief is arbitrary and pretty much destitute of logical reasons. Play is a reality which the child is disposed to believe in when by himself, just as reality is a game at which he is willing to play with the adult and anyone else who believes in it.... thus we have to say of the child's play that it constitutes an autonomous reality, but with the understanding that the "true" reality to which it is opposed is considerably less "true" for the child than for us.

Montessori said that it is a mistake for children to amuse themselves with toys, that children are not really interested in toys for long without the real intellectual interest of associating them with sizes and numbers.

In Waldorf, we feel that it is essential to realize the value of toys to help children to re-enact experiences from life as they actually happen. The less finished and the more suggestive a toy may be the greater its educational value for it really enlivens the imaginative life of the child. So toys in the Waldorf kindergarten may be rounds of wood cut from birch logs, seashells, lengths of colored silk or cotton for costuming or house building, soft cloth dolls with a minimum of detail in faces or clothing, etc. allowing for open-ended imaginative play. In Montessori, each manipulative material has a step-by-step procedure for being used and focused toward a specific learning concept. Example: Math counting rods are not to be transformed into castle walls.

In the Montessori classroom much of the work the young child does is on individual learning tasks done separately - each child will work independently on a small rug doing a different task from the other children with the teacher, a facilitator, to intervene only if the child requests help. Socialization takes place in not bothering other children working, in helping a younger child learn to do a new task or in waiting ones turn if the child wants an activity already in use.

The Waldorf philosophy stresses that the child gradually learns to be a social being and that the development of the young child in the social realm is as important as anything else we do. The teacher has the role of orchestrating how this happens through modeling good social behavior with children, through joining together in movement activities, singing or games to develop group consciousness and by helping children work through disagreements.

Structure and Order

Madame Montessori described the classroom as a place where children are free to move about the classroom at will, where the day is not divided between work periods and rest or play periods. The children are free to choose their own activities in the classroom. This protection of the child's choice is a key element in the Montessori method.

In contrast, Waldorf sees the child thriving in a rhythmical atmosphere - knowing what he can count on from day to day and week to week. There are times for coming together and working as a whole group and times for playing individually or with friends, times for directed activity like crafts or baking or painting and times for creative play-acting a story through movement, doing finger games, watching a puppet show. The teacher takes advantage of observing the children at play and plans group activities, which will harmonize and balance these impressions she receives from observation. The teacher works with the seasonal themes of the year. A balancing of the impulses from nature are woven through the artistic activities using stories, songs and verses to enliven and capture the children's interest and imaginations.

A child longs for rhythm and order in his world. Both Waldorf and Montessori recognize this but interpret it in quite different ways: both feel the physical setting needs an underlying order to help the child feel secure. The Montessori classroom has an emphasis on reality to free a child from his fantasies where the Waldorf classroom enhances the child's world of fantasy and imagination using natural materials; crystals, shells, logs, etc. as well as hand-made toys, gnomes, soft dolls, carved wooden animals, etc. to stimulate the child's play.

Intellectualism of Early Childhood
Montessori sees the child as having an absorbent mind ready to soak up knowledge and experience like a sponge. Just keep supplying him with ever more challenging intellectual tasks from an early age and you will end up with an educated child.

No early thrust into intellectualism is found in Waldorf but a keeping alive and nourishing of the child's healthy imagination and creative thinking powers. The child has it all within himself and it unfolds slowly like petals of a maturing flower as the child moves from one developmental stage to the next.

In a Waldorf pre-kindergarten we do not aim to achieve premature flowers of learning much as these flowers might find appreciation. We rather forego such immediate satisfaction and focus our attentions upon the child's ultimate good and upon the protection of his childhood. We are looking toward a healthy, well-rounded adult in the future.

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