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Waldorf vs mainstream schools

The Waldorf educational approach works from a child’s perspective. A Waldorf educator looks at what an individual child needs and responds to the child with a suitable approach. The teacher asks: “What do you need and how can I help you?”, “What can I do to make you flourish, to be happy, and to fulfil your potential and your dreams?”, “How can I help you become a well-round­ed, healthy human being so that you respect yourself and your fellow human beings?”

A rigid State-implied educational framework puts huge pressure on teachers, parents and especially on children
- Lenka Borankova

A Waldorf teacher is always striving to fulfil what a child truly needs – looking deeply into the child, wanting to really see and understand the child. And at the same time the teacher looks at the child’s developmental needs – where the child is at, what the child’s strengths and weaknesses are and how to help the child progress according to his or her own natural rhythm.

Such an approach comes from a different direction than a conventional educational system which usually comes from the direction of the higher authority and responds to what the authority chooses that the child should learn.

During my time in the UK working in both a State-run school and a Waldorf school, there was a change in government. After that, in the State-run school the educational framework for Early Years changed, and with that, also many learning goals and objectives.

Several compulsory requirements also changed. Some of the goals that were formerly ‘a must’ were no longer considered important, and vice-versa. This made me question on what grounds the State-developed educational framework stands and how important the goals and the objectives required by the government actually are.

These goals are often unsuitable to the child’s individuality or to the child’s level of development, and so by making them compulsory to every child, a rigid State-implied educational framework puts huge pressure on society – on teachers, parents and especially on children. Such a system overlooks the child’s needs and prioritises government needs, creating an artificial ‘norm’ into which all children should fit.

During my time working at a State-run school I had to deliver the national curriculum, and I must say it proved very difficult to teach four-year-old children to read. Of course, they would manage in the end, some faster, some slower. But overall, there wasn’t as much joy or enthusiasm as there would probably be if they were listening to a good story, lovingly told by their teacher.

I think we teachers all felt what we were doing was not quite right. My colleagues would often say guiltily: “I feel this is wrong, but the children have to learn that now so they can learn more in Year 1, Year 2, and so forth... We have to make them ready for the next step.”

But I thought to myself: while getting ready for the next step, and then the next, and so on, we are missing the essential – what the child needs now, at this very moment.

While talking to parents, they would say: “My child manages alright, he has some difficulties but he copes OK.” But then they would often be worried whether their children were learning enough so as not to be left behind their classmates.

However, what I wanted to hear myself and my colleagues say was: “I love being with the children that I look after”, “I am excited about who they are and who they want to become”, “I want to help them on their journey, whichever journey they chose to take.”

And what I wanted to hear from parents was: “My child is happy, healthy and full of life”, “He is so excited about coming here; he loves his friends and his teacher very much”, “He believes he can do whatever he chooses to do and the school makes him feel that.”

In Waldorf kindergartens, children are not taught formal reading, writing and maths as they follow the pedaogy that children are ready for that later, around the age of six. A child is then able to sit still and to concentrate on abstract tasks much better.

From my experience, some of the concerns of parents who are considering sending their children to a Waldorf school are whether the Waldorf approach prepares children for the ‘real life’. They are concerned whether their children will manage to read, write and calculate when such learning comes later.

In a Waldorf kindergarten, by using a rich and positive language around children, by singing songs, by using the art of story-telling, children gain the best possible foundation for formal literacy that comes later in life – in its own right time.

Waldorf pedagogy believes children should firstly be able to listen and talk well and with confidence, accumulating a rich and wide vocabulary, before taking their first steps in reading and writing. This prepares children much better for the ‘real life’.

Although it is not obvious at first, a Waldorf kindergarten is full of opportunities to learn all the necessary mathematics skills. Instead of learning to count on a whiteboard or computer, a Waldorf teacher would say: “Today there are eight children, let’s get eight bowls ready for our snack.” And then she would count together with the child.

On another occasion, the children would have a go at woodwork, measuring pieces of wood, using an appropriate ‘mathematics’ language for all the sizes and measurements.

At free creative play there are numerous opportunities for reasoning, and problem-solving – it could be while building an intricate structure, deciding how many friends are needed for a game, or learning about balance and symmetry while ‘ building a house’.

All the necessary skills are learned subconsciously while the children are occupied with an activity they enjoy and which satisfies and responds to their needs.

A Waldorf kindergarten strives to facilitate play as much as possible because Waldorf teachers believe play is the main task of early childhood. During kindergarten, children are free to take part in the activity taking place, whether it is baking, painting, cleaning and polishing, sewing, drawing, gardening or cooking.

Children love such activities as they give them plenty of opportunities to express their creativity and they can be free in their movements and imagination.

Ms Borankova is a Waldorf kindergarten teacher.

If these ideas resonate with you or if you are interested in offering this type of education for your children, e-mail [email protected] to know more about the School of Positivity Malta project.

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