Principles of Waldorf pedagogy

UDC 371
Publication date: 22.04.2024
International Journal of Professional Science №4-1-2024

Principles of Waldorf pedagogy

Lashina Ekaterina N.
Senior Lecturer of the Department of Foreign Languages,
St. Petersburg State University of Industrial Technology and Design.
Higher School of Technology and Energy
Abstract: The article discusses one of the alternative education systems – Waldorf pedagogy. In this pedagogical system, an individual approach to each child is tried to find, and the emotional state of students is more important than academic achievements.
Keywords: Waldorf pedagogy, alternative education system, individual approach, non-assessment approach, development, personality, freedom.

Waldorf pedagogy is an education system based on the principles of working with children laid down by the German teacher Rudolf Steiner. The issue of school and preschool education has worried parents at all times, because any person wants his child to receive the best. The traditional educational system often does not treat the personality of each child with due attention, but uses an average approach that does not take into account individual characteristics. The development of digital technologies, increasing living standards and comfort not only did not solve the problems faced by parents all over the world, but also aggravated them. A huge amount of information coming from different sources leads to nervousness and self-doubt in children, so the issue of raising a harmonious personality is still particularly acute. Waldorf pedagogy prioritizes a non-assessment approach and freedom in the development of creative abilities therefore it is considered one of the most successful approaches that produce positive results [1].

The basic principles of Waldorf pedagogy were formed by Rudolf Steiner at the beginning of the last century. From an early age, Steiner was interested in the works of the greatest philosophers (which allowed him to become an editor and commentator on Goethe’s natural science works by the age of 20). Thanks to the practical implementation of Steiner’s understanding that for successful upbringing and education it is necessary to bring the spiritual and mental into the correct connection with the physical, therapeutic pedagogy arose.

The key word in Waldorf pedagogy is freedom. However, freedom does not refer only to the free will of the teacher or the child, nor does it simply consist in the absence of obstacles. Freedom implies the right of each and every person to develop and improve into whoever they want to be. It also implies the right of every child to develop and realize the ideal which is given to them only by life and which the country or society sets for them as an objective.

Waldorf pedagogy considers a person as a combination of three components: body (musculoskeletal system, metabolism, active-volitional sphere), soul (heart, respiratory system, sphere of emotions) and spirit (brain and nervous system, intellectual sphere). A child, before reaching maturity, goes through various stages of development of consciousness.

According to the principles of Waldorf pedagogy, children need to create conditions for the recognition and development of their abilities, for the preparation of all components of a person (body, will, feelings, mind) in unusual circumstances, atypical situations [2].

In 1919, the first school for children was opened, which implemented the fundamental principles developed by Steiner.

The reason for organizing the new school was the dissatisfaction of the employees of the Waldorf Astoria tobacco factory, who felt that their children were not receiving a quality education. The educational system in Germany at that time involved only memorizing the materials included in the program. At the same time, practically no attention was paid to the child’s creative abilities, individual interests and inclinations. The concept of the new school was based on the doctrine that it is necessary to develop not only intellectual abilities, but also spiritual qualities. Initially, only children of tobacco factory workers studied at the school, but later students from different segments of the population began to join them [3].

The new methodology turned out to be so successful that a huge number of similar educational institutions were opened in Europe. With the Nazis coming to power, most Waldorf schools were liquidated; their restoration began only after the end of World War II. Today, the Waldorf pedagogy system is very popular all over the world. In almost every major city you can find a school operating on the principle of Waldorf pedagogy.

Waldorf pedagogy, created by Rudolf Steiner, consists of several basic principles. According to them, when raising a child, one must pay great attention to the spiritual component, since it is this that determines the traits of each individual and allows the child to become a harmonious, successful person in the future. Waldorf schools adhere to the following methodology:

  • respect for each child and acceptance of him as an individual. The teacher is obliged to make every effort to reveal the creative potential of each student, not to interfere with the development of specific skills and not to suppress the child’s will;
  • non-assessment approach. The school does not have an assessment system as such, so that children can compare their current successes with past ones, and not with the achievements of others. Thus, the child does not devalue himself and his abilities, does not become nervous about the inability to achieve certain results;
  • Comfort and a calm environment are at the forefront. It is believed that only in such conditions can children concentrate on what interests them;
  • careful attention to the selection of teachers. Mentors play a key role in the education system, as they are the main authority for children. Therefore, the teacher must set an example to follow by his own behavior, constantly engage in self-education and development of personal qualities;
  • focusing on the development of creative skills and ability to work, rather than intelligence. Children attending such a school become familiar with letters quite late — after 7 years. Until this age, classes take place in a playful way, where children explore the world around them and learn to interact with it. Traditional school subjects are taught when the child’s psyche is already relatively formed and ready to receive this knowledge.

