“I am confident that the education they have received will make them individuals who can and will take the time to think for themselves and inspire and lead others.”
It is all too common today to hear about severe bullying, physical fighting or even weapons being brought into our schools. These revered spaces should be our children’s safe havens, but sadly they are becoming some of the most worrisome places of all.
Fortunately, Waldorf education’s holistic approach is embedded with ways to counteract violent behavior. Perhaps the most influential practice within this educational philosophy is the concentration placed on the development of a student’s thinking, feeling and willing.
For the first seven years of life, children interact with the world around them through their own will. A child’s will can be likened to resilience, which is vital to a person’s success in dealing with the stressors and adversity of life.
Beginning in Waldorf early childhood education, caregivers set to work intentionally fostering a child’s will with games, chores and providing ample time for imaginative play.
As a child nears his or her seventh year, we begin to notice slight changes in their physical appearance, such as their bodies lengthening or losing teeth, signaling to parents and teachers that this child is ready for school. Waldorf education takes school-readiness very seriously, and it is attuned to a child’s rhythmic progression while always catering to how children naturally advance. Waldorf pedagogy recognizes developmentally appropriate curriculum, which therefore protects its students from unnecessary mounting stress and anxiety that can lead to untamed behaviors down the road.
Instead of encountering an academic pushdown when entering first grade, children in Waldorf education make a shift towards developing their feeling soul. Arts are integrated throughout the Waldorf curriculum, allowing children to feel an emotional connection to their schoolwork and giving them the freedom to explore their individual expression. In grades 1-4, children study the importance of moral responsibility with fairy tales, fables, scriptural stories and Norse mythology, while in grades 5-8, students deepen their understanding of social justice by examining significant civilizations in human history, such as Indian, Egyptian, Roman and Grecian. This thoughtful underlying of moral integrity helps to cultivate students’ understanding of their connection to the world at large, alleviating loneliness and instilling an uprightness to do good work in their community.
Children blossom into teenagers, giving way to individual and abstract thinking. By age 14, Waldorf students are equipped with the tools necessary to ask the “hard questions” and seek out answers on their own.
Waldorf teachers concur with poet William Butler Yeats when he wrote so beautifully, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” The end goal of this holistic education is to inspire a love for learning and to generate students who think clearly, creatively and independently. In a future filled with endless possibilities of engineering, medical and technological advancements, we must depend on graduates who are wholly developed and capable of reaching this higher level of intelligent thinking.
There are many other instances in which Waldorf education counteracts the violence seen today, such as a solid relationship between school and home, guarding against media exposure and fostering a deep connection to nature. The most influential, however, is the development of a student’s thinking, feeling and willing. Waldorf education gently tames the will, allowing for growth in self-control and accountability. It nurtures feelings, which give way to the advancement of emotional intelligence; and ultimately through abstract thinking students are confidently able to find solutions to problems within their lives in an effective and non-violent manner.
Heidi Miller works at the White Mountain Waldorf School as educational support in grades 1-8 and is working on her Waldorf Education Master’s Certificate.