What is Waldorf Education?
Waldorf education is not defined by a set of academic standards, the achievements of its pupils, or even by the enriching curriculum found throughout the grades. Waldorf education is a living educational movement guided by a deep understanding of child development. This movement, now the fastest growing educational movement in the world, is rooted in the philosophical world-view of Anthroposophy, espoused by the 20th century philosopher, artist, and scientist, Rudolf Steiner. Through this philosophic lens, the human being is understood as a complex being whose thinking (cognition), feeling life, and willing (intentional activity), must relate in a harmonious and balanced way in order for one to fully experience his or her humanity and become a free thinking individual. These three aspects, related to the bodily systems in which they are most active, namely the head and nervous system, the heart and circulatory system, and the metabolic and limb system, must each be nourished and supported in human development, and Waldorf educators seek to do just that. Waldorf Education engages the whole child, head, heart, and hands, in his or her education, incorporating art, music, limb activities, and meaningful work in addition to age-appropriate academic material. Within a traditional Waldorf classroom, individual needs of children who lie within a typical developmental range for their ages, can be met within the larger group setting.
Waldorf education and atypical learners
The Camphill Movement was originated by Austrian pediatrician and educator, Dr. Karl König, who fled the Nazi annexation of his own country in 1939 and settled in Aberdeen, Scotland. Camphill Communities and Schools serve children and adults with profound developmental needs, basing their daily life and education on Rudolf Steiner’s work (learn more).
In recent years, however, schools around the world have been faced with a growing population of students with learning differences, social challenges, difficulty focusing, children on the Autism spectrum, and children with a variety of “difficult behaviors.” As many schools have become more and more focused on pushing academics at younger and younger ages and evaluating students based primarily off of their standardized test scores, finding an educational setting in which these students can thrive has become even more difficult. Waldorf educational philosophy, rooted in a thorough understanding of child development, provides an excellent lens through which to understand and meet the unique needs of these children. In fact, Rudolf Steiner’s early insights regarding the needs of the developing child, came through his work with a child who was not developing typically, Otto Specht (see below).
The Otto Specht School has been truly revolutionizing education for children with learning differences and developmental delays, bridging the gap between traditional Waldorf schools and Camphill Programs. At the Otto Specht school, we create individualized, therapeutic programming with a basis in Waldorf educational philosophy. Through our work, engaging the children in meaningful tasks, providing one on one support for academics, and offering a variety of arts and therapies, we are able to meet our students’ needs in a full and enriching way that results in well-integrated human beings with a capacity for flexible thinking, creativity, and empathy, feelings of self-worth, and a belief in the good they can do in the world.
About Otto Specht and Rudolf Steiner
Our school is based on the enlightened and carefully drawn insights into child development of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Rudolf Steiner challenged teachers to perceive and respond to children’s individual developmental needs at each stage of life. He described the foundation of anthroposophy, the name given to his world view, as the "wisdom of the human being," with the understanding that each human being has a unique body, soul and eternal spirit. It is through the harmonious relating of the individual’s cognition, feeling life, and will-activity that true education can occur. Waldorf education, one of the largest and fastest-growing independent school movements in the world, is grounded in these insights.
As a young man, Rudolf Steiner became tutor and care-giver to Otto Specht, age eleven, a child with social and learning difficulties who was considered ineducable. Once Rudolf Steiner became responsible for Otto’s education, he employed carefully planned lessons that focused mainly on limb activity. After two years of intensive work, Otto was on grade level and able to enter a school. Rudolf Steiner continued to tutor the boy daily, and Otto completed his education by becoming a physician.
Rudolf Steiner attributed the foundation of Waldorf education to his early educational work with Otto Specht. Through Rudolf Steiner’s insights, we strive to find the path on which each child can find her or his way to a meaningful educational experience just as our school’s namesake did.