Many years of pedagogical practice have shown that the Waldorf system promotes the development of precisely those skills in a child that manifest themselves most clearly. Teachers do not work on students memorizing information included in the program, but on developing interest and awareness, identifying individual abilities and creative inclinations. Much attention is paid to work activities that are interesting for each individual child.

The Waldorf system does not accept the early development of the child. It is believed that it is necessary to give each child the opportunity to develop at a pace that is comfortable for him, without forcing or applying pressure. Until the age of 7, children are not ready to accept the study of literacy and writing, since the skill of assimilating such information has not yet been formed. Instead, kids make crafts with their own hands, study wildlife, draw, and play music. At this age, the emphasis is on abstract thinking and personality development.

Even after starting to study traditional school subjects, the Waldorf method is still very different from the generally accepted one. One of the main features is the absence of an assessment system. Students are allowed to choose a pace of study that is comfortable for themselves, and focus on disciplines that interest them. The main thing at this age is the child himself: his current state is compared with the previous one, and in accordance with this, the positive or negative changes occurring in him are assessed [4].

At school, textbooks are not used until high school; children keep all their notes in workbooks and study from them. Teachers have a responsibility to stimulate the child’s interest, allow him to express his own opinions and help build self-confidence. In addition, children are taught humanity, responsiveness, compassion and the ability to find a common language with peers.

The Waldorf method has a number of advantages compared to the traditional general education system:

  • maximum attention to the personality of each student and individual selection of the curriculum in accordance with inclinations and abilities;
  • support in all creative endeavors and stimulation of imagination;
  • friendly and comfortable atmosphere in the team. The teacher acts as a leader and role model, there is no rivalry between students, there are no favorites or outcasts in such a team, which helps strengthen friendly ties between children;
  • isolation from the negative influence of the media and the complete absence of modern gadgets that distract attention;
  • absence of an assessment system, which can cause stress and an inferiority complex in the child.

Scientists and researchers highlight the main innovations carried out by Steiner in his school, and formulate the following characteristic features:

  • age orientation of the curriculum and teaching methods, since Waldorf pedagogy is a pedagogy of development; the content of education is focused on the needs of each age level and serves the spiritual and physical development of the student [5];
  • the principle of a classroom teacher who “leads” his class from the first to the eighth year of education. The classroom teacher responsibly, in collaboration with colleagues and parents, including on educational issues, builds the entire educational process and has a significant degree of pedagogical freedom. For a primary and secondary school student, the personality of the teacher is more important than the subject;
  • daily teacher councils with the aim of constantly updating the pedagogical and subject content of classes while simultaneously deepening human knowledge, which is generally aimed at further professional, intellectual and personal development of the teacher. Such advice involves discussing both issues of methodology and didactics, as well as the individual characteristics of individual students and entire classes and the specifics of their learning;
  • teaching subjects in “epochs”, when for 3-4 weeks one subject is studied in a double lesson, which leads to concentration of educational material, and also gives the teacher the opportunity to organically, consistently teach the material during the “epoch”; teaching two foreign languages from the first grade using a special methodology;
  • revival of the tradition of the teacher’s oral history, the material for which is the cultural and historical traditions of mankind. These are, first of all, fairy tales, legends about saints, fables, biblical stories, mythology of the peoples of the world, scenes from various historical periods and more. A portion of lesson time is allocated to storytelling and retelling each day. Theatrical production of these stories is integrated into the educational process;
  • special emphasis on the artistic and aesthetic element in teaching, as well as on needlework and crafts. The curriculum includes painting, plastic arts, music, eurythmy, needlework (including for boys), crafts – wood and metal work (for girls too), gardening. Thus, through diverse practical activities, the student’s volitional culture develops;
  • co-education of boys and girls, as well as the absence of separation on socio-material grounds;
  • abolition of digital assessment and repetition of years, which is why school ceases to be a place for distributing social opportunities and “sorting” students into good and bad, successful and unsuccessful: everyone can freely, without obstacles, develop in accordance with their individual characteristics;
  • the health-therapeutic aspect of pedagogy (the introduction of a “hygienic organization of teaching”, orientation to the rhythm of the day, week, year) and the associated integration of the doctor into school life, in which he participates, among other things, as a teacher;
  • collegial management of the school by students and teachers [6].

Scientists who have conducted research on the results of learning in the Waldorf system confirm a higher level of awareness of behavioral norms in children, the ability to overcome obstacles and make spiritual and moral choices in difficult life circumstances, and a high level of moral thinking in relation to graduates of traditional schools. Independent, holistically developed and socially adapted graduates in practice confirm the practicality and vitality of the ideas of Waldorf education.


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