Title: Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out
Author: Jack Petrash
Publication Year: 2002
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Review: This book is not a “how-to” manual for Waldorf education, but more of a book meant to answer the question, “Why?” It was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a book that would explain to me what a Waldorf education was and why someone would choose that for their child. Before reading this book all I knew was the kids were fairly old when they learned to read (7 or 8) and that kids had the same teacher from first through eighth grade.
What I learned from this book is that in a Waldorf school the main goal is to help the children become balanced individuals. Therefore instead of just focusing on academic skills, a child is encouraged to be a well-rounded, compassionate individual. The arts are highly valued and integrated into all subject areas. Children are led to understand their own humanity and to feel a sense of civic responsibility.
All children are encouraged to pursue all areas of study, not just the ones at which they excel, so for example, even someone who is not necessarily musically or athletically gifted would have experience playing an instrument and a sport when they left a Waldorf school. It is not a religious school exactly, but it is a spiritual school in a sense, and the stories of all religions are taught.
One aspect of the Waldorf education which I really liked is that there is a heavy emphasis on learning through stories, which seems highly effective to me and is something I hope to remember when trying to make an impression on my children. An example they use is a story about a King (K) using a cat (C) to perform some of his duties to illustrate that both K and C can make the same sound.
Another example they give is using “Naughty Nim” to teach the letter N. A boy leaning against a tree is used to depict the shape of “N” and a story is told about him being louder than the king. This leads kids to remember that when a K and N are next to each other, the N is the sound you hear.
The notation and symbols used for division can be taught with a story about Count Divide who tells the king: “Go to my division house and put your bag of jewels inside the house so they are safe. Then leave me a note on the door to tell me how many guests are coming. And I will put the answer on the roof of my house so you will be able to see it from the castle. (pg. 69)” It’s all very clever.
I think the author makes a valid point that it takes a few more minutes to teach this way, but at the same time makes the lesson so much more memorable and interesting.
Overall, from all that I’ve learned about the different types of educational institutions, I think this is the one I would choose for myself if I got to go back to my childhood and do it all again. It’s too bad there aren’t Waldorf schools anywhere near where I live, but I’m glad my child’s Montessori preschool teacher says she likes to incorporate a Waldorf philosophy into her teaching. (Personal Rating: 8/10)
I read some of your posts and some reviews about the different educational methods that are out there and I have a question. Which one would you choose in the present? May I ask you if your children are going to the Montessori school yet or did you change your mind? I am fascinated by the Montessori Method and I want to know more about Waldorf, I am also starting to think about other schools and other options. Greetings!
Maria, funny you should ask. My 5 year old son is in his third year of Montessori and today was my almost 3 year old daughter’s very first day. (She had a great time, thankfully. It took my son a couple weeks to settle in, which was rough for me, so I was worried she would be the same.) Personally, I love many aspects of the Montessori Method, such as the freedom given to children to choose what they learn, the lack of grades, the interaction between age levels, the prepared environment, the hands-on learning material, and the emphasis on practical life skills. The one thing I don’t love about the preschool “curriculum” is the lack of fantasy play. Personally, I feel children this age benefit from a little whimsy in their lives, which is what I find most appealing about Waldorf. Unfortunately, there aren’t any Waldorf schools in my area, so I don’t have the opportunity to see that educational style firsthand. I’m not worried too much, however, since the school day is only 3 hours and they have plenty of time for fantasy play at home. My current personal plan is to let my children go to the Montessori school as long as they like, then to homeschool them using similar techniques. I haven’t discounted the local public and charter schools in my area either as options, but Montessori and homeschool is my current preference. Good luck!