What distinguishes the Waldorf elementary system is that a student stays with the same teacher through most of her years in the school in the belief that learning from a familiar person is beneficial and is easier once a strong student-teacher bond is established. Time is allowed for individuals to grasp different concepts, and cooperation is seen as more important than competition for awards. The curriculum is arts-based and most schools teach their students two foreign languages.
The Waldorf curriculum is mainly for elementary grades, but schools are increasingly using Steiner’s methods to teach different curricula even at higher grades.
The philosophy’s premise
- The curriculum recommends limiting a child’s exposure to electronic media and television to prevent curbing her natural imagination.
- Waldorf is more teacher-oriented than the Montessori method.
- Waldorf centres encourage children to make their own toys from given materials like paper and clay, and to think for themselves. A child’s work is imagination, they say.
- Waldorf school walls are usually brightly coloured and adorned with the art of their students.
- A lot of emphasis is placed on fantasy and creativity, and most Waldorf schools stick to the original method Steiner wrote up, though teachers are allowed to make their own improvisations within the curriculum.
- Waldorf encourages pictorial representations and does not use traditional testing or examinations.
- Eurhythmy or movement-based learning is important, and is meant to develop a sense of musical tone, concentration, and individuality in a group.
- Free play in classrooms that resemble home is common, as is outdoor play (to expose children to nature and seasonal changes); the curriculum strives to be emotionally supportive as well.
The Playway Method
This method involves a formal curriculum that is not quite a set syllabus, with many elements that appeal to children incorporated into it as they learn basic concepts, the alphabet, reading and writing. Emphasis is on fun and helping children learn without giving them the impression that they are ‘studying’.
Kindergarteners, for example, learn about fruits and vegetables by setting up pretend vegetable markets and making fruit salad. They learn about shapes by drawing them on the floor. Slightly older children learn spelling through small quizzes, and are made familiar with adjectives when attendance is called, to which they reply with their names and a simple sentence describing themselves, like, ‘I am happy’. They learn about science by growing plants, making models, and going on field trips, while social studies involve weather reports and elections.