Outside of traditional early childcare, there are several alternative approaches from around the world. One of these is the Waldorf method, which originated in Germany in the early 20th century. A Waldorf method preschool program aims to nurture creativity and independence through exposure to nature and the arts.
Origins in Spirituality
Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner conceived of the Waldorf method in 1919. Cigarette factory owner Emil Molt asked Steiner to create a school for the children of his employees. Steiner believed that “every education is self-education, and as teachers we can only provide the environment for children’s self-education.” He based his method on his own philosophy of “anthroposophy,” which he called “a path of knowledge, to guide the spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe.”
While Steiner’s spiritual ideas directly informed his method, today’s Waldorf schools do not intend to preach anthroposophy. As Beverly Amico, the Waldorf executive director of advancement in North America, told the New York Times, it has “nothing to do with perpetuating a certain method, curriculum, or tradition, but with developing reverence for the goodness, in the other and in the world around us … which brings with it purpose and meaning to life.”
What Does Waldorf Look Like?
The materials in a Waldorf classroom serve to foster imagination and creativity in students. Students play with natural items like planks, stones, pine cones and seashells. Toys are kept simple to facilitate the student’s imagination — for example, a doll in a Waldorf class might be expressionless, allowing the student to imagine its emotional state. Instead of recorded music, children are encouraged to play instruments like recorders.
Waldorf classes place a heavy emphasis on providing students with examples of adult “handwork” to imitate. This could include helping to prepare a meal, gardening, or woodworking. The point of this handwork is for the students to develop problem-solving skills through practical work rather than through constructed exercises.
For parents concerned traditional preschool might not provide the creative nourishment their child needs, the Waldorf method may be the alternative they have been searching for.