Reflections on Waldorf Education

“Before brain regions are mylenated [and nerves have the outer coating needed to transmit impulses], they do not operate efficiently. For this reason, trying to make children master academic skills for which they do not have the requisite maturation may result in mixed-up patterns of learning. I would contend that much of today’s academic failure results from academic expectations for which student’s brains were not prepared – but which were bulldozed into them anyway.” Healy, 1990, p. 67.

Recently I read Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out by Jack Petrash. In his book, he hits on a few educational points that I wholeheartedly agree with. One of the assets of a Waldorf education is that it leaves much room for children to be emotionally responsive to what they are learning. It does this because it generally goes slower; there is more space for students to connect with their educational content through arts such as music, drawing, and drama.  Interestingly, learning reading and writing and the harder sciences generally comes later than a public school education, often beginning in the 2nd grade.

Another point I respected:  The Waldorf world believes education should touch heart (emotions), head (academics), and hands (art and ability to create). These 3 legs of a stool keep the student balanced. Too much education today is merely a brain exercise where students are encouraged to either memorize, or immediately write deeply and completely about their feelings about this or that. Immediate response may be difficult for some students, and may not allow them the space they need to truly process what they are learning.

One of the goals of my forthcoming California Out of the Box curriculum is to allow space for students to reflect — either through comparison charts, drawing, or journaling. Reflection does not mean though that they dump out all of their feelings. It means they uncover some aspect of them, and they are encouraged to do this often. THAT piece is the most important. For, they will channel their feelings in a way that is truly intuitive for them when they need to, if they are consistently encouraged to take small steps of reflection in academic work. When there is something they really need to communicate, they will be ready.

A final aspect I resonate with is grounding learning in story. A Waldorf approach uses story to explain much of the world — from everything to phonics and science. Story is powerful, as it creates a wonderful context and place to situate truths. Like the Waldorf approach, my upcoming curriculum will also be anchored in story. Using living books, students will hear the story of California from the view of children that lived during the various time periods. While some of the finer details such as the date California became a state might be forgotten, life in the California growing fields or living on a Channel Island alone will not be forgotten. Those places will be remembered.

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