If you are seeking a spiritually enlightened education for your children, take a look at Waldorf schools (also called Steiner schools in Europe). The curriculum, filled with music, handwork, drawing, theatre, movement, poetry, festivals, singing, cooperative games, sports, communal chores, and of course academics, seeks to balance thinking, feeling and willing within the child. The founder Rudolf Steiner believed that these three capabilities of the soul needed to be equally trained to raise creative and free human beings.
There is also no media used within Steiner schools as a teaching method until high school. Some people love this; others may wonder if children will be left behind in the modern work force. Considering that many of us learned computers after high school, I think this is not an issue. The danger instead is that too much time spent on learning technology when in elementary school could produce a house of cards: that technology will continue to change at quite a rapid pace, meaning for example that when you were learning PowerPoint in Grade 3, it becomes redundant years later and what do you have to show for that block of time spent learning? (Waldorf schools have other reasons that they don’t use technology though). Instead, if you learn drawing or singing, that is a gift you will have your whole life. And who can deny that technology is easy to pick up at any stage in your life, as we all have.
There are so many layers to the Waldorf school curriculum it is difficult to choose where to begin first. Perhaps with the singing. Every day, every single student sings. They are taught to sing high notes, which has become neglected in today’s music classes, oriented as they are towards popular music and its lower notes. The children have such sweet high voices and to hear a Waldorf class sing is a gift. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with singing low of course, but for children to begin singing low, they are missing the chance to learn and delight in the entire range of their voice.
The painting techniques are also an interesting place to stop upon. In kindergarten, they start by giving the children one primary colour to work with, say yellow. After a few weeks, they will be given a second primary colour to work with, perhaps blue. Using watercolours on damp paper, the colours blend together and the children experience for themselves how colours combine to create another colour – in this case green. For weeks they will continue with just two colours, content to fully explore the blending of yellow and blue and the creation of all the shades of green. In my son’s kindergarten, not one child asked for another colour after weeks of using only two colours.
When my daughter first began at the Waldorf school, she joined the kindergarten in May after leaving her other school. When it was painting day, she sat down to paint and made sure that none of the colours she used touched each other. At the end of the morning, the teacher showed me her painting compared to the other children’s. Hers was a mass of separate blobs across the page, because she had never been taught to experience the creation of colour, while the other children’s watercolours merged in a free flow of colour creation.
I freely confess to having drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to Waldorf schools. It is my wish that in the future, all schools will draw something from the ideas of teaching that Steiner developed. The depth and clarity of his vision for a conscious-raising education for the children of the world is truly inspiring.
As he said himself:
“Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility—these three forces are the very nerve of education.”