I want to start by saying that I have allowed Waldorf to inform many of the decisions I've made regarding my children, but I do not practice it any kind of "pure" form. I would be thrilled to find a Waldorf school for them to attend, but unfortunately there is not one locally. Plus the cost is often prohibitive. I considered homeschooling, but ultimately decided on a traditional public school education with lots of reinforcement at home of the more age-appropriate and creative practices of Waldorf.
Rudolph Steiner the founder of Waldorf broke the stages of childhood down into three age categories, Under 7's, 7-14 and 14+. Founded on the belief that children develop emotionally in a very specific way based on these age groups. Overall Waldorf is a holistic approach to teaching. I suppose it might be sort of a unit study approach with lots of creative activities thrown in. While a child is learning about Colonial history they are also studying the scientific discoveries made during the time, reading biographies of prominent Colonists, studying about the Puritans...all the while approaching some of these subjects in an artistic way. For example, read a biography of Thomas Jefferson, then spend time drawing a picture of Monticello while studying the mathematical principles behind the building.What most attracted to me at the time I found Waldorf was the de-emphasis placed on academics for the young child (under 7). Instead of being taught to read and write children are encouraged to work alongside their parents in daily work. It is believed that children learn best through example. There is a major emphasis on creative play with simple toys, storytelling, reading of fairy tales and singing. Fairy tales form the basis of the education that goes on at this time. They are used to introduce moral education.
As I learned more I came to realize that Waldorf was directly in line with what I believe about the child. Children should be allowed to be kids when they are little, but when the time comes they should be expected to perform academically. In Waldorf as the child enters the elementary years pure academics becomes more of a focus, but still always with an artistic approach. It is more hands on than the average school setting. For instance, the introduction to the alphabet will have a child draw a very large 'A' in pastel then spend time shading in around it, with this repeated for each letter. The hard-core academics are saved for the latter part of this stage. The early part is focused on reading and writing.
Finally, as a child moves into the high school years (14+) the focus shifts to rigorous academics. The children are expected to be able to discuss a wide variety of topics with great knowledge. This is completely the opposite, I think, of traditional academics where each subject is taught individually with no links between them, especially as schooling progresses into high school. The result is that the kids are filled with tons of facts and formulas, but very little working knowledge of the how's and why's. Waldorf also encourages questioning and exploration beyond the pre-printed curriculum. This leads to kids getting in and finding answers for themselves. Again completely counter to traditional schooling.
I think it would be interesting to see some of the Waldorf principles applied in a traditional American school setting, but I'm not holding my breath. Well, actually there are a handful of public school systems on the West Coast that have Waldorf charters. I believe with my whole being that we are failing our children by focusing so intensely on academics at ever younger ages. I also despise the system of standardized testing (a whole other blog post!!). Many Waldorf high schoolers keep portfolios that they then use for college admissions and as transcripts. I think this is a much more sane way of determining what our children have learned!
For more information see http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/ or http://www.waldorfinthehome.com/ Both of these are excellent resources with tons of links and articles. A good book is "Understanding Waldorf Education" by Jack Petrash.
**I also posted a new post yesterday that was a draft from several days ago. Scroll down to read Traveling with Children